Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 05/13/11

Personal Experiences from Manila, Philippines

Manila, Philippines 05/13/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

This is my 3rd expat experience

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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 of the US -- travel time to Manila is approximately 22 hours (layovers included) connecting in Detroit or Minneapolis then again in Narita or Nagoya (Japan).

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3. How long have you lived here?

over 1 year

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

US Government employee

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Most housing is high-rise condos/apartments. Some people live in housing in a number of developments. Commute is horrible -- traffic is usually terrible and it will take hours to go 10KM. Be prepared to spend a lot of time in cars.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Depends on where you want to shop. There is a Costco-like shoppers club called S&R that carries just about all of the American products you could wish for. As does Rustan's grocery and Market! Market! in the Fort. If you shop at the local markets, food can be VERY affordable.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

I would bring a breadmaker and hand soap. I hate the smell of the handsoap available on the local market.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Anything you want, you can get: from TGI Fridays, McDonald's, Pizza, Indian food, Thai. Generally very affordable or on par with the US (in US chains). Most places deliver (yes, even McDonald's)

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

If you're a vegetarian, this post is miserable. Everything is cooked in pork fat. Meat is key in every meal. Shellfish is ubiquitous, so if you're allergic, exercise a lot of caution. Gluten free & soy alternatives are found in many grocery stores and a store called Healthy Options (Greenbelt and MOA are the 2 I know of -- there are probably other branches).

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

The mosquitoes are fairly vicious. Cockroaches. Embassy GSO does a good job of controlling them, however.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Very affordable. Quality can be touch and go (I ended up with an AMAZING helper, some have had troubles). Drivers average salary of 500 to 700 Pesos/day; Helpers' wages depend on if you provide housing. Live-out, part-time runs 500 to 800 pesos a day depending on other benefits and duties. Ya ya's (nannies) are very common and their cost is comparable.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, very affordable and nearly everywhere you go.

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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?

Regularly used & accepted. ATMs are everywhere.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Philippines is heavily Roman Catholic. Many English-language services.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

A subscription to the Int'l Herald Tribune 6 days a week runs 12,000 PHP/year, local papers are mostly English as well and cost less for delivery.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None -- I found some guerrilla Tagalog to use with cab drivers (to show them I didn't just get off the plane here) was helpful.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Buildings are not wheelchair accessible -- some have ramps and elevators, but generally very difficult to get around. Only method of public transportation that one could use is taxis and they generally aren't accommodating. Sidewalks (if there are any) are generally poorly maintained and uneven.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are very cheap & affordable, but the drivers will often try to get more money out of you ("Oh ma'am, too far, lots of traffic, you pay 300 Pesos!").Insist they use the meter. If they don't get out and get another cab (unless it's Friday night in Makati, then you might be a victim to the market!!)

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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?

Go Asian! Toyota, Nissan, Suzuki, Honda...all very common. Some Volvos and BMWs. No carjackings. Road quality in Manila is generally good enough to accommodate compact & low profile vehicles, but if you want to drive out into the provinces, vehicles with a higher clearance are your best bet.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, highest speed will cost around 3500 php/month (less than $100). Other packages are available for much less.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

The Philippines is the top sender of text messages worldwide. You can get cheap unlocked phones here & SIM cards for a song (about $1 for the card + "load" -- credit for calls & texting).

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Pets:

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?

No

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Good...the vet will come to you.

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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?

Yes -- often with NGO's or PIOs. There are also a lot of "call centers" that are US owned that employ expats.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Public: Very casual (sundresses, shorts, jeans -- all are acceptable).Work depends on where you work -- business casual is common. Expat men frequently adopt a Philippine "barong" or dress shirt and that is perfectly acceptable in all work and casual environments.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

USG personnel prohibited from traveling on island of Mindanao. In 2011, bombing of a commuter bus on EDSA.Daily security not usually an issue -- usual heightened awareness of one's security is sufficient to thwart would be pickpockets.

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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 accessible and generally very good. Very affordable (currently a cleaning at the dentist will run 800 to 1000 Pesos, same for a doctor's visit).The climate is horrible and upper respiratory infections are very common. Expect to contract stomach bugs while you're here (BYO Pepto Bismol -- it is NOT available on the local market -- if you want to use it.)

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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?

HORRIBLE. Everyone I know gets upper respiratory infections on a regular basis. Most days the city is covered with a rusty brown haze.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot, wet and hot. If you love sun, this is your place. Wet season lasts generally from June through September/October. While a few typhoons may affect the western side of the island of Luzon, usually rain is limited to a few hours a day during the rainy season.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Very large (ADB, multiple embassies, WorldBank, aid agencies & NGOs.)

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2. Morale among expats:

Dubious

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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?

Can be great, but the traffic and congestion in the city often puts a damper on plans. It's a major effort to go from one end of the city to the other. If you live in Makati or the Fort, opportunities abound. First run American movies are very inexpensive at air conditioned theatres.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

This is a horrible post for single women -- don't even bother. Dating options are next to nil and the expat community is so disparate that you end up feeling very, very isolated. It seems to be a great place for the single men.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

I haven't personally experienced any or heard of any. I have heard men I'm acquainted with say that they are downright uncomfortable with how frequently they are accosted in public places, but that is not so much a prejudice as it is opportunistic.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Scuba diving & snorkeling, spas are fantastic, antiquing

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Handcrafted wooden boxes with mother of pearl inlay, lots and lots of real pearl jewelry (Greenhills)

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Great jumping off point for travel throughout Asia (I have visited India, Thailand, China, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam during my tour); availability of great helpers and drivers, lots of beaches to enjoy throughout the Philippines with inexpensive flights on Cebu Pacific or PAL carriers.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, if you buy local.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Not now...ask me in 10 years. I might change my mind.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen and sense of humor!

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

If you're going to be working here, read "Anarchy of Families" for a good explanation of the barkada and family structures here.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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