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Living in the Philippines
A practical guide to the way of life in the Philippines
Living in the Philippines, you will experience a fascinating Southeast Asian culture. Influenced by Spanish and US colonialism, the way of life there is truly unique. For a first glimpse of life in the Philippines, read our guide on housing, healthcare, education, and safety for expats.
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Life in the Philippines
- A large part of the population is based in Manila and Cebu.
- Private healthcare services are increasingly common in the big urban areas, but they come at a price.
- A variety of international schools are available for expat children — mostly in Manila, though.
Foreign residents and expats living in the Philippines will not only be part of a diverse expat community, but also experience the cultural diversity of local society. Music is a particularly important aspect of Filipino culture and part of daily life in the Philippines, as evidenced by the countless local fiestas. Often religious in nature, these celebrations involve music and dancing, and you would be amiss to not take the opportunity to participate in one!
The Youthful Population of the Philippines
There are about 102 million people living in the Philippines, spread across about 2,000 of the nation’s 7,641 islands. Most of the population is still quite young; the median age is 23.2 years. A quarter of the residents living in the Philippines — amounting to 25.5 million — have settled in the country’s urban center, the Greater Manila metropolitan area. Cebu and its capital, Cebu City, account for a big part of the population as well.
The country’s cultural diversity makes life in the Philippines quite attractive for many. The biggest ethnic groups are Tagalog (28.1%), Cebuano (13.1%), and Ilocano (9%). In terms of religion, the majority of the population is Roman Catholic (81%). The Muslim minority in the Philippines makes up just 5% of the population. These figures are based on the latest census taking ethnic groups and religious affiliation into consideration, which was conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority in 2000.
Along with Filipino, English is an official language in the Philippines and is commonly used, especially in academic and professional settings. As such, a good command of the English language should eliminate any language barriers for expats living in the Philippines. In fact, in 2013 the Economist described the Filipinos as being among the best speakers of business English in the world.
House-Hunting in the Philippines
The country’s 7,641 islands offer plenty of lifestyle choices for expats who want to live there. Rural farmhouses, condominiums, and rooms in shared apartments are all available. As is the case almost everywhere in the world, housing is not as widely available in urban centers. The rent is also higher than in remote rural areas.
The rents are highest in Metro Manila. The best and safest way to find a place to stay during your expat life in the Philippines is through recommendations from friends and colleagues. Internet listings like Philippines Properties and classified ads in local newspapers are also great ways to start. Important national dailies include The Philippine Star, The Daily Tribune, or Manila Bulletin.
The typical lease for upper-end apartments in the Philippines lasts twelve months, and you are usually expected to pay rent for the entire year in advance with postdated checks. Shorter contracts are not common for these types of rentals. If you will be living in the Philippines for only a few months, think about renting a serviced apartment instead.
The Healthcare System in the Philippines
In 1991, a local government code transferred the responsibility for healthcare services to local government units. Now, provincial governments run and administer provincial and district hospitals, and the governments of different municipalities, in turn, run rural health units and barangay (village) health stations. The Department of Health, on the other hand, manages specialty hospitals, regional hospitals, and health centers.
Medical services in the Philippines are offered by both the public and the private sector. Private providers are becoming increasingly common and are predominantly located in big urban areas, offering a wide range of facilities from pharmacies to maternity centers and hospitals. The public sector is made up largely of three main providers:
- national government providers (hospitals and central as well as regional offices of the Department of Health)
- provincial government providers (hospitals, provincial blood banks, and provincial health offices)
- local government providers (of a city or municipality)
Unfortunately, public primary healthcare facilities are of rather low quality, particularly in rural areas. Current reforms aim to improve both quality and availability of essential healthcare for people living in the Philippines.
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The Philippines: Healthcare and Diseases
Compared to most other Asian countries, the out-of-pocket spending on healthcare has increased significantly in the Philippines in recent years. At the same time, public spending has declined. Patients now pay almost half of their healthcare costs themselves. Unfortunately, still less than half of the population is covered by healthcare in the Philippines.
Moreover, healthcare coverage does not guarantee financial protection or access to high-quality services. This is mostly due to the fact that the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PHIC) offers only limited benefits. In fact, PHIC’s share of healthcare expenditure has grown very little since it was established in 1995. As public insurance plans only cover medical services up to a certain cost, patients face the remaining expenses.
Hospitals and doctors’ practices can be found all over the Philippines. While the standard is decent, it may not be quite up to what you are used to if you are from a Western country. However, even public hospitals tend to have very well-trained staff with a high proficiency in English.
Many Filipino doctors have studied at first-rate medical schools around the world and bring excellent professional qualifications to the table. The same applies to the nursing staff of public and private hospitals. If you are unsure which hospital, doctor, or dentist to choose, ask your friends or colleagues who live or have lived in the Philippines for recommendations. In urgent cases, the emergency numbers are 112 and 117, but the services might be limited in more remote areas.
Among expats, some of the most recommended hospitals in the Philippines seem to be:
- The Asian Hospital and Medical Center in Muntinlupa
- The Makati Medical Center
- The Medical City in Ortigas
- St Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City and in Global City
Common Diseases That Might Pose a Health Risk
The majority of people moving to and living in the Philippines enjoy romantic lives in this paradisiacal archipelago. However, they do also face the far less romantic risk of catching one of the many infectious diseases prevalent in Southeast Asia. Major food-borne and water-borne infectious diseases include bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever. Mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever, malaria, and Japanese encephalitis pose considerable health threats as well. The water-contact disease leptospirosis is also a common ailment.
Unsurprisingly, the mosquito-borne diseases are ever-present in endemic areas of the Philippines, and the risk of infection is high. Other diseases are also prevalent among large parts of the population. For instance, tuberculosis still affects many people in the Philippines due to the lack of accessible healthcare in many parts of the country.
Education and Safety in the Philippines
A US-Influenced Education System
The education system of the Philippines is modeled largely after the US American education system, reflecting the influence the US has had on this country. In total, there is twelve years of compulsory schooling in the Philippines: primary school from first to sixth grade, secondary school from seventh to tenth grade, and higher secondary in grades eleven and twelve.
Higher education institutions are usually private or run by the church. As schooling is compulsory in the Philippines, the literacy rate is quite high throughout the population. Unfortunately, many children quit school after sixth grade.
State schools are often characterized by big classes, a severe lack of teaching material, and poorly paid teachers. There are many regional differences when it comes to the number of children who finish school. Whereas most students in Manila graduate, less than half do so in Mindanao or Eastern Vasayas. The test scores of Filipino children are below international standards as well.
With its funding, the government has mostly focused on the primary education sector and has failed to fund all of the education system properly. To improve the situation, the government has now promised significant changes, however. The plan is to build more schools, provide better teaching equipment, and offer scholarships to poorer families.
There are plenty of state-run universities and higher education institutions in the Philippines. Much like public schools, however, they suffer from low budgeting and cannot compete with private institutions. These are financed through tuition fees starting as low as 1,000 PHP per semester. Nevertheless, many families, including some who belong to the middle class, struggle to send their children to a decent university or college.
International Schools for Expat Kids
There are quite a few international schools as well, many of them former missionary or Christian schools, which cater to the expat community. However, most of them are located in bigger cities:
- Brent International School
- British School Manila
- Cebu International School
- Esteban International School, Manila
- Faith Academy
- French School Manila
- German European School Manila
- Harvest Christian School International, Cebu
Staying Safe Abroad
Unfortunately, terrorist attacks still occur in the Philippines, especially on the Sulu Archipelago and on Mindanao, the Philippines’ southernmost island. Here, the majority of radical Islamist attacks take place. Since the armed conflict of 2008 ended in a cease-fire after peace negotiations, open fights are rare. However, the conflict could potentially reemerge, and you would probably be well advised to stay clear of this area.
Attacks and assaults in Manila are not unheard of, either. The crime rate is generally rather high in the Philippines, and violent crimes are no exception. Furthermore, the Philippines are prone to volcanic eruptions. Earthquakes, seaquakes, and tsunamis are not uncommon. Moreover, the country is often hit by severe tropical storms, the worst of which was Typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda, which wreaked havoc in the eastern Philippines in November 2013.
Thus, it is important to closely follow the weather forecast and check up-to-date weather warnings. It is wise to follow official safety recommendations, and you should not hesitate to evacuate an at-risk area. Further, just in case that you are ever caught in a disaster zone, make sure to register with your embassy or consulate in the Philippines. If you do, diplomatic staff will be aware that a foreign national might be in need of assistance, and they will also help your family and friends back home learn more about your whereabouts.
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