OK, loyal readers, off we go on our next three topics relevant to Ten Things to Know Before Coming to the Philippines. – Transportation, Communication, and Internet.
Cebu Pacific and Philippine Air Lines are the two big interisland carriers here. Their offices are scattered about and you can also utilize local travel agencies to book flights. Keep an eye out for “promos” (sales) as they can sometimes be SERIOUS bargains (flight from Negros to Boracay for $30, etc.).
The Cebu Pacific attendants actually do a groovy little dance during their safety presentation. You can see a video here on Youtube.
There are a number of companies that run ferries all throughout the Philippines. Taking a ferry is actually a pretty cool adventure as it gets you out on the water to see these beautiful islands from a perspective that you simply cannot see from land. Many of the ferries are actually left over landing craft from the second world war. Some of them are RORO (roll on, roll off) on which you can transport your vehicle as well as yourself. Your best bet for scheduling a ferry trip is not to look online as the companies generally don’t keep their pages updated – it is best to actually go to the port and check the schedules there.
Converted Military Transport Ferry
Ground transportation consists of tricycles (trikes), pedicabs (trikes propelled by human instead of loud, smoking two-stroke engines), giant yellow homicidal Ceres buses, habal-habal motorbikes, and the ubiquitous jeepney. The only one of these I have not ridden is the jeepney. These modified Jeeps are sized for Filipinos, and I really have no desire to go on a long ride scrunched over in the fetal position while inhaling noxious diesel fumes. Nor do I think that the jeepney operators are too keen on picking up Westerners, as we basically take up two seats. 😉
The costs of all these transportation modes are very low as they are intended as low-cost conveyance for the Filipino population. Expats simply benefit from the pricing structure.
Purchasing a motorcycle or scooter is probably a great idea if you are going to be here long term. You can find all the usual dealers like Honda, Kawasaki, and Yamaha and also a large number of lower cost dealers like Rusi, Motorstar, and Racal (“China-bikes”). Motorcycles or scooters are a great way to explore the islands and are very fuel-efficient. Just make sure that you also get yourself a good helmet because adapting to the driving styles in the Philippines takes some getting used to (to say the very least).
Purchasing a car is a very expensive and torturous ordeal. Used cars are much more expensive than they are in the West; the same applies to new cars. A good number of vehicles here have been imported from Japan. To avoid the import tax, they chop the cars in half, label them as surplus, ship them into the Philippines, weld them back together, and change them from right-hand drive to left hand drive. The quality of these conversions varies – some are professionally done and quite solid and others sometimes have problems with the tires falling off . Also imported from Japan is the ubiquitous multicab. You will find these small 660 cc engine vehicles all over the Philippines. They are cheap to purchase, simple to maintain, and the cost of spare parts is extremely low.
If you like to text, my friend, then you’re gonna LOOOOOVE the Philippines. Voice calls are very rarely used her – instead Filipinos and expats generally rely on low-cost texting plans to fulfill their local communication needs. The two main phone plan providers here are Smart and Globe; both offer competitive plans and also offer many promos such as the unlimited plan I am now using with Smart which gives me unlimited texting to all networks for only six US dollars a month. If your Western phone is unlocked and can use a SIM card, then it will work fine in the Philippines. If you don’t have an unlocked phone because you have been enslaved by a Western phone company contract, don’t sweat it – you can find good, low-cost android smart phones here for about $60. One of the biggest challenges I face when I first got here was simply figuring out how to use the phone plans. Basically what you want to do is look for the best promo that fits your needs. I text a lot and very rarely make phone calls so I went with the MEGA250 promo from smart. It’s cheap, and it works perfectly.
Communicating with the West is also fairly easy. Skype is the heavy hitter providing free video calls to your friends and family as long as they have a Skype account. For phone calls to the US, I utilize Google Voice in conjunction with Talkatone app on my iPhone. I set up my Google Voice account before I left the United States, and it has worked perfectly here in the Philippines for communicating with friends and family.
Unfortunately, Google Voice is shutting down on May 15, 2014. At that time, I will most likely transition to buying Skype credits to make my foreign phone calls. (I am secretly hoping that Google will implement some sort of low-cost pay as you go plan that will utilize the infrastructure that they already have.)UPDATE 5/19/14: Google Voice no longer works with Talkatone BUT it does now work with Hangouts for iOS! And it still works flawlessly from the Philippines for making free phone calls to the USA! I just tested it this morning, and although there was a little more voice lag then with Talkatone, it does still work (and will probably get better). Phew!!!
Google Voice – RIP in May 2014 (?)
The Internet in the Philippines is not like the Internet you might have experienced back in the West. In the United States I had a 20 Mb Internet connection for $70 a month. That same speed here (if you can get it) would set me back about $350 a month. In my first apartment in Dumaguete I had a 3 Mb connection. It was a bit slow in streaming media at times but, for all intents and purposes, it worked just fine. Now I have a 1 Mb connection that barely chugs along, and it is nearly impossible for streaming media. That 1 MB connection costs 999 pesos a month, or approximately US$22.
DSL, baby! Zzzzzz……
The problem with the Internet here lies in the underwater transmission feeds that run into the country. The bandwidth is severely limited, and there is no fiber-optic line at this time. But since the Philippines is experiencing a good amount of growth and has a strong economy, I expect that same bandwidth to increase as time goes on. And again, I was surprised at how well the 3 Mb connection marked at my previous location – and my 1 MB connection works fairly well except for evenings and weekends when a lot of people are chewing up the available bandwidth.
Well, that rounds out another three things in the Ten Things to Know Before Coming to the Philippines! Stayed tuned for the final four, which should be coming out in a couple of days.