Philippines

The Philippines, formally the Republic of the Philippines, is an island nation in the western Pacific Ocean that belongs to Southeast Asia. The country’s location on the Ring of Fire, the ring of volcanic activity that surrounds the Pacific Ocean. Within the Ring of Fire there are 452 volcanoes and over 75% of the world’s active and extinct volcanoes. About 90% of the Earth’s earthquakes and 80% of the Earth’s major earthquakes occur in the area and its tropical climate makes the Philippines prone to earthquakes and typhoons but has also endowed the country with natural resources and made it one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world. With an archipelago consisting of 7,641 islands, of which nearly 900 are inhabited, the Philippines is divided into three geographic regions, Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The country’s capital is Manila.

The flag of the Philippines has on the left side a white triangle with three golden stars and a sun with eight rays. The remaining flag surface is divided in half with the upper half being blue and the lower half red. The flag was adopted on May 19, 1898.

The flag’s sun is a symbol of independence. The eight rays in the sun stand for the eight provinces that participated in the revolt against Spain at the end of the 19th century. The three stars stand for the three major regions of the country: Luzon, Visaya Islands and Mindanao. The red color stands for the courage and bravery of the people, and the blue color symbolizes the high ideals of the people. The triangle stands for the revolutionary movement Katipunan that led the rebellion against Spain, and the white color represents peace and purity.

To live in the Philippines as an ex-pat

With a reasonable cost of living, delicious local food and an abundance of beautiful beaches, there are many benefits to living in the Philippines.

Most expats find it easy to integrate into the local Filipino society. For expat families, there is a good selection of international schools, and private healthcare is cheap by global standards.

You also get tons of choices when it comes to travel options. In addition to exploring the many islands of the archipelago, you can use the Philippines as a starting point for adventures in Southeast Asia.

Accommodation

Most ex-pats in the Philippines live in the Metro Manila area, especially in Makati City – home to many international companies and the heart of the country’s diplomatic community.

From luxury condominiums to houses in gated communities, there is a variety of accommodation to choose from. Although it is easy to find furnished apartments, most houses are unfurnished. The newer the building, the more likely it is to have air conditioning, which is a necessity in the country’s tropical climate. Some Real Estate Most expats in the Philippines live in the Metro Manila area, especially in Makati City – home to many international companies and the heart of the country’s diplomatic community.

The newer the building, the more likely it is to have air conditioning, which is a necessity in the country’s tropical climate. Some properties do not have western-style toilets.

Local culture

Although Filipino culture has been heavily influenced by European and American traditions, most ex-pats still take time to adjust to their new lifestyle. Ex-pats are usually forgiven for making gestures that are considered offensive in Filipino culture, but it’s worth doing a little research before you move. For example, you should avoid standing with your hands on your hips as this is a sign of anger – and staring or prolonged eye contact is seen as aggressive.

Filipinos love to eat and drink. When invited to a meal or banquet, it is an insult to the host to decline any food offered to you, as well as to put your elbows on the table while eating. In rural areas, it is common to see locals eating with their hands. If you want to try this yourself, don’t put any food on your palms.

The custom of exchanging gifts is found all over the Philippines. If you are invited to a Filipino home, it is polite to bring a gift to the host, but avoid giving food or drink. The exception to this is a specialty from your home country. Presentation is important, so wrap presents elegantly.

Filipinos try to hide emotions such as anger or embarrassment, so they may smile or laugh at times you consider inappropriate. They also avoid conflict and it is not uncommon for them to say yes when they mean no. The custom of “utang na loob”, or showing a debt of gratitude, is also very important. Filipinos do not forget good vibrations and even the smallest favor is considered a significant gesture.

Stay connected in the Philippines

The largest mobile operators in the Philippines include Globe, PLDT, Smart and Sun. Both contract and prepaid options are available. PLDT is also the main provider of landline telephones. There are occasional problems making local and long distance calls and services may be disrupted by severe weather. Most properties come with a line. If you need to install one, you may have to wait a few days.

Popular ISPs include PLDT, Converge, Globe and SKYcable. They offer all cable, ADSL and fiber packages at reasonable prices. Free WiFi is available in shopping malls, cafes and airports.

The Philippines has a good selection of English language newspapers. The most popular ones include the Manila Bulletin and the Philippines Daily Inquirer.

The state-owned Philippine Postal Corporation (PHLPost) has a reputation for being unreliable, so many prefer to send important letters and packages by courier.

Healthcare

The standard of healthcare in the Philippines ranges from excellent to very poor. The hospitals in the big cities are generally of high quality, but those in the countryside often lack infrastructure and investment. Emergency services such as ambulances are available in all major cities, but are limited in more remote areas. Although doctors in public hospitals are well trained, equipment and facilities are not always up to Western standards. Most ex-pats use private hospitals and travel to Hong Kong or Singapore for specialist treatment.

While citizens are entitled to free healthcare under the government-controlled Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), ex-pats are not covered by the scheme, so you need health insurance, especially if you want to use private hospitals. Most expats choose an international policy, which must be arranged before arriving in the country.

You will find a good selection of private hospitals in the larger cities. Although expensive by local standards, they are cheap compared to most Western countries and the level of care is excellent.

Most pharmacies in the Philippines are staffed by well-trained pharmacists. Some local supermarkets also carry basic over-the-counter medicines. The controls on prescription drugs are very strict, and handling written in another country must be approved by a local doctor. Signs for pharmacies are in English and easy to spot.

In terms of health risks, mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are endemic in some parts of the Philippines, especially during the rainy season between June and November.

Religion

About 90 percent of the population is Christian, mainly Catholics. In some regions of the southern Philippines, Islam (mainly of Sunni orientation) is the major religion.

Crime

When you step out of the airplane in Manila, you can see the airport terminal straight ahead and to the right of it a large billboard with the text, “Welcome to the Philippines, the world’s most religious country. Beware of pickpockets”.

When you arrive at the hotel, the first thing you see at the reception is a guard with a machine gun. The same thing at banks, malls, 7/11 and so on and everywhere signs that it is forbidden to bring weapons. If you happen to arrive at the scene of a traffic accident and there are injured people on the ground and you ask if someone has called an ambulance, it is not uncommon for the answer to be no, it is cheaper to let them die.

Crime occurs in various forms in the Philippines and remains a serious problem throughout the country. Illegal drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms trafficking, murder, corruption and domestic violence remain a major problem. Many major cities are plagued by the prevalence of crime.

Traveling around the Philippines

Public transportation in the Philippines is often crowded, especially during peak hours, and most ex-pats choose to drive or hire a taxi. Those who choose to drive should be aware that city roads are often chaotic, with drivers routinely ignoring red lights and stop signs – and crowded sidewalks mean pedestrians also use the roads. If you are staying in the country for more than 90 days, you must obtain a local driver’s license from the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

Most taxi drivers speak basic English. All taxis have taxi meters, but you should make sure the meter is activated as soon as you set off. It is normal to give the driver a small tip. Driving apps are also available in the Philippines.

For public transport, the national rail transport covers most of the country and long-distance train journeys between the big cities are becoming increasingly popular. Metro Manila’s regional service extends to its suburbs and outlying provinces, while the Bicol Express with air-conditioned sleeping cars is a good way to travel between Manila and Naga. Buses are also popular, although not all buses are air-conditioned, and most are very crowded, especially in the cities. Their destinations are displayed on a large sign but getting off at the right place can be tricky as many bus stops are little more than a run-down shack.

Jeepneys are a uniquely Filipino mode of transportation. These are converted military jeeps left over from WWII. They are an inexpensive way to get around and the colorful decorations embody Filipino culture. Jeepneys don’t have specific stops – you can invite them to stop anywhere along their designated routes.

Boats and ferries are also popular means of transportation in the Philippine archipelago. Traditional bangkas are the most common type of transport for short distances. Ferries are more convenient, with several companies offering daily trips between the islands. The fastest option is a catamaran – many of these operate between the larger islands. Ex-pats can also fly between the islands. The national airline is Philippine Airlines, which is the oldest commercial airline in Asia.

Cost of living

The cost of living in the Philippines is low compared to other Southeast Asian countries. Manila for example is a cheaper place to live than Singapore and Bangkok.

Food in the Philippines is relatively cheap, especially if you shop at local produce markets. Restaurants are also reasonably priced, and many expats eat out regularly. Imported western food in supermarkets is expensive. Cars are also expensive due to high import duties, but public transport is a very economical way to get around.

Places to visit

Cebu

Cebu, in the Central Visayas region, is considered the site of the Philippines’ best diving and snorkeling. If you’re an underwater enthusiast, Cebu is one of your best options for excursions that get you close to whale sharks, coral reefs and sea turtles.

Some of the most spectacular scenery from the water near Cebu are the sea caves that attract photographers and outdoor enthusiasts looking for unique diving and snorkeling spots. Located about an hour from Cebu City, Sudlon National Park is a breathtaking park to explore and hike.

While Cebu’s main attraction is its water, Cebu City is a big city

Manila

Manila, the capital of the Philippines, on the island of Luzon, is a bustling city of non-stop activity. Hop aboard one of the colorful jeepneys, the primary form of public transportation, to get a taste of local life while visiting Manila’s top attractions.

Usually packed with locals, the bumpy ride through the streets in the iconic and kitschy jeep/bus hybrid vehicles will be one of the highlights of your visit.

Plan stops at the main park in the city, Rizal Park and San Agustin Church, which was built in the 16th century. Buy local fruits and handmade gifts at the public market at the Quiapo Church, where you’re likely to see several thousand people turn up on Fridays for worship.

 Sagada

Sagada

One of the most unique experiences you can have in the Philippines is in the northern tribal region of Sagada. Nestled in the rugged and remote Cordillera Mountains are tribes that embrace the occasional visitor.

This area is a paradise for the advanced outdoor enthusiast. The steep mountains and high altitudes add to the excitement and skill level required for outdoor adventures. Hiking is popular in Sagada, especially to Mount Ampaco, which has the highest peak in the region or through Echo Valley, which has steep and rugged terrain.

One of the best places to visit in this region of the Philippines is the Hanging Coffins hidden deep in the mountains. It is best to contact a local guide to take you to this incredible place as this is not a tourist area, but rather an authentic tribal region that hides a very different experience.

Coron Island

One of the world’s top diving destinations, Coron Island is a tropical paradise, with electric blue and green waters that seem almost unreal. The mountainous island is located at the tip of the island region of Palawan, the westernmost part of the islands of the Philippines.

The island is popular for diving because of the many wrecks here. Many of the preserved shipwrecks lie in depths ranging from shallow water of only three meters to deep water of 42 meters.

Some of the wrecks require more than one dive to explore due to their size, but you can easily spend a week diving this area. For non-wreck diving, check out Barracuda Lake, a former volcano with many unusual rock formations and fish.