Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 01/28/12
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?
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?
Washington, DC.About a 23 hour plane ride, but the total trip time was more like 30 hours including transfers, getting to the airport 3 hours before, and so on. From DC, Delta is the preferred airline, which goes through Minneapolis/St. Paul to Narita, Tokyo, then onward to Manila. The BETTER flight is from DC to Atlanta, then to Narita, if you can get it.
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?
Several. Seafront, where we live, houses the GSO, CLO, Medical Unit, Amerikids, Public Affairs, has a tennis court, gym, playground, and full sized pool and kids pool. It's a walled guarded place, which is really nice because if you have kids, you can take them to the playground without much problems. However, the location is in the 'bermuda triangle' of three very busy roads, so pollution is high on the compound. Closest housing to the Embassy - commute time by Embassy shuttle is around 15 minutes. There is housing in the Makati area, which a lot of single people enjoy because shopping is very close by. Commute time is much longer. About 25 minutes in the morning, but evening can be up to an hour or more. Fort Bonifacio - VERY Nice area, very rich area, less traffic. Mostly high rises, but the commute time is the WORST.A few folks live in the 'villages' or spread out around the metro Manila area. Many people pay to have a driver as not to deal with the cruddy traffic.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
If your expecting American or European quality - few and far between. Many of us shop at S&R, which is basically Costco here. Produce is not always good. Expect produce to rot or go bad sooner than it would in the States. It is also limited in quantities and type. A lot of people buy canned or frozen.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Infant and baby supplies (they are available here, but not as good quality or questionable content).A HEPA grade air filter for the house.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Almost any type of fast food is here, and they deliver!Lunchtime around the Embassy has all the biggies delivering: Papa Johns, McDonalds, Jollibee, KFC, etc. Many American restaurants: TGIFridays, California Pizza Kitchen, etc at the big malls only.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Almost none. There is a store called Healthy Options that DOES carry speciality foods, but expect to pay triple the prices that you do in the States. We buy our son's food (Earth's Best) from Healthy Options, because the cost of buying it here is cheaper than the shipping cost through DPO.Meat-free here to most locals means you can eat fish and other seafood, so be careful.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Cockroaches at night. We only saw one in our apartment. Our yaya keeps our place pretty clean, so we haven't seen any inside our apartment. Mosquitos outside, ants perhaps. Just like living in Southern Florida really.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO at the embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Crazy cheap. Americans are advised NOT to pay more as it skews the economics and makes the local staff not hireable when you leave. About 11,000-13,000 pesos a month for an all-around or yaya/nanny. You can pay lower if they are live in. Drivers get more.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. The embassy has a gym in the NOX building. Usually the local staff hang out there because they can watch tv. It is open to anyone who works there. At Seafront, the ARC sponsors a gym, tennis court, etc, membership is required to use them. The ARC gym is open to Americans only.
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?
Don't. Pay cash. LOTS of problems with credit fraud.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. We could not find our denomination here though - Evangelical Lutheran.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes. International Herald Tribune and Wall Street Journal. Usually price. Local papers in English - plenty of choices.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
A lot. I've personally experienced this. I was hospitalized for a disc problem in my back and lost partial feeling in my leg and foot. I required a cane to get around for a while. I had a VERY hard time in the city getting around. Areas like the Fort and Makati are built up enough to be handicap accessible, but the rest are not.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes. Taxis are okay'd by the Embassy, but everything else is off limits. Due to safety concerns, only a taxi is allowed.
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?
We've seen everything on the road, however bring extra tires, hoses, filters, etc.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, through the embassy. Not a bad price, but doesn't always work!
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cheap, lots of plans, and EVERYONE texts.
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Men wear a barong, which is both dressy and casual (lucky guys). Women usually wear pretty business casual. The Embassy is very cold, but outside is really hot.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes, depending on where you live. If you live on the Seafront Compound, DON'T take your kids out for a walk outside the compound walls. Most people hire drivers, so this is not a problem. The Embassy is good about sending early alerts out.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Yes. I had to be flown to Singapore to get a decent diagnosis. I'm also pregnant and have to go back to the States to deliver. The medical unit here trusts the OB, but does NOT trust the hospital. Others have had luck with the medical care, but we are finding it very difficult and very disappointing. Hence, we either need to medevac outside for certain issues, or use our R&R to get help back in the States.
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. We only take our son outside for no more than 30 minutes at a time. When we depart for work in the morning, you can see and smell how foul the air is. After the New Year's Eve celebrations, we woke up to a complete haze of smoke and fog. Lots of families bring in their own air purifiers, otherwise you wake up with the 'crud' in your throat and nose.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
About 80-90 degrees, all the time. There is the rainy season, and the dry season. Lots of typhoons come through. This last year a big one hit Manila and the Embassy had serious water damage because of it's location. Otherwise, just expect rain at strange times.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
Everyone has a yaya (nanny).We lucked out with ours, but many families go through a few before finding a good one. Usually they are passed around the Embassy families. Amerikids is available when the child is 2, but it's only 4 hours a day.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
LARGE. Lots of military guys retired here.
2. Morale among expats:
Iffy. Some love it here, others hate it and can't wait to leave, some are middle of the road. Personally, we cannot wait to leave.
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?
We have young children - we have none!
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Single men seem to have a really good time. Single women do too, they usually hang out at the Marine House for happy hour or go clubbing on the weekends. Hard for the single women to find a man, because the locals are all over the single men. Families it is pretty good so far. There are a lot of families with small children on Seafront.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There is a special type of gay male here in the Philippines that is culturally acceptable. I don't know about lesbian expats here.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
No. Although the northern part of the Philippines is Catholic, and the Southern part is Muslim. The southern Muslim part is intolerant of anyone not Muslim.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We have been working with USEC at the Embassy with charity work. Poverty is very in your face around the Embassy area and the Seafront living area, to include the main roads. Doing what we can to help local orphanages and homes for older children and the eldery. It's very sad, and somehow a lot of people seem to tune it out.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Hang out at the huge malls.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Wooden carved figurines, handicrafts from recycled items, coconut liquor
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Going on weekend vacations outside the city. There are many resorts, beaches, vacation spots, snorkling, scuba diving, etc.
11. Can you save money?
Yes - if you don't shop for groceries at the high end stores or eat out a lot.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
For the work experience - yes, it's worth it work wise. To live - absolutely not.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
High expectations, cold weather gear
3. But don't forget your:
hot weather gear, insect repellant, swimming and scuba gear and air filter!