Skip to main content
Working Abroad

5 Traits of a Successful Filipino Expat

By Joey Herrera on March 3, 2015

For a lot of Filipinos, working abroad is the dream -- living in a different country, earning dollars or euros, and being a rich balikbayan. But relocating and working abroad is more than Duty Free shopping, currency exchange, and sending money back to the Philippines. When you work abroad you will basically be a grown adult completely transplanted from everything familiar and forced to make new friends, find new favorite hang outs, and relearn much of what you know about living.

So how can you tell if you’re cut out for it?

1) You Like Getting Lost

No amount of research or planning can make you truly know a city before you’ve lived in it. A city is going to be very different to a tourist compared to a resident, so expect to get lost a lot in the beginning. If you’re the kind of person who hates being helpless, this can be very frustrating. But this happens a lot when you first relocate. Even if you speak the local language, colloquialisms and accents will be lost on you and you may not even be able to speak to taxi drivers.

But if you like adventure, getting lost and being sidetracked, you will be fine. Sure, sometimes you can’t tell if they’re speaking to you in the local language or saying the name of a street, but in this age of Google Maps you can pretty much go anywhere -- just make sure you always bring a powerbank. Hand gestures are universal in any language and being lost will help you discover new places anyway. If you’re fine with taking the beaten or unknown path, getting lost in a different country should be easy.

Image: Indecision road sign Andrew Beierle/
2) You are the Right Kind of Hermit.

I had always thought that relocating to a different country would be easier if you were a hermit. If I preferred to stay home by myself than hang out with my friends, I wouldn’t miss them so much, right? I was proven wrong my first night in Jakarta when I ended up searching for seat sales and sending screen shots of these trips to friends, along with the list of Indonesian holidays matched up with Philippine holidays. Sure, being self-assured helps with moving to a new place, but you also need to build relationships with a new group of friends who will help you navigate, learn the language, and basically tell you where NOT to go.

The real danger is that any kind of change in environment can have you latching on to the first person you meet. That’s why most of our elementary friends are people with last names alphabetically close to ours, because first-day seating arrangement is often dictated by alphabetical order. This latching on can be more intense when you’re arriving in a new country. So, being a bit of a hermit helps you keep your distance and not give off any stalker-y vibes to potential new friends. You will still probably say yes to most invites to hang out, but giving them their space also gives you the time to adjust.

Being fiercely independent, self-contained, and capable will go a long way to help you in a new city. You will have to navigate a lot of things on your own. While new friends can help you, they can't be there all the time. So being halfway between a hermit and a hanger-on is just the right mix. Experience with living or traveling alone also helps a lot. Relocating to another country may just be the next level of independence to get you out of your shell. Just make sure you know the difference between alone and lonely.

3) You Have a Talent for Mimicry

Most of your time starting out at your new country will be spent observing how other people do things. This will help you figure out how you’ll be acting and interacting with others. Remember, you’re the stranger here, so you have to adjust to your new officemates, neighbors, and eventual friends. Mimicry will also help if you don’t know the local language. Filipinos are typically very good at this, which is probably why you can find a Pinoy anywhere in the world.

You can pick up a new language easily if you can mimic the tone and inflection of the people around you. You can get the hang of local customs, adjust quicker, and get to know people more by picking up how they speak and what they say. Remember, most translation apps and books rarely have the latest slang. So being a sponge is a great help and will contribute a lot to your success.

This is where interaction with locals come into play. As challenging as it can be to stick with Filipinos or other expats, being around your new neighbors will be a big help. You’ll learn social norms faster and avoid making faux pas that could limit your expat experience.

4) You’re Just a Little Bit Dead Inside

If you’re extremely sentimental and emotional, working abroad may be extra difficult. Your family will be sad to see you go, and knowing Filipinos, there will be at least a few minutes devoted to crying at the airport. But going into a new country all teary and puffy-eyed will taint your first experience of it, aside from possibly raising questions at immigration.

You will be facing a lot of different challenges. And keeping your heart out of the decisions you make will be tough when you’re in the grips of homesickness.

It’s going to be hard and you will get pangs of loneliness. Sticking to your resolve after you’ve left behind loved ones can keep you from jumping on the first flight home. But if you’re levelheaded, and just a little bit emotionally uninvolved, it will go a long way. You will miss people, but that will fade. Getting through the emotional hump of the first few weeks though, will require shutting down your heart’s desires.

Image: stack of cash Stephen Hyun/

5) You Just Want To Get Yours

As someone told me on my first night in Indonesia, if you’re an expat, you’re basically doing this for yourself. You will need to rely on some people in the beginning, but you must not depend on them for everything. Never forget that.

You have to keep your goals in mind. If you took the job for experience, make the most out of it. If you’re doing it to save money, know exactly how much you want to save and in what amount of time. If you’re doing it for the opportunity to travel, grab all the chances to see new places. Sure, you’ll make friends along the way and get to see the local sights, enjoy local food, but you are doing this for you. You have to be independent and self-reliant.

Focusing on why you’re working abroad will define your experience. In the moments when you’re missing people back home and googling how adults make new best friends, knowing that you are working on something for yourself will keep you steadfast. If at the end of the day you can keep your mind off all the differences and changes and focus on the job you want to do, you will do fine.


 Featured image: Swiss and French Railway Michael Faes/