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Manila vs. Singapore – Living and Working

Hi! My husband and I currently live in Singapore. We have been here for 6 years. Apart from the city-state’s lack of “character” we really don’t have anything to complain about.  Anyway, he was recently offered a full expat package in Manila. Though we have been there before on short business trips, we’ve never really stayed in the city long enough to tell if it’s nice enough to live in. I would much appreciate advice from anyone who has lived and worked in the CBD / Makati, which as I understand is the safest part of Manila.

I should mention that the company is offering a housing allowance of $2,000 USD per month. What kind of apartment will we rent for that money in central Makati? I did a quick search online and found one-bed apartments in Greenbelt for $1500 and two-beds for $2,500. Is this about right or am I looking at the wrong places?

Also, we are quite outdoorsy. We love to go on hikes, we also surf, etc. I understand that the Philippines has some of the best beaches in the world, but are there any good ones near Manila that we can drive to on weekends? How about good hiking spots?

Finally, what is your opinion on Manila’s financial outlook? I saw an article on WSJ recently saying that Manila GDP is poised to outrank Singapore by 2020. On paper, it seems like Manila is the best southeast Asian city to be in right now, but does this progress translate to real life? How is the real economic mood there? – Middy095 (Guest)

manila vs singapore
I can’t help but chuckle when you said that Singapore lacked character. How true. I lived there as an expat for 3 years in the early 2000’s and always thought of it as one giant, impersonal retail sprawl that has been depoliticized and frankly, dehumanized. If you’re looking for character, you will love Manila. Keep your mind open and this city will be one of the most interesting, layered cities you will ever encounter. (I should say that I’m Catalan and am culturally similar to Manileños, so I get their quirks.)

I have lived in Manila for over 3 years now and have an apartment in Salcedo in Makati where I pay $1,800 for a two-bed. I have retiree friends who pay much less than that in the outskirts of Makati, near old Manila. But if you really want to be within the business district and near all the good restaurants and global shopping, you should expect to pay $1800 to $2,500. You are right to say that Makati is the safest part of Manila, but other parts aren’t as bad, either. The media has portrayed the city rather unfairly. In reality, it’s quite safe and many parts are affluent.

You should understand that Manila is technically a group of several cities connected by one main highway. It’s a vast and flat city with several jutting clumps of CBDs, at least 5 the last time I tried counting. If you believe PricewaterhouseCoopers, then Manila is one of the fastest growing real-estate markets in Asia second only to China. The economic excitement is obvious and I do believe that there is still plenty of room for growth. That said, a large chunk of the city’s population is still very poor. Whether the new money  pouring in will ever reach these people, we have yet to see.

There are some good moderate-level hiking near Manila, like Mount Pulag which is the highest in Luzon. It’s technically not “near” because you have to travel for almost an entire say to reach the jump off point and then camp overnight to see the summit by daybreak.  But it’s a good weekend getaway.

There are some beaches within 3 hours of Manila in Batangas. They’re nowhere as good as Boracay, but the water is always warm and clean and sometimes that’s all you really need!


You can’t really compare Manila and Singapore. They’re entirely different. If you aren’t ready to step out of your comfort zone, stay in  boring clockwork Singapore. Manila is definitely better if you're looking for character and a change of pace, but it can be overwhelming to the unititiated. The public transport system isn’t very good, people have no concept of punctuality, and the streets aren’t clean. Since you're staying in Makati, life should be easier, but once you venture into old colonial Manila (the tourist belt) get ready to be a bit shocked.

Agdis G.

Manila is organic whereas Singapore is robotic. Where you will feel most as home really depends on the kind of person you are.

Because I work for travel magazines, I've had the chance to stay in both cities for several months at a time.  Manila to me was a big contradiction of rich and poor, global and local, tradition and conspicuous Western mentality.  The city dwellers have a Hispanic-like way about them -- they're a laid back, happy bunch if not a bit show-offish (every other office worker is carrying a designer handbag). There's a lot of new money here and it shows. In Greenbelt where you intend to stay, you'll find a Patek Philippe store, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and all the other brands newly-minted rich Asians seem to be obsessed about.  And then literally less than a kilometer away are urban slums that I'm pretty sure will soon be buldozed away to give way to shiny new high-rise condominiums where the new middle class will live.

Renting an apartment in Greenbelt will cost you about $1,500. Real estate in Manila is still cheaper than real estate in Singapore, but the prices are catching up. Consider yourself lucky if you can secure a long-term lease for a good price.

You mentioned that you and your husband love to surf. There's a very good surf spot called Baler but the drive from Manila is quite long and tedious. If you have a three-say weekend, it might be worth the trip.

The expat community is quite active in Manila, so you shouldn't have a hard time meeting people.  Public transport leaves a lot to be desired. If you're going to be spending most of your time in Makati and you're active, don't worry, you can walk to almost everywhere.

I should also say that Manila English is 100 million times better than Singlish.  And if only for that reason, my vote goes to Manila. 

Sebastian F.
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