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Manila may be for you

Remember the 7 expat categories from last week?

Well I have to say that Manila is paradise for a few of them…

I come through here from time to time on business and it definitely ranks as one of my favorite places in Asia– cheap, modern, relatively clean, but still with a hint of seedy underbelly to it.

I discussed the financial infrastructure yesterday; until recently, the Philippines had one of the most secretive banking systems in the world patterned after what Hong Kong used to be. In fact, a lot of things here are patterned after Hong Kong, or at least try to be.

Perhaps it’s the influence of having been a Spanish colony for so long, but most things in the Philippines fall just short of the mark– there are soaring skyscrapers in Ortigas and Makati City… with slightly unlevel floors. There are broad, clean motorways… yet still mind-numbing traffic.

Perhaps this is why our local friend remarked to us months ago that “Manila is what Hong Kong would look like if it were turned over to the Mexicans.” He’s right.

Frankly I’m delighted with Manila despite its professional shortcomings. The level of service and hospitality is absolutely incredible, the nightlife is energized, and the scenery is spectacular. All of this makes Manila ideal for several groups.

Hedonists: You will love it here. If you are foreign looking in any way, you will feel like an international celebrity given the level of attention you receive. There are quite a few, eh, venues… for which you are sure to find and endless supply of entertainment at all hours of the day and night.

If you’ve ever had the dream of living in a tropical paradise being fanned and fed grapes by adoring concubines attending to your every whim, this is one of the places where you can live it on the cheap.

Expeditioner: You will feel very much at home here; there are more Starbucks than I can count and several spectacular 5-star hotels to fulfill your most capricious need (I strongly recommend the Mandarin Oriental… make sure you visit Melody in the 17th floor lounge).

But at the same time, you are an hour’s distance by flight, road, and sea ferry to unknown wilderness complete with guided tours… so there is plenty of opportunity to quench your sense of adventure without giving up creature comforts (like complete Botox treatments for $300).

Internationalist: Move here and set up shop without a second thought for the safety of your family. You are safe in Manila… and not because of an overbearing police presence, but because it’s simply not a violent culture. There are plenty of western style amenities for the kids– schools, sports, etc. and enough of an expat community that no one will feel isolated.

Retiree: If you hate waiting in line to see the doctor, you will like Manila. Healthcare quality is good, and your retirement check will go a long way here– 3 bedroom house for $479/month? Done.

Other important points– English is widely spoken here… and by “widely”, I mean 99.999% of the population. You will probably have to travel to a small village without electricity to find a single person who doesn’t speak English.

And as for that recession? It basically skipped the Philippines. The economy here certainly slowed down, but there are no signs of massive economic destruction like we see in Spain, California, Argentina, and Dubai.

To give you an excellent comparison, I honestly believe that Manila has a very similar feel to Panama City… so if you have been to Panama and like the city, you will probably love Manila.

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About the author: Simon Black is an international investor, entrepreneur, permanent traveler, free man, and founder of Sovereign Man. His free daily e-letter and crash course is about using the experiences from his life and travels to help you achieve more freedom.

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  • Thomas Crown

    I spend a great deal of time in Panama City and Manila – and would say its very similar.

    People always forget that the Philippines is mainly English – with their native Tagalog (among others).

    Beaches in the Philippines are much much better than Panama – and dream about Boracay day and night.

    Don´t forget to brush up on the real estate in the Philippines – as they may pass their law soon.

    Please report back on Residency – as they only have 22 days being a tourist.

    • http://www.ronin.ph Ronin

      Hi Thomas,

      “Please report back on Residency – as they only have 22 days being a tourist.”

      You get 21 days on entry and then any immigration office (or travel agent) can sort a 38 day extension. Before the 59 days total expires you get another 2 months extension, all the way to two years before you have to leave for a few days on a visa run.

      I’ve been on a tourist visa for over a decade – I have businesses here in the Philippines, bank accounts, am on the board of a very large local NGO etc etc – in short there is no need to get any kind of residence visa with the cost and hassles that go with it

      Hope that helps


      • RN

        Hello Mr. Ronin!

        Will you still use the URL ronin.ph? It’s inactive but still live and  I’m planning to use/buy it. 

  • jpf

    Mr. Black, You have painted a very bright picture of the Philippines and for the most part your assessment right on. You mention the seedy underbelly and the non-violent tendencies, I feel these points are a bit understated. True there are soaring skyscrapers , mega malls, 5 star hotels,but there are also the shanty towns where the country folk who seek their fortunes in the big city dwell. One does not have to travel far from the Makati area to see Tondo and witness true squalor. The Philippino people are remarkable in that no matter their plight they always wear a smile. here in the Philippines I never feel threatened, not like I did in my youth growing up on the south side of Chicago

  • Buddha

    Are you sure about Manilas safety? I’ve always heard the exact opposite. I’m currently residing in Thailand, and have heard, even from Fillipinos who was born in Manila, that it’s very unsafe and that there’s a lot of crime. I’ve heard that in some areas MacDonalds have guards bearing AK47’s. I’ve never been there myself though, so I’m not the one to judge. If you’re sure about this, and sure that you not just stayed in the only secure area and the nicest hotel, I might go there and have a look next month. Thanks.

  • Expat in Asia

    I currently live in Manila and security guards with guns (handguns, shotguns, AR-51 rifles) are a common site here. You see them in banks, McDonalds, Stabucks, pretty much everywhere. At first it’s jarring to see such a show of force but you realize it’s just part of the culture. It’s been said that the Filipinos have spent 300 years in the convent (having been a Spanish colony) and then 50 years in Hollywood (under American rule until getting it’s independence after WWII). I guess watching all those American action movies has influenced people to think that guns are fun to own. Little do they realize that gun ownership in some parts of the USA (I’m thinking California in particular) is frowned upon.

  • Stanley Krause

    I think the US stores, 7 11’s etc would be safer if they had armed guards.
    You would not have the punks killing and robbing people for 30 bucks to
    get their next “hit” I think crime would go way down in the states. However, we have the cost of doing this. At $7.25 per hour compaired to
    $3-4 a day makes it prohibative here. I do think we will see it someday
    because McD’s are getting robbed etc. Worst thing I can say about Manila
    is the smog. I like it in the province where there is not as much english
    spoken so I learned their language. It is a lot fresher :) Stan

  • mark

    If Paris is the city of light, Manila is the city of life….so much movement and energy. There isn’t that sterile feeling of many European cities here; it’ earthy and fertile. Pedicabs and jeepneys whizzing by and the warm smiles of the natives warm your heart.

  • Jared

    I call bullsh*t. Currently looking out the window of my 41st story condo in Makati. Been living in the PH for 3 years now and have had enough. I did the provinces (Mindanao and Negros) and I’ve done the city. If you can live with constant brownouts, crap internet, grimy towns/cities, neighbors burning trash, terrible drivers and horrible excuses for grocery stores than living in the provinces may be for you. You will save money on rent compared to a western city but you will pay the price in myriad inconveniences. Manila is certainly more civilized in that you have all the luxuries of a mall lifestyle – cinemas, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.. Unfortunately there is nothing else to do in this city but go to the mall. Even if there was some form of interesting entertainment or cultural event you may like to partake in, the traffic is so bad that any enthusiasm is sucked out of you at the same rate that the smog seeps into your leak riddled POS taxi. The cross town smog headache – how many of those have I had? Too many. Maybe it would be worth it if it were actually alot cheaper to live here than in Western countries. But guess what? All the best things in Manila are imported at exorbitant rates. My guess is that I pay ~30% more for groceries in Manila than I would in the States and the quality and choice is about 50% less. And the authors claim of 3 bed rent for $478 is a joke. If you live in a place that costs $500 a month for 3 bedrooms, in manila, than you are not living in a safe neighborhood. There is a reason Filipinos with money live behind 15 foot tall walls.
    As to the claim that Manila is safe…that is a dangerous claim to make, my friend. It’s true that Filipinos are generally non-violent and very friendly – really, a lovely people – but the fact remains that more than 60% of the population is mind crushingly poor. That makes people do rash things when they see white people – who are considered to all be millionaires and carrying at least a million in their wallet at any given time. Stay on the main streets and boulevards (especially at night) and you should be fine but DO NOT stray down side streets except in the most tourist frequented areas. And never enter any of the shanty’s that litter the city like a bad case of fungus. I personally like the security guards everywhere as it definitely adds a sense of security at ATM’s and such that would be sorely lacking if they weren’t around.
    I admit my post is rather long and predominately negative but as I stated – I’ve had enough. I no longer take pleasure in the things that make the Philippines unique. Yes, Boracay is great but how many times can you go before it gets boring. I’m not here for the prostitutes so that’s a bit useless for me. Yes, doctor visits are cheap and quick but the facilities are sh*te – even at the best hospitals in Manila. If it ain’t new in the Philippines then it is in a state of disrepair. Filipinos don’t do maintenance. And the easy Dr. visit is offset by the mind numbing tedium of getting any government document. If you don’t “know someone” then getting your car registration, drivers license, etc. can take days rather than the 30 minutes to an hour you might spend at your local DMV in the states. It’s the corruption and incompetence that, like chinese water torture, eats away at my soul. I can’t take it anymore.
    And I’m sure a lot of Philippine expats will be saying “good riddance!”

    • Chris

      As a born and raised Filipino, I second this. The Philippine system of politics and business is only for the already rich and powerful and has become utterly frustrating to deal with. And this is exactly the reason why after so many years in business here, I’m looking for business opportunities abroad. But to be fair, the Philippines make quality goods at close to the cost of China. Will try exporting..

  • marcus

    I now have read all of these comments and believe me they give me mixed feelings and opposite ideas. I am planning to go to Manila and stay for some time, well that means I had a plan. Now i will have to rethink the wole operation.

  • Dan

    If any Sovereign Man readers come through Manila looking to do business or invest, please drop me a line. I love to meet other investors/entrepreneurs, I agree with Simon’s run down of the Philippines in general as a great spot for folks looking for a second flag. If you run a business in the US its a great spot to set up a support office as well.

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