Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 05/19/18
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?
First true expat experience but have lived in France and Japan for shorter stints.
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?
Southern California, USA. There is a direct flight to LAX from Manila that is 14 hours, and you can connect to most major US international airports through Tokyo.
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?
Housing varies. We are in a comfortable 3-bedroom high-rise apartment, but we know several expat families who are in houses. Commute times vary widely but for the U.S. Embassy are awful from where we are. I found a driving route to my son's school 1 mile away that takes only 20 minutes in normal traffic. If you go the wrong way it can take 45 minutes. Plan on traffic taking twice as long as you think it should at first.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Cost is higher. If you shop at the warehouse shopping here (S&R) the prices are slightly better. Almost everything is available; you just may pay more for goods. I do much shopping on Amazon for anything I don't need right away.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
It varies; today I need wrapping paper. If you have small kids it seems like you will go to 20 birthday parties per year. More U.S. meds would have been helpful; they are available here, but you purchase by the pill so you don't really have a medicine cabinet. Dishwasher detergent seems to be scarce and expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is any food here that you could want except Mexican. Food Panda is a delivery service that delivers several of the restaurants here. Lots of options for eating out both fast food and local.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Even though we live in a high rise ants seem to find their way in. The building recommends chemical treatment that we will do when we are not in the unit.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I get most of my mail through the US Embassy and haven't gotten local mail.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Expats typically employ one household helper and a driver. Salaries for either is generally less than 400 USD/month. Experienced drivers seem harder to come by but there are lots of helpers/nannies available. Most housing options have helper's quarters but live-out is readily available.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
We have a workout room in our apartment complex (as most do) but there are several private clubs around. Price varies. I work with a personal trainer who charges about 15 USD/session.
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?
It is really much easier to use cash here. Credit cards are accepted for most things though it takes longer to process international credit cards. ATMs are common and at most banks. I have not had a problem with it.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
The Philippines is 90%+ Christian/mostly Catholic. There are services everywhere. Most malls have a place for Mass. Protestant services are not as easy to find. Most services are in English/Tagalog. I don't have experience with other religions and have not seen temples.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is an official language, so if you speak English only you are fine, though you can run into a few situations where it is difficult. There are options to learn Tagalog and I have picked up a few words, but it really isn't necessary.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, but they would not be insurmountable. Just by pushing a stroller around there are lots of places that I could see someone getting into a jam.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis and Grab are safe and affordable. Uber pulled out of the Philippines earlier this year. I paid for an hour-long ride to another suburb and it was maybe 6 USD. There are abundant jeepneys, some buses and some trains. Public transportation is crowded but affordable, but expats are discouraged from using them. Renting a car for your own use is expensive but doable.
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?
There are all kinds of cars here, but Asian makes have the most service options/parts available. Bring something that you don't mind it getting scratched up. European cars are harder to service. Fuel economy is going to be bad here. Filling a standard tank costs about US$60-70 but you don't do it often. Hybrids would be helpful but there are no charging stations for electric vehicles. There are no tow services here; we broke down and had to push the car to the side of the road. There is an auto club equivalent but we haven't gotten it. Driving here is challenging; signs and lines on the road are guidelines rather than rules. I would recommend getting a driver at first to understand the rhythm of the traffic.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, and is generally good. It took about one month to install internet and it cost 300 USD.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There are two providers, Globe and Smart, who have plans or prepay as you go. For 20 USD/month I have unlimited data. Calls are inexpensive but it's a pain when you run out of load. My unlocked iPhone works fine.
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?
Yes, I have heard that there are good vets but we haven't needed one yet. I don't know about kennel services. Animals need a series of vaccinations and a certificate of good health but do not need to be quarantined if they have all the requirements. This seems like it is a harder place for dogs - if you aren't in a house the pavement gets very hot when walking and there aren't too many dog-friendly places.
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?
Spouses here have a variety of jobs, some with embassies, some in education, some telecommuting. For the most part, working on the local economy is not lucrative.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Tons of volunteer opportunities. There are several international associations that provide for fundraising opportunities and also hands-on community activities. There are also volunteer opportunities through churches and schools. It took me about one month to find ways to volunteer here.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work varies from business casual to suits. Public places is also a range. Formal dressing is not required for anything except formal events. For women in the workplace stockings are not required but closed-toe shoes seem to be preferred at work.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
As with all posts you need to be aware of surroundings but I have not personally been concerned for my physical safety in the neighborhood where I live. I am also not out at night a lot. There are areas that you should avoid. I have had friends who have been pickpocketed and had things stolen, but not often. Children appear to work in teams to pickpocket.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I think that TB and dengue have a higher incidence here but I have not had personal experience with either. There is excellent and inexpensive care here. Medevac is not required for normal childbirth. Specialist doctors have walk-in clinic hours and are not are expensive. You can buy glasses/contacts without a current prescription if you know what it is.
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?
Air quality is moderate to bad. Air quality could lead to congestion or a cough that tends to linger. The pollen seems to be year-round for those who suffer. It is very dry here; I drink a lot more water here than I have before.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's rarely cool. Temps are always high. This year the dry season has started in March but we still get showers, and that's when it tends to get hotter. Rainy season begins in July and lasts until October or so, and there can be flooding of the side streets and the houses.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
International School Manila is available, but enrollment does fill up for certain grades. My only experience has been elementary, which is great. There are several extracurricular activities and the students generally thrive. Other options include British School Manila, Brent, the Korean school, and local schools as well.
2. 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?
Preschools and day care are available. I can't speak to the price or to before or after school care, but most people use their household helpers for small children. There are programs such as Gymboree, Little Gym and Kindermusik that are pricey for the area.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, there is soccer and T-ball/baseball available, swimming, gymnastics, dance, rugby, horseback riding, and golf. I'm sure there are others.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
From what I understand this is a really large expat community. Morale is good, the frustration at local quirks (mostly traffic) seems to go in waves and everyone understands but it doesn't hit everyone at the same time.
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?
Lots of clubs through Facebook, through schools, through Ma'am Manila, AWCP, BWA, ANZA and Damas Latinas. Apartment buildings have their own social activities. It's not hard to find a social outlet here.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's definitely good for families. Having kids is a good inroad to other families for socializing. I have heard it is not as good a city for expat singles but that is based on a small sample size. I think couples would find plenty to do.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Ethnic and religious prejudices are there but I haven't felt them. Gender equality is not so much noticeable among expats but among locals yes. I know several local professional women, but when it gets to domestic help, helpers are almost always women and drivers are almost always men. I get some looks for driving my car myself.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The highlights are the people (very friendly) and the time to get out. We have taken weekend trips to Boracay, Bohol, and Tagaytay - you can find very cool experiences outside of the city. Air travel is easy and relatively cheap. While living here, we have gone to Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malyasia, and Indonesia very easily.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
If you have kids there are tons of fun things: Mind Museum, Bounce parks, Kidzania, Kidzooona, DreamPlay, and Ocean Park. The Farm at San Benito is a nice getaway, a vegan spa, two hours out of town.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not really a shopping post - prices are high and you will be charged an expat price. AWCP has a monthly bazaar that features local vendors. Modern shops are here but are higher priced.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
People are friendly, inexpensive and experienced household help, modern conveniences, English readily understood and spoken, the schools are great, it's easy to travel other places.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Biking is hard in the city but doable. Winter clothes are not really necessary unless you take a trip to China or Japan during the winter months or drive up to Baguio, but even then layers are fine.
3. But don't forget your:
Patience, as it will take you longer to do things and get places than it does other places. Summer clothes and sunscreen are a must.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
I'd read the blogs - amommaabroad has a wealth of solid information.