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Living in Manila

A comprehensive guide about living well in Manila

Living in Manila is a dream for many expats who hope to settle down in the Philippines. After all, life in Manila, the country’s culture and business hub, is as diverse as it is exciting. Read our guide on Manila and find out more about healthcare and transportation in the Philippine capital.

Need to move abroad? Organizing an international relocation is not something you should do on your own. As expats ourselves, we understand what you need, and offer the essential services to help you move and live abroad easily. Contact us to jump start your move abroad!

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Life in Manila

  • Manila is rich in history and culture and is home to many sights. The historical San Augustin Church in Intramuros is certainly a must-see.
  • Manila has high-quality hospitals available for expats, but a down payment is usually required.
  • Driving in Manila is far from easy, so taxis and buses are cheap alternatives.

Religion in Manila: Predominantly Christian

More than 90% of people living in the Philippines, including the capital, are Christian, the vast majority of them being Roman Catholic. The strong influence of the Christian faith in the city dates back to the Spanish rule. This is also reflected in the fact that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila is the biggest church in the entire country, with offices located at the Minor Basilica of Immaculate Conception.

As you can imagine, living in Manila as a devout Catholic is fairly carefree. The city is home to an abundance of churches, four of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the San Augustin Church in Intramuros, which is also a popular wedding choice. The city is home to other faiths too, of course. Buddhist and Taoist temples are scattered all over the city, particularly in Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown. Mosques, Hindu temples, and Sikh temples are available as well.

The Place to Go for Culture and Museums

Manila is also a major hub for cultural events and home to many museums. For instance, millions of devotees come to the city each year to celebrate the Feast of the Black Nazarene. In addition, Manila Day is observed each year on 24 June, as each district throws its own fiesta.

Bahay Tsinoy, one of the city’s most important museums, exhibits documentations of Chinese influences on life in Manila. A few blocks away, the Intramuros Light and Sound Museum chronicles life during the Philippine Revolution at the end of the 19th century, and the Metropolitan Museum of Manila is the place to go if you wish to learn more about Filipino arts and culture. You should have no trouble leading a rich cultural life in Manila.

Healthcare Coverage Not Widely Available

As you prepare for living in Manila, you should take the time to ensure you have sufficient healthcare coverage. As vibrant as life in Manila may be, the out-of-pocket spending on medical services has increased significantly in recent years, while government spending has been in decline. At this point, people living in Manila pay half of their medical costs themselves.

Healthcare coverage is rather low, as less than half of the population is covered. However, public health insurance does not guarantee you financial protection or high-quality medical services. The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PHIC), which is responsible for public healthcare, offers only limited benefits. The medical costs covered by the PHIC haven’t increased much since 1995, and more often than not patients end up having to cover the remaining expenses.

Doctors and Hospitals in Manila

Unlike people in some other parts of the Philippine archipelago, expats living in Manila benefit from well-equipped, highquality hospitals and medical centers. Most of the city’s hospitals, however, require a down payment when you are admitted. Similarly, you will need to pay your medical bills before you take your leave. You can settle the bills with your health insurance company at a later point for reimbursement. Make sure to inquire whether your insurance provider will cover all healthcare costs.

 The most popular hospitals among expats living in Manila are:

Be on the Safe Side

When living in Manila, although it is a relatively modern and well-developed city, you should always keep in mind that various infectious diseases are always a concern in Southeast Asia, particularly food- and water-borne diseases such as bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever, as well as mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever, malaria, and Japanese encephalitis.

Aside from diseases, the Philippines are prone to natural disasters. Typhoons and other weather conditions are common threats in the country. Manila frequently suffers from extreme flooding, for instance. Luckily, the city was spared from the catastrophic typhoon damage in November 2013, but several tropical cyclones do hit the country every year.

In fact, the Philippines are at the top of the list of countries affected by natural disasters. So, you should make sure to always stay safe and to take the necessary precautions. For example, do not forget to register with your embassy! In the event of a storm or flood, this will make it much easier for you to get assistance. 

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Local Transportation in Manila

The Ordeal of Driving in Manila

Unless you have nerves of steel, you best think twice about driving in Manila, infamous for its traffic jams and aggressive drivers. Make sure to drive cautiously and keep a watchful eye on other drivers cutting lanes, running red lights, or turning without a signal. Don’t let appearances fool you, however. Filipinos are not bad drivers. On the contrary, they are capable of maneuvering their cars within inches of one another without so much as batting an eye.

Nevertheless, Filipino driving habits are problematic to say the least, as locals pay little heed to traffic rules and use their horns quite generously. Another aspect that makes driving in Manila difficult for foreign residents is the lack of street signs. Also, lanes are always congested, even though certain cars are not allowed to drive on certain weekdays (license plates ending in 1 and 2 are banned on Mondays, those ending in 3 and 4 on Tuesdays, and so forth). If you are still inclined to throw yourself into Manila’s stressful traffic, fasten your seat belt, keep calm, and expect the unexpected. It would also be wise to check if your health insurance covers traffic accidents. 

Taxis: Easy to Find

If you prefer not to drive in Manila (or if it’s one of those days you’re prohibited from taking your car on the road), you can always hail a cab. Taxis are widely available in the Philippine capital and offer a cheap way to travel. Remember to remind your driver to switch on the meter, however. Some taxi drivers deliberately neglect to do so or try to convince you to pay a lump sum, which usually amounts to more than a metered trip would. The flag-down fare is 30 PHP, and 3.50 PHP is charged for every 300 meters, as well as for every 90 seconds of waiting time.

The only exception to this rule is if you take a taxi during rush hour. When traffic is slow, it may be worthwhile to let your driver switch off the meter and agree on a fixed fare.

Buses Are a Good Way to Explore

Local buses run all throughout the city on the main roads and connect major destinations all throughout Makati and other districts of Metro Manila. While taking the bus is an incredibly cheap way to travel and explore the city, they are prone to traffic jams and, in turn, delays. The same applies to jeepneys, which roam Manila’s streets in reckless fashion.

Buses are also a good option for long-distance travels. However, it is not always easy to find the right bus or even the right place of departure, as there is no central bus station and no central information center. Most likely, your best bet is to talk to a taxi driver, as they are usually in the know regarding bus information. Just bear in mind before boarding a bus that Manila’s bus drivers can be rather negligent in traffic as well. On PHBus, you can find a list of all bus operators as well as the schedules and fares for each journey.

Railway Transport: Within Reach Everywhere

By far, the easiest way to travel to and from Manila is by train. There are three train lines in the city: LRT1 (the green line) travels from Nivog in the south to Monumento in the north. It passes Manila’s most popular landmarks and is the best connection from Manila’s airport to the city center. LRT2 (the blue line) travels from the city’s east to the west. MRT3 (the new yellow line) runs parallel to the city’s major highway, the EDSA.

Further light rail lines are planned for the future and will make Manila’s railway system even more comprehensive. Note that the last trains run around 22:00. You can purchase pre-paid and multiple-travel tickets at every station. For more information, consult Manila’s Light Transit Authority.

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: August 17, 2016
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