Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 07/17/09

Personal Experiences from Manila, Philippines

Manila, Philippines 07/17/09

Background:

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

Yes.

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2. How long have you lived here?

November 2007 - present.

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

Affiliated with U.S. Embassy.

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

It is approximately 20 hours from the U.S. to Manila, transiting through Tokyo.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing ranges from small condos near the embassy compound to large houses closer to Fort Bonifacio and the international schools. There is a huge disparity in U.S. Embassy housing. First tour officers are likely to end up on the U.S. Embassy Seafront compound, which is not very well maintained. Senior officers, particularly those with children, are likely to get large houses with pools and large yards. Married couples tend to be housed in condos in the central business district of Makati, close to restaurants and malls. Also expect to spend several weeks to several months in temporary housing.

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

Overall, the prices are about what you would pay in the U.S. Local produce is cheaper, but imported goods such as cereal, laundry detergent, and cleaning supplies are much more.

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

High-quality bed linens, detergents, cleaning supplies and baking supplies.

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

Restaurants are generally plentiful and relatively inexpensive (especially compared to D.C.!) All types of food are available and most of the fast food chains are here. Filipinos love sweet food, so bakeries and Krispy Kreme abound.

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

Mosquitoes are problematic, particularly outside of metro Manila. Dengue fever is a growing concern, although one can minimize the risk by avoiding standing water and going out at dusk.

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Daily Life:

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

The embassy has both an FPO and a pouch. It takes anywhere from 2-4 weeks to get mail and packages from the states.

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

Domestic help is both inexpensive and plentiful. Expect to pay about $200-$300 for a live in all-around maid, about $200 for a yaya (nanny), and about $300-350 for a full time driver. Having domestic help makes life much easier in Manila, especially because most tasks, such as paying bills, must be done in person.

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

Many condos have their own gyms, and there is a chain of Fitness First facilities throughout metro Manila. Both the main embassy compound and seafront compound have gyms, as well as almost all of the nice hotels.

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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?

I haven't personally had any trouble using my credit card, although I try to use cash for most of my small purchases and eating out at restaurants.

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

The Philippines is a Catholic country, but most other religious denominations are available. I know for sure there are Jewish temples, Islamic mosques, mormon churches, and non-denominational protestant churches in Makati alone.

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

Most local newspapers are in English. A 3-month subscription for the Philippine Star runs about $45. Cable television costs about $30 per month, and although it can take quite some time to get set up, once you have it it tends to be quite reliable.

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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?

English is an official language and is thus spoken everywhere. Learning a few words of Tagalog is definitely appreciated, but not usually necessary.

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

Manila is not at all friendly toward those with physical disabilities, in the sense that sidewalks and buildings are not equipped. With that said, domestic help is very inexpensive and you could hire a nurse, maid, or driver to get you around.

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Transportation:

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

The embassy advises against using trains and buses, given that they can be targets for crime and bombings. On the other hand, taxis tend to be quite safe and inexpensive. The only issue with taking a taxi is that you have to be vigilant about making sure the meter is turned on when you enter the vehicle.

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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?

A small to mid-size SUV is perfect for Manila. The roads tend to flood during the rainy season, which can stall a low-clearance vehicle. I also tend to feel safer in an SUV given that driving in Manila can sometimes turn into a contact sport!

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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?

High speed internet varies from condo to condo, although generally the cost is around $40-$50 per month. I have had quite a lot of problems with my internet going out, but some people have had few problems.

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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?

Everyone texts in Manila, and most people purchase 'load' cards instead of purchasing a calling plan.

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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?

I don't believe so.

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

There are a few vets that offer high quality services and pet food. Instead of using a kennel, your best bet is to hire a domestic helper to stay with your pet while you are out. Several officers at the embassy have hired pet 'yayas' (nannies) to care for their pets during the day!

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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?

There are little to no decent paying jobs on the local economy. Most spouses and EFMs find jobs in the embassy or international schools.

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

Work places are generally business casual, and the dress code for the general public is very casual. Jeans are a staple here.

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Health & Safety:

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

Unhealthy: Manila is a city of over 20 million and the government does little to nothing to combat air pollution.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

I had every immunization on the schedule, except yellow fever.

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

Manila is relatively safe and there are security guards everywhere. The southern island of Mindanao is generally unsafe for foreigners, but most U.S. government officials are prohibited/warned from going there.

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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?

Pollution is the biggest concern for most people. Outdoor activities are generally minimized in metro Manila due to the poor air quality. Basic medical and dental services are available and generally cheaper than in the U.S., but if you are delivering a baby or having any major procedures done, the embassy recommends you go to Singapore or the U.S.

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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?

The weather is generally 80-90 degrees year round, with high humidity. The rainy season lasts from approximately June - November.

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Schools & Children:

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

I don't yet have any kids, but I've heard both International School Manila and Brent International School are quite good, especially the high schools. I have heard that enrolling your children in school can be quite cumbersome, especially if there are special needs.

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

Brent is better at making accommodations for special needs than ISM, but generally if you are able to pay the additional money to the school for tutoring/mentoring, you should be okay.

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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?

The U.S. Embassy has an Amerikids program for 2-4 year olds, which I hear is quite good.

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

I believe ISM has many sports programs available, including little league and soccer.

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Expat Life:

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

Huge! There are hundreds of thousands of expats in the Philippines, particularly those affiliated with embassies and U.S. retired military. The U.S. Embassy here is our fourth largest in the world, I believe.

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2. Morale among expats:

Generally pretty good. Filipinos are very laid back and Manila can be a pretty easy place to live so long as you are patient and have domestic help.

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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?

There is a lot to do in Manila, and you can be as involved with the embassy and other expats as you want to be. Restaurants, cafes, and night clubs are also plentiful.

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

Singles, couples, and families all seem to do quite well in Manila; there is definitely something for everyone.

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

I would think so, although I'm not sure if there are gay/lesbian bars and establishments. Filipinos are generally pretty tolerant (at least on the surface) regarding sexual preferences.

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

Things seem to be pretty equal regarding gender, with women in high levels of government and business. Religious prejudices are more of an issue in Mindanao, with the constant tensions of the native islamic peoples trying to obtain independence.

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

Travel opportunities throughout southeast Asia are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. Travel throughout the Philippines is also very nice and inexpensive. I have had the opportunity to see much of the country, and the Philippines is really a very beautiful country. SCUBA is also big here, with some of the best diving in the world.

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

Handmade furniture, wood carvings and pearls.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, particularly if you buy local food and goods.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, this has been a great first tour for myself and my husband!

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

Cold weather gear.

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3. But don't forget your:

Summer weight clothing and fabrics; patience!

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

The only fiction title I'm aware of regarding the Philippines is Noli mi Tangere, by Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines.

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

The only fiction title I'm aware of regarding the Philippines is Noli mi Tangere, by Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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