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What You Need to Know When You’re Moving to Manila

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  • Jacques Paillard

    All expatriates in my company joined InterNations because it really helped me get accustomed to my new life in Manila.

Relocating to Manila

  • Historical Manila is the political and commercial hub of the Philippines.
  • Among Manila’s many different neighborhoods, Makati and Quezon City are especially popular among expats.
  • The non-immigrant visa is the one you need for working or studying in the Philippines.

With more than twelve million inhabitants, Manila’s metropolitan area forms the cultural, political, and commercial center of the Philippines. Moving to Manila is an increasingly attractive option for expatriates who seek to relocate to the Philippines, and not just for the sunshine; Manila offers plenty of career opportunities too. At the same time, however, the city is often written off as a mere collection of towns and settlements with no traditional center. Nevertheless, moving to Manila remains the preferred choice for expats who thrive in the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Manila’s Eventful History

When the Spanish first arrived in Manila in 1571, the city was still just a small Muslim settlement. After numerous clashes and battles, the Spanish seized control of the settlement and defended it against other invaders in subsequent centuries. The Spanish rule brought with it Roman Catholic influences, as convents, churches, and schools were built. To this day, the Philippines are the only Asian country in which Christianity is the dominant religion.

In the 19th century, resistance against the Spanish occupation stirred among the Filipino population. Although the Filipino revolution failed, the Spanish-American war eventually ended the Spanish rule, and in 1935, after several decades under US authority, the Philippines finally became independent. With World War Two and three years of Japanese occupation behind them, the Filipinos celebrated by raising the Philippine flag in Manila’s Rizal Park in 1946.

Colorful Metro Manila

The streets of metro Manila are buzzing with jeepneys and street vendors, and expats moving to Manila will have little trouble finding air-conditioned shopping malls and office buildings. After your move to Manila, you will not only experience the urban flair of the metropolitan area, but also its excellent connections to the rest of the Philippine archipelago. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), the first stop for many expats, handles flights from more than 25 international airlines along with some charter flights.

Upon moving to Manila, you will quickly become acclimated to the many facets of life in the Philippines. Once you’ve experienced the Philippines’ most important landmarks and government buildings, you can enjoy horse-drawn carriages or hitch a ride on one of the colorful jeepneys to get around town. You will soon find that here, modern concrete and glass towers reach for the sky right next to colonial houses and impressive mansions. Nowhere else in the Philippines is the country’s eventful history as visible as in metro Manila.

Various Districts and Neighborhoods

Expatriates moving to Manila can choose to settle down in one of the 17 municipalities of the city. Manilla’s neighborhoods range from historical Intramuros to Makati with its upscale business centers and the shantytowns of Tondo. Intramuros is an old walled settlement first built by the Spanish. Although heavily damaged in World War II, it has been restored into the city’s most significant cultural and historical focal point. South of Intramuros lies the city’s north-south center, Rizal Park.

To Rizal Park’s south, you will find the city’s new tourist belt, Ermita and Malate. These neighborhoods used to be home to middle and upper classes before the hotels, restaurants, and nightlife began to attract oodles of tourists. Makati, Manila’s business center with offices, embassies, and shopping centers, has also become the residential area of choice for many an expat moving to Manila. You might, of course, also decide to move to Quezon City. This district is home to the University of the Philippines and has a variety of elegant residential neighborhoods for expats moving to Manila. The shanty town Tondo, near Tayuman train station, stands in stark contrast to Makati and Quezon City. Here, many people live in poor conditions.

Manila: Accommodation and Visa

A Reasonable Cost of Living

In comparison to other Asian business hubs, Manila’s cost of living is relatively low. However, how much you end up spending largely depends on your own lifestyle choices. The cost of accommodation typically constitutes a big factor in expatriates’ budgets. The amount you spend on rent can vary greatly, depending on location and your needs. As an example, you may be charged a monthly rent of PHP 40,000 for a studio or one-bedroom apartment in one of Manila’s major business districts. Should you decide to rent a house in a gated community in one of the city’s suburbs, you might have to pay as little as PHP 20,000 per month.

Apartments in fancier neighborhoods like Forbes Park and Dasmarinas Village come at even higher prices than in Makati. Keep in mind that utility costs are not necessarily included in the rent and that it is worthwhile to switch off the A/C every once in a while. The Philippines is said to have the third highest cost of electricity in Asia. Keep an eye on changes in foreign exchange rates if your pay is fixed in another currency. Currency fluctuations can be significant, and you should include them in your estimations when considering your monthly budget.

Renting a Home

Your budget and preferred location will indeed be the determining factors in your apartment hunt. Not only should you be aware of how much you can afford to pay in rent; you also need to decide in which districts and neighborhoods you would like to live. In this regard, you may want to take the location of your work into consideration. After all, it wouldn’t make much sense to settle down in Quezon City if your office is located in Makati.

In any case, apartments and houses are widely available all over Metro Manila. The challenge lies in finding a place that is safe, offers all the amenities you are looking for, and is not too far off the beaten track. Because of Makati’s and Quezon City’s popularity, it is often hard to find an affordable apartment or even a house in these districts. Searching in internet listings like Philippines Properties or important national dailies like Manila Bulletin is a great way to start.

The Right Visa for You

Before moving to Manila, you will need to figure out which type of visa you require. There are a number of visas that may apply to you:

  • A tourist visa applies to you if you stay between 30 and 60 days.
  • A non-immigrant visa is required for expats on a pre-arranged employment, trade, transit or study visit. The requirements obviously vary.
  • Non-quota immigrant visas are granted to spouses and children of Philippine citizens and natural-born Filipinos.
  • Quota immigrant visas apply to anybody with sufficient financial capital and certain professional qualifications and skills. A maximum of 50 quota immigrant visas are granted to expats of any one nationality each year.
  • The special resident retiree visa allows for multiple entries and an indefinite stay in the country. To participate in this visa program, applicants must submit a deposit depending on their age and retirement pension.

If you receive a pension and you are at least 50 years old, then the required deposit for a special resident retiree visa is 10,000 USD, plus a monthly pension of 800 USD for a single applicant and 1,000 USD for a couple.

If you receive no pension and are at least 50 years old, then the required deposit is 20,000 USD. For applicants aged from 35 to 49, the deposit is 50,000 USD.

For former Filipino citizens who are at least 35 years old (regardless of the number of their dependents), for ambassadors of foreign countries who have served and retired in the Philippines, and for current and former staff members of international organization who are at least 50 years old, the deposit only amounts to 1,500 USD.

For more details on the individual visas and how to apply, see the Filipino Bureau of Immigration.

General Visa Requirements

The specific visa application requirements vary considerably depending on which type of visa you are trying to obtain. Do not hesitate to contact the Philippine embassy or consulate closest to you for specific information. To give you an idea about the paperwork you can expect, here is a list of things you need to apply for a pre-arranged employment visa:

  • a valid passport
  • two completed application forms
  • passport-sized photos
  • physical and medical exam reports by an authorized physician
  • police clearance
  • the visa application fee

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  • Jacques Paillard

    All expatriates in my company joined InterNations because it really helped me get accustomed to my new life in Manila.

  • Adriana Rodrigues Zon

    The idea of getting to know other expats in Manila was very appealing to me, and I've greatly expanded my network in the Philippines.

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