Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 01/21/10

Personal Experiences from Manila, Philippines

Manila, Philippines 01/21/10

Background:

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

Not my first expat experience. Lived in Germany many years ago for a year with U.S. military.

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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?

Home base is Washington, D.C.Took us about 19 hours to get here straight from D.C. to Korea, then Korea to Manila. Korean Airlines was the nicest airlines I have ever flown. Last summer flew on China Airlines from Manila to New York stopping in Taipei and Anchorage. Not a very desirable airlines or flight, but it was very cheap (880 for adult, 680 for kids)which was important as we paid flight ourselves. Taipei was a very nice airport. Traveled alone with 3 kids fine.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I have been living here 1 year

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

Spouse of a U.S. Embassy employee

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Available housing is U.S. Embassy compound, condo, or house. Embassy compound is nice because doctor is right there, nice facilities such as playground, tennis and swimming pool, safety good and preschool for U.S. Embassy kids. Actual apartments there are small and location not great for anything else. We chose condo which is good in newer Fort Bonifacio area. Condos nice because less mosquitos, swimming pools, gym included, less people to hire to maintain it, good security. Downside is less privacy, no place for kids to ride bike, less space for pets although helpers usually walk the dogs. Also condos usually have 110v/220v options so you can use your appliances etc. from home. Houses- good for size and lots of kids. Quality is not guaranteed so it is hit or miss if you get a house that needs a lot of work or not. Flooding has also been a problem with a few houses where people have to go to a hotel or be relocated to a condo. May not have 110v available. Also need to hire more help to maintain. For example, if you are leaving for a while, you need a security guard or at least your driver or helper staying there to watch the house. Commute time varies for all depending on where location is.

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

Lots of available stuff here, but you have to go to many different stores. For example, didn't see EGGO waffles for about 9 months. Suddenly found them at a regular store I shop. Went back this week and they are GONE!You hear lots of "out of stock, ma'am".Once you figure out where to get things it's fine. I also order anything I can't get on drugstore.com. There are less options for healthy snacks for kids than in the U.S.Lots of MSG in things also.

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

Kirkland Laundry Detergent, Kirkland Toilet Paper, Wipes, Swiffer refills etc. YOu can get here, but expensive. Also sport equipment such as baseball bats, gloves etc. cause expensive here. Ziploc bags and also rubbermaid containers to keep your food in to eliminate pests. I mailed my spices and was happy I did that. Bedding materials buy before you come like Mattress pads, sheets etc. Cheaper in the states and better quality. Larger womens clothing. Buy lots before you come like pants. I am a size 10-12 and have difficulty buying tops here unless you pay expensive prices. Sometimes I luck out and find some. Pants are tougher. Also bathing suits. Battery back-up for your computer and surge protectors for others like t.v. We bought and shipped one before we came. Extremely important with power outages. Embassy supplies aircleaners, but if you have any at home BRING THEM! More of my Winter stuff because we went ice skating and had no gloves or if you travel to cold weather.

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

McDonalds, Jollibees (Filpino equivalent of McD's), KFC, Kenny Rogers, Pizza Hut, Shakeys, Yellow Cab Pizza, some Wendys, Sparro pizza. Also Applebees, Fridays, Hard Rock Cafe, California Pizza Kitchen..lots!Fast food is cheaper than U.S. but have to figure out how to order it so you get what you like. Prices vary depending on location. In nice areas, eating U.S. food, cost of food is equivalent to U.S. prices. If eating Filipino, price is less. Steak is outrageously priced for decent steak.

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

Definitely mosquitos. I just experienced Dengue and it was no fun and can't even remember getting bitten. Condos are nicer in this regard than a house. I have heard of large cockroaches, but haven't had a problem personally with them. Ants..large and tiny tiny small ones you can hardly see.

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Daily Life:

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

I use Embassy mail system. None Embassy people use the DHL type of service and you can also send and receive Balikbayan boxes this way.

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

Household helper ranges 4000p-15000p. live-in or live out. 4000p you get someone who probably hasn't worked for expats and a big language barrier.10,000 gets you someone usually really good with good english. I have one for 7,000 and her English is good, but cooking is less experienced with AMerican food. We eat Filipino food about 3 times a week so not a problem for us. Also I would expect less issues with the higher paid. Driver- salary and hours vary too. For about 10,000 you can get decent driver. For more you can get very good driver. Most expat drivers are higher salary. Again depends on hours. Mine works Mon-Sat, 730-5 and we pay overtime and holiday pay.

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

Gyms in the condos, lots of workout facilities are available. People in houses usually opt to join a fitness studio. You can take tennis lessons, dance lessons, Scuba certification is huge here, swimming etc. Also a personal trainer is about 10 bucks an hour. Great!

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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?

Try to avoid if you can. Although I get my money either out of Embassy bank by writing a check or on the outside at a trusted ATM like one in front of a bank or the one on the ISM school campus. Can also open up a local bank account.

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

Yes. Mostly Catholic, but other churches around. Not sure about Jewish. Large Indian population also here that are Hindu.

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

All available. CNN and lots of other stations with Cable. Cost much cheaper than the states. I think I just paid about 70 dollars for my cable, internet, and phone bill this month. In states it was like 150.

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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?

None really. Mostly I want to learn so I know what people are saying like my help or to direct people.

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

I don't think this would be a easy city for a disabled person to navigate. I have a brother who is physically challenged that I think would have a hard time here even with his scooter. Easier because you can hire the personal help or have your driver take you places, but when trying to just navigate a stroller it is difficult because sidewalks just suddenly end or you can't get a door open.

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Transportation:

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

We have been told not to ride buses, trains, or jeepneys. I have taken taxi from the condo (the guard writes down the plate #) and also from the malls. Don't enjoy the taxi though, prefer my own 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?

We have a Ford Expedition and are fine with it. Good car cause it's BIG!You can even add lights and sirens to help navigate through traffic. We also got our windows tinted darker so no one can see us in car. We are not planning on bringing our car back to states with us though as we are here for 4 more years. There are Ford dealers here, toyota, Hyundai, Nissan etc. However, the cars they sell here are different models so it can be a problem when you need parts. The Ford parts for our Expedition are more expensive than in the U.S. but the labor is CHEAP!so it balances everything out. Carjacking not a problem living in condo and also having a driver to watch your car when you park. Anything goes with driving here. I can drive when necessary, but easier and safer with driver when you have small kids.

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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?

Internet access available..better in condos. Internet speed varies, never excellent, but functional

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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 will need a cell phone here. You can purchase here, purchase a SIM card, and buy load for it. Only costs a peso to text and terribly expensive to use as actual phone. Texting will become your life here. You can buy load in different increments. I usually get 500p which is about 10 dollars and that lasts me at least a month

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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)?

AS far as I know yes for vets, no for kennels. Most people ask a friend or the helper to stay to watch pets while out of town. People see pets very differently here and only the rich can afford the pet care.

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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?

Not sure. I know a few that work. There are people here at Embassy who can help with that though.

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

In public, jeans and nice shirt the norm with sandals or flip-flops. People tend to dress nice here and care about their appearance.

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Health & Safety:

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

Be aware of surroundings, avoid public transportation such as train and famous jeepneys. Taxis usually fine. Watch pockets, purses. Keep purse in front of you with no credit cards with you. Had my purse slashed in a mall when I had my kids with me. I was perfect target. Bring yaya, driver or maid with you if alone with small kids. Don't travel to Southern islands like Mindinao due to terrorist activity and kidnappings. Local people though are very friendly and overall Americans are well liked and respected.

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

Allergy, asthma and sinus problems an issue here. Embassy has nice clinic with xray machines. Makati med which is the hospital the Embassy deals with after hours is fine, but I would not have elective surgery there if I can help it. New hospital being built called St. Lukes in Fort Bonifacio is supposed to be nice. Drive farther towards Brent to Asian Hospital which is excellent. Overall good medical care, especially because we as expats get a lot of respect here and have money to pay. Not good care for general public who don't have money. Lots of people get Lasik eye surgery here and are happy..

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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?

Air quality moderate to unhealthy. Some days good if windy. I had very little asthma in the states and came here and basically can't workout outside. Every time I do, I get really sick. Some people though have no problems. There is a cough many people have here and they call it the Manila cough. There is no control of pollution and trash so I can't see it getting any better. Once you are here for a while you get used to it though and if you can stay indoors in your house you are good. Also this is reason many people travel out of city once a month because once you get out of city you can instantly breathe well again!

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

June-October is the rainy season. Lots of rain and typhoon warnings. Nov-Feb nice..reminds me of Southern California. March-May is considered summer so is hot and relatively dry. This is when the local schools are out for their summer break.

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Schools & Children:

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

My kids go to ISM.Good school, but took a bit of time for my kids to adjust at first. Their equivalent to kindergarten (ECLC) was more lenient and play based than Virginia school. However, 1st Grade picked up and I am perfectly happy and impressed by the school. Kids really learn to think outside of the box while learning traditional things too. Truly makes them global thinkers. Playground and afterschool activities are phenomenal. School promotes living a healthy and active lifestyle. PE, ART, Music and medical depts wonderful. I have liked the teachers although from other parents I hear communication can be improved. Most communication through e-mail or actually going to the school. Very close to most houses and condos. Bus needed improvements which they implemented this year so am very happy. Helps to keep eye on kids and be active in school. Will accept certain number of children who do not speak English yet and children with mild special needs although they do not accept children with what I would call moderate to severe special needs. I know kids who receive Speech or extra tutoring and children who are on the High Functioning Autistic Spectrum who go to the school and parents are happy with the services. Brent- I know kids that go here and both kids and parents are very happy. From what I hear it is a more traditional academic school, but kids that go to either Brent or ISM seem equally academically challenged (especially in older grades)and are happy and go on to do well in college. Commute is long 45-1hour. Makes it more difficult to visit school if child sick or for performances, sports etc. Most kids nap on bus. Mine get carsick so the school was not an option for us. Also Brent accepts more special needs children and has the ability and staff to support them. They also are more apt to bend on accepting kids at the cut-off dates of Grades. For example, I knew one family whose child already completed 1st grade in states. Came here and birthday was like Oct 5th or something and ISM wanted them to redo 1st grade. These people went to Brent because they allowed child to go to 2nd grade after testing them even though birthday cut-off was Sept. 30.British School- know expats that go here although none from U.S. Embassy. Mostly Australians and British and then other foreigners. Smaller school, across from ISM,less classes per grade level. People seem happy there too and say communication is good

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

As my above school experience says, Brent is better at accommodating special needs kids, such as Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy etc. From what I hear they have the staff and ability to support them properly. Again this is only through word of mouth though. My son had a speech impairment when we looked at schools and both Brent and ISM had no problems with this. ISM is not equipped to take children in wheelchairs etc. This would be one of my biggest complaints about ISM.However, my children have all gotten individualized attention at ISM and teachers have adapted to suit their needs and help them. Mine were premature infants so have history with dealing with various therapists. I also know a person who has Autistic children and she is 100% happy with what ISM has done for her 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?

Different options. At U.S. Embassy compound they have AmeriKids which is similar to a U.S. preschool, but takes 30 minutes to get there. This would be my first choice if my kids were in preschool here. There are Montessori schools I think in Dasmarinas village and also know people who have sent kids to Summit School near ISM that are happy.

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

Most sports are at the schools, but lots on the outside too. My son is in ILLAM which is the Little league here and there are a lot of others if you just meet other parents and start asking them. Also there is a ice hockey group on Sundays at Mall of Asia I think run by a Canadian, kids to ice skating, piano lessons affordable..great stuff!Just not too much open park space. Baseball gets difficult with availability of few fields.

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Expat Life:

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

Large..many Americans with Embassy, ADB, or other banks, telecom centers etc. Lots of Canadian, British, Australian, New Zealand, etc.

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2. Morale among expats:

I think good among most. Even with weird illnesses and difficulties here, you can always find someone to share your woes with or to help you out. Good community support among ISM parents and good at Embassy.

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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?

Can be busy or stay home if you want?There are dances etc. among expat community and lots of local events. Lots to do

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

Good city for anyone

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

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

Some religious tension between Christians and Muslims, but don't see it really in Manila. I find people listen more to my husband, but that may just be personal experience. No gender prejudices that I see among the high social classes, but definitely a male dominated society among the lower classes. Women are not always treated equally and they are often abused. You don't really see this much though in the daily life of an expat.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Traveling is definitely a bonus. Many different places to go depending on whether single, married and ages of kids. Large population of expats so you can almost always find someone that you click with and make lasting friendships.

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

Various beaches are wonderful, ice skating and bowling are affordable at Mall of Asia. Movies are cheap and you can either get the food there or bring your own in no problem. Lots of clubs and groups. Something for everyone.

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

woodwork and furniture.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Advantages to living in Manila is the cost of living in general and ability to afford to hire household help. Also it's a easy hop to many Asia locations so you can travel to a lot of other countries, such as China, Thailand, and Australia during holiday breaks. Weather is decent..don't ever have to bundle up the kids. Rain can be depressing during the rainy season though which is why a lot of kids at international schools just go home during our own summer June-July. People speak English although you can still be often misunderstood.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, lots

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes

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

Most of your winter clothes. Just bring a few. If you are moving into a condo, space will be a huge issue so leave behind anything you can or don't need. Also leave behind if you can with family your valuable things like wedding album etc.

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3. But don't forget your:

Car, sunglasses, piano, sports equipment, air cleaner, computer all-in-one printer/scanner/fax! Spices. Hair care products...and hair color if you do your own. Can't get the right colors here.

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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?

Arrival Survival put out by I think the Union Church here. If you get a sponsor have them buy this for you.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Overall Manila is a nice place to live. Even with the daily enviromental and household staff issues, I still have so much more time to myself here than I did at home and we are able to save money. Also with all the money you save it's usually no problem to go on trips or to go home to visit for the summer. Glad to be here.

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