What It’s Like Living in Manila?
If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re thinking about visiting or moving to Manila, Philippines. That’s great! I wrote this balanced article about the pros and cons to help you make an informed decision on whether or not Manila is the right place for you.
Pro: It’s a Big City With Lots to Do
As The Philippines’ largest city you won’t get bored if you live here. There are a plethora of things to do for people of all ages and walks of life. A few of my favorite places in Manila are Art in Island Museum (it’s a place where you can become part of the art). You can see a dolphin and seal show at Manila Ocean Park and have dinner at Intramuros’ old Spanish colonial settlement. If the shopping bug has bitten you, there’s a large assortment of malls to chose from, the most popular being Greenbelt Mall and Mall of Asia (MOA).
You can check out my article evaluating Manila’s tourist sites.
Pro: Easy Travel to Anywhere from Manila
Being the travel hub of The Philippines, you can travel almost anywhere from Manila. This was one of my favorite parts of living in the National Capital Region. You see, most flights in The Philippines route through Manila which means if you want to go almost anywhere in The Philippines, you’d have to do a plane change in Manila. By already living in Manila, you cut out that extra step in your journies.
Pro: Friendly People Who Speak English
Filipino people are world-renowned for their friendliness, and Manila is no exception. Filipinos love to talk to and interact with foreigners. You’ll have no problem making friends if you live in Manila. You can expect to be invited to play badminton with your Pinoy coworkers in less than a month, or you can join a Facebook group and meet friendly locals who will show you around their city free of charge.
You can also go to a BlaBla language exchange meeting if you want to learn some Tagalog for free. Oh, and did I mention that most of them speak fluent English. Frankly, the Filipino people are the biggest draw to The Philippines.
Pro: Affordability (Not in BGC or Makati)
I’ve talked about in my other posts about Manila actually be just as pricey as the west. So why is affordability listed as a pro here? It’s because it depends on where you live. If you live in the areas most popular with expats (BGC and Makati), those are the most expensive places in The Philippines. So yes, it will be more expensive, but if you choose to live in other parts of the city or in the greater Manila metropolitan area, then it can be significantly cheaper.
I lived in Dasmarinas Cavite, which is about an hour outside of Manila despite only being about 20 miles away, we’ll talk about traffic in a minute, and I paid about $80 for my place and lived for about roughly $400-$600 a month. That being said, my apartment was nothing like what most westerners are used to back home.
Pro: The Weather
Since it is located in southeast Asia, you’ll enjoy a great tropical climate if you live in Manila. In the summer months of April-June, you can expect highs of about 32 degrees Celsius (89.6F) and lows of 24 degrees Celsius (78.8F) in the winter months, December-February, you can expect highs of about 30 degrees Celcius (86F) and lows of about 24 degrees Celcius (75F). As you can see, the weather is pretty consistent. The peak rainy season is from July to October, but please understand that it can rain anytime; you are in the tropics after all.
Pro: Cheap Pampering
One of the things I absolutely love about living in southeast Asia is the cheap massages. As someone with chronic back pain, they can be a lifesaver. In Metro Manila, a just ‘ok’ massage will run you about 500 PHP ($10) to 1000 PHP ($20) for a top-of-the-line massage. You can get massages cheaper than that, but I really don’t recommend them. Most of those massages are from unlicensed people who don’t know what they’re doing. Trust me; a good massage is worth it!
Besides being very affordable, you can get a massage almost anywhere. You can’t walk more than a kilometer in the city without seeing at least one massage parlor.
Pro: Good & Affordable Health Care
This is a big one for retirees and non-retirees alike. The Philippines is known for its good quality affordable health care. I remember I hurt my foot while doing Mai Thai. I went to De La Salle Hospital, and the doctor evaluated and did an X-ray. Luckily he said it was just a stress injury and to take it easy for a while (it turns out I really like to punch and kick people). All in all, the whole thing cost me about 1,400 PHP ($27), and that includes the x-ray!
Since Filipinos are naturally friendly, they are great nurses. I was very happy with the care I received, and most retirees are as well. The Philippines has a visa specifically for medical tourists. According to the Philippine Department of Health, in 2016, the country received between 80,000-250,000 medical tourists.
Here is a list of Internationally Accredited Health Care Facilities in The Philippines
Cons of Living in Manila
I told you this would be a balanced article, right? So while I did enjoy living in Manila, I have to list the cons of living in the city as well.
The first and foremost con is traffic! Manila literally has southeast Asia’s worst traffic and the world’s second-worst traffic, according to Rappler. Think of the rush hour in Manhattan and imagine that kind of traffic nearly all day, every day.
That’s what it’s like in Manila. In fact, the traffic is so bad that it took my girlfriend and me 3 hours to get to Divisoria from Dasmarinas on a Sunday afternoon! Yeah, the traffic in Manila is intense, which actually isn’t that surprising once you realize that Manila is the world’s most densely populated city with nearly 42,000 people per square kilometer (108,00 per square mile), according to the city government.
Con: High Cost of Living
Wait, didn’t you just say that Manila is affordable? Yes, I did, but if you want to live with the same western standards that you did back home, it can cost just as much, if not slightly, more than it does to live in the west.
You see, the areas where most expats live, such as BGC and Makati, are the most expensive areas. Rents in those areas can easily range from $600-$2000 a month, depending upon the apartment. Then if you’re constantly eating at western restaurants, the ingredients for that food has to be imported (imported = more expensive).
Con: High crime rate
It’s sad but true; Manila has an extremely high-income inequality (high-income inequality=high crime rates). Manila has the highest murder rates in SE Asia. Here’s an interesting chart of the crime rates and peoples’ perceptions of crime in Manila vs. Bangkok, Thailand (source).
Con: Lots of Scammers
In keeping with the crime topic, we need to talk about scammers. Many expats get scammed by locals (especially local women). The Philippines is one of the romance scam capitals of the world. I suspect it’s up there is not higher than Thailand. That being said, some local men scam as well. If you’ve been here long enough, you’ll undoubtedly be solicited to invest in some ‘sure thing’ business idea by a friend. I’ve heard stories of ex-pats being asked to go on trips with a group of friends only to find out that they were expected to flip the bill for the entire group.
I want to emphasize that most locals are good people and are genuinely friendly, but you do need to be mindful that some will try to take advantage of you because they see you as a human ATM. While you can definitely find some heartbreaking stories on the internet, the fact is, according to my research study, most western men who are married to Filipinas are quite happy.
Manila can be a great place to live if you know what to expect. Be cautious but not paranoid when dealing with locals and understand that The Philippines doesn’t need to change to accommodate you, that it must be you who has to change to accommodate The Philippines.