Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 05/06/11
Personal Experiences from Manila, Philippines
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
6th expat experience
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
East Coast. 22 hours, with connections through Detroit and Nagoya or Narita (Tokyo).
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Seafront Compound: about 15 minutes from the embassy. Apartments and townhouses, tennis courts, squash and racquetball courts, a gym, and a pool with a lifeguard. Unfortunately, there's nothing around there, and the neighborhood is kind of sketchy. Makati:built-up neighborhood with lots of expats, restaurants, etc. Apartment living - no green space. 30+ minutes to the embassy. A lot of shopping. Fort Bonifacio: apartment living, some green spaces, though construction is booming. Close to most of the int'l schools and shopping. The Villages: single-family homes sprinkled around. Some have pools, most are pretty spacious but not necessarily well-maintained. The layouts can be kind of weird, too.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
We have found groceries and supplies to be expensive.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Pool toys for the kids. Birthday/Christmas presents.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's is cheap but does not have exactly the same flavors. Krispy Kreme, TGI Fridays, Chilis, Outback, Texas Roadhouse, etc., all a little bit cheaper (except the alcohol).
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
There are a lot of American-imported products with U.S. labeling about allergens. But it's expensive. Vegetarians sometimes have a hard time here.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Regular tropical bugs.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Cheap and plentiful. However, you get what you pay for.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, at the embassy, on the economy, and in some apartment buildings.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
We use them frequently and haven't had a problem.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Anglican and non-denominational are frequently attended by expats.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None - we have no Tagalog and get along just fine.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
A lot. Don't do it.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
RSO advises us against public transportation. Taxis are fine, as long as the driver is willing to go where you want and turns on the meter.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
I would suggest something like the Honda CR-V, the unofficial car of the foreign service.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, we pay about $85/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Many things are done through texting, so get a phone ASAP.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
No -- but there are a lot of jobs at the Embassy, not all of which are clerical in nature.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Pickpockets are frequent. Pay close attention to your purse/wallet. Terrorist groups operate in the south, where our embassy personnel are forbidden to travel. In late 2010, there was a bus bombing that killed two. It took place just outside a neighborhood that houses many embassy families.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is not bad -- but there are some things I wouldn't have done here (like anything requiring general anethesia).Some people have babies here and reports of experiences are varied.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Unhealthy. All from automobiles -- there's no industrial base here. Many expats complain about it, but it's nowhere near China's air.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Warm/hot and sunny for part of the year, warm/hot and rainy the rest of the year (approx July - November).
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The two main ones are ISM and Brent, which have been pretty well covered here. We are happy with ISM. We chose it solely based on proximity to our housing.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Brent can handle them. ISM has some limited services.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Amerikids at Seafront is cheap and good, though pretty academically-oriented for a preschool. Other parents have found Montessori schools or pay for their kids to go to ISM.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, through the school and locally.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families: sort of. Domestic help is cheap and plentiful. There are things to do (little league, after-school activities), but it's not a fun city to be in. Couples: yes. Singles: I would say "yes", because the embassy is so big, and the expat community is so big, it is not hard to make friends.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that we have seen.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Getting certified to SCUBA dive, traveling around SE Asia.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Travel outside of Manila.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Furniture, clothes, handicrafts.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather is warm year-round. Manila is a 20% hardship post, so there may be opportunities to save money. Domestic help is cheap and plentiful.
11. Can you save money?
We have been able to.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. I don't regret it, but I will never come back.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
patience and realization that Filipinos are Asian, first and foremost.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
Gas is really expensive. We just got notified that we will now pay (through the embassy recreation club) $100 for 100 liters of gas. Manila also started getting a 5% COLA recently - I expect that to go up, especially as the dollar weakens against the peso.