Thinking of being a digital nomad in Manila? Well the quick bit of advice I can give you is to avoid it. But I have lived in Manila for quite some time so here are some tips in case you do want to stay in the Philippines capital city…
The reason I say to avoid Manila is because I know there are far better places to base yourself in the world. Staying in the second largest city (Cebu) in the Philippines would be a vast improvement over Manila. I expect most cities would be an improvement. The traffic is horrendous, accommodation and electricity prices are high (in comparison to other South East Asian cities), and the city lacks charm.
The best thing about Manila is the malls. They allow you to escape the heat and traffic for shopping, dining and drinking. Besides the malls there isn’t really much else to rave about. The longer I stayed in Manila, the more I became a recluse. There are lots of great places to visit in the country which are easily accessed by cheap flights, but I still see that as no reason to make Manila your base. As far as I know there is no digital nomad community here.
Accommodation options are good, but you will generally need to commit to a 6 month contract. The city is packed with modern condos with pools. You will pay 20,000 Pesos ($450) and upwards per month for a studio apartment. If you use aircon a lot expect to pay another 10,000 Pesos for utilities.
The best place to stay in Manila is The Fort. Prices are higher but the area is much more pleasant than anywhere else (approx. 25k for a studio). If staying in the central business district of Makati you should look for a place close to Greenbelt which is an excellent mall complex around a garden, with superb mid-range dining options.
Traffic is very bad, so choosing your location wisely is essential. We pretty much avoid going out at all when it is rush hour as we currently reside in Mandaluyong with nothing much close by. Transport is by metred taxi most of the time, which is reasonably priced.
Internet connections are fine. I currently pay 2,000 Pesos per month for a decent broadband line, although it does slow down a bit at night. You can also buy the usb dongles for use when travelling around the Philippines, but don’t expect these to be blazing fast. If you are looking to find online workers the Philippines is great as English is well spoken and most people are online.
Food options are excellent in the malls. You will find every cuisine imaginable. Good filipino restaurants offer tasty food, but I dislike most of the street food here. If you are used to picking up cheap eats at locals food stalls in Thailand or Vietnam you will likely be disappointed with the offerings here. All condos have kitchens so if you don’t know how to cook, you’d better learn.
The weather is mostly cloudy between June and December with the occasional storm. It is sunnier the rest of the year which makes having a pool at your condo well worthwhile.
Visas are renewed every 2 months for 2,810 Pesos (ish). It costs more at first and you will need to get an ID card too. Two immigration offices I know of are in Intramuros and Makati. Wear jeans or trousers or you will be forced to hire some filthy trousers off someone outside the Intramuros branch. After being in the country for 6 months you will also need to get an Exit Clearance Certificate for 500 Pesos.
In summary you are better off heading to Cebu if you want city life or Boracay if you want to be in a paradise location. Check out my Boracay guide for digital nomads if being close to an amazing beach sounds more your thing.
You may be asking why I stayed here so long? Well I started as a single guy and that was fun for a year. Then I met my girlfriend and we moved to Boracay for 2 years which was great. Then we got island fever (too long isolated on the island) and came back to the city. In retrospect we should of thought about other options at this point, so the last 2 years has been a bit of a waste in Manila. We are currently planning our exit strategy which will most likely start in the new year in either Thailand or Vietnam.