Family and Education - Living in the Philippines

Settling with your family in the Philippines will need some adjustments. This is explored further in the following chapter. Compared to European or other Asian cities, Manila is heavily congested, choking with traffic and pollution. Health and medical services are readily available, but only a select few provide world-class standards. Over-servicing - especially of foreigners - is commonplace. While the style of living is relaxed, adjusting to the pollution level can be a problem. Eye irritation and bronchial infections are common.

Many expatriates live in the secure subdivisions of Makati City, Alabang, Quezon City, San Juan and Pasig City (Metro Manila). The choice really depends on location of the office, as traveling any distance can be a problem during workdays.

Another option preferred by many is to live in one or other of the condominiums, located in Makati, Mandaluyong and adjacent areas. Many of these have swimming pools, gymnasia and other recreational facilities. Serviced residences offer a third alternative and provide an ideal choice initially for those with families who want time to look around and can wait for the ideal house or apartment to come onto the market.

There is only one major park in Metro Manila (Rizal Park), but this is not a safe haven from air pollution. The level of lead content in the city's atmosphere is much higher than that considered healthy by the World Health Organization. There is a second public park at the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City as well as a number of private theme parks.

This lack of public recreational facilities, however, is compensated in some part by the fact that if you are here with a family you will probably have the option of a house with a garden and a swimming pool and that the problems of managing household chores can be left to industrious house cleaners for less than US$100 a month.

Also worthy of note is the fact that the Philippines ranks as the top destination for retirees among all countries in the world, mainly because of the presence of household help and caregivers.

Childcare is likewise efficient and affordable. Most Filipino nannies speak English and children are given privileged places in most houses. The danger for a foreign family is that their children will be over-indulged. This needs to be handled with care and with tact.

For Filipinos, recreation and sports in the city are mostly limited to indoor locations, usually inside the larger shopping complexes. Foreigners will have a wider range of options. There are a number of sports and recreational clubs - most of which cater for adults and children alike and most of the suburban areas of Makati offer small parks with recreation facilities where children at least have the chance to congregate and play. Such places are also important social venues for the household assistants. This can be a mixed blessing. Again tread carefully unless you want the whole neighborhood to know your family business.

At weekends the surrounding countryside offers a wider choice of recreational options as well as cleaner air and natural beauty. There are a number of nature parks and wildlife centers worth a visit. The beach resorts along the country's extensive coastlines are among the finest in the world.

Manila is well endowed with good quality educational facilities although demand for places can be high at certain levels. The British, Japanese and International schools have all moved during 2001 into new multimillion-dollar campuses in the Fort Bonifacio area. Details of these and other accredited schools are given in the directory.

Health and Women's Issues

A certificate of vaccination against yellow fever is required for visitors coming from infected areas. Travelers with infectious diseases are subject to quarantine. Children under one year of age are subject to isolation when necessary.

Visitors are advised to bring medicines that will last throughout their stay. The country has a good number of drugstores, but the labeling and brand names of particular drugs might be different from those known abroad. Medication can also be expensive in the Philippines.

Water supply in Metro Manila and other major cities is considered potable. To ensure its safety, however, it is advised that the water be boiled before drinking. Most people use bottled water, which can be supplied in bulk (5 gallon flasks) or purchased as required. Department and convenience stores stock bottled purified, spring or mineral water in sizes ranging from 200ml to 2 liters.

A number of diseases that have long been eradicated in Europe and the U.S. still exist in the Philippines. Among them are malaria, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis. The Philippines leads the world in the number of TB infections. Foreigners are advised to take care as they are often more susceptible to such diseases than the local population. Stomach disorders can often be brought on by trips to the salad buffet.

Adequate medical care is available in major cities but is more limited in rural and more remote areas. Here, doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services and in many instances this is required prior to treatment. Most hotels have either their own doctor or a doctor on call, in case of necessity. This also applies to dental services.

The country's three leading hospitals are the Makati Medical Center in Makati City, the Saint Luke's Medical Center in Quezon City and the UST Hospital in Manila. The Philippine General Hospital is the country's largest public hospital. Compared to western norms, medical costs here are much lower.

Despite an equivocation on the issue of family planning and contraception, the Philippine government is now placing considerable importance on improving the availability and delivery of health care services to women. Local and national projects such as maternal care, civil works, community participation and development, etc. have been established to improve women's health and to support the government's long-term goal of reducing female morbidity and maternal mortality.

Despite the endemic poverty of much of the country, Filipinos generally practice and expect good hygiene procedures - including oral hygiene. Everyone is expected to take a bath at least once a day.

Unlike the situation in some other nearby countries, the use of underarm deodorants and breath fresheners are widely promoted and encouraged among students and office workers. Hence they are readily available at reasonable prices. Indeed Filipinos often take offense at any body odor and business relationships have suffered over this point.

Women in the Philippines generally use sanitary napkins rather than tampons, which are sometimes hard to purchase locally.

In Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, the most common blood type is 'B'.

Personal Security

Unfortunately in recent times the Philippines has gained unwanted international headlines and other media attention with reports of kidnapping of foreign tourists and bombings in Metro Manila and other urban centers. As a consequence many outside the country have become unduly alarmed by the situation.

These issues have been of great concern even among Filipinos, but the situation should not be over dramatized. For the most part the issue of personal safety in the Philippines is no more and no less an issue than in many other locations throughout the world.

This is not to say that a danger is infinitesimal but with sensible precautions and planning, the risk can be considered acceptable. As in most things common sense prevails.

Metro Manila, as a large urban center, has a high crime rate. Among the most-often reported crimes are petty offenses but there are also many cases of robbery, car napping, homicide, murder, kidnapping, and rape. Heinous crimes are punishable by death, and among those waiting their execution are more than 100 foreigners from various countries, mostly because of drug trafficking.

Most foreigners will live either in a secure (restricted access) residential compound or in a high-rise apartment block with similar security of access.

Visitors frequenting lower quality nightclubs are particularly at risk. It is advised that they keep a low profile and behave properly. One should also avoid carrying large amounts of jewelry, do not carry large amounts of money and be careful of who you befriend in bars and restaurants. Money belts are not a good idea.

Of greater concern than the threat of major physical harm is the problem of pilferage. It is wise to remember that domestic staff (unless a family member) will usually be recruited from a group with much lower income opportunities and the chance to work in a foreign household may engender expectations on the part not only of the employee but also of the employee's family. This can sometimes lead to delicate situations, as the employee will inevitably come under pressure from relatives to provide gifts or financial assistance for an extended family.

The best advice in such circumstances is to set the ground rules at the outset and not to deviate from them. Above all avoid the possibility of temptation by keeping money and valuables locked away and out of sight.

The concept of testing employee loyalty through entrapment is not wise. For many employees the temptation could be hard to resist. The best policy is not to put the temptation there in the first place.

When considering the total security environment , it is also important to consider the problems that may be cause by climatic factors. The Philippines, as a tropical country, is exposed to nearly 20 typhoons every year. There are also threats of earthquakes and flash floods. This aspect is considered in detail in the following section.


Emergency services are not as well developed in the Philippines as in many western countries and visitors and foreign residents alike are well advised to make contingency plans for emergency situations well ahead of the need.

Visitors are advised to keep the telephone numbers and contact information of their country's embassy or consulate in the Philippines and where possible to register with the embassy or consulate.

Making friends among Filipinos and having someone who can assist in an emergency with "local knowledge" is often the best way of handling emergencies in the Philippines, as friends are always willing to extend assistance.

The hotels have a listing of telephone numbers, which the visitors can contact for dealing with particular problems, as do the security offices of major buildings and residential compounds. At the very minimum such numbers should be always readily at hand.

For further information see the chapter of this book regarding dealing with emergencies.

Understanding Philippines Laws

The Philippines Legal Code is a patchwork of Spanish, American and other codes with some Islamic Law thrown in for good measure. While the Philippines, like many Asian countries exercises a measure of tolerance and courtesy towards foreigners especially those who inadvertently transgress the law, it should always be remembered that living in the Philippines means observing Philippine laws and not being above them.

A number of foreigners are languishing in local gaols for transgressions of the Immigration or other laws. It should be remembered too that some foreigners land in gaol from business transactions that go badly wrong and local partners press charges and convictions out of spite or to exert business pressure. This is not unheard of in the Philippines so proceed with caution.

Visitors violating local laws, may be expelled, arrested, imprisoned or even executed. Penalties are most strict for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs, for rape or child molestation. This should be taken very seriously. Foreigners should be aware that cases of entrapment by families of under-aged girls are not isolated occurrences. Often in such cases the foreigner is given the choice of supporting the family indefinitely or being reported to the authorities and sentenced to a long prison term.

The Philippine Government has very strict laws regarding the possession of firearms by foreigners and a number of foreigners have been sentenced to life imprisonment for bringing firearms into the country.

Any foreigner who wishes to marry in the Philippines is required by the Philippine Government to obtain from his/her embassy a "Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage" also known as a "Certificate of No Impediment" before filing an application for a marriage license. For those formerly married, an original of the divorce papers or decree nisi is also required.

Bear in mind that if married under Filipino law divorce is next to impossible. If a Filipina and a foreigner marry in a foreign country and a divorce occurs there, such divorce is not recognized in the Philippines and the foreigner will not be able to remarry another Filipina.

Legal problems when they do arise are first settled in the local courts where a judge adjudicates. There is no trail by jury system in the Philippines.

There is a court of appeal that decides on problems that have been raised from the local court. The Philippine Supreme Court has the final decision.

Once in a legal dispute, foreigners are advised to seek immediate legal assistance from a reputable law office or agency. A consultation with the consular staff of the embassy concerned is also recommended.

If involved in a serious car accident involving death or injury the foreigner will usually be held for investigation and sometimes imprisoned. Even if proven innocent of any crime, your insurance company will still be required to compensate the "victims" family and you may be required to pay additional amounts in order for the investigation to be put aside. Foreigners have found themselves incarcerated until payment is made for a prosecutor to dismiss the case. It is best to expedite a settlement as quickly as possible as long as the amount is affordable.

The Foreign Community

The Philippines has a thriving community of expatriates. Long-term visitors will enjoy their stay in the Philippines more readily if they take the opportunity to mix with the community of fellow expatriates or those with the same interests and objectives.

Getting into such a network is a comparatively easy task. For business people one or more of the foreign chambers is probably the best place to start. The Manila Club is also an ideal place for networking among business people. Contact details can be found in the Directory Section of this book.

Many national groups also have spousal support groups and increasingly such groups include and cater to male spouses accompanying their wife on her assignment. There is also an active playgroup which meets weekly in private homes and which provides an opportunity for young children of different nationalities to play together under parental supervision.

Many of the embassies and consulates provide information for visitors including business and trade information as well as broader information on chambers, business and community support groups. Many also provide country briefings, business and investment briefings. There are two weekly newspapers in Manila that cater to the foreign community. These are the "Foreign Post" as well as " What's On & Expat." Both newspapers publish articles of specific interest to the foreign community.

In the Makati area especially there are a number of churches that cater to the needs of the foreign community and which also maintain volunteer outreach services, which enable those within a position to do so to make a contribution back into the local community. The Union Church of Manila and the Episcopal (Anglican) Cathedral of the Holy Trinity are two such churches.

Among the establishments, which hold group and general membership meetings of expatriates are the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), World Trade Center, Philippine Trade Training Center, and the function halls of five-star hotels.

The Cultural Center of the Philippines publishes a regular e-mail letter of forthcoming functions at the Cultural Center. Details of how to subscribe can be found in the appendix to this book.