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Why Manila Is The Best Place To Be An Expat

Forget Singapore, forget Hong Kong. Manila is the best place to be an expat - and 12 expats will tell you why.

We’ve all heard that Manila has increasingly become a center of economic growth and foreign investments, and with great foreign investments come a great number of friendly neighborhood expats. In 2010, the NSO stated that almost 200,000 foreigners were living in the Philippines. Now I don’t know what the current number is, but based on observing the pedestrians of Makati for the past year, I would boldly say that 2 out of 20 pedestrians are probably not Filipino.

A lot of people might ask - why is Manila the best place to be an expat? There are so many opportunities for expats in the urban jungles of Singapore and Hong Kong. Well, we talked to some expats from the Netherlands, from America and even all the way from Colombia who all settled down in the Philippines once they saw the great opportunities here. After reading what they say below, you might be asking yourself - why not Manila?

Jacqueline Van den Ende, Managing Director ofLamudi Philippines

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Van den Ende, from the Netherlands, arrived in the Philippines in 2013 as the managing director of Rocket Internet’s Lamudi, their online real estate marketplace. Since she’s arrived, she can't imagine being anywhere else. She often travels around the Philippines and goes surfing for weekend escapes, but loves living in the cosmopolitan city of Manila.

“Manila is a great destination for expatriate employees,” she said. “Cost of living here is not very expensive unlike Hong Kong and Singapore, though the city provides a quality of life that's comparable to Bangkok or Jakarta.”
Van den Ende believes that one of the best attributes of Manila is its openness to different cultures as well. “It will be easy for expats from all types of backgrounds to settle in Metro Manila. Filipinos are world-renowned for their hospitality and their friendliness is definitely unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”*

Mauro Cocchieri, Managing Director offoodpanda Philippines

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Cocchieri comes from Italy, a country known for its great cuisine and accommodating people.He worked at Lazada before becoming the managing director of foodpanda, an online food delivery platform.

Despite his country’s solid culinary reputation, he claims that the Philippines has amazing food and amazing company which goes hand in hand. “The people are very accommodating and they go out of their way to help you. The food, hands down, is one of the best I’ve had.”

Cocchieri, however, cannot help but crave for some homegrown Italian food from time to time. When asked if he often orders through foodpanda he said, “Of course! With my busy schedule, it always pays to have an alternative.”

David Margendorff, Co-Founder & Chairman,PawnHero Philippines

Our third European on the list, Margendorff hails from Germany.

He praises Filipinos for their fun culture and hospitality, but emphasizes that Filipinos are some of the most ambitious and talented professionals he’s ever met. Margendorff is starting PawnHero this year, and he’s chosen Manila as the first city to launch it in. He is currently working with a local team.

PawnHero will be the first online pawnshop in Southeast Asia. Margendorff promises to give Filipinos a cheaper alternative to existing pawnshops which charge extremely high interest rates. "We want to solve the problem of expensive credit for consumers who might not be able to afford it," he says.

*Margendorff has lived in 7 countries for the past 6 years, but he eventually chose to settle in the Philippines. He plans to stay here long-term, mainly because he can see how much impact he can create through PawnHero.

Jimmy Cassells, CEO ofSpiralytics

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Cassells is from the United States. He’s been in the Philippines since 2005, and he is one of the minds behind the quick growth and expansion of online fashion marketplace Zalora. 2 years ago, he started his own company called Spiralytics, which provides a range of services in digital marketing to some of the biggest brands in the Philippines.
“I love the Philippines!” Cassells begins, “People are so warm, embracing, endearing, and the culture here is wonderful. At work, the team becomes good friends with each other. Everyone definitely feels like they’re part of the ‘barkada.’”

Cassells also exclaims that the tech community here in Manila is exploding with brilliant startup minds. He continues by saying that not all start-ups are destined for success, but when startups fail, there is still a very low cost of failure when you start in the Philippines. He states, “Failure in the US often means millions of dollars. Here, you can cut that by a factor of 10.”

He also loves the nightlife, the weather, and the beautiful beaches and unlimited dive spots of the Philippines. His favorites include the Tubbataha marine sanctuary, Malapascua for thresher sharks, and Coron for the sunken Japanese WWII warships.*

When asked if there was anything else, he said, “Yes! Four months of Christmas which leads up to one of the most amazing fireworks displays in the world. It’s more fun in the Philippines!”

Ezra Ferraz, Chief Content Officer atZipmatch.com

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Of Filipino heritage, Ferraz taught writing for three years at the University of Southern California and grew up in the US. He moved to the Philippines not very long ago, and writes for Rappler. He currently works at Zipmatch, another online real estate marketplace. He’s interviewed almost every Filipino entrepreneur you can think of, including Erwan Heussaff, and he believes that the Philippines is definitely a great place to pursue business.

Ferraz explains that the entrepreneurial sector in the Philippines is still a small community. "It’s much easier to meet the entrepreneurs changing X industry or Y space because there are relatively few of them, compared to what you might find in another city of similar size."
“You are never really more than one or two degrees away from someone you’d like to meet,” he adds, “And due to the overwhelmingly friendly culture of the Philippines, other entrepreneurs generally welcome you with open arms.”

Farouk Meralli, CEO of mClinica

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Farouk Meralli is a 28-year-old Harvard School of Public Health graduate who worked in strategy and management for major pharmaceutical companies Roche, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer before finally becoming an entrepreneur. He founded mClinica, the largest pharmacy network in the country with a growing network of over 1,400 pharmacies and access to over 20 million customers.

He chose the Philippines as their launch market for mClinica because it provides an interesting test environment for creating truly global products. “The Philippines represents a fascinating intersection between the East and the West. Due to its cultural and political history, one can identify behavioural norms and practices that fit both Eastern and Western paradigm,” he said.

After launching in the Philippines, mClinica is expanding to several emerging markets after leveraging on their experiences in the country. Meralli insists that while he is based in their Singapore headquarters and travelled in many Asian markets, the Philippines is undoubtedly his favorite. To him, it represents the best of both worlds.

Robin Leonard, CEO and Co-Founder ofAllFamous Digital

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Five years ago, Robin Leonard moved from New Zealand to the Philippines to start working at IBM before finally starting his own company, AllFamous Digital.

Leonard told us that coming here alone was no problem and not difficult. "Within weeks I had a big group of Filipino and foreigner friends and colleagues that were very welcoming. Culture at work is very family oriented.”

*Working culture in the Philippines is not what Leonard is used to back home - and he means this positively.

“Getting people onboard requires one on one lobbying, not big meetings. Laughter is commonplace and gangs or “barkadas” form between staff, often resulting in life-long friendships, which is a good thing. As a foreigner you need to accept that you will sing karaoke, and over time you will learn to give it your all when Hotel California plays.”

*According to Leonard, the Philippines also serves as a great place to work because business is done in English. However, he admits that he’s earned a couple of ‘brownie points’ with Filipinos by learning a few keywords in Tagalog.

*“It often creates a giggle or surprise if you drop a Tagalog word here and there,” he adds.

*Leonard leaves us with a couple of wise words for future expats who want to start their business here: “Crack the big city lifestyle of Manila and you’ll find that it is a gold mine of opportunity, especially for the “expatrepreneur.”

Joost Boer, VP of Operations atGourmet Society Philippines

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Joost Boer comes from the Netherlands, a country known for its liberal capital Amsterdam, but also widely renowned for its cold, rainy weather throughout the year. After arriving in the Philippines, where there is year-round sunshine, warm people, and a stunning array of islands according to Boer, it’s no wonder that he immediately considered establishing himself here long-term.

“You’ll find no country in Southeast Asia where the culture is so welcoming towards foreigners and where the level of English is this well-developed. From a more business-centric perspective, this has a profound impact on the ease of communication with your co-workers as well as on conducting business development,” he adds.

He continues by praising the business outlook and directional perspective of the Philippines. “Here, you’ll find yourself on an upward curve, and the overall levels of optimism are high. This is a far-cry from life in Europe, where the outlook on life over the years has more and more slanted towards pessimism.*

Boer concluded by saying that he strongly recommends his fellow foreigners to consider making the move to the Philippines as well.

Daniel Torres, Managing Director ofEasy Taxi Philippines

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Daniel Torres comes from the exciting Latin American city of Bogota in Colombia. He’s been here in the Philippines for a little over a year and he says that Filipinos have been very welcoming since his first day.

“I’ve been amazed and pleasantly surprised by the warmth and helpfulness of Filipinos. Metro Manila has so much to offer in terms of food, cultural diversity and affordable yet high quality living. You’ll always find something new, which makes it a fun city to explore and rediscover.”

Torres also adds that there are a lot of nearby getaways like Puerto Galera, Tagaytay and Sagada, which easily gives people the opportunity to take a break from the fast paced metropolitan.

As the managing director of Rocket Internet's Easy Taxi Philippines, Torres is happy to contribute to make a better Manila, by improving its transportation system, reducing traffic, and make it safer for everyone.

Henry Keppler, Managing Director of Kaymu Philippines

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Henry Keppler is also from Germany, and he just arrived in Manila a week ago. Although he’s been here very briefly, he already feels that Manila has huge potential for fast growth. Kaymu, launching soon, is another Rocket Internet venture.

Keppler felt the trademark Filipino hospitality. “I immediately felt connected to locals. Their genuine openness and interest in what I do and why I’m here pleasantly surprised me. Compared to other Asian countries, they are very open!"

Launching new ventures may be difficult to do in a new country, especially when it is critical to have low resistance from potential customers. Keppler feels that Filipinos are willing to try out new products, and he is definitely excited to learn more about the city and its different characteristics.

Dip Ghuman, CEO ofNear

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Dip Ghuman worked at Google and Lonely Planet before joining the entrepreneur world. He believes the Philippines market is a sleeper - slowly building steam, quietly, ready to pounce on an unsuspecting world economy.*

“With the world so focused on Silicon Valley, China, Japan, Europe, etc - no one is looking at the Philippines. Here’s why they should,” he begins.

*According to Ghuman, one of the first things that caught his attention about the Filipino market was that 60% of the population in the Philippines is younger than 20 and that was coupled with GDP growth of 6%+ YoY. Because of these facts, he views the Philippines as a representation of the next financial boom in Asia.

*“There is a growing Westernized middle class who speaks perfect English, and this makes the country an ideal springboard to launch your business in Asia. Barring corruption, the Philippines has a small window of opportunity to return the country to its pre-World War 2 status as the ‘Pearl of the Orient,’” Ghuman adds.

*Ghuman says that he’s started two businesses within two years, the latter of which is launching in March 2015 in Manila. “I got on that plane a year and a half ago to start my California wine business, but now I’m focusing on a new hyperlocal mobile messaging app, Near."

Ghuman concludes, “Manila is the social media and selfie capital of the world - there is nowhere better for me to be than right here, right now.”

*Bryce Maddock, CEO ofTaskUs

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Bryce Maddock arrived in Manila in 2009 from the United States. He had just started TaskUs and was determined to connect rapidly growing American startups with incredible talent at prices that would enable them to scale. He found what he was looking for in the Philippines.

“When we just started TaskUs, I wouldn't have been able to find the Philippines on a map if you asked me. We went on a search for affordable talent to support our friends' startups. We hired people in 16 different countries, but were consistently impressed by the results and work that Filipinos were delivering. We were so impressed, that we opened our first office here, in Bacoor, Cavite and have not looked back since.”

*Today, Maddock has 1,600 employees and counting. TaskUs is the secret behind the rapidly growing customer support and back office operations for startups like Tinder and HotelTonight.

*“Almost all of today’s most successful startups depend on the talent that exists in the Philippines. Simply put, it’s the people. The people of the Philippines are some of the kindest and most talented people on the planet. Historically, the country exported its people as OFWs. But today a homecoming is happening,” says Maddock. “The next decade is going to be very exciting as talent repatriates and reinvests in the country.”

It’s time for the balikbayan to come back for good.

One of the Philippines' biggest exports is its own people. Everyone was leaving to work abroad because they believed there was no opportunity for them here. All that amazing talent went into making prosperous countries even more prosperous.

Today, we should acknowledge that that is no longer true. The best opportunities for business are here in the Philippines. Foreigners are flocking here to start their businesses in the perfect Asian beta market. They happily leave their first world countries for what the Philippines has to offer.

We, as Filipinos, should all find it in ourselves to see the beauty of our country the way they do; to finally discover the diamonds that have been waiting to be found for decades.