2015.05.24 00:00 | Kurt Tomlinson
Living in the Philippines was a daily adventure. Even something as simple as going shopping presented new and interesting challenges. This is part two of a two-part series.
Credit cards were one of the things I missed most while living in the Philippines. Almost nowhere accepted credit cards except for the major stores in the local SM Supermall. Several restaurants and the local hospital also declined my to accept my credit card even though they had prominently displayed signs proclaiming that they accepted credit cards. When I asked about the signage, the only response I ever got was nervous laughter and a stare as they waited for me to find the cash.
Everything is smaller there. Cereal boxes are maybe 10 ounces. The largest soft drink at McDonald's could only be generously be called a small in America. And drinks at the supermarket are sold almost exclusively on an individual basis. There are no six-packs of beer or 12-packs of Coke. Cans and bottles are sold individually with relatively high per-unit prices. On the flip side, Red Horse, a very strong local beer, sold for 70 pesos per liter (about 3 cans of beer for less than $1.75) at any 7-Eleven. That's a deal not likely to be matched in America ever.
On Clark Air Base, duty-free stores were prolific. People often associate the words "duty-free" with bargains. After my experience with these stores I can assure you that is not the case. The prices in the stores are not good. However, these stores often offer imported products that cannot be obtained anywhere else. In that sense, "duty-free" stores would be more accurately described as foreign specialty stores. the only things you should buy their are items you can't get anywhere else. Their prices are, across the board, higher than standard stores.
Duty-free stores in the Clark Freeport Zone catered to Americans. They sold American goods and accepted American dollars. This is very convenient when you're reluctant to use a local ATM due to outrageous exchange and ATM usage fees. The catch is that the exchange rate offered at these duty free stores is often worse than what you'd get from your bank. The exchange rate was often around ₱41-42PHP/USD at these stores when the market rate was closer to ₱44-45PHP/USD. That's about a 7% fee compared with the 0-5% fees typically charged by American banks.
Although buying individual bottles/cans of drinks in stores was usually somewhat costly, I found vending machines to be very affordable. Compared to American vending machines where a can of soda runs about $1 USD and larger bottles go from $1.25-$2.50 USD depending on the brand, Filippino vending machines were a steal. A bottle of Gatorade was only ₱25 PHP or $0.56 USD, and vending machine coffee was about ₱12 PHP per cup. (The coffee quality wasn't great, but it worked in a pinch.) Although you still pay slightly more for the luxury of buying a single item, the ridiculous markup usually present on American vending machine items was nowhere to be found.
Want to read more about shopping in the Philippines? Check out the other part of this series:
Photo of Quiapo, Manila by shankar s.