3 Important Rates Every OFW Should Know


BY RAYMOND CALBAY

Your pay rate just doubled on the job offer you received to work abroad. You've asked yourself the hard questions and made initial preparations. But forget about your promised pay for a minute and focus on these other rates before you sign your contract and fly out to your new destination. What looks like a bigger paycheck might actually buy you less lifestyle, investments, and cost savings if you ignore these important rates.

#1 Exchange rate


Of course you'll quickly check how much a Euro or Dinar converts - but also do some research on the historical value of your host country's currency against the Philippine peso. A drop of "10" or ".01" may impact your earning power, especially if you periodically remit large sums of money back home or plan big-ticket purchases. If for example you're eyeing to buy a 4 million peso condo unit, it will cost you U.S.$95,000 now against U.S.$85,000 from four years ago - more expensive by around U.S.$10,000.

#2 Inflation rate


There's a reason why salaries vary across countries and the inflation rate is an important indicator. Basically, the inflation rate dictates how much your money can command in the market following price fluctuations. For example, if you find yourself headed to Macau earning 100,000 patacas and where last year's inflation rate is 5%, make sure that you can negotiate an annual increase of at least that same figure. Otherwise you lose a bit of your salary's local value, which impacts your rent, consumption, and utility costs while abroad.

#3 Taxation rate


In Manila, your former boss complains about the high 32% tax rate eating up her earnings. Compare that for example in some parts of Europe where the maximum tax rate can exceed 50%. At the other end, Saudi Arabia (a popular destination among OFWs) has 0%,  yes, zero tax rate for foreigners. Where you find yourself relocating should be part of your projected income. Then comes the other taxes such as sales, value-added, or entertainment taxes, which may or may not apply in some territories. Imagine the total cost when you eat out for dinner!

Bear in mind that the money question complicates a bit more because these rates are inter-related. For one, some OFWs mistakenly hope for the Philippine peso to weaken come remittance period so they'll have more to send home. But if consumer goods in the Philippines spike to higher levels, gains in the exchange rate are lost in inflation. Since economics is not necessarily an exact science, you'd better invest your earnings to cushion you from swinging rates.

As an OFW, what other rates have you considered when negotiating for a salary package? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Cheaper calls to the Philippines with Vokka


BY RAYMOND CALBAY

You're already on Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts, so what's the need for another app to call home? Perhaps you own a local business and you need to regularly check with your staff. Or maybe your mom is not sold on changing to an Android phone yet. Vokka is for you if reaching them via cell phones or landlines are your best options.

Vokka is a mobile app that lets you call contacts in the Philippines at a lower rate than most call plans. Depending on your need and budget, you can select from different packages (ranging from prepaid credits, monthly subscriptions, and unlimited calls). Moreover, calls between Vokka contacts are free. For a small monthly premium, Vokka could get you a local Philippine number that your family and friends can reach you with, without being charged hefty bills for overseas calls.

Here's our full review review of the Vokka app.

Pluses

  • Call quality is reliable. You may be in an area with choppy mobile reception, but you're set as long as you have strong data or Wi-Fi connection.
  • The call plans are competitively priced. For USD $5, you can have an unlimited talk time for a whole week to two Philippine numbers. If ever Philippine-based contacts need to call you, they save on bills too since you can opt for a local number (separate plan required).
  • It's quite convenient to reload call credits since payment can be done with a credit card or PayPal via the Vokka website. If you live far from cities with a big Filipino community, it's hard to look for vendors selling call cards at discounted rates so this app is a definitely great option.

Minuses

  • Currently, Vokka plans only apply to PLDT, Smart, and Sun subscribers. Quite a pain if your contacts are with other telecom companies.
  • The local phone number deal is good - but nowhere in the app is it mentioned during initial log in. You need to go to the Vokka website to see the different call plans.
  • Plainer user interface language, please. For example, when you open the app, you see the message "Loading provisioning." This kind of tech-speak might unnerve some users.

In the future, it would be nice if website features can be integrated with the app itself. That way, users won't need to open a separate browser. It would also be great if the service coverage is expanded to include most telecoms in the Philippines.

Overall, Vokka is worth downloading. The app has a simple yet functional layout. The "Contacts" tab automatically import and list your existing contacts so it's easier to find someone to call. Rates could also go as low as $.04 USD per minute (if you avail of the $25 USD monthly subscription). A caveat: since Vokka is an app that relies on your mobile connection, take note if you're on limited data plan or else connect to a Wi-Fi network. You might save on call credits, but you don't want your monthly mobile bill to balloon.

Have you ever used Vokka or similar apps before? Let us know your experience so far in the comments section below.