Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 08/04/13
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?
We were traveling from DC. Our travel time was about 25 hours with stops in Detroit & Nagoya.
3. How long have you lived here?
We've been here 2 months.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I'm a trailing spouse, my husband works for the U.S. government.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
This depends on where you live, my husband is home within 20 minutes of leaving work. We live in a nice townhouse, very spacious.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can find almost anything with most boxed items costing at least as much as in the U.S., fruits & vegetables are relatively inexpensive. We buy a lot of stuff on Amazon.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing, you can get almost anything or order it from Amazon.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are tons of great food options here, prices are similar to U.S. prices. There are McDonald's, Hooters, Chilis, Papa Johns, KFC, Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Again, I would compare it to Florida. There are mosquitos, cockroaches, lizards, beetles, worms, huge snails and they all come out after the rain. I wouldn't consider it bad though, you probably see even less if you're in the sky-rise apartments in the Fort.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and it's incredibly fast. Amazon Prime takes about 5 days and we've been able to ship almost anything we've wanted.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available & pretty inexpensive. The range seems to be pretty large with help being paid 550-1000 pesos a day [the current exchange rate is 43 pesos = US$1]
3. 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 cash only, we pay for everything in pesos but I know lots of people who use credit cards without problems. For us, cash is easier and helps us keep tabs on our spending.
4. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You don't need to know any, learn to play a bit of charades and you'll do just fine. Learning to say "salamat po" [a polite version of "thank you"] is much appreciated. I am learning Tagalog and everyone I've talked to really loves that I'm taking an interest in the culture.
5. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The sidewalks are small, we never bothered getting a stroller because we knew it wouldn't be of much use in Manila. I think getting around with a wheelchair would be very difficult, lots of places have stairs with no ramps and in Makati the only way to cross the major streets is to take stairs down into the tunnel under the road.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are considered safe & affordable. Jeepneys, buses & the train are not safe.
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 have an SUV, I would bring a car to post because there are lots of nice places to drive to outside of Manila. The traffic here is a little nuts but I know a lot of people who do not bother hiring a driver because it's pretty manageable. You can also get drivers just for a night or day if you don't want to hire someone full time. Your car windows can have just about any tint you want on it, I've seen a car with black paper lining the window with a cut out just so the driver could see the side-view mirror. You'll see people trying to sell things walking up and down the road while waiting for the light to change and if you're obviously a foreigner they might target you, come up to your car and start talking to you through the window. It is important to remember to keep your doors locked & not to roll down the window.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We pay 4000 pesos [43 = US$1] for high speed internet. It's pretty decent, we also have a VPN and a Netflix account. We didn't bother getting cable.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone or if you've hired help have them go get your phone unlocked or you'll be overcharged. We tried to get a 2 year plan for me so I could get an iPhone but the process was a little ridiculous. They also wanted to charge my husband a ton to unlock my phone and so he paid a little more to get me some bright yellow Nokia thing and a Smart SIM card.
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 have a German Shepherd and almost everyone is afraid of her. There are vets, we haven't had to see one yet but I've heard great things and that they make house calls. We order her food through Amazon because it's significantly more expensive here.
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 that I've heard of, it would be a huge pay cut.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work depends on the section, my husband wears a suit every day. In public you can wear whatever you'd wear in the U.S.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The Philippines is a higher threat level than a lot of countries but I haven't felt threatened since arriving. I don't like to travel alone [I didn't in the U.S. either though] and take my yaya [nanny] with me almost anytime I go out in a taxi. The Jeepneys & buses aren't considered safe because petty theft occurs a lot in the tight quarters.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Some pollution, the water isn't considered safe to drink so you'll need to get water jugs if you live off the compound, I'm sure there are small accidents on the roads all the time. The medical care is supposed to be decent and it was suggested I have another baby while at post here [that is not happening] but I guess the experience is great here.
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?
I would say moderate to unhealthy but I suppose it depends on where you live. The Fort area seems cleaner. I've only noticed the pollution seeming to blanket the city one day since we've been here and I've seen it like that in the U.S. so I didn't think it was too dreadful.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
This is rainy season and I would compare it to Florida. It's warm, humid and rains almost every day for 2-4 hours, then the sun comes out and you can continue on with your day. I would recommend to take advantage and go swimming/do things anytime it's nice, that way when the storms roll in you don't mind grabbing a corner of the couch and watching a movie.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I've heard great things but my daughter won't be old enough to attend school at this post.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large, I'm not great with numbers but it's a big post.
2. Morale among expats:
Honestly, it's a mixed bag. A lot of people don't seem to like it here during their first year or so and then suddenly turn a corner once they have a relaxing beach vacation! Get out of Manila and see what else the Philippines has to offer because it's a beautiful country outside of the city. I'm really enjoying the post but I think I'd set my expectations incredibly low so I've been blown away with how much is available here & how nice everyone is.
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?
There are lots of good restaurants/happy hours at the multiple malls around town. Gin is cheap here so get used to drinking gin & tonics or gin & ginger ale! The beer is pretty much all San Miguel but the Pale Pilsen & Red Horse are decent and pretty inexpensive. Even going out to a restaurant you won't pay more than 50 pesos [43 = US$1] for either of those beers.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it's a good city for everyone. Families like that help is affordable and dedicated to the family they work with, you can find green spaces around town if you look. Ayala Triangle Park, Rizal Park, Intermuros are all nice places to visit. Getting out of town is key for families, head to the beach, visit Taipei/Hong Kong etc while you can for cheap. Singles seem to like it here, there seems to be a decent night life. There is tons of shopping and lots of happy hours.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We haven't been here long but we love the post so far and are really excited to see more of the country. Our goal is to get out of Manila at least every 2 months.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The parks I mentioned earlier, there are lots of places in driving distances & tons of cheap flights.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Pearls are pretty inexpensive here.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Travel, there are tons of cheap options for traveling within the country [the beaches are beautiful] and to other countries in South East Asia. We're spending less than in DC but we don't eat out a lot and it would be easy to spend more here though because of all the malls. Prices here are similar [if not higher] on clothing here, you can find almost anything you want Gap, Zara, even Forever 21 but you aren't saving anything. Household help is inexpensive and almost everyone speaks English although they really appreciate a little effort to speak Tagalog.
9. Can you save money?
Yes. Even with traveling a lot we're going to be able to save some money while at post. We're vegetarians and eat at home a lot though so our food costs are pretty low.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, I wouldn't be surprised if we do another tour in Manila in the future.
2. Do you have any other comments?
The city is a little messy, you'll see "bawal umihi dito" [no peeing here] signs all over the place, the roads are crowded and it's pretty sweaty here but it's a nice post. Don't come expecting this to be the Paris of Asia but you can really enjoy yourself if you make a few friends and love traveling.