Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 05/14/22
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?
NOTE: This post report is about Subic Bay, Philippines (not Manila). This is a popular expat destination which will likely have a flood of new arrivals due to the US acquisition of a major local port.
No. I have lived in many countries in Latin America, Mainland Asia, and Southeast Asia.
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?
Boston, MA. About 20 hours total (on a good day). Four hours to Japan, a layover, and about 13 hours to Boston. If you can, fly out of Clark (1 hour to the north) instead of Manila (three hours without traffic).
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
Five years. Two employed, three retired.
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Consultant in a local industry. Now happily retired.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
I live in an apartment on the old US navy base. There are a lot of living options: former US Navy housing in secluded neighborhoods, new apartments in the Subic Bay CBD, and a plethora of budget options (in varying stages of decay, but there are good deals). Subic Bay can be a very quiet place to live if you are in the right neighborhood.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Some things are unbelieavably cheap, some things are quite reasonable, some things, in my opinion, are just stupid expensive. Local products (particularly chicken and pork) are usually quite cheap. Imported items are usually pricey (sometimes unbelievably so - 30$ for a bag of Kirkland Trail Mix), but sometimes you can find really good deals. If you see something you like, stock up, as you might never see it again.
There are a number of nice/okay supermarkets in Subic, a few of which carry items that are usually difficult or impossible to find anywhere else in the Philippines (IE: Cranberry sauce). In general, the shopping in Subic is more foreigner-friendly than other places in the Philippines.
Fresh fruits and vegetables can be hard to come by (depending on the time of year). A lot of Filipino food, in general, is quite unhealthy and full of additives/salt/sugar/fats.
Diary and beef products are very pricey. 10$ for a gallon of milk is not unusual.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Healthy canned foods and sauces.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots of food options and restaurants. Many expat-owned restaurants of all varieties with good food and reasonable prices.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No matter what you do, you are going to have ants.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I did everything through my work. If your job doesn't take care of your postage, using a Balikbayan service is quite cheap: about 100$ to send a large box with no weight limit.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very cheap. I have had good luck with the two maids I have used (both for about 350$ a month - which is generous).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
A few good ones on the old base. Quite a few not-so-good (but cheap) ones off-base.
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?
On base, sure. Plenty of ATMs, but not every restaurant will let you use your card.
Otherwise, not really - cash is king in the Philippines (outside of wealthy areas). Many small stores and restaurants won't even have change for 10$.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I can't rightly say, but I'm sure there are at least Protestant and Catholic services available in English.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Every sign, menu, and official notice is in English. Everybody reads and writes English well and speaks it at least on a basic level. It helps to speak slowly and clearly and avoid slang to be understood well. Security guards and construction workers may not speak English , but your waiter or customer service representative will. It helps to know Tagalog but it is not necessary. Filipinos will be pleased that you are trying.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Like almost anywhere in the Philippines, yes. That being said, I have actually seen a few expats in wheelchairs who seem to do alright.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There is a taxi service on base that is expensive by Filipino standards (usually around 5$). Trikes and jeepneys are not allowed on the former Navy base.
Off the base, local buses and trikes are dirt cheap. Many expats don't own a car at all and prefer to do everything via trikes.
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?
Depends on how much you want to spend. Cars and gas are expensive in the Philippines. Roads in Subic Bay are generally well-maintained and traffic laws are actually (kind of) enforced. You don't need a large car to feel safe like in other parts of the Philippines.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Absolutely. Mine was a headache to set up but I understand it has gotten much better.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
They're everywhere and the plans are so cheap I'm not even sure what I pay. I would recommend getting Globe so that you can use GCash (a popular app to pay bills, send people money, etc.)
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 don't have pets but friends who do have had good things to say. I don't know what the process of bringing animals in, but I know it's been done without any serious stress. There are stray cats everywhere you look if you want to adopt one...
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?
Not a whole lot. The newly US-owned port might change that, but we will see.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There must be, but I don't know what they are. There are a number of US veterans' organizations that are active.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
On the former base, not at all. It is probably the safest place in the Philippines. In the red light districts nearby you can probably get into trouble if you're looking for it, but I have never heard of any serious crimes or robberies.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The local hospital, Bay Point, is okay if you need general lab work done (and don't mind waiting around for hours). For more serious procedures, it is better to go to Medical City Clark (an hour away) or even Manila (3 hours away).
You can find fantastic local doctors if you ask around. Shopping around for doctors on your own is probably not a good idea.
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?
Fresh air and sea breezes.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Make sure you are speaking really clearly and slowly if your server needs to know about an allergy.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
It gets way, way too hot from March-May. It is easy to party too much and fall off the deep end. I've heard that many expats die of alcohol-related illnesses.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
June-September - Rain and more rain. Flooding. Rain for days.
September-November - Slightly less rain. Typhoons a possibility.
December-February - Perfect, breezy weather. Even gets down to the 60s at night sometimes.
March-May - Infernal oven weather. No rain. Even the wind is hot. Everything dirty and dusty. Almost 100 degrees during the day.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Brent International School Subic is supposed to be great. Some cheaper local options as well.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Very large and very good. Many people, mostly men, come here to retire.
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?
There are tons of bars and expat hangouts (some sleazy, some not). There is a lot of diving, and a number of expat pool/Hash/darts leagues.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for everybody. Most of the expats here are single or married to local women. I have seen foreign couples out and about who seem happy. This can be a nice, quiet area for families as well.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Filipinos are very friendly and pro-American. You might not make close local friends, but you will definitely have friendly neighbors.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Filipinos don't mind at all.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I know of. There is a preference for lighter skin amongst Filipinos (many soaps and cremes are whitening).
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The friendly people, low cost of living (in many things), and the English.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Go to the beach every day (a good beach is only a short drive away in Subic Bay).
See military ruins on Grande Island and Corregidor.
Take a cheap flight to another island in the Philippines (something I should do more).
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Subic Bay is unique in that is a quiet, generally clean place - a far cry from the cramped conditions almost anywhere else in Asia.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The food quality can often be very poor and unhealthy (but is fine when you know where to eat and shop).
There are some seriously sleazy expats if you go to the wrong places (don't worry, you won't really see them outside of them).
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely. I stayed here for a reason. Many people do.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectations that this is going to be fancy like Thailand.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience.. smile.. cash..
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
A documentary about children of US sailors called "Left by the Ship."
6. Do you have any other comments?
Subic Bay is two worlds: the old US naval base, and the city of Olongapo. Olongapo (and its beaches) are the "real" Philippines, while the base feels more like a strange version of the US (even though the actual base closed down 30 years ago). The wild bars and raunchy expats are in Olongapo and Barrio Barretto. The former base is much quieter, family-friendly, and upscale.