The Biggest Mistake Foreigners Make

When I first arrived in the Philippines to live, I had 10k USD for my emergency fund. Coming out to the Philippines, I thought that this would be plenty since I had a steady income coming in and also my 401k for retirement set up.  Little did I know that unexpected expenses and spending a bit too lavishly would deplete my emergency fund with my 1st year in the Philippines.  

Why did I go through 10k so fast – Reason #1

There are a few reasons that I went through my emergency fund so quickly.  One was I was thinking in dollars and not pesos, so every purchase I would simply convert the price into dollars and say oh in the USA this would cost triple this amount.  That would justify my spending and my thinking that I was getting a good deal.  Instead of thinking this is way more than I should be paying in pesos I was comparing everything to the living in the USA. So when you come over here try to think in pesos and don’t compare everything to the prices in your home country if possible.

Why did I go through 10k so fast – Reason #2

Reason number two was that I stayed in vacation mode my first six months.  I wanted to see and experience so much and felt like I needed to see and do everything immediately.  I was living in the Philippines meaning I had more than just some vacation time, I should have slowed down and explored slowly.  I also treated way more than I should and way over tipped.  For example, a taxi fare would be 311 pesos, I would give 500 and say keep the change.  Now I am not saying don’t tip bigger than Filipinos, but don’t go overboard.  I was overdoing the tipping for everyone.  

Saving is a must!

   Saving is a must even while you are living in the Philippines.  I have so many friends and acquaintances here that make a very good monthly pension but somehow are broke at the end of the month or if an emergency pops up they carry no medical insurance or have no savings.  I believe most of these habits are just carried over from their life in the West.  In the Philippines it is much more important to have an emergency fund for medical, natural disasters or any number of other reasons.   I use Acorns to invest my spare change, check it out by clicking the link below.

Invest spare change, invest while you bank, earn bonus investments, grow your knowledge and more. 

Cash is King in the Philippines

The Philippines is still very much a cash society.  When you are here and visit stores, restaurants and small shops you will find that most places do not take credit cards or debit cards.  The only places I find consistently take cards are grocery stores, malls and a few select higher end restaurants.  When I was in the typhoon in Cebu, there was no internet, power and the ATMs were not functioning. Thank goodness I had taken cash out of the ATM the night before.  Throughout Cebu ATMs were down and those with cash were in a good place but without cash you were in a very difficult position.  Since then I always make sure I have at least 20k pesos in my home always in case of an emergency.  

GCash a must have!

GCash and Pay Maya are 2 very popular apps here that most people have and can be used for a variety of different reasons.  I have found that GCash is taken at locations all around the Philippines to small sari sari stores to stores in the malls.  I use my Wise account to transfer money directly into my account.  You can sign up for Wise here.   I’ve been loving GCash so far, and was hoping you’d join me. I’ve shared PHP 70 worth of freebies for you to try it out: 

Final Thoughts on an emergency fund

The Bottom line: keep a reserve of liquid cash that you can get to quickly via debit card.  Have cash on hand at all times in case of a natural disaster and download GCash and sign up for Wise.  These are just some of the ways to protect yourself while living overseas.  The most important thing is don’t stop saving, don’t live the lifestyle that most Americans live which is paycheck to paycheck.  I would love to hear your thoughts, please comment down below. 

13 thoughts on “The Biggest Mistake Foreigners Make”

  1. You nailed it on the head. I always kept between 10,000to 20,000 pesos in cash and then kept gcash loaded up. Gcash is super convenient. I used gcash for everything from paying someone for a service, Lazada and almost every store. Very useful article. If you are going to be there for a few months definitely get the multiple forms of payment.

      1. Eric said it best and you both are absolutely right. I love gcash, I use remitly to transfer money. Is wise better in terms of the conversion rate? Just wondering. I used to live in Cebu but now I live in Angeles City.

  2. It reminds me when i opened my first bank account, there was no debit card. we only had cash, the bank opening hours were short so you needed to have enough cash for what you had planned for the weekend. Also with cash in your wallet, you had to be careful and not flash your money in front of everyone. Thanks again Giovanni for the infos that you are giving us, future Philippines travelers.

  3. I did exactly the same with just about the same amount of cash I had on hand when I came here. Everything seemed so cheap compared to the US. I also was in vacation mode as if in two weeks I would be back at work in the US when I had no intention of going back. I am still rebuilding those funds.

  4. Can you use Remitly to fund your gcash like you do with wise?
    I been using Remitly to get cash from my home account and it works great but I see the need to try gcash.

  5. Good article Gio. Thanks. And yes, it’s sad the west encourages us all to consume instead of do what is important, which is to save part of every pay check while we are still working. Best wishes to you and Maya.

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