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A Beginner's Guide to Living in Manila, Philippines

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More than 13 million people call Manila home. This might sound a bit intimidating, but Manila is a great place to start exploring Southeast Asia. 

Manila is buzzing with activities, sights, and experiences. Although not probably the first place you imagine when you think of living in the Philippines, as the capital city, Manila offers more amenities, conveniences, and job opportunities than the smaller islands can.

Plus, with the international airport located in the city, weekend getaways to those picture-perfect tropical islands and other SE Asian hotspots are easy and affordable. Often, if you’re traveling to another, more remote place throughout the Philippines, you may have connecting flights in Manila anyway. 

Let's dive into the good stuff to help you decide if living in Manila, Philippines is right for you.

Short on time? Here’s the cheat sheet:

💭For a bustling city that offers easy access to stunning nature and cool Southeast Asian cities, living in Manila is a great option.

🏠The best neighborhoods for expats are Bonifacio Global City and Acacia Estates.

🛏️I recommend getting a lease in person but start off in an apartment rental to buy yourself some time as your house hunt. I recommend a stay at Tranquil Manor at Uptown BGC.

💰The cost of living will vary based on your lifestyle. You can get a 1-bedroom apartment rental for $500/month. Earn travel rewards on all expenses with a Capital One Venture Card.

📚Want a job teaching English in the Philippines? The main requirement is a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate.

Best Areas of Manila to Live

An American woman enjoying a Gondola ride at Venice Grand Mall in Taguig
Enjoying a Gondola ride at Venice Grand Mall in Taguig

Bonifacio Global City

A popular, more westernized area to seek rentals is BGC or Bonifacio Global City. Filipinos are rather proud of this area because it's considered the most modernized area in the Philippines. 

This area is outside of the city center but with super close proximity to the airport, making weekend getaways even easier.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in the city center is a good choice for you.

Acacia Estates

I live in an area close to BGC called Acacia Estates. This suburb is packed with everything you'll need from groceries to $5 haircuts and massages. Most buildings here are modern and resort-inspired. 

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in the city center is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Cozy 1 Bed Unit in Grace Residences: This 1-bedroom apartment has a pullout sofa and swimming pool in a high rise apartment complex.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Stylish 2 Bedroom Condo: This family-style apartment is ideal for those traveling with young kids, with bunk beds, a large garden, and swimming pool in a secure building.
  • Luxury Stay: Tropical Escape at Cedar Crest: Fully embrace the island life with the tropical decor and 3 swimming pools to hop between.

How to Secure an Apartment

Before your travels, I highly suggest booking an Airbnb/Vrbo or hotel in Manila until you can seek more long-term stays. Doing so will allow you to get accustomed to your surroundings before making a big decision. 

Once you arrive and rest off the jet lag, that's when you'll want to start to get a feel for your surroundings and pick the neighborhood to call home.

The most widely known real estate companies to go through are Lamundi and Dot Property. You'll get far better deals signing a lease in-person than using a 3rd party platform but those platforms will give you peace of mind the 1st week or so you're in the city and not scrambling to find a place to live.

That being said, it's not impossible to find some excellent long-term deals through Airbnb too!

When signing a contract, I highly suggest having a Filipino acquaintance or friend with you to be sure what you're signing. 

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Cost of Living in Manila

A $500 one bedroom apartment, need I say more?

The cost of living is where most people get hooked. Compared to the average cost of $2,000 per month in Atlanta, Georgia or close to $3,000 in New York City, you could save a ton of money!

Most people usually respond to the price asking us if the cost is cheaper, does that mean the quality isn't as favorable? The answer is no. I found a two-bedroom, fully furnished apartment in Metro Manila for 25,000 pesos or $500. The apartment is clean, nice, and well located to explore the city.

Outside of rent, your monthly budget won't need to be too much more if you eat and shop locally. If you're looking to replicate your life abroad with western standards though, you'll need to budget for much more.

Getting a Visa

If you're arriving in Manila on a tourist visa, it's crucial to note before you enter, you MUST have an outbound flight within 30 days of your arrival. If you don't, they won't let you in. 

If you're working here, you can ask your employer for a work visa, but if not, you can extend your visa starting at 30 days. It will cost around $30. After you extend the first time and stay 30 consecutive days, you can extend for longer next time. 

You can find more information here on visas. 

Jobs in Manila

Many expats moving to Manila do so for work. There are a number of international companies based in Manila so it's possible you're here thanks to a job transfer, in which case your job and your visa should already be sorted for you.

For those who want to live in Manila but can't figure out how, the easiest way is as a teacher.

You have 2 options to teach in Manila:

  • At international schools
  • As an English teacher

To teach at international schools in Manila, you'll need to be a certified teacher from your home country. There's no one set language for these jobs as students tend to be from all over the world. To find opportunities, check which international schools are hiring in Manila.

To teach in the Philippines as an English teacher, you need to be a native or fluent English speaker, have a Bachelor degree, and have your Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate.

Learning the Local Language...Or Not

In most conversations I have with local Filipinos, the question "Why did you move to Manila?" always pops up.

Most people might not know this but 92% of Filipinos speak English, and for someone who has never lived abroad, this is beneficial. 

However, this is not to say there is no language barrier at all. Tagalog is a common language widely spoken in Manila, but there are a variety of 187 other languages spoken throughout the Philippines. A lot of their words also derive from Spanish, so if you understand Spanish, you'll automatically understand the numbers and some basic vocabulary.

While you can certainly get by with English, make a real effort and practice Tagalog on Mondly. You might not get fluent but locals will appreciate the effort you're putting into integration.

Cultural Communication

Filipino culture, like many cultures, has different norms when it comes to communication. 

Let me explain.

When I first moved to Manila, many Filipinos I’d come into contact with would put their hand up, meaning, “wait, please.” Not understanding this, I took it as “talk to the hand!” and thought it was quite rude. 

Once I became more adjusted to the Filipino culture, I understood this was just a different way to communicate. 

Things to Do in Manila

Malls Galore

Some of the most remarkable shopping malls in the world reside in Manila. To Filipinos, malls are not only a place to buy a new pair of Nike’s or get your phone repaired but a place of community, to enjoy free wi-fi and quench your body’s thirst for brisk air conditioning. There are even church services inside their malls!

Quite a few stand out from the rest so here’s a list of the top picks:

  1. SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City has a whopping five buildings making it the second-largest mall in the Philippines. This mall has a skating rink and a movie theater. 
  2. Greenbelt Mall in Makati takes on a more posh approach containing stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Another feature that stands out is the beautiful chapel smack in the center of the mall. 
  3. Venice Grand Mall in Taguig is a Venice inspired, open-air mall highlighting the Venice- like gondola ride, which snakes around the entire mall. 

Historical Sights

  • Intramuros: This is Manila’s most historic area and is best explored on a traditional bamboo bike.
  • Fort Santiago: Located in Intramuros, this is one of the oldest fortifications in Manila built all the way back in 1571.
  • Chinatown: Known as one of the oldest Chinatowns in the entire world, you’ll love walking through the charming alleys and eating unique food.

Unique Experiences

  • Jeepney transportation: These are a form of public transportation, like highly decorated mini buses. I recommend you navigate the city on these for added fun to your commute.
  • Poblacion Nightlife: The nightlife in Manila is something special. Don’t be afraid to dive right in and dance your heart out.
  • Wet Markets (Dampa): Wet markets can be a little intimidating but these you really need to take a stroll through and eat an incredibly fresh meal.

The Boring but Important

Phone plans are way different compared to the U.S. In the Philippines, phone’s run on loads. Every week or couple weeks, you reload the sim card you purchase with data. You can go to a local Mini-Mart or 7/11 to load up your phone.

If your phone is unlocked, you can easily purchase a sim card; however, if not, you'll either have to buy a cheap phone (which is what I did for $40) or get a pocket Wi-fi. 

Additionally, you can also see if a Filipino friend or relative here can help you get your phone unlocked, but I have yet to figure out how to do that. 

Things That Will Help You Settle Into Life in Manila

Living in Manila was my first time living abroad. Without any previous experience, I really didn't know what to expect. In general, living in Manila was a smooth transition for me but there are some things I wish I knew before moving here.

To settle into life in Manila, these are some things that will help you out:

  • Download Grab (similar to Uber) for transportation
  • Some will try and take advantage of foreigners giving a 'foreigner fee or tax', so keep on the lookout for this & follow your gut but be polite. 
  • Make sure you have all you need before leaving because receiving packages here is a big headache.
  • Overall, Filipinos are very family-oriented, welcoming, and friendly people.
  • Salamat Po = thank you (remember this because you'll use it a lot!)
  • Have an open mind & be patient!

Will You Give Living in Manila a Chance?

Living in Manila isn't what most people imagine when dreaming about living in the Philippines, it's a big capital city after all!

But, for a lifestyle that offers plenty of things to do, great restaurants, a variety of entertainment options, a low cost of living, and a lot of opportunities to explore the surrounding area, it's really been hard to beat for us.

For more information or details on life in the Philippines, reach out to me on IG or watch our pop by our YouTube channel; I'd love to help you!

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