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A Beginner's Guide to Living in Manila, Philippines

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Gina Oliver
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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 South East Asia. 

Manila is buzzing with activities, sights, and experiences. Let’s chat about the steps you should take to get acquainted with Manila. 

Here are 5 big reasons why you should move to Manila:

1. English is widely spoken

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 is 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.

Filipino culture, like many cultures, have 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.  

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

2. Convenience is king

Another reason you might consider Manila is because it is the hub for international & domestic flights. So if you’re anything like me & like to travel frequently, this is certainly convenient. 

Often, if you’re traveling to another, more remote place throughout the Philippines, you may have connecting flights in Manila anyway. 

Not sure if Manila is the city for you? Learn more about living abroad as an expat in these mega Asian cities: Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Hong Kong, Yangon.

Let’s move onto the juicy part…

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3. A $500 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!

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. 

With that said, let's discuss your options to obtain an apartment or house efficiently. 

Before your travels, I highly suggest booking an Airbnb 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. 

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. 

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

The most widely known real estate companies to go through are Lamundi and Dot Property. Additionally, you can 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. 

Now let's have a look at some sights to see in the Manila area.

A picture at night in Poblacion, Manila with the neon lights and a group of women talking in the street
A night out in Poblacion, Makati

4. Thrilla in Manila- Activities, Sights, & Experiences

Malls Galore

Some of the most remarkable 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 theatre. 
  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. 

Onto Manila’s rich history!

Historical Sights

  • Intramuros
  • Fort Santiago
  • Chinatown

And here are some unique experiences you’ll want to partake in.


  • Jeepney transportation
  • Poblacion NightLife
  • Wet Markets (Dampa) 

Now it’s time to get serious… the not so fun elements to moving abroad. 

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5. The technicalities of living in Manila

This stuff isn’t the glamourous part of the trip, but it’s necessary to know.


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. 

Let’s talk visas.

An American family with a tour guide taking a tour of Intramuros in Manila
A tour of Intramuros in Manila


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. 

Additional Tips & Reminders

  • 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, friendly, and welcoming.
  • Salamat Po = thank you (remember this because you'll use it a lot!)
  • Have an open mind & be patient!

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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