Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 05/24/12
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?
My fouth 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?
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?
American Embassy folks have a “choice” of Seafront, an isolated compound in a rough neighborhood with a close commute to the embassy. This is perfect for singles without children as the commute is easy and there are some facilities for adults --racquetball, tennis courts, a swimming pool. While there are also playgrounds and a preschool there, most families prefer the villages or Fort Bonifacio. The single and childless couples crowd seem to enjoy Makati and Malate.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available. Groceries cost about twice as much as in the U.S. if you are shopping at the local “Costco” or Rustans where you can find imported products. If you brave the open markets (hanging raw chicken in tropical heat, etc.) or shop the bargain supermarkets, you can save some money. The local foods have more additives, less hygienic processing of perishable and meat items, and don’t require labeling. It is worth it to accompany your helper on a shopping trip to see where your food is coming from.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
"DEET-free" mosquito repellent at a reasonable price.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Filipinos seem to love fast food. Restaurants of all types and even American chains are plentiful. Many people gain weight due to the poor quality (lots of high fat, sodium and MSG), but relatively cheap restaurant food.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
It's available, but you’ll pay through the roof for it. Everything is here. Wholefoods looks like a bargain compared to the organic food chain here.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Dengue fever is a major concern here, with three people we know having been hospitalized due to contracting this. A four-year-old child living in the ritzy Forbes Park neighborhood died due to Dengue last year. Roaches and other insects can be an issue, depending on where you are housed.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Via the embassy only.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Plentiful. $200-400/month per person you hire (driver, maid, cook, nanny, etc. Some families have more staff than family members!
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, at the Seafront compound and in most apartment buildings. (There is an annual charge for the Seafront facilities).
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?
They are safe, but use them with caution about your surroundings, as robberies at some local malls have been on the rise.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
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, although the local version of English gets frustrating at times
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Immense! This is not a walkable city for the able-bodied unless you enjoy breathing smog, sweating, and dodging vehicles. Most people (I don't know of anyone!) won’t drive their own cars and opt to hire drivers. So if you wouldn’t drive your own car, imagine walking for an able-bodied -- not to mention a disabled -- person!
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
All public transport is inadvisable, but taxis seem safe enough. You will, however, spot cockroaches in them!
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?
If you plan to hire a small staff to take care of you and your children and your pets, then bring a minivan or large SUV. Driving here is really not advisable, so plan to have at least one extra person in your vehicle (the hired local driver). Otherwise, any vehicle will do.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, about $20/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There are lots to choose from here. Globe seems more popular than SMART.
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)?
We don't have a pet, but there are lots of stray animals around, and the animal situation here looks sad.
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?
Not unless you are a teacher or are employed by a major NGO like ADB.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Just try to stay comfortable and dry in the heat..."Barongs" are popular with the new officers.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Robberies are on the rise...there have been numerous reports and one person we know who has been stopped by a "fake guard" regarding a vehicle problem and then robbed.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Air quality, Dengue, Tuberculosis, are major concerns that the embassy has been making public notices about. Most people have their servants tested via chest x-ray before hiring, as TB is rampant. Medical care is great, though, and there is an excellent health unit at Seafront plus a smaller unit at the embassy.
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?
There is talk of the “Manila Crud", an insidious upper-respiratory infection that stays for weeks or months due to the pollution. The pollution here is pretty awful -- people hold kerchiefs and masks over their faces here for a reason. If you enjoy being outdoors in fresh air, this might not be the city for you. Most major embassies issue air purifiers with housing, but these can only do so much. At least once during our stay the airport shut down due to pollution.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and humid and hot and rainy.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Our child is adjusting to ISM -- it’s a big school and does have some discipline problems, but it also has strong social support for parents.
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?
There is a preschool at Seafront. We have heard mixed reviews about it, but didn’t need one due to family dynamics. Most families who don’t want to care for their child firsthand hire a local nanny to care for their child. We’ve heard good and bad about this, but again, it not applicable at this point in our lives.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, through the schools and in the villages.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Good among single men especially. Okay among couples. Wanes with families.
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?
Everyone does their own thing.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Singles and couples enjoy travelling and self-indulgent pampering. Families have a harder time due to the air quality and security concerns. There are limited options for children besides a few parks in the villages and pay-to-play centers with questionable hygiene. Most families had a “doing time” attitude.
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?
There are a lot of racial prejudices, particularly against other Asians. There are strong gender ideas as well. There is also a strong caste system that is very real, though less codified than other places. This doesn't affect expats, though it makes lots of pampering and servants available.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Diving, buying the notorious fake pearls and designer items at Greenhills, going to spas, travelling. Resorts in the Philippines are hit or miss, but if you’re going on a diving mission, you can find reputable places.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Fakes at Greenhills, diving trips, pampering by impoverished locals.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
If learning languages isn’t your thing, you can get by in most of the expat haunts without Tagalog. English, at some level, is spoken by most of the Filipinos you will come into contact with, but you will have constant reminders that it's not a first language among locals here. If you enjoy beaches and diving, there are numerous travel opportunities. If you enjoy hiring other people to take care of you, your children, your car, your home, your pets, etc . . . then you can sit back and ponder the universe whilst paying someone else to handle your home and children.
11. Can you save money?
No -- services are cheap but you pay for things you normally do (clean, cook, drive, etc) and goods are expensive.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No, but it was an experience.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
Umbrella, swimsuit, patience.
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?
There is a reason this is a hardship. This post has serious issues if you have children. This is a good post for singles, couples, and folks coming from posts in third-world countries who will appreciate the shopping and large expat community. It should also be added that there is more poverty here than to be expected -- there is a VERY strong caste system and a lot of suffering (hence the availability of so many servants and inexpensive “pampering”).