Friday, September 9, 2011

Filipino Currency

One of the frustrating things about being in a new culture is getting used to the money system.  The money system is quite different than back in Canada.  Some things I have figured out, others I just shake my head at.

Allow me to give you a basic introduction to Filipino currency.  The unit of currency in the Philippines is the Peso (Piso in Tagalog).  A peso, like a dollar is made up of 100 smaller units, called sentimo.  In the above picture the bills represent, from left to right, P1000, P500, P100, P50, and P20.  I did not have a P200 bill when I took the picture, but you get the idea!.  The coins represent P10, P5, P1, 25 sentimo, and 10 sentimo. 

Pretty straightforward, hey?  At first glance it seems to make sense.  A lot like Canadian currency.  (Sentimo seem about as useful here as pennies are in Canada.  They should just do away with them completely and round everything to the nearest peso.)

The confusion begins when you look at the relative value of these bills and coins.  Currently the exchange rate is about P44=$1CAD.  So as a rough estimate, P1000 is about $25.00.

This is where the first frustration comes. P1000 is the largest denomination that is made.  When purchasing large items, like a vehicle (P150000+), you have a couple of choices.  You can either carry a huge stack of cash (literally, a huge stack), or you can try to use a credit or debit card.  Considering that most places you go do not take credit or debit card (more on this later), you probably need the cash.  So you are dealing with lots of cash.  Very different from Canada, where you can get away with not carrying cash anywhere and be quite fine. Lesson 1: Get used to carrying cash and dealing in cash.

The next frustration is that bank machines generally only dispense P1000 bills.  Why it is that they feel the need to give you the largest denomination possible I do not know.  It would be much more convenient to have the machines dispense P100s.  Imagine going to a bank machine in Canada and having to withdraw in multiples of $1000.  How frustrating would that be? Lesson 2: Expect to be using large denominations.

That leads to the next frustration.  Imagine going into 7-eleven and trying to buy a Slurpee (mmm...Slurpee) and using a $1000 bill to pay for it.  How much would the 7-eleven guy want to tell you where to put the bill?  Stores are not set up to offer change for that kind of cash.  It's the same here.  When you go into a store and just want to buy a coke (P22), and you try to pay with P1000 they aren't usually too happy.  That's a lot of change they need to provide.  There are many times when you simply cannot use a P1000 bill.  Taxis, jeepneys, corner stores; none of these will have enough change.  So it can be difficult to get rid of those pesky P1000 bills.  Lesson 3, 4, 5, and 6: Try to pay with the largest bill in your pocket.  Smaller denominations are better - hang onto them if at all possible. Never pay with exact change for anything.  Try to get change whenever possible!

While P1000 doesn't seem like much to us (after all, it's only $25), it is a huge amount of money here, at least for most people.  The average person (not the upper class people) here will make about P250 per day.  Yes, P250 per day.  Some will make more, some will make less.  So P1000 is a lot of money.  Many get paid daily and in cash.  They can then go to the store and buy what they need for the next day.  Lesson 7: A person working at McDonald's back in Canada makes more in one hour than most people here make in a whole day.

Which factors into the next frustration; credit/debit cards.  As I mentioned before, most places you cannot use a bank card or credit card to pay for things.  This is especially true if you are buying something from a home-based business or markets (which is very common), but is also often true at the stores at the mall.  The home-based stores and markets simply do not have the capability to accept payment by credit/debit.  It doesn't happen.  The malls can be a bit better as far as using cards.  Most stores there you can use a card, but often they will give you a strange look when you do.  Then they will have to dust off the machine and try to remember how it works.  Then they may be able to process the transaction.

I have found that the ability to use a card at a mall is not something that should be assumed.  A while back Kerri and I went to one of the nicer malls to look for a printer for our computers.  We went into one of the many computer stores and found the one we wanted to get.  The sales people unpacked it all and hooked it up to check to see if it worked okay (another annoyance, but not really related to this topic).  While they were doing this I thought to myself, "I am assuming that I can use my debit card here.  After all, it's a nice store in a nice mall.  They sell computers and stuff, so they must be used to larger purchases, and would offer this service."  So I checked with the sales person.  She looked at my bank card (my Filipino one, not my Canadian one) and acted like she had never seen one of them before.  I quickly learned that I needed to find a bank machine.  While on my way across the mall to find one, I had plenty of time to reflect on Lesson 1.  Lesson 8: Never assume.  You know what they say about assuming...

Why do stores not use credit/debit cards more often?  Next annoyance: banks are for businesses and the rich.  When the average person makes P250 a day, it is unlikely that they will end up saving much for the future.  Culturally that is not even a consideration.  And when the banks require a minimum of around P3000 to open an account (in most cases), it is unlikely that the average person will be able to get a bank account.  As for a credit card?  Yeah, right.  How do you do a credit check on someone who gets paid daily in cash? Why should a store spend the money to offer credit/debit processing when most people use cash?

All this can get to be frustrating, but I think that I have learned some pretty good lessons.  I think I have just about figured it all out.

By the way, do you have change for P1000?


Chantelle said...

Oh how I feel your pain. Niger has maybe two bank machines that I have seen and I have never used them. They are in the EU headquarters and the only expensive hotel in town. I am ALWAYS looking to break my big bills (biggest bill here is worth $21). Oh, and I don't even have my own bank account :P It's a team bank account and you only know what you have on paper. Thankfully they can pay some things via cheque for us, but I kid you now I went to the outdoor market with $10,000 CANADIAN on me last year to buy grain for our famine aid program. I don't even want to know what would have happened had I been robbed and been on the hook personally for all that. Gah. So I am on the same page with you. Dealing with cash and purchases and programs with cash in a "poor mans" country is always a stress!

Praying for you guys!


Chantelle said...

oops. I meant I kid you NOT that I did that!