Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 08/03/15

Personal Experiences from Manila, Philippines

Manila, Philippines 08/03/15

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

This is our third expat experience with previous posts in the Middle East and Asia.

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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?

Our home base is Washington DC. There's a flight to Narita in Tokyo which takes four hours, followed by a fourteen hour direct flight to IAD.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We've been here for one year.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

We're here with the U.S. Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

There's Seafront, a small compound close to our Embassy, high rises and single family homes. The high rises are ideal- low maintenance and convenient to shopping and restaurants. The homes, while surrounded by coveted green space are often isolated. If you hope to be on foot, high rises are the way to go. Apartments span the Metro Manila area form Pasay where the Embassy is located to Makati and then Fort Bonifacio which is closest to the primary international school. Note that if you have a dog, high rises can make it difficult for you to come and go as you'll be required to use the service elevators of your building.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

It's pricey to live here. We spend the same amount on groceries here as we did in the states. Our helper will sometimes get us better deals at local markets.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Good cereal, natural peanut butter.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Same as the U.S.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

There's dengue here and lots of little bugs crawling about.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Via the Embassy mail room.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Great and cheap. We pay ours about US$300 a month full-time.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes. Our building has a gym so I'm not sure what one would pay locally.

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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 can be used here almost anywhere, except in the cheaper local cash economy (markets, street vendors etc.)

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

All.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

English is widely spoken.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes, there are few sidewalks outside of the Fort.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Nope.

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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?

Any variety.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, we pay about $100 a month for internet, phone and cable.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Bring an unlocked one, or buy locally. You can pay as you go, or get a pre-paid plan.

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Pets:

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?

Pets do not need to be quarantined and there is quality pet care here.

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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?

Sort of. One can hope to find jobs at the Asian Development Bank, Intl. Schools, at an NGO or at the Embassy, if affiliated. I've had no trouble finding work.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Every variety. Filipinos needs lots of support.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

It's dressy, but men can wear barongs if they choose.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Yes, this is a high-threat post, but I have never felt unsafe. Take precautions as you would in any big city and you'll be fine. Everyone, to include massive numbers of security guards are armed to the teeth.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The health care here is fine, but you will want to seek out care back home if it's something very serious. We've had check-ups, a friend had surgery, but another friend whose daughter had a cardiac issue had a more difficult time finding quality care.

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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?

It's lousy!

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

I have seasonal allergies here and I never have before. Bring your meds. Filipinos don't cook with a ton of nuts, but you may have trouble discerning what's in a particular recipe while out to eat.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

There are three seasons, rainy May-October (hot and humid), winter (cool evenings and 80's during the day) November-February and summer (hot, but no hotter than a DC summer).

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are plenty of schools here. Our kids (elementary and high school) attend the International School of Manila which is secular and pretty big so far as intl. schools go. We've loved the IB program. The administration is accessible and attentive, the teachers are awesome and the students tend towards friendly and driven. The majority of the kids are SE Asian and so the high school in particular is very focused on college admittance, but not in a way that's oppressive to the students. After school programs are great. ISM offers everything from tennis to circus skills; some cost a small fee but many are free. Brent is another school which is highly regarded, although there's a Christian curriculum. I've heard great things, but it's far away (about 30 minutes to an hour outside of Metro Manila). There are plenty of other schools around as well. With a little research, you'll find the right school for your kids.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Yes, Brent tends to accept more kids with special needs than ISM does, and there's a school called One World which accepts special needs kids.

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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?

Yes! The Embassy has a preschool and there are others around, from Montessori to pre-school with an academic push.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, through school, and privately for more obscure sports, I'm betting at very little expense.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

The expat community is large and morale is high.

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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?

Going out to dinner is a big thing here. There are tons of malls, and supper clubs as well as movie theaters. Once can ice skate too, or check out a concert. There's a lot to do here. This is a big Asian metropolis. You'll only be limited by traffic.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes, good for all.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Great, the Filipinos are very tolerant, although I can't vouch for an active and vibrant gay scene.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Not that I'm aware of.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The main highlight for me has been the lovely Filipinos and the prevalence of English speakers. This would be a very easy first tour as a trailing spouse can easily get around and accomplish basic tasks without having to learn another language. Tagalog is helpful when traveling outside of Metro Manila but you'll always find someone who can speak English.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Day trips to Tagaytay, The Mind Museum, The AWCP bazaar held monthly, weekends in Baguio, "malling, " exploring cool neighborhoods...

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Rattan, wicker, Filipino mahogany, lovely handicrafts, PEARLS.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The Filipinos are lovely people and traveling in the Philippines is not very expensive. There are many beautiful places to see while here to include the chocolate hills of Bohol, beautiful beaches all over the country and lovely countryside on Luzon.

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10. Can you save money?

Maybe, if you don't travel around the country and region or eat out a lot.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

That traffic is sometimes a huge impediment to exploration.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, in a heartbeat. The Filipinos are wonderful and communicating is a cinch.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

WInter coat.

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4. But don't forget your:

Patience.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Get the Fodor's or Lonely Planet and read up on the history.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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