Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 04/10/21
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 overseas posting.
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 to Manila. Usually two connections on US carriers. In non-Covid times travel is long, but accessible.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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?
Much of the housing is high rise condos in the neighborhoods of Bonifacio Global City and Makati. There are large houses in the "villages" of Dasmarinas, Forbes, Bel Air, etc. Commutes can be very challenging in normal times, coming and going to any parts of the city.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Many western groceries are available, but the cost is surprisingly high, even for local foods. Imported vegetables are very expensive. If you are paying for your utilities, electricity is outstandingly expensive.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Plenty of restaurants provide delivery services. We have pretty much everything here including decent international cuisines.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Typical for urban, tropical living.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Local post (from what I hear) is inconsistent and cumbersome. You can get Amazon, and there are local Amazon-like companies.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help in the from of cleaning, cooking, child care and drivers are plentiful and affordable. Full time help with benefits included for quality help will be about $400-500 per month.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Most condo buildings have gyms. There are plenty available in the community, not sure of cost.
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?
Widely accepted yes, safer in the large stores. ATMS are common and there are local options to transfer money that are cashless.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are large services in English for Catholics and Protestants. There are some mosques, but I am not sure of what language services are held in. Unsure of synagogues, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. services.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You do not need to know Tagolog here. Although many people appear to speak English, often you will realize that you are not being understood even though the person has spoken some English to you. Great local teachers if you want to learn.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I would say yes. Many pavements are uneven, even in the nice areas. There are some ramps for curbs but not universal.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No public transportation is allowed for the embassy community. However, we can use taxis and grab (like Uber). Grab works very well unless it is peak hours, or raining.
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 have enjoyed having a bigger SUV for comfort (you will sit a lot in traffic). However, gas is expensive and parking spaces are small. We have a Toyota and dealerships are everywhere. However, on US models, the parts are different and we have to order them from the US.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Some places are wired for fiber optic internet. It is very accessible but tends to take about a month to install.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local sim cards are dirt cheap as is calling and data plans.
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?
Decent veterinary care, I have heard of decent kennels. No quarantine required.
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?
There are a number of spouses telecommunting, there are jobs at the embassy. Local salaries are low.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Plenty of volunteer opportunities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Manila is fairly casual, but modest.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
You feel relatively safe here. Of course, it is a big city so awareness of surroundings is key.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care by the doctors is decent, nursing care tends to be lacking. Many specialists are available. Access to tests, MRIs, etc. are fine.
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 varies, pollution can be a problem, but it is not overwhelming.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
in these days of Covid, there has been a tremendous amount of anxiety and depression among adults and children. The country has never lifted all restrictions which has technically allowed children out very little. For instance, since March 2020, my children have only been able to enter a store or a restaurant for about six weeks. That means no haircuts or trying on clothes. They are often prohibited from going outside for exercise, even after the early lockdowns.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's either dry and hot, or wet and hot. January and February are nice. June-December is rainy season.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
International School Manila, British School Manila, Brent, all great schools. My kids go to ISM. When we were physically in person the school was great and had a wide variety of activities, but we have yet to reopen (as of today, April 2021). Most families feel that school will not open in fall of 2021 and potentially for the entire school year next year as many local private schools have already announced that they will stay virtual next year. The government has not made any moves to encourage face-to-face learning even in areas where there has been no Covid transmission. Universities have only allowed later year medical students to be on campus.
I am honestly concerned for the international schools as they are losing a tremendous amount of students and faculty.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I can only speak to ISM, but they have a lot of learning support, self contained classrooms (who they have been able to have on campus some). However, for online learning, supporting special needs is really difficult and I have found that it takes a long time for their processes to kick in.
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?
The embassy has a preschool for embassy families, that is running in a limited fashion at this time. It appears that local preschools have all shut down and I have heard that ISM's preschool has also been closed.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
In non-Covid times, yes. Soccer, basketball, rugby, baseball are all locally availble.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
This is a large expat community in terms of diplomats from all countries, private industry, etc. Expats right now are extremely fatigued of the government restrictions. Many are leaving the country.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Right now, families are really struggling with little hope for the coming year. Our children are really struggling, as are we adults.
3. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes, most locals are eager to hang out. There has been some anger to expats in times of Covid as many locals are very fearful of Covid and appreciate the restrictions as it makes them feel safe. Expats tend to want to follow health and safety guidelines yet still live their lives, which gives the perception that we are being careless about the virus.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I would say yes.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Sadly the biggest prejudices tend to occur among the haves and have nots. Poor people are treated as second class citizens.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The beaches are amazing, when you can get there. Having hired help is wonderful.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
No, except for pearls.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
You have a lot of the comforts of home in terms of products. There are a lot of food options.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
THat even though it appears very western, the mindset is not western at all. Years of oppression seems to have created a very fearful local population, unwilling to take risk. We say it is like an onion. You peel back the first layer of shiny skin, to reveal something entirely different.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Covid has made it very hard, so outside of that, yes.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Warm clothes (unless you can go somewhere cold on vacation).
4. But don't forget your: