5 Pros and Cons of Living in Manila

I’m back from R&R after 9 flights, countless hours on air and in airports, lots of reunions and tons of (you guessed it!) Target shopping trips.  I’ll post more about it this week (I didn’t take nearly as many pictures as I hoped, boo!), but for now a bit about Manila.

Jill is having another Foreign Service Blog Round Up, and the topic this time around is the 5 pros/cons of where we live.  Always a great topic for those researching future posts, specially when bidding season comes around.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post of what makes me happy in Manila so needless to say, the 5 pros will be repeated, as nothing has changed since then. 

The cons part is definitely a touchy subject:  how can you be honest with the cons without offending the local folks that will come across this post?  So for any pinoys reading this, it’s my opinion, coming from a foreigner perspective, but a foreigner that has actually traveled a lot around the world.  I do have my share of cons about living in the US, and even about my own country, Brazil.  So please don’t get too caught up in the cons without also taking note that I certainly appreciate the pros.

Without further ado… 

5 Pros of Living in Manila

1) Travel!

After the amazing opportunity we had to travel around Asia, I can’t help but again mention the travel as the top pro.  After all, you have many amazing islands of the Philippines to be explored (must like water!)…

And so many amazing culturally-rich countries just a short flight away…

If you know how to get the best travel deals (“like” Cebu Pacific on facebook, and once a week deals pop up, and go on their site to book.  Be somewhat flexible with your dates – if one weekend is sold out of the promo, try another one, and you can score great deals), you can travel within the Philippines for less than $100 round trip (most often we pay about $50 for our round trip tickets), and travel around Asia for between $100-$150 for your round trip tickets.  The most we paid for a ticket was for our new year’s trip to Singapore, which was NOT during a promo, and bought just over a month before the flight on the busiest travel time of the year, so we spent about $250/person on them, and that was definitely a splurge, but at the end, it was the best option for us, since we wouldn’t be spending money on a hotel so it was still cheaper than traveling locally but paying for hotels during that time.  (We did spend quite a bit when traveling with my parents to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, but that was due to the odd routes and not using discount airlines.)

2) Pampering!

Stressed out with work, traffic, pollution, or who needs an excuse to be pampered, damn it?!  The Philippines is the place for you!  It is super affordable to get great massages here (we get a full body or foot massage about once weekly, and it’s heaven), manicures, pedicures and facials are also a fraction of what you’d pay for it in the US.  The options of spas are endless – I have about half a dozen massage places within a couple of blocks from my building!

3) Household staff!

Yep, in Manila you can actually afford to have a staff, and most people here have a helper (maid/nanny/cook/does it all) and a driver.  We also have both, and we’ve been very happy with them.  Our helper leaves our place spotless, does our laundry, walks the dog, pet sits when we’re out of town, does our grocery shopping and cooks us dinner (and she would cook me lunch and breakfast too if I asked).  We even bake our own bread and grind our own chicken (and by we I mean she), and she is actually excited to learn a new recipe or try something different.  Both our helper and our driver have never rolled their eyes at us, or answered anything without a smile on their faces.  They’re not perfect – who is? – but our life in the Philippines is definitely easier with them than without them.

My parents loved her too when they came to visit, and were also impressed by how careful our driver is, in a country where no one is really careful behind the wheels.


Though I do miss driving (in roads like the US, not here), we are so so screwed when we move back to DC and all of a sudden dishes are not magically taken care of, and laundry washed and folded daily…

4) Diving!

Sure, diving is not for everyone, but if you have ever wanted to learn, this is the place to do it.  Getting certified is not super cheap (thanks to PADI’s fees), but certainly more affordable than the US.  But diving IS affordable here, and there are so many places to explore!  Sure, you have to get OUT of Manila, but you’re within driving distance or a short flight to some amazing coral reefs!

5) Affordability

Just like you can afford to travel, dive, hire household staff and get others to pamper you, you can afford pretty much most things in general (except shopping at the mall – that’s expensive!).  But want to go out to dinner and have drinks?  Assuming you’re not ordering US/Australian steak, anything else (yep, even sushi!) is a super good deal.  Taxes are already included in the prices, so there are no extra surprises, and gratuity is 10% so not much is added to your end bill either.  It’s nice to go out to eat without breaking the bank, specially when you first arrive and you have none of your kitchen stuff so most of your meals are eaten out.  I’m still not a fan of Filipino food, but they can cook the hell out of any other cuisine, so you won’t go hungry!  You can find anything from sushi, to Korean, to Indian, to Italian, to vegetarian…

5 Cons of Living in Manila

1)  Traffic and drivers

Yep, traffic here sucks.  We’re lucky enough to live in Makati, so we walk most places and not have to endure much much (and Karl’s commute home is before things get really bad so he’s home within 30-40 minutes after leaving the embassy most days, which is faster than my commute from DC to Arlington used to be), but traffic here is a pain.  On the bright side, if you do get into an accident it’s unlikely that it’ll be serious (you’re never going much more than 25 miles per hour after all). 

Plus, people here are HORRIBLE drivers.  Filipinos are super nice and friendly, but I don’t know what is about them that once they’re behind the wheels of a car/jeepney/motorcycle/bus/truck they become, for the lack of a better word, a—holes.  Sorry, but true.  I’ve gotten close to being run over MANY MANY times while crossing the street with the pedestrian light in MY favor, with a driver running a red light ignoring the fact that I’m already in the middle of the road (yes, I’ve slapped my share of car hoods to make them stop). 

Traffic and drivers here make me angry, it stresses me out, and there are days I say out loud “I HATE THIS COUNTRY!” – in general, I don’t hate it here (if you’ve been reading, you know that’s true), but as I walk everywhere I do get frustrated how this is never a “pedestrian have the right of way” (even when they do!) culture.  Plus, a friend of mine once had to find a jeepney to get her and her students across a flooded area, and they needed to make sure the driver had a driver’s license before loading the student.  It took them 45 MINUTES to find a jeepney driver that was licensed.  45 minutes to find a public transportation driver licensed!!!  So when I say people here don’t know how to drive and don’t know what the hell they’re doing, I’m really not exaggerating.

2)  The Jeepneys


Ah, they were so exotic at first, and we thought they added so much character to the city!  And then suddenly you can’t stand seeing the sight of them, how much black smoke comes out from their exhaust pipe, how badly they drive, how they stop in the middle of the road to drop/pick up passengers and clog up roads all the time, making bad traffic even worse.  And SPECIALLY how for some convoluted reason, they think headlights = using more gas, so even though their steel construction is a great camouflage at night, they keep ALL their lights off surprising you in the dark and scaring the bejeesus out of you. 

I know lots of people depend on them to get around, but making sure their drivers are licensed, that they have emissions and other inspection, and that they must follow traffic laws or get ticketed, would go a long way here.  Personally, I think replacing them with larger/cleaner buses would be the way to go.  And do you think a jeepney vs a pedestrian, that the pedestrian would have any chance of survival?

3) Inefficiency

You know the Asian efficiency you hear so much about?  Yep, that doesn’t exist here.  Blame it on their Spanish settlement, or heck, blame it on the Americans if you’d like, but if there’s an efficient way to get something done, trust me that is not what most Filipinos in the Philippines are doing.  Part of it comes from the fact that anyone in the service industry here is either bad at it, or they’re learning.  Because the good ones?  All leave and go overseas. 

You know how you order an appetizer and/or a drink with your meal?  It’s not unusual for the appetizer to arrive after your entrée, and even for your beer to show up then (don’t they get it that they’d make more money if people were drinking more?).  I usually ask for water, and that is also a 15 minute ordeal, at least! Ah, and also not unusual for my food to show up a good 10-15 minutes before Karl’s (or vice-versa).  Eating in a group makes it even more frustrating.  Once with a group of 20 people, some folks got their entrees over an HOUR after the first people had finished eating.  Seriously.

And if you’re not convinced of their inefficiency at a restaurant, go to the airport.  Oh my gosh, the lines!  At this last trip, from the time we arrived at the airport, to the time we got to the gate, it took us ONE HOUR.  And we had priority check in, thanks to upgraded tickets AND we get to go through the diplomatic line at immigration.  I can’t even imagine how long it would take if we had regular lines for both.

And your luggage?  It will easily take almost an hour to show up.  You know when the belt gets full, in other airports there are handlers picking up the luggage putting on the side to make space to the other luggage that’s arriving?  Not here.  They will stop loading the belt instead until there’s more space, then the machinery will kick in again.  It’s a very frustrating process (specially bad with Terminal 1, they have their crap together much better at Terminal 3).

Need more examples?  Once we arrived just on schedule and the immigration line was open only to “Filipino passport holders only” – in other airports, the officers would instead take one person from each line to get them both moving, until the other lines opened up.  Here?  Foreigners had to wait TWENTY MINUTES until the people handling the foreigners line showed up (with Jolibee bags – nice to know that they were out getting breakfast, while the rest of us were tired from a redeye flight just wanting to go home).  We were the first ones in line, by the time they showed up, more than one flight had arrived and the line behind us disappeared around the corner.  No apologies for the wait either.

So yeah, inefficiency.  I have hundreds of example of similar situations.  It really gets to you after a while.  One more reason why traveling outside the country is important (even if you do have to endure the airports, luckily, Cebu Pacific flies out of Terminal 3, which can handle the crowds much better than Terminal 1, sadly where most US and foreign carriers fly in/out of).

4) “Wait a While, Ma’am”

If I can never hear the sentence above again, it won’t be too soon.  Though Filipinos speak English, there’s a lot of things that they say in one context and it means something else, but they don’t get it.  For the American being told “wait a while” means that I’m going to be here for a loooong time.  What Filipinos mean is “just a minute” – but they NEVER say “just a minute” instead they tell you “wait a while” and your blood automatically boils.

Another one that happened to us?  Asking the hostess how long was the wait to be seated if we wanted to put our name on the wait list, we were told “Maybe an hour, if ever” – and she honestly wasn’t trying to be a bitch! 

5) The crowds, poverty and contrast between rich & poor

Karl would kill me if I were to make a social commentary (such as how the rich are all against the reproductive health bill, which would provide free birth control to the poor, because *they* can afford their birth control fine, and if the population number got under control, there wouldn’t be so much poverty, so they wouldn’t be able to afford so many household staff – yes, the rich usually have more than one helper, and they pay them a third of what us embassy people do). 

But anyway, no social commentary, right?  But the poverty here is heartbreaking, the rich are VERY rich (and not nearly as nice and polite as the poor, I guess they don’t need to know manners, because why bother, they’re rich) and seeing that on a day to day basis really gets to you and frustrates you even further (learn how to cope with frustration if you’re moving to Manila). 

I’ll refrain from commenting more, since being here on a diplomatic visa means I should keep these social commentaries to myself (or at least is what my husband tells me, so we just discuss these things among ourselves), but gosh, people, please get it that when your poor ascends to a better status the whole country goes up with it! If you already have a population problem today, 30% of your workforce work overseas, English is no longer taught in schools (and let’s face it, it’s the fact that your workforce speak English the reason why they get those overseas and call center jobs to begin with), what the hell are you going to do with all these people in ten years?  The country cannot accommodate them now, do you really think that as the population keep increasing it’ll get any better?

Anyway, enough about the cons.  There are more, of course, like the pollution, the dirt, the public urination (even by adult males in a playground in the middle of the day!), but there are many other pros too that I didn’t talk about, so we’ll leave it at that.

But let’s just say that after being gone for 2 weeks and enduring Terminal 1 on our arrival (it took 50 minutes until our bags showed up, fun times, and I was even questioned in a not very nice way why I was standing near the belt when my husband was there – I HAVE AS MUCH OF A RIGHT TO STAND HERE AS YOU DO, AND IF YOU WANTED MY SPOT, GET HERE FIRST, AND WE HAVE FOUR BAGS AND THERE IS NO WAY HE CAN HANDLE ALL FOUR IF THEY ARRIVE ALL AT THE SAME TIME, WHICH THEY DID, AND I’M MUCH BETTER AT IDENTIFYING THEM THAN HE IS, AND STOP HITTING ME WITH YOUR BAG AND TOUCHING MY CARRY ON, AND I’M SO GLAD THAT MY BAGS ARRIVED BEFORE YOURS, YOU IDIOT, SINCE YOU HIT ME WITH YOUR BAG FOR NO REASON WHEN YOUR FIRST BAG ARRIVED, “EXCUSE ME” GOES A LONG WAY, AS WELL AS ASKING FOR HELP IF YOU’RE TOO WEAK TO LIFT YOUR HEAVY BAG BY YOURSELF).  Uh, enough of a rant, but it sucks to be right back into the frustration less than an hour after landing.

*Deep breaths*  *Deep breaths*


Filed under Asia, Foreign Service, Manila, Philippines

75 responses to “5 Pros and Cons of Living in Manila

  1. You sure has a lot of experience in the Philippines and I can see that you love it as much as you hate it. The photos taken are really good. I would love to try out there. Anyways, thanks for sharing your experiences. Now I know what to expect.

    • I definitely love it more than I hate it though. Filipinos are amazing people (outside of the driver’s seat and airports), the frustration does get to me once in a while though. On the whole, the good certainly outweighs the bad.

  2. HI Carla
    I agree with everything you have mentioned except for one statement and that is “people here are horrible drivers.” If anything, it should read as “driving in manila is horrible”. The key difference being that the conditions that make driving safe and enjoyable in other parts of the world (or even in other parts of the Philippines) simply do not exist in Manila. With narrow streets, lack of signage, absence of any real traffic enforcement, far too many vehicles for the capacity of the roads, people milling about like ants, extremely poor infrastructure (potholes, ditches, open manholes and such), and an utter disregard of road rules by both pedestrians and drivers, it’s no wonder why traffic is so messy there.

    As a result, drivers are forced to adapt very bad habits, ignore right-of-way, and observe common courtesy. If they did and waited patiently for their turn at the intersection then they will be waiting for a very very long time.

    However, the drivers in Manila are also some of the most skilled that I’ve seen. Having driven in Manila when I was in my teens and now in North America and Europe as an adult, the skill level of drivers there far surpass most of what I encounter here. The timing, anticipation, and precision that Filipinos display behind the wheel is bang on. They can thread through the narrowest of gaps and parallel parking is a walk in the park. Changing lanes, up or down shifting, use of braking is typically very smooth. That’s because the same conditions that make driving horrible in Manila are also the ones that raise their driving skills.

    Simply put, if you can drive (and survive) in Manila, I truly believe that you can drive anywhere.


    • I think that’s debatable. One of the things that constitute good driving is following traffic rules/laws. Using the excuse that no one follows it, so therefore I’m a good driver because I also don’t follow it, is flawed. Good drivers show common courtesy and respect for traffic rules, but in order to drive in Manila, you must ignore all of it or you won’t go anywhere, right? Therefore drivers here are bad drivers, or you wouldn’t need to ignore traffic rules to get around!

      On Aug 14, 2012,

      • Peter

        Your proposition is nonsensical. I can follow the rules of golf, but does that make me Tiger Woods? Of course not; no more than a person’s ability to follow a set of traffic ordinances makes them a good driver.

        Stan is referring to their dexterity behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, and in that respect he is correct.

        • Sure, but if all Tiger Woods did was swing a ball wildly around the golf course, without following any of the rules, he wouldn’t be considered any good either.

          • Jay

            Ah, but these guys aren’t swinging wildly. What they do takes precision and skill. It’s an art really. 😀

            • Jim Moore

              I really like this blog as I am looking for reasons to stay living in Manila which are getting thin. I drive here and Filipinos are awful drivers. They pick the ‘racing line’ into every corner and swing left to turn right etc. We all had to do these sorts of silly things back in the 70’s before power steering but here is no reason for it now.

              No indicators, wild acceleration, extreme road rage, driving in all lanes at once, stopping/parking anywhere is all normal here. While obeying and respecting rules you need to drive in this country in a way that would not be accepted in US, Europe or Aust (where I am from). I drive far more aggressively here and hope that this does not stay with me if I ever return home.

    • Joey

      I definitely agree.

  3. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in Manila as it is a very likely post for us down the road. Thanks for the insights!

    And, for the record, it’s your blog in which you are entitled to phrase things exactly as you like. Whether drivers are bad or conditions are bad…eh…call it as you see it. Your blog, your views. And I for one like your view of things. (:


    • Manila definitely has more good things going for it than bad. As for others disagreeing with me, that’s fair: what fun would it be if we all thought the same thing? I’m just lucky I found one good driver in Manila to take me around, but imagine people walking in a crowded area, all going into different directions… That’s the rule of the road here, and for me, that’s not good driving at all!

  4. justjabari

    Your list is spot on Carla and I think your blog is great! I am an American living/working here in the Philippines (The Fort/BGC) and, like you, think this country has awesome things to offer – but am left very confused about a great many things as well. Filipinos, in general, are some of the warmest and most kind people I have had the pleasure of coming to know. Unfortunately, there are just as many that display an utter disregard for basic humanity that easily tops my cons list. I would like to share a story with you that sums it all up in my opinion.

    Flying back home to NAIA/Terminal 3 from Mindanao is usually a calm and relaxing flight as the flights are normally less than half full. This time was no different – until we got to the baggage carousel. People are standing on top of each other at the window where the bags come out like they will explode if not taken off the belt immediately. A few of the “smart” people spread out and patiently wait for their bags which come out after about 10 mins. Im standing next to this older lady and about four men. Her bag comes around and she literally has to push her way in to the belt after saying “excuse me” no less than 4 times!! She gets her bag and drops her purse and sunglasses on the ground while struggling with the weight of her luggage. The 4 men look down and just raise their eyebrows. I couldnt take it anymore and pushed my way past them to help this old lady get situated. The men were appalled and stared at me indignant as if I was in the wrong. The old lady handled it beautifully when she looked at me and said, “thank you young man, can you believe these USELESS PEOPLE!!”. I was embarrassed for them because they honestly could care less. I realize that this is not indicative of all Filipino men…but WOW. I have more examples, but the bigger question is why? Why the indecency to each other? The disregard for seemingly common sensical things?

    • I had a very similar experience at NAIA 1 coming from the US this last weekend! Everyone crowded in the same area (and we were one of the first to get there, so there was no way out), and they would literally climb over us to get their things (even though 20 feet down there was plenty of space), and no one bother saying excuse me. None of the men could lift their bags, so they would hit us in the process (what is wrong with asking for help? I always jump out and help people who are struggling to lift their bags — I may be a girl but I can carry quite a bit of weight — but I REFUSE to help if you’re banging up people when doing so, unless you actually ask for help, which none of them did). So frustrating!

      And you’re right, they’re the warmest and kindest people, but as I mentioned, behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, and at the airport, I have no idea what happens, but they’re vicious!

  5. Al

    Buses, Jeepneys, Pedicabs, Kalesas, Tricycles, jaywalkers and everything else that can roam on the streets!

    As soon as I hop in my car, stress fills up my body in a snap!

    I even had my horn replaced as soon as I got my car 10 years ago. I need those loud stuff to clear my way!

  6. steve michael

    Yup agree, nice friendly people, but a complete lack of respect for other people, a complete lack of discipline, the attitude seems to be ” I am more important than anyone else” which is why you see people pushing to the front in queues of traffic, changing lanes for no reason, cutting you up and turning in wrong lanes. Just a complete lack of common sense and discipline.

  7. Carla: I agree with 99% of what you say.
    From Mike-expat from US been here for 8 months. Live in Cavite been to Manila many many.

  8. Pingback: It must be bidding time again… | Carla Runs the World

  9. jbt

    i like your blog… especially the con about Jeepneys. I live in davao where, even if we have jeepneys, all drivers have their IDs placed on the dashboard and have certifications saying that they have undergone training seminars provided by the City government. i have yet to see a jeepney driver let a passenger off in the middle of the street, and Smoke belching jeepneys (even diesel fueled ones) and jeepneys without headlights are very rare. (i havent seen any to be honest). Having lived in Manila, i have seen the things you have seen about jeepneys. i really see the difference here and i was surprised to see that the system here seems to work better than it does in Manila

  10. Muna

    I just hate that place, Manila is a terrible place to live pollution, heavy traffic, noisy people and very loud. Most of the shops sell you fake products and the people are annoying. In short it is not my taste and I don’t recommend it to anyone.

  11. Gunhild

    We might be moving to Manilla for husbands job with 4&6 year olds. Ideas on resources for families moving? Searching the Internet and still coming up short for family friendly advice. Have ideas on schools and where to live but would be nice to verify.

    • Chris

      Gunhild: Plenty of nice places to live here in Manila. You have to be specific in where exactly in Manila your husband’s work is and if you will be able to afford your own car. Otherwise, like Carla mentioned, you might hate the 2 hr traffic for a mere 8-10 kilometer commute. For starters, most expats can’t go wrong with Makati, Fort Bonifacio or Ortigas area. Plenty of international schools for your 2 kids if you like.

  12. Gunhild

    Thanks Chris! We are looking in Makati and Fort Bonifacio.

    We were surprised to learn rentals require 12months rent plus 3 months deposit up-front! Wow.

    A couple questions. Do the Schools allow monthly payments like in the USA? Any good recommendations on Montessori schools and other school? We contacted international school of manilla and were told there’s a wait list.

    Secondly, looking for advice on headhunters that I can start working with here in the USA ahead of moving. I have heard its very difficult to find work. I’m an IT / business consulting program manger for a USA company now.

    • Chris

      Gunhild: Sorry for the late reply. For Bonifacio or simply “The Fort” is a very modern and nice place to live for expats. It’s as close to the U.S. as you’ll find it here. Yes, most rentals do require a 2+1 in terms of deposit. That is very common here. However, you can try to see if you are able to negotiate with the landlord on other options.

      International schools are quite popular here even with the locals so I’m not surprised there is a waiting list. You can also try Reedley International School (20 mins from The Fort), British School of Manila or Singapore School of Manila as well. Google for Montessori schools and other international schools in Manila if you need a bigger list. Yes, schools do accept payment plans but I’m not exactly sure if it’s on a monthly basis. You’ll need to inquire to get the details.

      In terms of finding jobs, it can be a bit difficult but the good thing is that headhunters here are very competitive and aggressive if you fit the role they are looking for. Definitely start sending your resumes out to different headhunters to see what they can do for you. You might be surprised. Try Viventis or KSearch Asia Consulting as they are big and well networked.

      Let me know if you have other questions.

  13. Fernanda

    Oi Carla, meu nome é Fernanda, meu marido é piloto e esta considerando seriamente aceitar uma proposta de emprego em Manila… Estou bastante preocupada e gostaria de que você me ajudasse realmente com algumas duvidas!! Quanto é um bom salario para se viver ai? qual o valor de um aluguel de um bom apartamento em média? Me desculpe tantas perguntas, mas é que é realmente dificil conversar com um expatriado dai, princpalmente uma brasileira! obrigada, espero que voce me responda em breve! beijos

  14. Noel Motesa

    Living in Manila requires all your senses to be on heighten alert. I lived in Manila from 1958 to 1971 before my parents immigrated to the U.S. residing in the suburb of Washington DC known as Arlington, VA. What makes Manila great are its people (rich, poor and middle class). Life is an everyday struggle and you live in Makati, which at the time I was there, was considered the premier place to live. By definition, my family was poor and it nearly took all my parents nest egg to live in a land and be considered 2nd class citizens. Imagine what my parents had to endure and yet they persevered. Now we belong to the U.S. and we did well for ourselves. The con I would include in your list is opportunity. None exist unless you are willing to whore yourself and be crooked like everyone else in the upper class. You like the place because it allows you and your family to have a higher lifestyle than what you would if you are here in Virginia. Why don’t you pay your servants in the same pay scale as you would pay here in the U.S. and see if you can still stand living in Manila. Anyway, focus on the people and they are the ones that make a place special. Yes, the Manila drivers are skilled, not because they don’t obey traffic laws, but because they obey the undocumented traffic laws. It’s called going with the flaw and for that I am so glad you have a driver who works for you and knows the real laws – not the ones written, but the real ones that the people put together. By the way, it’s also a place you can buy your way out of a ticket without being charged for bribery. The country is corrupt and that is just the way it is. Then again the U.S. is also somewhat corrupt too. The Feds are currently close for business and yet money is still flowing out to pay non-working federal employees. They do the same in the Philippines because they want their government employees happy too. Some government employees like my dad was still drawing a paycheck and he hasn’t worked in the Philippine government since 1972. Wonder who was getting the checks, I am sure his boss was getting it just to get by in day-to-day living. It’s all about survival.

    • This is a post about expat living in the Philippines. It’s ridiculous your suggestions that in the Philippines, where the cost of living doesn’t come close to that in the US, that we should pay our staff the same as we would in the US (where we cannot afford staff). We paid 3-4 times the market value as is, so it was a very good salary. With her salary our helper could pay for her daughter’s college education and still had leftover.

      And if you haven’t lived there since 1971, you should pop a visit to your country before judging the opinions of someone who was living there just this year.

  15. Dhamu

    Hi Carla, I loved your blog. It’s very informative. I’m an Indian and in India(Chennai) currently. I have been offered a job in Manila from my company(IT Program Manager). Appreciate your help to understand the cost of living and what’s the minimum take home salary required to lead the life in the Manila city. I’m leaving my family (My wife, my parents and 6 year old son) here in India as I’ll be returning to India after 18 months(Also heard the cost of living is very high compared to this part of world especially for the education and accommodation). Please note that I have commitments here In India for about 1.15 Lacs Pesos per month towards my son’s education, my housing loan payments, Insurance and other utility charges. What should be my salary package to handle my expenses here in Manila and my expenses in India? Your response would be in a great help for me to take a decision and to negotiate my salary package.

    • Sorry, Dhamu, but I cannot help you with the cost of living. My husband works for the US Government, and housing was provided to us, and his salary was the same as the US. Because we didn’t have an “expat package” and never saw a bill of our rental apartment, I have no idea what it would be fair to ask for. Good luck!

  16. Mike Morgan

    Carla: am thinking of bringing my wife and me back to PI. Sure don’t want to go back to Subic Bay. Any ideas as to where to live and not to live. It’s been 40 + years since we have lived there. She still has family in Manila. She is originally from Samar. Use to be a great place.

    Mike Morgan

    • It depends of what kind of lifestyle you want. City living then Makati or Fort Bonifacio are safe bets (the Fort is much quieter/newer/cleaner than Makati). If you prefer a house and the quiet of the villages, Dasmarinas and Forbes (near Fort Bonifacio, and not far from Makati) are the most popular w expats. Some people go to Alabang as well, but a bit more isolated there and you’re a trek back to town.

      Sent from my iPhone


    • Mike

      Just make sure you are not an abusive criminal like this “US Ambassador”!

  17. Roger Cheng

    Thanks for the blog Carla, it’s very informative and open blog. In your opinion has the lifestyle changed much for you in the past year? I know there’s been a flurry of construction work to build new high rises condominiums, but I am very curious why this is happening. Are local people able to afford such properties there now? Or has there been an explosion of expats workers coming to Manila for work?

    To others on this board who say a good driver is one who can demonstrate dexterity behind a steering wheel. Most of the time people “prove their dexterity” in a car it usually involves putting other people’s health at risk. Given a choice between 0% risk of running someone over in a journey and even a 0.5% risk whilst driving like James Bond, in the long run I’m sure you can see which one ends with less tears.

  18. Pete from DC

    In what area of Manila would you live, to retire, if you could choose two?

  19. jason long

    best palce to stay for tourist is fort bonifacio its safe clean close to everything and a lot of security im going back in January I went to taal volcano its okay but mayon is better boracay island nice place and batangas canyon cove very nice it gets a bit boring if you don’t get out of manila plenty of nice spot cheap airfares to other islands like Cebu kalibo and Palawan all beautiful placesbut I agree they are nice people but bad drivers

  20. Billy Gonzales

    Agree, I just don’t get the inneficiency part. anyhow i am of filipino origin but just like millions of us I was born and i grew up in Europe. I think your frustration lies on the fact that, like what most expats do,you impose what you are used to in any given country you’re living in (and who doesn’t do that? Human nature). Odd thing is that expats in the US, Europe and Australia tend to accept and adopt. In mumbai and manila? Nah!! there is always space to lament, have you considered the fact that these are cities in developing countries and because of that they don’t have the same resources, and sometimes culture, of their much more developed counterparts?

    i just remember passing in front of any given foreign embassy in Manila, those long queue of people outside their gates, women and children included, how efficient and pro-human is that? (Manila’s sun and heat are, well you know!?)

    I Love Manila and I miss it a lot 🙂 agree with all your other cons though… Those rich filipino kids with their apple products inside starbucks! Pain in the “you know where” 🙂

  21. Mike

    Hey Carla,

    I am a half-filo that has spend many months at a time in the Philippines, particularly in Manila. I definitely agree with all your pro’s (I love it here, sometimes more so than my home country – Australia), your con’s however are debatable, especially the driving of filipino drivers. I first learned how to drive in Manila on vacation when I was 12 (yes totally illegal) however that set me up to have skills that many dont have back home in Australia and that is to adapt to driving conditions however they change. There is many instances where an intersection’s stoplights in manila would not be working however the drivers all flow with the traffic and its a non-issue, this compared to back home would need a police officer to direct traffic as people are much to accustomed to rules.

    Driving in Manila should be accustomed to a sport like football (think NFL) as opposed to golf, drive as if you want to score on your oppositions side (to get to your destination), obviously in football you wouldnt have the manners to give the ball away to your opposing team as in driving in Manila you need to get into that spot/lane/turn as there is a gap because if not there would be a hella of a lot more traffic then there is.


  22. kristen

    I moved here from Canada 2 and a half months ago. I was laughing out loud at your entire list. Yes yes yes! And I absolutely love it here too but that con list was spot on.

  23. Arman

    I agree with Karla and everyone else about the cons.
    I was born in Manila, but I live here in the US for most of my life now.
    Going back there for a visit after 21 years, I was appalled to experience those negative things mentioned. Specially the driving condition and the inefffeciency part (and, yes, the poverty too).
    I was surprised to realize the complete opposite in comparison with the Filipino’s here in the US. Where I work, they get the high remarks on the caring and effecient manners they have (I work in healthcare). But my experience in Manila (starting at the airport..surprise!) showed me otherwise.
    I can’t help but wonder where these appalling behaviors comes from. Is it from lack of enforcement and open critisism? Poor parenting? Poor basic education system?

    The Philippines has a lot to improve on. I sure hope they move towards that direction.

  24. Rob Menezes

    This was really interesting to read, as I may have an opportunity to move to Manila in the future and Im excited to know more. So far Ive only heard good things, but one of my main concerns would be safety… is it safe in Manila? On the streets? at home? after hours?
    What about natural disasters, does Manila get hit by typhoons? Is this something that happens often? What about earthquakes?

    I dont want to sound paranoid, just trying to get some research from people that live or have lived there before. That said, the pros mentioned in this blog got me really excited to peruse this oportunity

  25. Arman

    It’s Carla! My Apologies for not spelling your name correctly.

  26. Cedric

    No, Manila just sucks. The philippines sucks.

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  28. Right here is the perfect blog for anyone who would like to understand this topic.
    You realize a whole lot its almost hard to argue
    with you (not that I really will need to…HaHa). You definitely put a brand new spin on a subject which has been discussed for decades.
    Great stuff, just great!

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  30. I’ll be visiting manila in a year n will be my first time (totally noob) flying out the U.S. Was hoping u could give some tips on booking n traveling to the Philippines !!! My budget won’t be no more then about $1,000 for that month only to visit 🙂 ! Hope u can give some enlightenment enjoyed ur post !!

  31. I am a Filipino who’s been living in Australia for over 25 years. Like most Filipinos living abroad, I been back and forth a few times and all I can say is I agree with all your Cons 100%, especially your take on Efficiency. Although In my experience I find that the people working in customer service and hospitality tend to be a lot more ‘nicer’ to foreigners than a ‘normal’ Filipino looking guy like myself, until I opened my mouth and start speaking in fluent Australian english accent that their jaws drop in almost disbelief. I somewhat feel ashamed that you have experienced all those in your list of Cons but I’m also glad that you see some beauty in my country.

  32. Carol Jensen

    What a funny, insightful blog! Thanks for this! I found myself furiously shaking inside for the first three months I lived here (Salcedo Village). Then, after several serious disappointments, someone asked me why I had any expectations at all? I paused to think about that. Indeed, why would I bring my set of experiences and cultural expectations (from Canada) and impose them on everyone here? And, why was I always in a hurry? My schedule was always packed with things I needed to do at certain times in Canada, and that can’t happen here. It just can’t.
    The key to happiness here, in my opinion, is to have a very short to-do list and keep a good book or journal on hand, always. There is no point in power walking to work, only to be drenched in sweat within minutes because of the heat and humidity. There is no point in asking the Sky Cable guys exactly when they’ll show up, because they don’t know. They really don’t. Have an appointment? Clear the schedule for the whole morning or afternoon. That attitude shift has changed my life. My ‘Con’s’ list is so much shorter now! Just think of the phrase, “Like water water off a duck’s back”, and chill. Everything is so much easier to handle then!

    All the best!

  33. Thanks for the info! My husband is a med student and wants to spend five months doing medical rotations through the University of the Philippines next year. He’d like me and our three little boys (they’ll be 4, 3, and 1) to come. My main concern is safety. Will we be a target for crime as Americans? Are there any resources for finding good, safe housing? We’re living on student loans, so have very little funds. How much could we expect to pay for safe housing. Thanks in advance!

  34. Alice

    I find this blog quite informative. I am a student planning to take an undergraduate course in Manila. As this will be my first time moving to a new country, I want to know if Manila is safe for international students. What are the places I should avoid and are the local students there open to international students? Thanks.

    • Heinrich

      I agree. The Philippines is a very dangerous country.

      Why in the world would you choose to go there???

      Why not the UK, USA, Germany, Italy????

    • Don’t waste your time. The quality of universities here is very poor. There is not ONE Philippines university in the world’s TOP 200.

  35. Aey

    .As for safety,guess what It is dangerous to go out in Manila at night,even so during daytime!I
    You Can Visit This Page To Find Out Whether Or Not I’m Telling The Truth:


  36. Aarushi

    hi , actually i am from india. and i am planning to come to makati for my mbbs studies, in ama school of medicine. and what i have heard of the place is that, it is not safe for girls. i couldnt really get a clear view of what exactly the place is like. i would be glad if u could help me with the same… cuz almost my entire life is going to depend on this decision.
    I would really appreciate your honest comments.

    • Carol Jensen

      There are a number of students inquiring about safety and cost. May I share a few thoughts? There are very safe neighborhoods in Makati,, Ortigas, the BGC in Taguig and even select areas of Quezon City and Mandaluyong. If you are a single woman, the first three areas would be ideal. Be aware that they are more expensive to live in and that the cost of living is high here; even for food. If you are poor~ish, non~Asian looking and have children, it can be hard to find a place to live where you aren’t constantly worried about them. Also, the international schools are extremely expensive. Local public schools usually offer instruction in English and Tagalog (mixed), and are not equipped as well as the private ones. I live in Salcedo Village in Makati. 3 bdrm condos are about $2000USD per month if they are in a less than new building. You can find smaller and cheaper, but Makati is just an expensive place to live. The ideal situation: be sponsored by your multinational employer or be independently wealthy. Or, just come on vacation for a couple weeks, and spend most of your time outside of the city!

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  38. Living in Makati you are just living in a BUBBLE! I lived there at first and then moved to Santa Cruz area (just before Tondo) to avoid the horrendous commute. It is HELL living here.

    No security with guns running around in the streets with guns chasing each other, garbage piled up in the streets (I don’t mean a bit of litter, but mountains of garbage), no drain covers so a small kid could just fall in there and be washed away, traffic trying to run you down 24/7 etc etc.

    There is a SM Mall here but i hate to use it coz SM are the biggest exploiters of labor, employing a succession of young people on 3 month contracts to avid paying them full employee benefits.

    You have NO IDEA what it is like to live in the REAL manila. It is hell. My advice to young people now: MOVE from the Philippines as soon as you can!

  39. the only problem in manila is Traffic and pollution. other than that anything else is fine 🙂

  40. twentysomethinglawyer

    As a Filipino, I share your frustration with Filipino culture. The culture of inefficiency and manyana habit came from over 300 years of Spanish occupation. For the other negative traits, we were occupied by Americans for the next several decades too. Most Filipinos are adversely affected by the so-called “colonial mentality”. You would actually fare better here as a white person because most uneducated and poor Filipinos have such a preoccupation with light-skinned people. https://twentysomethinglawyer.wordpress.com/2016/03/24/10-things-i-learned-while-living-alone-in-makati/

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  43. JD

    “For a while, sir”. Aaaargh!!! Can’t stand this sentence either.

    Closely followed by “I received 1,000 pesos”. Humm, yes, I’m well aware that I just gave you a 1,000 pesos, thank you. Just give me my change.

    Your article is spot on!

  44. If you want to live in the best place in Metro-Manila the answer is simple –
    Bonifacio Global City:

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