Sep
04
2015

Philippines for Expats 101

When you first arrive in the Philippines, it can be a lot to take in.

There is an intensity to Metro Manila that you don’t see in other Southeast Asian capitals. Traffic, construction and an endless stream of commuters gives the city a buzz that never really really stops. The country has seen unprecedented economic activity, with GDP growth consistently above 5% in the last 6 years. The Philippines’ young, well-educated, English-speaking workforce has been a lure for several multinationals—including Google, HSBC, Deutsche Bank & Accenture—to set up operations here.

Establishing yourself in a new country can be daunting. The Philippines is no different, but if you know a few things in advance you can get yourself established here very quickly.

At the start there is a lot of bureaucracy. Sometimes you wonder why you need so many copies of documents for work visas and rental agreements. In addition, you don’t always know what you need to provide since the rules change so often. Look out for an immigration lawyer with experience working for foreign multinationals; they accompany you to government offices and help process your papers quickly. Once you’ve gone through it once, then the renewal process is quite painless.

In terms of accommodation there are plenty of choices. Make sure you engage the services of licensed real estate agent. They are well versed in the legal aspects, and some tenants and building managers will only deal with licensed brokers. Try to find a place that is within walking distance or a short ride from your workplace. Traffic in Manila is the only real downside to living here – it’s worth paying a bit more to live somewhere near your office.

There are two main telecommunications providers in the Philippines: Globe and PLDT. It’s a good idea to get a prepaid line from both, since messaging and calls between the operators can be expensive. As a foreigner getting a postpaid line used to be a difficult process, but that is slowly changing. For instance, Globe has made it easier by requiring only a modest prepayment. They will also accept an existing Globe customer as guarantor.

The Philippines has a great selection of hospital and medical services; if your employer does not provide medical cover it can be expensive, but still cheaper than what you would pay in Europe or North America. Before you come, try to secure an international medical insurance policy that covers both inpatient and outpatient treatment at hospitals like St. Luke’s Medical Center and Makati Med.

When it comes to banking, it’s best to get your employer’s HR department to do this for you. Once you’ve got your work visa sorted out, an account can typically be set up in less than 3 days. The major banks are BPI, BDO, Metrobank, and Security Bank. Citibank, HSBC, and Standard Chartered are also available. If you have an account with HSBC, the process of getting a local account is quite easy. In terms of customer service, Security Bank has made great strides in recent years and is worth considering.

Once you’ve got yourself established in the country, you’re really going to like it here. The Philippines has some of the most beautiful vistas in the world – from the chocolate hills in Bohol to Honda Bay in Palawan. If you’re into outdoor pursuits there a plethora of interest groups you can join on social media sites like Facebook and Meetup. From Manila there are a number of of day trips you can take to go hiking, scrambling, mountain biking or caving. If you’re more comfortable in the urban jungle, the city has it all when it comes to art galleries, music, eating out, and nightlife. Don’t miss the opportunity to try traditional Filipino food; it’s a healthy fusion of styles from Spain and Asia. Caldereta, menudo, adobo, and sinigang are among the delicious and healthy meals you should try.

If you embrace the country you will have an amazing time here, but remember at all times you are a visitor. Filipino culture is friendly and welcoming, so remember to always respect the people and the country. Some foreigners who come here complain endlessly about the things that are wrong. No one wants to hear that, as every country has its own strengths and weaknesses (and the Philippines has many strengths). If you can’t say something positive, then it’s best to keep your thoughts to yourself. Learn to focus on the positive things in life, as Filipinos do, and you’ll have a great time.

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