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Located on the eastern rim of the Asiatic Mediterranean in Southeast Asia, the South China Sea bounds the Philippines in the west, the Pacific Ocean in the east, the Sulu and Celebes Seas in the south, and the Bashi Channel in the north. The country’s capital and main port of entry is Manila. Cebu is the second largest international gateway of the Philippines, and it is about 562 kilometers south of Manila.
The Philippines has 7,100 as an archipelago and consists of three major island groups: Luzon in the north, Visayas in the middle, and Mindanao in the south. The country currently has 80 million people in the population who are basically of Indo-Malay racial stock and a mixture of Spanish and Chinese ancestry.
In the Philippines, the sense of community is deeply rooted, often stretching beyond immediate family to include extended relatives and even non-related community members. The concept of “Bayanihan,” or community unity in achieving a common goal, epitomizes this sense of communal living. Family gatherings are not just annual events but can happen frequently, involving large extended families on a variety of occasions, from birthdays to religious holidays. This focus on family and community is often an inviting aspect for expats, creating a warm and welcoming environment.
With a predominantly Catholic population, the Philippines hosts numerous religious festivities, the most famous of which is perhaps the “Sinulog Festival” in Cebu or the “Ati-Atihan” in Aklan. These festivals blend Catholic traditions with indigenous culture in a colorful explosion of faith and pageantry. Churches are often packed on Sundays, and religious holidays like Christmas and Holy Week are observed with fervor. The church often plays a significant role in community activities and social issues, adding another layer to the country's complex cultural identity.
Filipino, based on Tagalog, serves as the national language, but it's important to note that the country is a veritable melting pot of languages. Each region has its own native tongue, such as Cebuano in the Visayas or Ilocano in the North. English is also prevalent, which often eases the transition for English-speaking expats. It's taught in schools as a second language and is commonly used in government, business, and the media. The prevalence of English doesn't mean you shouldn't attempt to learn a few local phrases; doing so is usually appreciated and can go a long way in fostering good relationships with the locals.
The Philippines' cultural heritage is a unique blend of indigenous, Spanish, American, and even Chinese influences. You'll find this in the architecture, with Spanish-style churches and American-period buildings, and also in the cuisine that ranges from local delicacies to Spanish-influenced dishes like Adobo. Folk dances, music, and traditional arts are a mix of these various influences, often presented in local festivals and public performances.
For an expat, understanding these various elements of Filipino society, language, and culture can provide a rich and rewarding experience, helping them to integrate more effectively into local life.
For expats navigating the Philippines, understanding the mass transportation system is crucial.
Jeepneys, which are a colorful and iconic mode of public transport in the Philippines, originated from surplus military jeeps left by the Americans after World War II. They are often decorated with vibrant designs and motifs, providing a unique local travel experience. However, they are not the most comfortable means of transport and can get very crowded. Tricycles are another common form of short-distance transport, especially in smaller towns and for areas not easily accessed by larger vehicles.
In contrast to jeepneys and tricycles, the Philippines has been modernizing its public transport, particularly in the capital city of Manila. The Light Rail Transit (LRT) and the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) are the primary train systems operating in Manila, connecting key parts of the city. However, they can get extremely crowded during peak hours, and delays are not uncommon. It's advisable to keep an alternative in mind, especially if you are on a tight schedule.
Ride-sharing apps like Grab have become increasingly popular in recent years, offering a convenient and generally safer travel option. Taxis are also widely available, but it's crucial to ensure the driver uses the meter to avoid being overcharged. Some expats prefer using ride-sharing services for the added security and convenience of cashless payments and traceable routes.
Traffic congestion is a real challenge, especially in metro cities like Manila and Cebu. It's often said that in Manila, you're not stuck in traffic; you are the traffic. Therefore, planning your commute well in advance is essential. Real-time traffic apps can be helpful, but always allow for extra time, especially during rush hours or in inclement weather.
The Philippine economy is a mixed bag of agriculture, manufacturing, and services. Services
The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector has seen exponential growth over the past decade and has become a significant pillar of the Philippine economy. Cities like Manila, Cebu, and Davao are major BPO hubs, offering services from customer care to technical support and even advanced services like analytics and software development. For expats in IT, customer relations, and management, the BPO industry provides ample employment opportunities. Additionally, the presence of international companies in this sector often requires a multicultural workforce, making it an attractive option for skilled expatriates.
While the services sector has surged, manufacturing remains an essential part of the economy. The electronics industry, in particular, is a key export sector, with semiconductors and electronic data processing making up a significant portion of exports. Automotive manufacturing is also on the rise, boosted by domestic demand and regional export opportunities. For expats with expertise in engineering, production, or supply chain management, the manufacturing sector can offer a wide range of opportunities.
Although it has diminished in prominence compared to other sectors, agriculture still plays a vital role, especially in rural areas. The country is a major producer of crops like rice, sugarcane, and coconut. While not the first choice for most expats looking for employment, those with expertise in agricultural sciences, rural development, or sustainability might find rewarding opportunities here. The Philippine government is also making efforts to modernize this sector, which could create a niche for specialized skills.
In recent years, the technology industry in the Philippines has shown promising growth, with start-ups focusing on fintech, e-commerce, and software development. Tourism is another booming industry, thanks to the country's numerous beaches, historical sites, and natural wonders. Healthcare is increasingly becoming a focus area, especially with the country's growing middle class demanding better medical services. These sectors often seek skilled workers and present exciting career and investment opportunities for expats.
The Philippines is a paradise for nature lovers and adventure seekers, with its sprawling beaches, stunning coral reefs, and mountainous terrains.
The Philippines is often described as a haven for nature enthusiasts and adventure junkies, and rightfully so. The country is renowned for its sprawling beaches and underwater ecosystems, making it a prime destination for scuba diving and snorkeling. Places like Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Palawan and the diving spots around Cebu are globally recognized. Adventure tourism extends to mountainous terrains and trails as well, with places like Mount Apo offering challenging hikes and breathtaking vistas. Water sports like kiteboarding, windsurfing, and paddleboarding are also gaining popularity, adding more options for adrenaline-seeking expats.
For expats who appreciate gastronomy and nightlife, the Philippines won't disappoint. The local cuisine is a delightful mix of native flavors, Spanish influences, and Asian fusion. From street food to high-end restaurants, the options are endless. The nightlife is equally diverse, with a range of bars, clubs, and lounges to fit all preferences. Whether you are into live bands, DJ sets, or quiet places to sip your drink, the country has you covered.
Major cities, particularly Manila, have seen the growth of a vibrant casino culture. These aren't just local establishments but are often part of larger luxury resorts, complete with high-end hotels, fine dining, and entertainment shows. The casinos attract a mix of local and international clientele, offering everything from slot machines to table games like poker and blackjack. The gaming atmosphere adheres to international standards, making it an appealing recreational activity for expats familiar with casino gaming.
Apart from casinos, betting in various forms is prevalent in the Philippines. Basketball, being the most popular sport, sees a lot of betting activity, both formal and informal. Boxing, another favorite, often involves high-stakes wagering, especially during matches featuring Filipino boxing heroes. Additionally, cockfighting, locally known as ‘sabong,' is a traditional form of recreation that also involves betting. While not for everyone, it does offer a glimpse into a less mainstream aspect of Filipino culture.