Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 04/13/09

Personal Experiences from Manila, Philippines

Manila, Philippines 04/13/09

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

First expat experience.

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2. How long have you lived here?

1 year.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

We went from DC to LA to Tokyo to Manila--with a 13 month old. Absolutely exhausting!

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Most expats live in one of the Makati villages or Fort Bonifacio. There are the houses that are generally pretty large. They are great and a lot of them have pools but it is a lot of maintenance. You will need to have at least one maid (if not two), gardner, pool man, and most people have a driver. In the Fort you have condos so you don't have to worry about a yard. Commutes vary depending on where you are going. From Fort Bonifacio to the U.S. Embassy it takes 30 minutes during work commute times.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

If you eat like an American you will pay the same on groceries. If you eat like a Filipino, which I couldn't manage to do, you can save a lot of money.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Paper plates, paper cups, decent tupperware, wrapping paper, printer cartridges, batteries.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

McDos, Jollie Bee (which I have yet to eat at), KFC (although no biscuits! What is that all about?), Pizza Hut, and a lot of other generic American stuff. Plus a lot of places deliver, which is nice. It is a usually a bit cheaper unless you are eating imported meat or something.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

You have to be vigilant about bugs here. Food can't be left out and regular pest control is a must (find a company that adheres to Western standards of pesticides).

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Very available. They range in price from 4,000 (if no ex-pat experience) a month to 12,000.That is about US$80-$220 a month. Be careful when you hire, red flags should go off if your maid complains about her bathroom size.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There are gyms available and a lot of the condo buildings have great gyms with hired trainers.

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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?

Be smart. Only go to reputable banks and stores.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Speaking Tagalog is helpful and I wish I knew it better but not necessary. The biggest problem here isn't the language gap but the cultural way of conversing. Most people do not expect you to speak to them so they aren't listening when addressed. It is necessary to learn this, since you are already going to deal with limited English, it is important to learn how to address people and make sure they are listening.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Depends on how active they wanted to be. If you want to get out a lot, there are only so many places you can go. If you want to stay in this is a great place because you can get a lot of good and affordable help.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are safe and affordable but be smart and text someone taxi info when you get in. Lock your doors.

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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?

The Honda CRV is king here. Don't get anything too low. SUVs resell well here, especially in the diplomat community.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, not super reliable but about as reliable as Comcast in the US was. It costs us about US$50 a month for high speed internet.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

You need one immediately. Oh, and texting (SMS) is a way of life here so remember that when buying a cell phone. You can also do pre-paid phones here instead of obnoxious contracts like in the U.S.

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Pets:

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?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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?

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Not sure, depends on works. However, Filipinos generally are modest and don't wear swim suits to the beach so be prepared to be the foreign scandal when you come.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

The pollution here is unhealthy. The main cause of pollution is traffic from buses and jeepneys. It looks gross but certainly is not the worst city in the world. It is really bad when stuck in traffic but at home not too noticeable.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

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3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

You need to be on watch and cautious, however, if you are smart you will be fine.

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4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

TB is a major health concern. If you have small children you MUST send your staff to a clinic to be x-rayed for TB before starting. It has gotten to the point that even the expat kids are starting to spread TB so be careful.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot, hot and wet, moderately hot, and hot and breezy.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

ISM and Brent are the two schools that U.S. Embassy folks use. Don't have kids in them. From what I hear the elementary at ISM is disappointing but the high school is fabulous. Brent is a great school if your child has special needs but it is a long commute from most of the expat housing.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

Lots of it, not cheap. ISM has a pre-school. The U.S. Embassy has its own preschool that is really good but once again, a 30 minute commute. The embassy preschool is really inexpensive. The other preschools range in price and programs. There will be plenty of people with strong opinions about the different schools here. Contact the local MADS (Mothers and Darlings) group when you get here.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Pretty huge.

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2. Morale among expats:

It ranges. It is extremely frustrating to live here at times but can be incredible.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

It really depends on your attitude but I would say this is a great post for families. There is a lot of built in social networks for families. As for singles, if you are a single man up for dating local ladies, you will be in heaven. If you are a single woman it seems to be a bit more difficult. Pretty cool place for couples. Lots of things to do and places to see (those without kids who can travel and actually see things).

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Definitely a great place or gays. Without really looking you can see a pretty vibrant gay community. As for lesbians, not sure.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Filipinos themselves seem to naturally discriminate among each other (ie you go to a store and see a help wanted sign with requirements of height, age, religion, and skin tone). However, with expats they seem to just view us all as foreign and exotic. Admittedly every time I see a skin whitening commercial it breaks my heart a little.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Massages, manicures, pedicures, facials, lasik surgery, botox, and other vain items. The Filipino art is nothing to write home about but you can find other Asian art here for relatively good prices.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, if you don't hire a staff of 20 people.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, I love it here.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothes, year supply of pepto and immodium (most drugs are available here).

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3. But don't forget your:

Summer clothes, swimsuits, sandals, and patience.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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7. Do you have any other comments?

The Philippines is great but incredibly frustrating. You are surrounded by people who speak English but speak it at a limited level...and they do not tell you when they don't understand. It takes a lot of patience but it is a great place with warm loving people.

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