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My name is Patrick Mabilog. My friends call me Kiko. I’m a digital marketing and organic growth marketing consultant in the Philippines.
I co-founded a boutique digital marketing agency in the Philippines called Block Ten Strategy and a travel website called Embrace the Epic (http://embracetheepic.com/).
I earn about $7,000 a month ($84,000 annually).
We normally like to travel as a family (I’m married with two kids) and focus on off-the-beaten-path destinations in Asian countries. We don’t like to take tour packages and make all our itineraries from scratch so that we can focus on places we really want to go.
We also like to travel a lot locally, and often visit Manila, Philippines. We’re currently based in a smaller city named Bacolod City in the Philippines where the cost of living is super low, and food is out-of-this-world-level good.
- The city vibe — We normally stay in Bonifacio Global City, which is the more uptown area of Manila. The city is lined up with sky-rising buildings that give you a great city vibe. There are also so many great restaurants, shopping areas, and cafes that bring the city to life. Makati and Mandaluyong are two other places we like to go.
- The community — Over the years, we’ve connected with so many great people in Manila through work and our church community. We love meeting as many of them as possible and sharing ideas and life stories.
- The variety — If you want something different, you can always try other things to do in Manila that give a different vibe. There are great museums to visit. We also like going to Pasay City and going to hotels and casinos like Resorts World and Okada. We don’t gamble, but we definitely like strolling around the posh hotels. My wife also loves to check out designer brand stores
- The traffic — Manila is one of the most congested cities in the world. It’s the 8th city in terms of traffic congestion in the world. If you’re going from one city to another, prepare to travel for an hour or two. Or you can try motorcycle-hailing apps like Angkas if you like the YOLO living (take this with a grain of salt. Motorcycle riding in Manila is a little dangerous).
- Pollution — With all the traffic comes the smog. So, I recommend spending most of your time indoors if you’re prone to allergies. Bring a mask too (I use them a lot even post-COVID in Manila).
- The prices — While Manila is relatively cheaper than major cities worldwide, it’s more expensive than all other cities in the Philippines. On average, we spend about $500-$1,000 a week as a family when we visit.
What was your overall impression of this destination? Would you recommend this location to other nomads?
We visit that city the most every year. We spend a total of close to a month there. We love Manila because of the variety and colors in the city. There’s definitely a lot of life in the city.
I definitely wouldn’t live there long-term because we like the quiet life overall, but we go to Manila when we want a faster pace and more variety.
I definitely would recommend this place to nomads who are looking for a city that’s close to beaches and mountains. It’s a few hours away from many great destinations, including Batangas (for awesome beaches), Rizal (for mountains), Tagaytay, Pampanga, Baguio, and La Union, among many others.
It’s also an hour or less plane ride away from top destinations in the Philippines like Boracay, Palawan, Siargao, and Cebu. Manila is also a great place to go because of everything you can do there. Although getting from one place to another will be challenging because of all the traffic, you can do so much if you get around enough.
What was the cost of living? How much did you spend on accommodation, food, transport, and entertainment?
The cost of living in Manila is not too bad when compared to major cities like Hong Kong, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur. But it’s not cheap either.
Normally, we book an Airbnb in BGC, which will cost something like $80 a night.
Meals go between $50 to $100 for five people (our family plus our Nanny, who travels with us when we go to Visa-less areas).
Transportation is tricky because you’re probably going to resort to Grab Car (which is like Uber) for safety reasons. I’ve had so many bad experiences with taxis, and my youngest daughter hates run-down ones.
Entertainment costs vary, but family-friendly attractions normally cost around $10 to $50 per head. You’d probably spend anywhere between $600 to $1,000 a head in Manila, depending on where you want to stay and what you want to do.
What can you share about the culture here? Are there any cultural norms visitors should be aware of?
The Philippines has a very mixed culture. Many of the norms follow Spanish influence because of Spanish rule in the country for three hundred years. A lot of our language is very similar to Spanish too. But in general, the Philippines is pretty Westernized. So, expect the culture to be very close to Western countries. Filipinos are normally very jolly and courteous, so don’t feel like you can’t stop and talk to someone if you need directions or just want to strike up a conversation.
What languages are primarily spoken?
The local language in Manila is Tagalog (or Filipino as known across the country), but Filipinos have a very high affinity for the English language. So, you can talk to most people and they can converse with you quite well.
What was your experience finding, booking, and staying in accommodation?
You won’t have any problems booking accommodations in Manila. You have all kinds of options. If you want more luxurious living, I recommend hotels like Shangrila or Solaire. There are many budget hotels too. We normally like going to Hop Inn Hotels when we want something more budget-friendly. But our go-to is always to look for an AirBnb. Property investors like to turn their condo units into pleasant accommodations that normally have one or two bedrooms. This is the better option for us, especially since we have kids and travel with a nanny.
What working spaces are available to digital nomads? Are there co-working spaces or cafes where it is feasible to work?
There are great co-working spaces in Manila. I’ve worked in Common Ground quite a few times, and it’s awesome. I also had a brainstorming session there with one of my clients and his team, and they have great meeting rooms for small teams for as little as $150 for three hours. But most days, we like working in restaurants and cafes. We like working in Starbucks and Mary Grace (you should definitely go for their Ensaymada).
What was the food like?
You won’t run out of variety when it comes to food and restaurants in Manila.
I highly recommend going to some of the best restaurants in BGC and The Podium in Ortigas. If you want something more adventurous, head over to Quezon City and go for street food in UP Diliman or to Tondo, Manila for old Chinese cuisine.
For groceries, there are many readily available ones around Manila. The most convenient thing to do if you’re taking shorter trips is to go for convenience stores close to Hotels and AirBnb is rentals. There are many Family Marts and 7-Elevens around Manila. But food does cost more in convenience stores. For more bulk grocery shopping, head over to Supermarkets in the mall. SM City malls have big grocery stores that have everything you need. Robinsons Malls and Ayala Malls have grocery stores too, but they’re generally more expensive.
What visas or permits are required to enter the country, how long can you stay, and what other legal issues might be relevant to nomads here?
Visa requirements to visit the Philippines aren’t that hard. You can visit this page to check out your country’s requirements if any.
What’s the connectivity like? Is Wifi access readily available in accommodations and public places? What kind of internet speed did you get? Was mobile internet readily available? What was the cost of a SIM card and the process to get one?
Internet in the Philippines was notoriously bad for so many years, but it’s actually a whole lot better now. I’m a digital nomad in the Philippines, and I rarely struggle with the internet in the country.
Normally, I get between 50 to a few hundred MBPS, especially when we stay in conveniently-located Airbnbs where we get one router completely to us.
You can pick up local SIMs that also have great mobile plans. My go-to network is Globe, but there’s also Smart. If you’re visiting, you can go for a prepaid plan.
What is there to do for fun here?
There are lots of fun things to do in Manila. Some of them include:
- Visit museums
- Shop in malls like Greenbelt and SM City
- Opt for outdoor events in places like Bonifacio High Street and SM MOA Grounds
- Go for cultural tours at Rizal Park or Intramuros in Manila
- Go for a Pub Crawl at BGC (many great hidden bars) or Poblacion
- Eat, eat, eat, and eat
- You can also drive out and go to places like Pampanga, Batangas, Tagaytay, Laguna, and Bulacan.
What is the social scene like? Is it easy to meet and connect with locals or ex-pats?
Socializing in Manila will not be a problem. You can head to coworking spaces if you want to find other digital nomads. Check out their websites and social media accounts (Facebook or Instagram) for networking events.
What’s the weather like?
Manila has three types of weather: hot, hotter, and hot with rain.
If you want to go to the beaches, go around summertime when there’s less rain (normally from March to June). The rainy season normally starts around July and lasts all the way until December.
The Philippines is next to the Pacific Ocean, so many typhoons pass through the country.
I recommend that you visit the local Weather Bureau, PAGASA’s, Facebook page for weather updates.
What else should people know about the destination? Can you share any interesting stories or fun facts?
The Philippines is generally a great place to visit, and Manila is essentially the gateway to the country. If you’re visiting, Google Maps will be your best friend. It’s generally reliable for the better part of the city.
The Philippine currency is the Philippine Peso and it’s a generally weak currency, so you’ll have a lot of buying power in the country if you earn strong currencies like Dollars, Yen, or Euros.