What is an Overseas Filipino Worker – OFW Meaning

Overseas Filipino Workers, more popularly known as OFWs, are basically Filipino workers who live and work in a foreign country. These are the people who left their homes and their families to seek better pay and more opportunities to have better working conditions to support and provide for their families back home in the Philippines, even when it translates to the dangers and difficulties of living and working far from their loved ones.

It doesn’t matter that they had to adapt to a new culture or learn a new language. What matters is that their wages and prospects are much better than what is offered back home.

Not all Filipinos who leave the country are considered as OFWs. There are certain requirements to be met before one can be considered as one. In this article, we looked into what an OFW really is, in an effort to help you understand what it actually means to be one and why they are tagged as the Modern Heroes of our time. 

What is an OFW

An Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) is a person. By definition, they are Filipino citizens registered to work outside of the Philippines, in another country, albeit temporarily, and often on a contract, ranging from month-long to unlimited-period work contracts. They migrate abroad for temporary assignments so they can support themselves and their families, by providing the same crucial service to other countries.

OFWs are originally known as OCWs or Overseas Contract Workers. They hold Filipino citizenship and are non-resident Filipino citizens, with a separate set of rights and privileges allotted to them. They are obliged by the law to register with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), an attached agency under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) created to protect and safeguard the rights of OFWs worldwide.

Note that not all Filipinos abroad are OFWs. There are non-OFWs who are also refer to as returning overseas Filipinos. This group includes non-OFW students, non-OFW Balikbayan, non-OFW tourist, spouses, and children of Filipinos who live overseas.

It is also different from overseas Filipinos (OFs), or those who have acquired permanent resident status or citizenship from another country. There’s also a distinction between OFWs and the  ‘balikbayans’, as the ‘balikbayans’ are simply those Filipinos who are visiting for the holidays or for short vacations. 

OFW Roles and Contributions

OFWs play an important role in the Philippines’ social, cultural, and economic life. Not only do they contribute to the government through the taxes that they are required to pay, but they also send remittances which help sustain not only their families but also the country’s economy. In fact, as the number of OFWs increase through the years, their contribution to the country’s GDP increases as well. 

OFWs are also valuable players when it comes to the socio-cultural aspect of life in the country. In addition to the skills and experience they share, the training they get while working with some of the most technologically progressive countries somehow help improve the workforce back home. The sacrifice they make while supporting their loved ones is also an important contribution that only they can make to the  society.  

OFWs also play a vital role in the Filipino diaspora. They help connect the Philippines to the rest of the world. In doing so, they inadvertently contribute to the country’s globalization allowing us to adapt to the ever-changing global landscape.

To celebrate the OFWs contribution to the growing economy of the Philippines, late President Cory Aquino signed a proclamation in 1988 declaring December as the Month of Overseas Filipinos.

Top Reasons Why Filipinos Choose to Become OFWs

There are numerous reasons why many Filipinos choose to become OFWs despite the challenges of being alone in far and unfamiliar territories. Some of these reasons include: 

  • To provide for and support their families financially
  • To be able to finance their children’s education
  • To earn better and escape poverty and unemployment
  • To expand their horizons and experience new things, cultures, and lifestyles
  • To gain more skills and undergo training that they can use back home
  • To build better lives for themselves and their families by stabilizing their finances, among others
  • To help themselves and their families get out of debt
  • To provide financial support to extended families, especially the parents and grandparents
  • To be able to pay for medical expenses.
  • To earn more and be able to save money for when it’s actually needed (e.g. emergencies)
  • To buy a home 
  • To start a business
  • To give their children a fighting chance at a better future

Types of Jobs Available to Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)

Depending on the skills, experience, and education that they’ve had in the Philippines, OFW jobs can be white or blue collar jobs. The available positions may range from caregivers to construction workers and professional workers like nurses, engineers, IT, etc. Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are all scattered worldwide, from the neighboring Asian countries to the Middle East, US, and other countries in Europe.

  • Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who work as Overseas Manpower (caregivers, household service workers, domestic helpers such as nannies and maids)
  • Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who work in the construction industry (construction workers or carpenters)
  • Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who work in manufacturing (factory workers)
  • Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who work in other fields like engineering and medicine (engineers and doctors)
  • Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who work in the field of Information Technology (IT)
  • Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who work in the field of Customer Service
  • Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who work in the field of Nursing

Benefits of Being an OFW

As the Bagong Bayani of modern times, being an OFW comes with perks and special treatment, thanks to their contributions to the economic growth of the country. 

Some of the common perks or benefits that come with working abroad as an OFW, include:

  • Exemption on Fees

With the power wielded by the Overseas Employment Certificate or OEC, OFWs can avail exemptions from various fees including, but not limited to airport terminal fee, travel tax, and documentary stamp tax.

  • Tax-Free Shopping at Duty Free

OFWs who enjoy shopping or those who weren’t able to shop before heading home can enjoy 15-day tax-free shopping at the Duty Free Philippines. While buying pasalubong to your family, relatives, and friends is good, just make sure you don’t overdo it.

  • Housing Loan from SSS or PAG-IBIG

OFWs are offered easier and better loan terms not only in banks but also among government agencies like the SSS and PAG-IBIG. In fact, some government agencies like the NHA also offer housing projects at a low cost specially for OFWs. 

  • Free Language Courses at TESDA

The TESDA Language Skills Institute may not be exclusively offering their free language training to OFWs, but being one gives you the motivation to start learning foreign languages like Spanish, English, Japanese, Mandarin, and Arabic. Because slots are limited, OFWs are given priority as well since they are the ones who need it most.

  • OWWA Benefits 

OFWs are mostly required to join the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration or OWWA, an agency meant to protect and promote the welfare of OFWs and their dependents. This agency has numerous programs and services in place and most of them are aids or benefits exclusively designed and offered to OFWs. Such programs include onsite assistance, livelihood trainings, education assistance for dependents, counseling, and legal assistance, among others.

Ways to Become an OFW

Being an OFW means being part of a global community of Filipinos. They have elected to work abroad in order to provide for their families despite the difficult and often challenging lifestyle. OFWs are the modern-day heroes, and here’s how they get started.

  • One of the many ways to become an OFW is to find a job in another country with employer who will be willing to sponsor your work visa. This process is legal and a little long, but there are POEA-accredited recruitment agencies who can help facilitate your application and work permit before leaving the country.
  • Another way is to study or train in a profession that is in demand overseas. This will give OFWs the skills and qualifications they need to find a high-paying job in another country.

Whatever the reason may be for you to want to become an OFW, there are many options and opportunities available.

Common OFW Problems 

Being an OFW is not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s not even as glamorous as it seems. Though you get to travel and work in a foreign country, the downside mans having to live away from family and friends and while dealing with new challenges, like culture shock and language barriers.

OFWs often face many challenges, such as adapting to a new culture and missing their families back home. They also have to deal with the following dangers and difficulties associated with working in a foreign country.

Here’s are some of them:

  • Culture shock
  • Homesickness
  • Language barrier
  • Lack of social and emotional support
  • Poor living conditions
  • Low wages
  • Poor working conditions
  • Unsafe work environment
  • Discrimination
  • Stressful work conditions
  • Health problems
  • Lack of financial security
  • Separation from family and friends
  • Lack of time for self-care
  • Lack of rest and relaxation
  • Difficulty in adjusting to the new environment
  • Exposure to dangerous working conditions
  • Fear of being stranded in a foreign country
  • Limited access to quality health care
  • Limited access to education and training
  • Lack of social support from the local community

OFWs also face discrimination and exploitation. They may be paid much less compared to the locals, and they may not have the same rights or protections. As a result, OFWs often experience homesickness, anxiety, and depression and experience difficulties in adjusting to life back home after spending years away. 

Becoming an OFW

Becoming an OFW means going through certain processes. To become an OFW, one needs to be mentally, physically, and financially prepared, on top of the necessary documentary requirements.

Requirements To Become an OFW

Here are some of the documentary requirements that you need to prepare if you wish to apply for and become an OFW.

  • 2 x 2 picture 
  • Passport (valid for at least 6 months)
  • PSA-issued Birth certificate
  • High School/College diploma
  • Transcript of Records
  • Resume/Curriculum Vitae (CV)
  • Employment contract/Job contract
  • NBI clearance
  • Marriage contract (if applicable)
  • PRC ID
  • Certificates (e.g. training certificates etc.)

Application Process to Becoming an OFW

If you want to be an OFW, then these are the processes you will need to prepare for and go through: 

  • Pre-Employment Orientation Seminar (PEOS)

The Pre-Employment Orientation Seminar (PEOS) is a mandatory orientation-seminar required from OFW wannabes. It is necessary in building the basic knowledge required for overseas employment. This seminar is initiated by the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW, formerly POEA) and it covers a wide range of topics including prevailing rates and conditions of work as well as living standards to expect abroad.

  • Find a recruitment agency

Applying for a job abroad requires going through an agency. To find legitimate agencies, you may check the list of DMW-approved recruitment agencies by visiting www.dmw.gov.ph. This will ensure that you can avoid becoming a victim of illegal recruiters since most agencies do offer reasonable yet watertight employment contracts.

  • Process the required documents

Getting the documentary requirements necessary for the job application is the next step in your bid to become an OFW. Some documents like the school Transcript of Records and diploma, your medical certificate, and all the other requirements needed by the agency may be required, depending on the type of job that you wish to take abroad.

  • Go through interviews and screening exams

Once the documents are ready, it’s time to think about attending interviews and screenings related to your preferred job. Preparing for the interviews and screening exams is imperative since you also need to pass the interviews and screenings anyway. Employers spend money for the training of employees who work abroad so you need to make sure that you are worth their investment.

  • Medical tests and assessments

Getting medical tests and securing a medical certificate from OWWA-accredited clinics is the next step as you need to be healthy enough to work abroad as you become the responsibility of your employer who will sponsor you.

  • Employment contract signing

Signing the employment contract is the next step to becoming an OFW. Just make sure that you are aware of the terms of your contract so that you don’t get dismissed from your job or face consequences if you break the contract.

  • Payment of fees

Paying the required fees depending on the job you will take abroad. This includes paying for placement, processing, and other fees as stated in your contract. 

  • Pre-Deployment Orientation Seminar (PDOS)

Attending the PDOS, an orientation program about the country where you will work. The session offers information that will be useful when you adjust to your new environment. 

  • Submitting the requirements to POEA/DMW and other government agencies

The recruitment agency you are in will be required to submit your requirements to POEA and other government agencies so they can validate your employment. After the validation, you will be issued your Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) which will be necessary when you apply for a working visa.

  • Validation and Flight

Before departure, you will need to present your receipt at the Labor Assistance Center and the Bureau of Immigration for validation. This will also help you get exemptions from paying the terminal fee and travel tax, a benefit exclusive to OFWs. You will also need to present your OFW documents like your passport and PDOS certificate before you are allowed to travel abroad.

  • Begin working overseas

Now, you are an OFW. Keep in touch with your family via social media apps. Keep your communication lines open with your agency. Keep safe while working abroad.

  • Getting your salary.

Following the right channels to get your money is important whether it is to be received on a monthly basis or on lump sum basis. It will depend on your contract which you should be responsible for reading and understanding.

Video: The OFW Journey as Shared by an Overseas Filipino Worker

Becoming an OFW is not as simple as it seems. To learn more about how to do it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, here’s a Youtube video shared by Youtuber gineerbens.

Watch the full video here:

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions and answers related to becoming an OFW.

1. How long have Overseas Filipino Workers been around?

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) have been around for many years, starting from the deployment of the first wave of workers going abroad in the 1970s.

2. What is the main reason that Filipinos want to become Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)?

The primary motivation that most Filipinos have in seeking to become an Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) is be able to provide for their families and loved ones back home. They want to achieve the Filipino dream and be able to give their families a better life and provide them with opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise.

3. Are all Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) migrant workers?

No. Not all Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are migrant workers. 

4. How many Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are out there in the world?

There are an estimated 10 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) around the world.

5. What are the top destinations for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)?

Some of the most popular destinations for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are decided by the type of work that they do. However, some of the countries where many OFWs reside include Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates, United States, Canada, Singapore, and Taiwan.

6. What challenges do Overseas Filipino Workers face?

One of the biggest challenges that Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) face is living away from their families and on their own for long periods of time. They also face problems related to discrimination and exploitation in their host countries, along with difficult working conditions, language barriers, and cultural differences.

7. What are some of the benefits of being an Overseas Filipino Worker?

Some of the benefits of being an Overseas Filipino Worker include premium earning and the chance to expand their horizon, gaining work experience, gain new cultural exposure, and learning new skills.

8. What is the difference between an OFW and a migrant worker?

There is no difference between an OFW and a migrant worker. Both are people who move to another country or area in order to find employment. The same description works for OFWs, which makes them one and the same. 

9. Why are Filipinos considered modern-day heroes?

Because of the challenges that Filipinos face today, coupled with the lack of opportunities for gainful employment, having OFWs support the Philippine economy as it struggles in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, makes them incredible enough to be seen as modern-day heroes even though they had to leave their homes and families behind. They also play an important role in helping to prop up the Philippine economy through their remittances. 


Despite the risks and the challenges, many Filipinos continue to aspire to become an OFW in their bid to achieve a better life and get better opportunities to improve their lives and the lives of their families. These Filipinos give up everything, from the company of their families to the joys of being with them and seeing their families grow and flourish, even if it means risking their lives and their happiness. They do their best to become OFWs who play a part in the development of the Philippine economy through their remittances, even as they contribute to the country in other ways.

Though they face many challenges, OFWs face struggles and continue to work forward to be more successful in achieving their goals and improving the lives of their families.

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