Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 01/05/16
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, this is the 10th country I've lived in.
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?
Washington, DC. The official route to the U. S. is via Narita and either Minneapolis or Detroit (approximately 24 hours in total).
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Commutes are simply horrendous. I've never experienced anything like it. Housing varies from single-family homes in "villages" to high-rise apartments. Maintenance of the residences is a significant problem in the Philippines and, at any given time, facilities such as elevators and air conditioners are out of service with no timeline for repair. The power and water go out fairly regularly.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Restaurants tend to be less expensive than in the U. S., while supermarkets are on a par with U. S. prices. However, imported items often cost significantly more than in the U. S. (cheese and other dairy products, for example). Unhealthy additives are also widespread. For example, MSG in grocery items, and sugar added to most brands of milk. I find grocery shopping disheartening in Manila.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Filipino food tends to be laden with grease and sugar, and many Westerners find it unappealing, particularly in comparison with other Southeast Asian cuisines. Many Western chain restaurants are available, particularly fast food outlets. It's difficult to find healthy and appetizing Filipino food. In fact, Filipinos have the highest rate of diabetes of any country in the world.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There will be cockroaches and ants in your home, no matter how clean your place is. Dengue fever (transmitted through mosquitoes) is a significant problem in Manila.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO through the U. S. Embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Help is very affordable. Many people go through several helpers before finding a reliable person, but the affordability of household help is a major draw to this post.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are some in town, but the machines are often poorly maintained. I'm not sure of the cost there. (The U. S. Embassy has quite a nice gym).
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?
Credit card and ATM frauds are a problem. Upscale locales do accept cards, but their machines are often down, even at large hotels. In general, it's a cash-based economy.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are facilities for most major Christian denominations. The most widely practiced ones locally are Roman Catholics and Church of Christ.
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, although it is often pretty basic. Misunderstandings frequently occur when expats think that someone replying "yes" to a question actually agrees with them, when they are really just expressing that understand the question.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Absolutely. Sidewalks are broken or nonexistent in many parts of the city, and elevators, where they exist, are often out of service.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Trains and buses are often very time-consuming ways of getting around. But they are affordable at approximately USD$0.50 per ride. Most foreigners choose to take Uber or Grab Taxi.
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?
I primarily use Uber, which is affordable and fairly reliable. Grab Taxi is also available. Metered taxis circulate throughout the city and are supposed to use meters. But drivers often try to overcharge foreigners, and seat belts are usually not available. I've had the best luck with Uber.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, but the network service is very frequently down. This is a huge frustration for many expats. Internet costs approximately $55 per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
SIM cards are readily available and affordable. Phone and internet servicare is absolutely dismal.
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?
I have heard of variable experiences. Most expats report more difficulty finding employment than expected.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Many, in a variety of sectors.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual, with a focus on light layers due to the constant heat and humidity.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Petty theft and low-grade harassment are more frequent concerns than violence in Manila, although there are many neighborhoods that you should avoid walking in, especially after dark. Traffic accidents are a leading cause of death, and walking in Manila (with the exception of a couple of upscale neighborhoods and the villages) poses a real danger due to speeding vehicles and severe traffic congestion.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Generally decent medical care. Health concerns include poor air quality, frequent vehicle accidents, and mosquito-borne illnesses.
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?
Very poor. At street level in particular, the jeepney fumes and car exhaust are very unhealthy.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Labeling of ingredients is often erroneous, and restaurant staff usually do not know what a dish contains. Even commercial products often have incorrect labels. Seasonal allergies are exacerbated by the poor air quality.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Rainy for half of the year (usually a couple of dozen typhoons pass through per year, causing various amounts of flooding in the city) and dry for the other half of the year. It's hot and humid at all times, with the coolest season in Dec-Feb and the hottest March-May.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Families report positive experiences with the schools (I have no personal experience with them). . .the schools are a big draw for a Manila posting.
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?
Yes, but I have no personal experience with them.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, though the various schools.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large but segregated. Morale is decent, although the traffic and daily frustrations put a damper on 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?
Restaurants and weekend trips. Unfortunately, the traffic really cuts down on social life. This impacts singles in particular.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is good for families and single men, decent for couples, and terrible for single women.
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?
This is a VERY religious country. Foreigners in general are treated well, though men more so than women.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Beach trips to scenic locales. Unfortunately, though, approximately 90% of domestic flights are delayed, often significantly, putting a major damper on weekend travel in this country of 7,107 islands.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Weekend trips to the beach or to dive, and restaurants. The extreme traffic puts a major damper on socializing and getting out to explore. Many people seem to spend inordinate amounts of time at home since the traffic is so cumbersome.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Manila is overrun with malls, most of which don't have anything interesting or unusual. Weekend travel can be appealing when traffic jams and flight delays aren't too extreme.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Affordable household help.
10. Can you save money?
It depends. Groceries and weekend travel get expensive, but household help is very affordable. So, realistically, the cost of living depends on your lifestyle. Families tend to do best here.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The traffic and disparate neighborhoods cause the quality of life in Manila to be quite poor.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
winter clothes, sense of punctuality, and expectations of functionality.
4. But don't forget your:
patience, patience, patience.
5. Do you have any other comments?
Life in Manila is more fatiguing and frustrating than I ever could have imagined.