Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 06/18/08
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?
I've also lived in Singapore.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I work for a development organization.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing options range from large older homes with pools to new condo units with full facilities. Many expats live in the Makati or Ft Bonifacio area, as it is close to international schools, shopping and activities. Ayala Alabang and certain villages north of Makati are also popular, with newer houses and cheaper prices, though commute times will increase. Housing is surprisingly expensive, given that this is a developing country, so it's helpful to have some financial contribution from your sponsoring organization.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Pretty much everything can be found eventually, but selection and availability can be spotty. Imported goods usually come from the U.S. or Canada and are very expensive. Grocery stores carry a wide selection of goods, but buying fruit and vegetables from the local markets is a cheaper option, with a better selection of fresh produce.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Only things that you absolutely must have. The only other thing I can think of is good quality cotton sheets in light colours, because they aren't always easy to find.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Filipinos love to eat! American fast food and chain coffee houses are on every corner, with slightly different menus from their U.S. counterparts. A number of good restaurants are available in every price range. Filipino food can be very good or very sweet - and definitely worth a try.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Delivery can be spotty - sometimes things arrive quickly, sometimes it takes months ... and sometimes they never arrive. If your company allows it, sending packages and letters there is probably the safest option.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Help is everywhere. Many people have at least a driver (~US$200-300/month) and a maid (~US$100-200/month). Families with small children often hire a yaya (or two). Cooks, gardeners, pool cleaners, lavanderas (laundresses), guards, etc. are also common. It's best to get recommendations from colleagues or parents at school.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Use them with caution. Major establishments are generally safe for credit card users; small shops might not take them and/or the risk for fraud is greater. ATM machines are everywhere, but it's safer to use one that is guarded or inside a bank.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are many Catholic churches, some non-denominational Christian services and at least one synagogue.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
A few English-language newspapers are available and are quite inexpensive. Local stations are generally in Tagalog or Taglish (Tagalog/English blend), but there are many cable channels that can be subscribed to.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None, but people are happy to hear expats speak Tagalog and it helps with bargaining. Most Filipinos speak some degree of English.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Manila and its buildings are not designed to accommodate people with physical disabilities (or even strollers/prams!). However, since household help is inexpensive, a live-in companion can be easily arranged to make things a bit easier.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are affordable and generally safe. The MRT (light rail) system is safe and reasonably clean, but doesn't go many places. Many employees of the Asian Development Bank who live in the Makati villages of Forbes and Dasmarinas take the MRT because there are convenient stops near these locations. Buses and jeepneys are not recommended for travel by expats.
3. 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?
Imported vehicles are available, at a price. That price also extends to the expense of imported parts that can take ages to arrive and cost a fortune. Locally assembled cars from well-known Japanese manufacturers are cheaper and easier to have repaired.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Prices vary dramatically based on the plan you choose, but it's fairly reasonable.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You need one. Most people send text (SMS) messages rather than calling, and you'll learn to text quickly. Prepaid cards and subscriptions are available everywhere.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Communication infrastructure is good, so the options include landlines, cellphones (expensive for international calls) and Skype (broadband internet connections are available).
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Good vets can be found and some will come to your house.
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?
If your visa allows you to work, there are numerous work opportunities if you are seeking experience, though salaries are very low. High paying jobs with international salaries are hard to come by.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Smart casual and fashion forward, particularly for women. Men rarely wear suit jackets and a barong (Filipino shirt that is worn untucked) is considered appropriate work wear (formal versions can be worn in lieu of black-tie).
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Unhealthy at best, very unhealthy at times. If you look outside towards Manila or Makati, you will usually see a brown haze blanketing the city. People living in houses often find that their floors and curtains are covered with a fine black soot from the pollution.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Manila is safe for expats, provided they follow basic big-city street-smarts. Scams and petty theft are common, so double check your bills and be careful of where you use ATMs and credit cards. There are armed guards are at the entrance of most large buildings, shopping centres, hotels, villages (gated communities), etc. Be prepared to open your bags for inspection upon entering most buildings.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Be careful of mosquitoes, as dengue is quite common. I know a large number of adults and children who have contracted both dengue and typhoid, so precautions are advised. Medical care is unreliable - some very good doctors work in Manila and can be found by asking other expats.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and humid. Hot and rainy.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
British School Manila (BSM), International School Manila (ISM), Brent International School, Beacon School, Eurocampus (French and German schools) and Chinese International School Manila (CISM) are all popular options. BSM is particularly well-regarded for its primary school, but admission places are difficult to obtain unless your child is a UK or Commonwealth national. ISM is a more relaxed, American-style school with an excellent high school program for IB/AP students. Brent is located near Ayala Alabang and has a religious affiliation. A local international school, Beacon, has a number of expat students. CISM is a new school with a bilingual English-Mandarin international curriculum. It is extremely small at the moment (but growing) and the expat families I know with children there are very happy. My children have attended both ISM and BSM; we find that BSM is a better fit for us, as we prefer the high academic standards, discipline and family atmosphere.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ISM, Brent and Beacon make accommodations for children with certain special needs, though there are no options for children with significant disabilities. ISM and Brent have ESL programs.
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?
There are many excellent options for preschool in Manila. Local preschools are staffed with caring teachers and the children seem very happy. Families who are staying for several years and wish their children to attend the British School often apply to its Nursery program in spite of the fees, just to try to secure a place for primary. Families with very young children usually hire a yaya (nanny) to mind the children.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
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?
Expats spend a lot of time socializing at private homes and restaurants. Bars and nightclubs abound, but most seem a bit seedy. It's easy to find friends through work and schools.
3. Morale among expats:
Good. Many expats enjoy their time in Manila, despite all the frustrations.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Manila is a good city for families with young children, though I am not looking forward to the teenage years! Everything (alcohol, drugs, etc) is available for a price and drivers/househelpers seem incapable of saying 'no.'
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. The gay male community is oddly camp in nature, but gays and lesbians seem to be accepted.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Religious and gender prejudices are not apparent, but expats of African descent will often encounter odd looks and might overhear negative comments. Filipinos are very concerned about skin colour and every other ad seems to be for whitening products.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Trips to the beach, diving, eating out, ice skating (!), bars, social dancing lessons, language courses, sporting activities, movies, and the like. There are a few interesting museums to visit and entertaining tours of Manila can be arranged through a couple of guides.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Baskets, furniture, items made from capiz, wood carvings
9. Can you save money?
Yes, if you don't have children in activities (sport/dance), don't travel to the beach every month, and don't go crazy buying handicrafts and furniture.
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:
Expectations of efficiency and competence, cold weather gear.
3. But don't forget your:
Patience, patience and more patience. Good humour. Clothing in sizes larger than U.S. size M.