Manila, Philippines Report of what it's like to live there - 03/11/23
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?
First assignment for USG, have also lived in Japan.
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 in Utah. Flight back home usually connected in Tokyo before going to the US.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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?
3 bedroom, 3 baths in a high-rise condo. Most folks are in similar apartments in BGC and Makati, although there are also places in the compound and limited single-family homes in the gated communities (aka villages).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Despite the lack of COLA, groceries are rather expensive. You can get just about anything but it costs more than back home. My children loved eating blueberries and strawberries, for example, but prices were 2-4 times more than we’re used to. American brands for anything food and retail-related are easily available.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Food delivery is very popular, especially after the pandemic started. It is quite cheap and fast, and most restaurants have signed up for Grab Food and the other big apps. Many US restaurant franchises (and some no longer in America!) can be found in Manila.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
You’ll find bugs from time to time, even in the high-rises, but it wasn’t a major issue. Mold can be a problem, however.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Almost entirely via the embassy, which will add a few weeks but is reliable. Only used local mail a few times, but it was a hassle to pick up packages via a rather far-away post office.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Ample help is available, many who speak English and have experience working with embassy families. US Mission families tend to pay higher salaries than other employers. Help tend to be categorized as drivers, household helpers, or nannies (aka yayas).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Each apartment has its own, and there are many commercial gyms throughout the city
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?
Yes, and they tend to work on the apps as well, but from time to time particular apps would have issues with my U.S. credit card. I would withdraw money from the embassy ATM rather than use machines outside, but didn’t have issues the few times I did withdraw from outside.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
No experience on this, but churches are plenty, particularly Christian denominations.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Very little. English is commonly spoken, especially in the city. Going to rural areas (the provinces) you’ll run into some people with less English, but I never ran into a situation where no English was spoken.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, walking space is limited, and not all areas have ramps or elevators. Most malls are wheelchair accessible though.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No public transit is permitted for embassy personnel, besides taxis and Grab (local version of Uber).
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?
High clearance vehicle was recommended. Electric vehicles aren’t yet prolific, nor are charging stations.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Available in the high rises but you may be limited to particular companies. It took about a month for my service to be set up.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There are two cell phone companies, Globe and Smart, and they have better service areas in parts of the city/country but are mostly the same. You might want to check if your apartment has better signal with one company before commuting to a plan.
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?
The embassy has employment opportunities for family members, as do the international schools, Asian Development Bank, etc. Local salary is much lower than American standards.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Groups provide volunteer opportunities across the city; this was easier before the pandemic but seems to be coming back.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Embassy dress code was formal, but has relaxed a bit since the pandemic. Public places most people wear comfortable clothes - flip flops are common.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Pickpocketing concerns in crowded areas. Mindanao is off limits.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is overall good, although some people return home for serious operations/surgeries. People have delivered babies in country without issue.
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?
I normally couldn’t tell if the air was bad, although if you’re near cars you may feel it.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
The pandemic lockdown was rather long in Manila and had a hard effect on embassy morale, particularly those with children. Things appear to have improved with the lifting of restrictions.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Weather alternates between hot and very hot, with dry and rainy seasons. December to February is the most comfortable time of the year, while June-November has more rain and typhoons. (About 20 per year)
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
International schools are generally a strength of this post, although they were only virtual during my stay.
2. 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 embassy has a daycare on compound that we enjoyed. There are daycares throughout the city and are generally much more expensive, but can be closer to home. The private daycares were closed during the pandemic while the embassy one operated with much reduced hours.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
The embassy organizes activities and there are many opportunities for private instructors on just about anything. My kids took ballet, swimming, and art classes.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Rather large and diffuse. It can be time-consuming to go from one area of town to another, so you may find yourself sticking often to your part of town. Morale was so-so while I was there, but improving thanks to the lifting of pandemic restrictions.
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?
A big city like Manila has all types of ways to socialize. The embassy organizes events but it’s not the only way to socialize.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This was a good post for my small family, at least prior to the pandemic. As the situation improves I think it’ll again be good for people with young children, although there aren’t public parks (or much green space) to speak of.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Filipinos are very friendly and Americans are viewed favorably, so we didn’t have problems in this regard.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I can’t speak to the ethnic/racial aspect, but in my work I was pleased to often see women leaders across Philippine business and government.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Trips to Bohol, Baguio, Boracay, and El Nido stand out. Try to get out of Manila and see the country as often as possible!
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Tagaytay is a popular location for a quick trip out of Manila, and the area has many places for kids to enjoy.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Some perks include: English speaking, never cold, friendly people, wide availability of western foods and brands. Delivery apps make shopping easy and cheap, and help alleviate the need to fight the usual traffic jams. Beaches are never too far away. A short flight away from the rest of Southeast Asia.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I found most info available publicly gave me a good idea of what I was getting into.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, although with the pandemic I would have elected for a shorter tour.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
anything can be bought via Amazon.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
In Our Image is a bit dated but gives a good background on the country.