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.