Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 12/13/13
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?
Yes, first 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?
DC 25+ hours via Delta Airlines with stops in Narita and Atlanta/Detroit. There is also an option to fly on United with only one stop, but is not the contract fare.
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?
For embassy personnel there are 3 choices: Seafront, Makati, and Fort Bonofacio
Seafront is best suited for families with young and elementary children. There is a pre-school located on Seafront which is convienent for many families, gated to allow elementary school-angers the freedom to run around, and a short 10 minute commute from Embassy proper. The housing is very outdated, so it is recommended for those that can maintain a minimalist lifestyle. If you leave the Seafront compound, it would have to be in a vehicle or to catch a cab-- there is nothing within walking distance. Many first tour officers will be placed here, simply due to grade level.
Makati is considered the Financial District and great for singles, young couples, or families without children. This housing is typically high-rise condos. There are some family homes in Makati for senior officers or large families. The bus to the international schools only run through the family home neighborhoods of Makati. Everything is within walking distance from the high-rise condos, from restaurants to movie theaters to nightclubs and the mall.
Fort Bonofacio is reserved mostly for families with school-aged children, as the International School of Manila (ISM) is located here. This housing is typically high-rise condos. "The Fort" is the cleanest part of the city and could be found in any upscale city. Everything is within walking distance.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Most everything is available and if it's not available, it's easily shipped by DPO. All costs are the same as you'd pay in America.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Common feminine hygiene products are unavailable. Many cosmetics contain whitening lotion, so you must be careful. Bulk items of toilet paper, dish washing liquid or laundry detergent are cheaper purchased ahead of time. Chlorine or pool shock is best shipped in HHE, if you're a family in a house.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Most common American fast food establishments are available: McDonald's, KFC, Burger King, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme
As stated above, many decent American style restaurants are available. Cost range is on par with American prices.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Not many in Manila.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is the best part of living in the Philippines and you will be spoiled. Cost is rough US$10/day and an extra month's salary at Christmas.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, the Embassy and most apartment buildings have a gym on-site. Golds Gym and Crossfit memberships are available. Bikram yoga studios are also available.
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?
No issue, but easier to pay cash to get the tax discount.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local trains, buses, or Jeepneys are not recommended due to safety concerns. Taxis are relatively safe, but make sure they turn on the meter.
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?
SUVs are best, sedans are not recommended. The streets are excessively crowded and the most aggressive/larger vehicle wins. Do NOT bring a new car as it will likely be scratched or a bum will purposely walk into your vehicle on Roxas. There is often flooding in the rainy season, so you will want a vehicle that is easily able to navigate high waters.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Prepaid minutes are used with smartphones and cell phones. I would not recommend a plan because they are hard to cancel and you will end up paying more money. SMART or GLOBE is the most common provider.
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?
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 volunteer opportunities are available locally?
A ton! The Embassy sponsors USEC (United Ststes Embassy Club), whose primary mission is outreach through volunteer service.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual at the Embassy and casual clothing in public.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
As with any big city, a person should be aware of his surroundings.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Great medical facilities, many families choose to expand their family at this post and give birth locally. Medevac point is Singapore.
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?
Moderate, some days are better than others and you will appreciate a blue sky when the smog lifts. Again, getting away from Manila on weekends is key.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Rainy and dry season-- be ready for flooding as it's inevitable near the Embassy.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are two primary schools that Embassy children attend, The International School of Manila (ISM) and Brent International School. ISM is the most preferred school within the Embassy community; however, Brent caters to learning support services for children. Both have great reputations.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Brent is the preferred school for special-needs children.
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?
Seafront provides an excellent pre-school program to embassy personnel.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes and many through ISM.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Embassy alone has a mission of over 500 Americans. Morale of most is high, but harder for singles.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Travel, upscale nightclubs, casinos, karaoke, hookah bars, movies, bowling, concerts.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Household help, affordable travel, acceptance and imitation of American culture make it easy to adjust and live for all family types. From my experience; however, it is very difficult for single women. There were very few single young professionals at the Embassy, and while the International School attracted many more young professionals (as teachers), they were less open to allowing "outsiders" into their group. Additionally, while there is some nightlife, it is very uoscale and superficial. There were virtually zero bars and due to the location of the Embassy, the Marine happy hours were poorly attended. Morale for singles was overall very low.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I found.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Great and affordable travel within the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries. If you're a single female like me, you'll take every opportunity to travel outside of Manila to make up for the lack of a social life. There are great restaurants and numerous American chains-- PF Changs, California Pizza Kitchen, Chilis, Fridays, etc. Filipinos idolize American pop culture, so there are often American concerts to attend-- in my two years I snagged tickets to Katy Perry, Lady GaGa, Aerosmith, amd the American Idol Tour to name a few.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
For adventurers, Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor will be your best friends. Within Manila there is Intramuros, Fort Santiago. and Corregidor. Day trips include climbing or horseback riding to Taal Volcano, visiting Taal Church, and diving in Anilao (while there be sure to snag a Batangas butterfly knife from a local stand). A little further there is Pagsanjan Falls and Villa Escudero. A short plane ride outside of Manila, be sure to hit Boracay, Palawan and the underground river, Bohol and the tarsier monkeys, and the number one must-do: Donsol and the whale sharks.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Batangas butterfly knives and pearls.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Household help, easy travel away from the city, warm weather.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, absolutely and travel/employ domestic help at the same time.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The Embassy is large, but is best suited for families or married couples.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
It was great and provided numerous opportunities for travel and growth in my career, but not as a young professional seeking a balanced social life.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter coat, sedan, and little black book.
4. But don't forget your:
Suitcase, sunglasses, bathing suit, and scuba gear.