Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 02/06/10
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?
No. The Hague, Paris, Geneva, Venice, Vientiane.
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?
It takes about 25 hours to get to Manila from Florida, connecting through any combination of 1 U.S. and 1 East Asian city.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There is an enormous disparity between the 10% who live at Seafront and the 90% who live in Makati, Fort Bonifacio, and the Villages. Seafront has smaller, outdated apartments and townhouses, but a nice sense of community and grass for kids and dogs. The Villages have mansions for larger families. Most people live in luxury highrises in the financial district of Makati or the Beverly Hills area known as the Fort. Seafront commute averages 15 minutes, while everyone else has up to an hour travel time.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Household supplies can be expensive, if you want the brands you know from the U.S. Groceries are easy to find and relatively inexpensive, if you are willing to shop at local supermarkets like Hypermarket, Robinsons, or Cash n Carry. The overall quality is very good. European and Japanese brands are readily available at reasonable prices. U.S. goods can also be found, particularly at S&R (Sam's Club), but are much more expensive on the whole.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Air purifiers and dehumidifiers. If you do not have air purifiers running constantly, you can come home to a smog cloud in your living room. If you do not have dehumidifiers running constantly, you house and clothes can quickly develop mold.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The Philippines is the real Fast Food Nation. Anything you want, you can get in fast food variety. Filipino food is roundly critized by almost all expats, but there is a wide selection of excellent international cuisine, including Chinese, Japanese, Indian, American, and Mediterranean.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes are ever-present, and dengue fever is a problem, particularly in the rainy season. Malaria is only an issue in Palawan.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. Don't use the pouch or the Philippine Post if you can avoid doing so. They are unreliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Readily available. Drivers, nannies (Yayas), cooks, and all-around helpers (Katulongs) can be hired live-in or live-out for about $10 a day. Quality is variable, as is trustworthiness.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are plenty of gyms all over the city that you can join for U.S. prices. Seafront has its own gym, and so do many of the highrise apartment buildings.
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?
ATMs can be risky. This is a cash-based society. It is advised to use the ATM at the U.S. Embassy, but you can also feel comfortable at reputable international banks like HSBC or Citi.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
The Philippines is a Catholic country, and churches abound. There are also Protestant, Mormon, and Muslim congregations throughout the country.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Many television channels are wholly or partially in English, and you can find many of your favorite shows from around the world on many of the international cable channels. Cable cost is slightly lower than the U.S.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can get by on English alone, but a little Tagalog goes a long way and will save you lots of money and hassle. Do not expect the English here to be of the same level as at home, and remember that the underlying Philippine culture makes the meanings of many expressions different. There may be seven ways of saying "yes" but six of them actually mean "no."
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It is not easy to be disabled in the Philippines. Very few facilities are adapted for wheelchairs, and the sidewalks are horrendous. Think twice about coming here if you need handicap accessible facilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Innercity buses are perhaps the least safe form of travel, as they drive like maniacs. The Manila metro train system is a haven for petty criminals, and jeepneys and buses are sometimes targets for robberies. Taxis are generally safe, but the drivers will often try to cheat you. Make sure the meter is running, and don't be afraid to get out if you don't feel comfortable. You can get anywhere in the city for less than $4.
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?
You can pretty much bring anything to the Philippines. Seafront has its own gas station. Watch out for local stations, as many water down the gasoline. Quality mechanics are inexpensive and easy to find for just about any brand.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed internet is readily available in Manila. Everywhere else, it is dialup. Prepare to pay $50-100 a month for high-speed.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
If you bring a cell phone, make sure it is unlocked. You can buy knock-offs everywhere in the Philippines, but they are unreliable. Cell phone usage is very inexpensive, and most communication is through texting.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Vet care is fantastic and affordable in the Philippines. Pets are also inexpensive and easy to find. If you leave on vacation, it is much better to hire your helper (Katulong) to stay with your pets than to put them in a kennel.
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 really. There are plenty of jobs in the various Embassies around town, but professional jobs are rare. If there is an advertised opportunity, there will thousands of applicants, as Filipinos are highly educated and underemployed. Unless your uncle is advertising the position, you are unlikely to get it - vacancies stay within the family.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The Philippines is a very casual place, and a t-shirt is accepted just about everywhere. Work attire typically consists of a dress shirt and or local barong if you are male, or pants or a skirt with a top if you are female. Dressing up is somewhat rare, but also always accepted.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The restive southern islands of Mindanao and Sulu are off-limits to Embassy personnel. There are several terrorist and non-terrorist Muslim insurgencies in the south. Communist guerrillas operate in rural areas across the country, but are not typically a barrier to travel. Urban crime is an issue, but not if you stay alert and are selective in where you travel. Manila traffic is the most dangerous thing in daily life.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The water in the Philippines is generally not potable and is unsafe to drink. Sanitation is extremely poor, and it is unsafe to eat at street stalls or food courts. Local markets are generally unclean, but supermarkets are generally safe. Diahhrea is common. Take Yakult every day to save you from local bugs. Medical care is underwhelming, but Asian Hospital is very nice and Makati Med is usually ok. Cosmetic medicine is of high quality and low cost, as is general dentistry and ophtomology.
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?
Very unhealthy. Emissions laws are not enforced in the Philippines, and the chronic traffic produces a heavy layer of smog over the capital region. Plan on getting some form of respiratory illness once every two months - expats call it the "Manila Crud."
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Tropical island monsoon climate, beautiful all year around. Rainy season runs from about May to October. The cool dry season runs November to February, and the hot dry season runs March to May. Year-around highs average 90 degrees.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We do not have school-aged children, but notice that some generations of officers rave about ISM while other generations rave about Brent. ISM is close to Makati and the Fort, which makes it the easy choice for those who live there. Brent has the better academic reputation, and is somewhat closer for those living at Seafront or the Villages. As with most things in Manila, commutes can be long.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
If your child has special needs, they will need to attend Brent, which has a very good reputation in this regard.
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 Seafront Compound hosts its own preschool, which has a waiting list to get in. It is very easy to hire a nanny (Yaya) for your children, live-in or live-out, for about $10 a day.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Basketball is extremely popular in the Philippines, the two big international schools have no shortage of activities. You will not find things like little league baseball, because Manila is a city of concrete with few green spaces.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Variable. Many people love it here and come back time and again. Many people hate it here and count the days until departure. Most people go back and forth between the two, remarking that they could be somewhere worse... or better. The friendliness of the Filipinos goes a long way toward their endearment, while their seeming inability to get anything accomplished goes a long way toward frustration with the country.
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?
Entertaining is easy here, and there are lots of activities like movies, bowling, or shopping - all at the mall. There are plenty of restaurants, and the Filipinos are the world's biggest partygoers. There is no shortage of nightlife, but most of it surrounds redlight activities.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is not the greatest city for families, as the pollution is high, green spaces few, and non-mall-related activities few and far between. Unfortunately, the red light district stretches over almost a quarter of the city, including the area surrounding Seafront and the Embassy. Couples will enjoy all the dining options and the easy day trips. Single women tend to have a hard time here. Single men fall into two groups: those who enjoy the red light district and those who have a difficult time dating because it is hard to tell when a Filipina is interested in the man or his passport. This is not a city for bad marriages - it tends to break them.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
The Philippines is an extremely gay-friendly country, and might have the highest proprotion of openly gay men in the world. Lesbians are few and far between, but are equally accepted.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Women are on top in the Philippines, and men sometimes feel like the glass ceiling is on them. There are religious problems between Muslims and Christians, but it is largely confined to Mindanao and Sulu. We have not really seen racial, religious, or gender prejudices in Manila. If you are American, you will be an instant celebrity whether you like it or not.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Shopping is a blast, and it is easy to find inexpensive brand name clothing and top quality pearls. Island-hopping has been a great way to blow off steam, and we have made some good memories travelling within the Philippines and across the sea to mainland Southeast Asia.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are several great daytrips close to Manila. The Tagaytay highlands are stunningly georgous and a nice place to relax. Anilao has quiet seaside resorts with fantastic diving. Corregidor and Bataan are good for WWII buffs. There are no shortage of malls to explore in Manila.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Pearls, furniture, clothing, handicrafts, picture frames.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Because of the Filipino fascination with the United States, you can find just about anything American in the Philippines. The Philippines, outside of Manila, is a beautiful country with friendly people. Domestic travel is easy and inexpensive, and if you live in the right neighborhood then you can save a great deal of money. The tropical weather is a big plus, and if you have always wanted to learn to dive, then the Philippines is the place to do it.
11. Can you save money?
You can save a lot of money, if you make the right choices. If you live in Makati, Fort Bonifacio, or the Villages, then everything will be more expensive than if you live at Seafront or elsewhere in Manila. If you buy American goods, you will pay for it. Philippine equivalents are cheap, plentiful, and usually similar quality. Local travel is very affordable, and international travel is slightly less than U.S. prices.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
If you are expecting a Southeast Asian country, then maybe this isn't the place for you. This is more like the love child of Honolulu and Mexico City. If you are expecting an exotic version of Americana, then you have found it. For us, we would not come here again.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothing, bicycle, and clean lungs.
3. But don't forget your:
Personal hygiene items, feminine products, cold and flu medicines, anti-diahhreals, summer clothes, and sense of adventure. Most of all, bring your patience, beacuse you will need it to stay sane.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Noli Me Tangere by Jose Rizal is the national novel and provides a great look at the Spanish era and good insight into the Filipino. Lonely Planet is great for travel. In Our Image provides a long but helpful look at U.S.-Philippines relations. The Philippines: A Singular and Plural Place is probably the best mix of culture and history. Muslim Rulers and Rebels is a fascinating look at the southern conflict.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Living La Visa Loca is very entertaining. The Philippines is a quirky place with a highly productive domestic film industry. There are no shortage of Philippine films.
6. Do you have any other comments?
The Philippines is a very friendly but very frustrating place. The biggest challenge will be that you are both speaking English but almost never connect at the same level.