You may have read my previous posts A beginners’ guide to living and playing poker in Manila, Philippines and PokerCalendar travel guide to Manila, Philippines, which give a broad idea of poker in Manila, yet if you’re considering grinding cash here, you might have these specific questions.

What are my visa options for grinding cash games in Manila?

Coming from most countries, the visa options are excellent. Usually you can enter Manila for 15-30 days or anywhere in the Philippines for free with no visa, just turn up at the airport with a valid passport. Even better than that, once you have been here and you’ve used up your visa free stay, before the expiry go to the immigration office and you will be able to extend. There are different kinds of extensions, but the first extension is generally for another 1 or 2 months and you need to pay a fee which may cost a few thousand peso, relatively cheap, especially compared to doing a visa run outside of the country. Once that extension has expired, you can go and extend again but at a different extension process and this time you move on to a kind of tourist visa and at some stage you probably need to apply for an alien card (ACR Card) as well, which is also done at the immigration office as part of the same process. You will be offered different extension times you might need to ask them what those options are. Sometimes it’s 1 month, 2 months or 6 months depending on how long you’ve already been in the country. You can keep extending I believefor up to 18 months before you need to leave the country. I’ve heard that you can even extend up to 2 or 3 years without leaving the country. But you will need to get that information from the immigration office. The visa extensions are generally hassle free and they have an urgent speed service, it takes you about 30 minutes to do the paperwork and drop it in and you come back in few hours later and pick up your passport with the new visa. There are also options of using an agent somewhere closer to your room to come and grab your passport and take it to the office for you and do the extensions for a small fee, typically between 500 and 2000 peso on top of the government fees for the actual visa extension.

In my experience travelling around Asia, this is definitely the easiest hassle free visa options you can get in any country. If you are looking for a longer time stay in Manila or the Philippines, I have heard of people who sign up with universities or colleges and become students either in a bachelor’s degree or studying English and after paying tuition fees, they can get a student visa which lasts the full year, often extendable to 2 or 3 years and typically you don’t need to turn up the classes or take exams and the school will understand what you are doing but of course you need to ask around the grind to find the right schools for doing that with. But it is quite common.

Do I need to register with the government?

Aside from getting your visa, there is no kind of registration with the government at all and when you change address or move hotel, I have not practically heard of anyone ever registering the new address with the government. So you are quite free to do whatever you like in the country once you have the visa here.

What is the cost of living for a cash game grinder in Manila?

Rent, Food, Transport, Internet costs in Manila

Of course, your major expense will be your rent and that can be everything from very cheap to very expensive depending on where you live and what your lifestyle expectations are. The main decisions are do you want to live like a local or do you want to live like a western lifestyle and do you want to live near the casino or you are happy to travel in. At the very low end, I think you could get rent for about 10,000 peso a month which is 200USD. At the very high end if you wanted a full western lifestyle in a common expat area, you will be looking at 2000USD – 3000USD a month. When you first land, you probably can get an airbnb for about may be at the low end 25USD a night. For a comfortable small one bedroom condo you will be paying about 40USD per night not too far from your grinding hole. There are places with monthly rentals available and there are places with quarterly, half-yearly and yearly rentals too. These are not that hard to find but then you need to be here on the grind to make contacts with the people, quite often the arrangement is done with an agent who is in the lobby of the building or you ask at the lobby and they will contact you to an agent. 

Personally, I lived in Malate which is about a 30-minute drive from the main casinos but offers much better value in terms of rent. Perhaps, you will get a room that’s twice the size for the same price. For example, I paid about 40,000 peso a month for a very large highly secure and comfortable condominium at Robinsons Mall. The same kind of condominium near the casino would probably cost over 100,000 peso. So, that’s rent. If you are looking to save the best ways to share is to rent a 2 or 3 bedroom and share with 2,3 or 4 other grinders and then the cost of rent is much, much cheaper.

The cost of food, supermarket shopping is very cheap, fast food is very cheap and local food in eateries is also very cheap by Western standards. As an indication, a very local meal will cost you about 150 peso, a fast food meal will cost you about 200-300 peso. A restaurant meal, western style meal or Japanese or Korean will cost you between 250 and 600 peso and a high end restaurant will set you back between 1000-2000 peso for a meal for one person. Beer is very cheap costing you usually around 1USD or 40-50 peso a bottle, imported beers might cost double that but still relatively cheap. Expect to pay up to 200 peso in the casino however.

Cost of transport: the most common way to get around is by taxi and a taxi fare costs between 100–200 peso for most trips. Grab will take you to the same locations at a cost of 150-400 peso depending on demand. You could purchase a motorbike although I don’t recommend it because the traffic jams and traffic conditions are quite dangerous, but that will be your cheapest option to get around Manila. Another option is to travel like the locals do in the Jeepneys (small buses) which typically cost 10-20 peso a trip. Manila is not a walking city, so count on doing long walks for 2 or 3 kilometers to get from one place to another. The pavements are poor and there is a lot of smoke pollution.

Cost of the internet, if you get just a mobile internet which may or may not suit your needs you are looking prepaid at a may be 600 or 700 peso a month. If you want a plan at home, you are looking at between 800 and 2000 peso a month depending on the speed.

How easy is it to open a bank account in the Philippines?

It definitely is possible to open a bank account in Manila. Personally, I have opened two accounts with a bank called BPI and another bank called Robinsons Bank. However, it’s not an easy task: just walking in as a tourist in a tourist visa having been in the country 15 or 20 days most branches in Manila are likely to reject you and not give you a bank account. If  you have a longer term visa, like 6 months for a student or business or working, it’s quite easy to open an account. Also, if you’ve been here, or let me give you a list of the things that will give you more success because it’s a hit miss and you’ll have to keep trying.

1)      Stay longer.The longer you’ve been in the Philippines, the more likely it is that you’ll have success opening an account.

2)      Get an ACR card, which is the Alien Certificate Registration card that you get after being here, I think 3 months and it’s available from immigration to the banks that shows more longevity and commitment.

3)      Get a registered address, so when you live somewhere permanently and get a contract with your name on it, the banks like to see that, that helps.

4)      Have a clear reason and story why you need a bank account, just saying to the bank you need it for daily savings is not a good reason for them. The reason being there are millions of people here and with very low incomes and not much savings and it’s an administrative cost for them to have bank accounts for that money in them. So have a good story, like you are starting a business or you need the money to pay your tuition fees or you need to pay the rent and other bills through your bank account, things like this.

5)      Be well dressed and presented when you go into the branch.

6)      Have a contact in the bank, for example if you have a friend or other person specially an influential person who already has an account in that branch, go with them to the branch and be introduced. This helps with trustworthiness.

7)      Keep trying different branches and suddenly you might have success, the policy might not be applied the same way at every bank or branch.

8)      Try branches that are away from commercial centers. The commercial centers are much more likely to be strict in enforcement of rules about who kind of can’t open an account. For example, when you take a holiday to the provinces or to the beach area, try opening an account in one of those branches

9)      Keep trying and don’t give up. You will have success eventually getting a bank account in the Philippines

10)   Try different banks as well. The popular banks are PNB, Robinsons bank, BPI.

Can I get a credit card in the Philippines?

Generally, on a tourist visa and without a bank history and without a stable income going into that bank account, you will not be able to successfully get a credit card in the Philippines. Having said that, if you do open a bank account the card normally comes with visa access which is very useful for paying for things.

What are the short and long term rental options for poker players in Manila?

Short term options are airbnb and hotels and hostels. Medium term options are airbnb again, hotels might give you a discount for longer stays and finding some condominium buildings which are allowing monthly or quarterly rentals. Oftenly, casinos there are such places because they are accustomed to gamble as coming for extended holidays. Certainly near resorts world casino there are many condominiums that offer monthly rentals. Long term, it’s quite easy to get a long term contract in a condominium, some units are available online, you can just walk into condominiums and ask to talk to a sales agent and a meeting will be scheduled and they will show you some apartments.

What is the quality and cost of medical care in Manila?

This really depends where you are comparing to. Medical care is very, very cheap in Manila compared to western countries or Japan. For instance, a consultation with a doctor will cost you anywhere from 300 peso to may be 1000 peso for a top-of-the-line specialist in a good hospital. The medications are relatively affordable and available in many drug stores. Stay away from the generic medicines though. I have usually found that the generic medicines make me feel ill in the stomach — go with the branded ones that you know. There is huge variety of quality across different hospitals from the public system all the way up to the private system and the top hospitals and if you are concerned of quality, go to any of the top hospitals such as Manila Doctors, Makati Medical Center or St. Luke’s and you can look that up for other hospitals on the internet.

There is a strange system for getting appointments with doctors in the Philippines and that’s normally, that doctors will have consultation times which you can find out on the internet or by phoning the hospital and usually everyone just turns up at the beginning of their consultation time and then waits in a queue. For example, if the consultation time is from 10am to 1pm, at 10am there will be 30 people waiting and they will just call you when your number comes. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get a specific appointment for when the doctor is available.

I’ve not had any experience with surgeries in the Philippines, however, I found that the lack of organization in administration and making appointments and finding out procedures in advance is low as my trust of the medical system here, I am not sure that I would undergo surgery in Manila, I am much more likely to fly to Bangkok for any surgeries.

On the plus side, the consultations are so cheap and medical imaging and scanning is so cheap as well and widely available that you can afford to get three or four opinions when you have a serious problem. Also, on the plus side, in my years in living in Manila, I’ve not heard any horror stories of doctors messing things up for foreigners in the better hospitals. Also, there are medical clinics, there is not a clear delineation between a medical clinic and a hospital except that a medical clinic is much smaller and generally has a higher quality of customer service than some other hospitals do.

What are the main places to play and what stakes?

I have covered this in my other posts, but in a nutshell, resorts world casino is great for cash grinding as is Solaire casino. At the time of writing, City of Dreams casino in Manila doesn’t have a cash room but they will probably open one sometime this year (2020). For smaller stakes grinding you could look at some other poker rooms including GG poker, Masters poker and Metro club, the 3 local poker rooms in Manila. The stakes range from 10/20 peso at the local poker clubs and at the casinos, the standard stakes are 25/50 peso and 50/100 peso and usually there is a 100/200 peso game running as well. On the larger tables, the stakes go up to 1000/2000 pesos depending on the players and the night.  

Rake in Manila is typically 10% – 15% (with caps), which includes the jackpot rake. Resorts World and Okada poker rooms both have bad beat jackpots. There is no time rake in poker in the Philippines.

Various positions come up at poker rooms to be house players, where you might be partially or fully staked and may receive a salary. You need to ask around and an introduction from a regular helps.

What is the local poker community like?

This is a hard question to judge. There is a mix of people from local grinders, jackpot hunters and standard, generic gamblers around the table. A lot of tourists come through from China, Korea, sometimes Japan as well and of course western countries. Then there are quite a lot of regulars and grinders from Korea, China, some from Japan, some from Singapore and other Asian countries as well. During tournament times series, such as Asia Poker Tour, the number of cash games go up significantly with people from all over and a great time to compete a grind. In my experience, there isn’t much of a socializing poker community where people meet outside of the poker room, probably because of the diverse backgrounds of all the people and language barriers and culture barriers too. Having said that, it is quite easy to meet people and make friends around the poker table in Manila. 

What is the expat poker community like in general?

There are expats from many different countries, I wouldn’t say there is a large community of them playing poker. The poker community is somewhat transient in Manila, people stay for a year or two, sometimes longer and then move on but you will be able to meet people from of course the West America, America, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand. There are people here and there but then you will meet many  Koreans, Chinese, Malaysians, Hongkongers, and Japanese as well. But most of the people at the cash games are local Filipinos. The good thing about the local players is that nearly all can speak English, some perfectly and they are appreciative of coming foreigners around, to engage with, to have a laugh with and talk to as well.

Can I access online poker sites? Are any blocked?

At the moment all the major online poker sites are not blocked and are available in the Philippines. It is illegal to gamble online here , except for Pagcor approved sites, and efforts have been made in the past to block some other sites but the sites soon become unblocked again. I have not heard any stories of anyone running into any trouble playing online here and I think you will feel quite comfortable playing online poker in the Philippines. There are a lot of social club poker sites, such as PPPoker and there’s hundreds of clubs around where you can join and play on your phone, you will meet an agent somewhere locally at the poker tables usually and work with them to get your account set up and get pay outs etc.

Is internet access fast enough for online poker in Manila?

Yes and no. If you have a stable internet connection in your condominium, which most condominiums come with, then yes the speed is fast and stable enough. Your internet might go down from time to time but not as a regular occurrence. Now, if you are living in a cheap building, you might have internet outages that lasts hours or days, so you want to check the internet in the building before you move in. Tethering your mobile phone is a possibility with a mobile connection, however you will have to check which mobile network is the best for the area where you are living and the floor that you are on. It’s typically going to be Smart or Globe. Most players will have home wifi and a backup connection on their phone.

What are the tax implications of poker winnings?

Great news: I am not aware of any tax implications on poker winnings. The casinos don’t take any taxes out and I have not yet met a poker player that did a tax return in the Philippines.

Summary of grinding cash games in Manila

All in all, Manila is one the best locations to grind poker.

Pros of grinding in Manila Cons of grinding in Manila
Many poker rooms to choose from
Lots of recreational and tourist players
Good action during tournament series
Can play online
Cheap cost of living
Great travel in the Philippines and Asia
English spoken widely
Easy visas
Great tournament options too
Manila is a busy, polluted, chaotic city
Rake a little high