Today’s article by Jon Santangelo is about living and working remotely in Makati, Philippines, the country’s financial hub located in the Metro Manila region. Makati is known for its skyscrapers and shopping malls of the Makati Central Business District and widely considered a popular area for expats and digital nomads. Jon’s been “accidentally” in Asia since 2009 and co-runs a wedding travel startup in Manila & Shenzhen. This post is part of our series on Popular Nomad Destinations around the world, which is not intended to sell you on a destination or steer you in any direction, but rather present one nomad’s viewpoint from two different perspectives. Here goes 7 Pros & 6 Cons To Living and Working Remotely in Makati Manila Philippines.
The Pros and Cons of Being a Digital Nomad in Makati
Makati is a mix of old-school and new world and is known as the central business district of Manila. I tried to stay objective in writing this, but couldn’t help but rant on a few things.
Being a remote entrepreneur in Makati (i.e. not being company sponsored while bootstrapping your business), takes a combination of extreme patience and street smarts. Just be ready to sacrifice the freedom of quick and easy transit. Say goodbye to that, and the everyday things you might take for granted. But there is a good side.
We lucked out when I first relocated to Makati by finding an apartment that could be rented month-to-month, and not the standard few months down plus a year’s worth of post-dated checks from a Philippine bank account – that I would (and could) not do. Makati is not cheap. BGC is even more expensive to live. Even if money’s not an issue, Manila’s infrastructure inevitably is.
Having wrapped up fifteen months in Makati, here are the straightforward pros and cons of what it’s like.
Pro: The weather. It never really got too hot. Only sporadically. April to May gets scorching but then tapers down. I was a bit surprised how nice the weather stayed. It definitely gets scorching hot going south. For example, Boracay in June was smoldering. But really, the weather is nothing to complain about, and easy to appreciate in the winter months when you see your friends and family back home wearing heavy down jackets and being snowed in.
Con: Rainy season. Between the months of July and September, the rain was brutal. This didn’t deter us much, since we walked everywhere and always brought an umbrella. Although it will affect your transit: extreme traffic and extreme rain don’t mix. And many streets get flooded. We’ve gotten stuck in cafes because the rain throbbed down so hard: Typhoon-like rain. But unless you’ve got obligations or appointments, the rain won’t necessarily kill your day.
Check out: Stark Differences Are Everywhere in Manila
Pro: Talent. Outsourcing is one of the country’s main economic drivers. BPO business processing outsourcing, call centers, and tech support is abundant here in PH. If you’re a tech startup looking to hire or work with other developers or designers, just find MeetUp or Facebook groups. Lookup StartupPH or ProductPH on Facebook. Great place to start asking questions or connecting.
Con: Networking events. You go with the intention of linking up with others like you. Networking here takes more effort than it would in any other major city. My pals and I went to a couple networking events and almost always felt underwhelmed. Mostly the attendees were trying to sell a shipping service or an apartment. Everyone here seems to be a real estate “broker”. We attended a few great speaker events, but a majority were self-promotion vehicles for the speakers, who *I hate to admit it* wasted time selling themselves and not presenting anything practical or noteworthy.
Acceler8 is a good place for events. Fintech night was actually one of the best we saw.
PS: Speaker events ALWAYS start in this order: 1) Thanks for coming to… 2) I’m the owner/special guest host of this co-working space (aka please make me feel special) 3) We’re going to be doing more events like this (aka we’ll do another event maybe half a year from now). These events got so bad I just boycotted myself from ever going back to any.
Pro: Outdoor activities. Some of my life’s greatest hikes ever were not far from Manila. And I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of the USA. So if you’re into weekend outdoor adventures, you’ll love living here for these reasons. I’ve rode horseback up a volcano, got my hiking shoes sucked off by mud, and seen the most breathtaking views while living here. Be advised a hiking trip might actually start with a 2am ride and arrive around 5am. I once stayed awake for almost 48 hours because I didn’t sleep before a hike. It was a phenomenally rewarding mental and physical challenge.
Check out: Mayasawa Circuit – A hike hosted by the Pinoy Mountaineers Club
Con: Traffic. I’ll keep this short, because really, this is Makati’s (and Manila’s) biggest handicap from being great. If transportation was improved just a little, Manila could be on par with its Asian international city rivals (Bangkok). But it’s God awful. 1km per hour might drive you nuts. Oh, and not every road has a sidewalk. Location dictates how easy it is in doing things with others. If they live too far, forget seeing them during the week. Traffic ruins everything.
Pro: Cheap transportation. Most rides didn’t cost us more and 4-6 dollars (100-200 PHP). And sometimes only $2. Uber and Grab basically saved Manila from destroying itself. Growing economy means growing number of cars, and while there are more drivers on the road than a few years ago, getting a ride is usually quick and easy thanks to these apps. You don’t want, or need, a car here. One time we rented an 8-person van from Makati to BGC for only 4 USD.
Check out: Salcedo Saturday Market in Makati Philippines
Con: International community. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by my past city of Beijing. An active, lively, expatriate community is nonexistent. Yes, there are plenty of foreigners here but in these three categories: those on a comfortable, high-end expat package from their work; those retired or underemployed but married or dating a local; or those just passing through on an extended layover. Entrepreneurs and international employees of startups or up and coming companies are a rarity. I was lucky to connect with some.
Check out: Washington Park in Makati – Low Traffic on Sundays
Pro: New friends. When you do happen to link up with fellow entrepreneurs, digital nomads, or those with ambition to succeed professionally, you’ll appreciate them even more than before. Like an endangered species, the traffic and other cons on this list either squeeze out or take their toll, so those you find are aware of how hard it is to find like-minded people. The few brave, amazing pals I did befriend, expats and locals alike, made my stay much more pleasant.
Check out: Weekend Trip to Taal Lake in Tagaytay
Con: Rent. Most places require a few months’ deposit, plus postdated checks from your Philippine bank. And rent in Makati isn’t cheap at all. As a digital nomad, this was opposite of ideal. We were lucky to find a place that does month to month, which is why we stayed so long, but in the beginning, taking out a few thousand dollars for rent for a year when you don’t know how long you really want to stay well, sucks. Airbnb is an alternative to leasing, but is costly, unless you got the negotiation savviness of Paul Drecksler.
Pro: Cafes to work in. One of, if not my favorite, parts about living in Makati was the cafes we’d go to for work. Staff never complained how long we stayed, and usually served good wholesome coffee. We discovered how much more productive we were once we changed up and started trying different coffee shops to work out of. Be sure to read the end of this list for my favorite coffee shops in Makati. But that Internet…
Con: Internet. If the traffic or high rent doesn’t get you, the (lack of stable) Internet will. Sometimes an entire block goes down and the telecom behemoths still can’t do anything. Sometimes we had to leave our apartment just because of sub-par WiFi. But Internet in cafes isn’t always reliable either. Working outside of Manila is not advised. Boracay would be the world’s utopia for digital nomads if it’s WiFi could go above 1MBps.
Check out: Downtown Makati Philippines from a Skyscraper View
Pro: Comfort. To end on a high note: there’s something about this small town in a big city that oddly feels like home. Overall we enjoyed our time here despite the harshness in my cons’ commentary. Plus, we could get to the airport in 20 minutes, so flying out to Philippines’ famed tropical islands was always easy. Seeing a movie doesn’t cost much, and generally, I looked forward to walking around town in Makati on the weekends. And of course, the people were ever-so easy to get along and talk with.
Check out: Intramuros Cathedral in Manila Philippines
So what’s the consensus on Makati Philippines?
For digital nomads with intentions of staying for the short term, whether that be a few years or few months, and have a vision to grow a company, have capital, and a plan to hire and train locals, Makati is perfect. If you’re solo, and just supporting yourself, stay for a short while but maybe look elsewhere in Southeast Asian DN hubs like Bali and Chiang Mai for the longer term.
Keep Salcedo and Legaspi weekend markets on your to-do list too. Never mind what you hear in the news: Makati is safe.
Preferred Remote Work Spots in Makati
$2 or less, 100 PHP
$$ 4 or less, 200PHP
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