Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 02/12/13
Personal Experiences from Manila, Philippines
1. Your reason for living this city (e.g. corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.):
Affiliated with the U.S. Embassy
2. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
3. 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?
US East Coast. The trip requires a connection in Atlanta/Detroit and then a connection in Japan. All told, it takes about 24 hours.
4. How long have you lived here?
(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. Embassy and has been living in Manila for a year and a half, a fourth expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There are houses in gated communities, high-rise apartments in the nice part of town, and townhomes and apartments in the Seafront compound. Although Seafront has the shortest commute times, the housing is very poor. I could go through a litany of complaints: the layouts make no sense; things are old and falling apart; the parking lot floods and can ruin one's car; there is virtually nothing to do in the areas surrounding Seafront, and the traffic at night makes it a chore to travel to more interesting parts of the city. Also, the "community" mentioned in earlier RPRs is lacking. There is no real communal space for residents to gather. Many people live here but we don't see each other regularly, and there's no system to introduce new residents. We thoroughly enjoyed having a short commute and used the tennis courts/gym/pool regularly, but overall the housing situation had a large negative impact on our experience.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
At the places we tend to shop, it is slightly more expensive than shopping in the U.S. We do not have a helper, and it wouldn't be feasible for us to shop in local markets on our own. If you shop mainly around the edges of the grocery store (fresh veggies, meat, dairy), prepare to be very disappointed. Even though this is a rice country, rice here is terrible. And despite being surrounded by ocean, it is very difficult to get good seafood. Although the weather is great and there is lots of arable land, fresh vegetables are terrible. Meat is a mixed bag---local chicken and pork are very good, but beef is not. Tropical fruit is fantastic. If you buy more processed foods than fresh foods, you will find a lot more availability of American goods than in other third-world countries---but they are more expensive.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
A larger television -- Amazon only ships up to 37 inches through DPO. Anything else can be shipped from the U.S.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
All the major American chains are here. There is plenty of international food, and it's not bad, but generally bland and generic. I gave Filipino food many chances, but it's very disappointing. Fruit drinks are amazing and beer is cheap and not too bad.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes are bad. We have had ant problems in our car (what are they eating?) and house, despite our best efforts. Weavils got into almost all of our dry goods, requiring us to toss a bunch of stuff. After we purchased airtight containers, the problem disappeared.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy's DPO. Things arrive very quickly, and Amazon is a godsend.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Plentiful. Drivers, nannies, cleaners, cooks -- this is one of the best parts of living in the Philippines for many people. We do not have any help and we're doing okay as well.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, the embassy and Seafront have gyms, and they're good enough.
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?
The embassy has an ATM, and we use credit cards most of the time.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Filipino papers are in English. IHT is available, though pricey.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. English level is extremely high here.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It's impossible to walk anywhere anyway, so the disabled, like the abled, would need to rely on cars.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
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?
Bring a vehicle with high clearance (think SUV). Flooding may ruin your small car. It's also much better to be high up in traffic so that you're not staring up at jeepneys or face-to-face with the street children who tap on your window. Don't bring a car you aren't afraid to scratch up a bit!
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, ranging from US$25 to 75 a month. It is not fast and can stop working for hours -- or, rarely, days -- at a time.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I use my phone provided by the embassy.
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?
My wife works on the local economy. She enjoys it, but she earns a Filipino wage. Despite providing a professional service, she earns less than U.S. minimum wage.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
For men, a short-sleeve Barong and slacks is sufficient. This was a highlight of my time here.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are plenty of scammers, including taxi cabs. I feel comfortable using cabs, but my wife does not. I would not feel comfortable walking or using public transportation in many parts of the city, although some of the wealthy areas are very safe, and malls are walkable. One embassy employee's spouse was murdered outside a gated community as he was trying to be a good samaritan in the middle of the night.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I've been severely sick as a result of foodborne bacteria three times since coming. One incident required hospitalization for two nights. My wife developed a medical disorder, and she has gotten a number of smaller illnesses. Be prepared to get sick. We've been satisfied with the health and dental facilities. Good psychiatric services, however, are not available.
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?
On and around the Seafront compound, it can smell terrible. If you're riding an open-air vehicle (U.S. Embassy staff don't), I imagine it could be bad being directly in the path of car exhaust fumes. But compared to Chinese cities, the air here is fantastic. We don't use the air filter provided by the embassy, and we frequently play tennis outside without any problems.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Most of the year it's humid and hot with a chance of rain. For about 3 months it's dry and hot, and beautiful at night. Then there is the monsoon season and the hurricane parade. These are especially difficult if you live on the Seafront compound, as the apartment parking lot floods during heavy rain---it flooded 10 straight days last year. You have to wade through knee-deep water and save your car by moving it to higher ground. It also makes it difficult to travel, which is the biggest advantage of living in this country. Although the weather is nice at night, I find it impossible to enjoy it on a regular basis. Our seafront apartment does not have windows that open. There is no communal area with screens where people could congregate. You can go to outdoor restaurants or play sports, but most of the time it feels like a waste of being in the tropics.
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?
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?
Huge. The embassy itself is massive, and there are tons of Americans living here in the Philippines.
2. Morale among expats:
Mixed, but probably below average. Those coming from less developed countries, those who love diving, and those who want helpers seem the happiest. Some love it, some are comfortable and like it, some are comfortable and don't like it, some detest it.
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?
Going to restaurants in malls? Having dinner parties? Using the sports facilities? Your guess is as good as mine, as we have really struggled to have a social life during our time here.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
We're a couple without kids. It's not terrible, as there are international restaurants for dinner and shopping malls to walk around. But at the end of the day, I find Manila boring. Filipino food is not appealing. International food is available, and there are nice places to sit outside, but most restaurants are located in malls, so they're owned by large corporations and are a bit bland/generic. There are almost no green spaces in Manila, no interesting places to explore by foot or by bike, and all activity centers around shopping malls, which I don't find interesting. It seems like a good place for families with very young kids---help is very cheap, and the Seafront compound is a safe and easy place for young children.
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?
Filipinos treat white people better than others, and this colonial atmosphere is not something I will miss. Gender roles are more distinct, and people are not politically correct. For xample, a progressive Filipino contact once told me, as I sat next to my female colleague, that "I do all the trouble-shooting. That's a job better done by men."
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Travel in the provinces outside of Manila---the beaches are fantastic. Learning about the history of the country has also been a highlight. Although the day-to-day news gets bogged down in personal politics, the recent political history and America's colonization of the Philippines are fascinating subjects that I previously knew almost nothing about. Also, I really like the Filipino people. They are fantastic to joke around with and very friendly. If you are shy, they will appear shy, too; so the key is to give to them what you want to get back.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
In Manila, you can eat at malls and go shopping at malls. That's about it. I wish I was exaggerating. Outside of Manila, diving and beaches are great, and the countryside is beautiful.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Pearls, furniture, Catholic religious paraphernalia.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Diving, Pearls, Hired Help (including childcare). For a third world country, it has tons of American stores. English is spoken widely, so it is not necessary to learn the local language.
11. Can you save money?
We've saved a ton of money. Hardship pay (20%) and the 15% COLA goes a long way. But we don't have kids and are thrifty people.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
We didn't have a choice. But if we did, no, we would not have come here. The Philippines has a lot to offer some people, but we weren't those people, and it's been a boring, uninspiring, and difficult tour.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Bicycle and winter clothes.
3. But don't forget your:
Patience and plenty of things to entertain yourself at home.