Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 08/02/15
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?
No. London, Nairobi, Seoul, Jakarta.
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?
U.S. It's around 24 hours, depending on layovers, connections, final destination, but it's a long haul and there are no U.S. carrier direct flights.
3. How long have you lived here?
Nearly two years. Will be here one more.
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?
Housing comes in all types - houses, apartments, USG-supplied townhouses and apartments - in several areas in the Manila area. Typical commute times from anywhere but the USG-owned complex (which also houses some of the US Embassy offices, like GSO) are long and exacerbated by rain.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Availability is sporadic. "Out of stock, ma'am" is a regular phrase, including of what Americans would think are everyday vegetables. Cost is very high. We just went to the grocery yesterday where local broccoli peaked at over US$6 a pound. While that price is certainly higher than normal, it is difficult to get produce for reasonable prices other than okra, bitter melon, and some local greens. Rainy season is the worst, so that you can count on not eating cauliflower or decent tomatoes, for instance, during that time. Lots of local things like spaghetti sauce have aspertame or MSG added - not something I'm used to eating. Pet food and cat litter are expensive and often low quality.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I shop online a lot to deal with the stuff I can't get. Hair dye other than dark brown or black. Many things due to expense.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Fast food is ubiquitous. There are also some really good nicer restaurants. Price is fairly comparable to the U.S., including the more expensive restaurants being just as expensive.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes with dengue. Ants. Roaches. I've been relying on diatomaceous earth.
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?
Very available. Okay price wise, I'd say. Our driver is particularly excellent and his base rate is around US$400/month.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are gyms everywhere there are expats. Prices are as high as the U.S. In the nicer neighborhoods, the gyms look really nice, but the commute would be impossible from our housing. There is a small gym in the Embassy and a larger one on the Seafront compound.
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?
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Episcopalian, Catholic, for sure.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. It's nice if you can say thank you, but except for taxis I've never experienced a time when it's been difficult because of local language.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I would guess it would be very hard. The expensive malls have some accommodations but it's erratic. There are wheelchair ramps that appear to be very steep to me. There are steps where you wouldn't expect them.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
I didn't find the taxis felt safe, though people have started to use Uber. Taxis are very cheap, which may be why they feel a bit unsafe and worn. Also, taxi drivers are less likely to speak English, so I've had to get out and try again on the side of the road which wasn't a great experience. I haven't tried local trains or buses, partly because they look so grungy, but also I stand out particularly in Asia due to hair and skin tone, so I think I'd be more of a pickpocket/bag snatching target.
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 were recommended to bring an SUV because of flooding, and it's made sense. We bought from the local military/diplomatic cars dealer and so far it's been easy to service a new Ford. Many people drive sedans also.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Not very high speed. Ours promises 10Mbs, but it rarely gets that high. Cost is pretty high at around US$85/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
It's easy to get a local SIM put in with renewable charges. Prices aren't that bad. Bring a phone with you if you want a smart phone, though, as prices are high for the equipment. If all you want is a cheap SMS and phone call kind of mobile phone, those are available very cheapy.
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?
No quarantine. The vets are really pretty good and one good one will make housecalls. We haven't tried kenneling, since our housekeeper is willing to watch the cats.
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?
There are a lot of volunteer opportunities, from Rotary Club to animal shelters.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Much more casual than I'm used to. Fairly casual barongs are worn at the Embassy and in the malls it is a flip flop and shorts culture.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
It's higher crime with more guns than other cities in this region. A few years ago, a diplomat's spouse was murdered at the entrance to the housing complex. Within our time here, a politician was killed in a drive-by at the Manila airport that hit others besides the target.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Dengue. Upper respiratory infections can turn worse thanks to air pollution. Medical care is really pretty good and the U.S. Embassy has a clinic for everyday needs.
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?
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Air pollution aggravates the seasonal allergies. Shellfish can be a hidden ingredient. Upscale restaurants and hotels are good about telling you which things are contaminated when you are explicit about what you cannot eat, others don't really understand what it means. My housekeeper is very vigilant and understands, though, so it's definitely doable. There are gluten-free products for an astronomical price and not consistent availability, if that's a concern. Online ordering is probably the only way to effectively deal with coeliac.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is hot and humid, with a rainy season and a not so rainy season. There's a brief period once a year where it's nice out.
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?
Inclusive, it would be huge, but the fact that there are literally thousands of American expats here means it's too large to be a single community. Some people really love it here, others don't. It's big enough that you're going to see all kinds of morale.
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?
Eating out, going to the movies, wandering around the high end malls.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Not if you like getting outdoors, hiking, clean air, stuff like that. But there are tasty restaurants, clean movie theatres, and malls to wander around in.
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?
There is regularly expressed anti-Muslim bias and women are expected to be married and have children, but not to the extent that you would need to worry as an expat, more just dealing with the beauty salon expressing surprise if you're not Catholic with three kids or your driver talking about how Muslims are violent.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Can't say I've had any highlights.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
It's easy to find out what there is to do, so I wouldn't say there are "secret or hidden gems." There are few getaways that aren't long-distance travel. Some day trips like Tagaytay or weekend trips like Baguio are things to do. There are scuba/snorkeling trips for weekends. Plane travel is a bit expensive and the airport can be frustrating, but the beaches are nice. Honestly, we've done some regional travel too, to Taipei, Hong Kong, Penang, because it's even a little easier than within the country.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
For this region, the fact that English is spoken makes life a bit easier. Household staff is not ridiculously expensive. The USG owned housing has its own water supply, which is nice. Vet care isn't bad and is very cheap and convenient. Medical care is pretty good. There are quite a few close-by other countries to visit like Hong Kong, Taiwan, etc., that are great.
10. Can you save money?
It's not easy.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I don't know. I don't think there were any surprises.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No, not if I had a choice. It doesn't mesh well with my personality and I'm sick of the extra costs.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes (except for traveling in colder climes).
4. But don't forget your:
Smile, patience, umbrella, rubber boots.