Manila vs Cebu vs Davao

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Manila, Cebu and Davao are the main cities in the Philippines and they seem to be the hotspots for expats. I plan on going to one of the three to live for a while and experience what it is like. There is a lot of debate over which city is "best".

Now I don't believe in a "best" or "worst" but I do believe that each city has there ups and downs (and inbetweens).

From what I've read it seems:

  • Manila is busy, polluted and has the best ports and other amenities
  • Davao is the total opposite... Laid back, clean, low crime etc but rather dull and lacking in services
  • Cebu is somewhat inbetween, and Cebu is highly catered for the tourist. It got voted 2nd most female friendly place in asia (dunno if thats good or bad)

That was is very generalized though and seems rather obvious... But what about the other things that are not so obvious like:

  • Which city is the cheapest?
  • Which city is the best for finding spouse and making friends?
  • Which city has the most reliable services (like water, electricity etc)
  • Which city is has the best attitude on average?
  • Which city has the best food on average
  • Which city has the least amount of negative western influences (eg. feminism, farang prices etc)

I wouldn't mind a discussion on this, anyone mind comparing these cities?

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I would be careful about Davao, as fightings between various groups against government are going on all the time, and not far out of Davao. For example in Compostelo Valley, still a part of Davao, maybe 150 km away or so from the inner city.

It's a wide area, not that dense populated, buildings generally rather low, already far down in the South of Mindanao.

Quick flight connections from/to Cebu all the time, no problem with that.

Before exploring Davao, I recommend you go to CEBU first, and continue from there. Also many cheap ships to Mindanao from Cebu.

ORMOC (Leyte Island)

In Cebu, you can use the speedboat to Leyte, Ormoc City. This is a nice place, nothing to worry there. Accomodations/some hotels available.

Also connections to BOHOL island all the time, if you look for a more remote, silent place.


Manila, I have not been there since a long time, as flights are direct between Tokyo and Cebu 5 times a week.

There are some threads here in the Philippine section, with pictures -, I think, I know that city quite well because of my fostergirl there.

Cebu, I think, it is OK, but question like, 'the cheapest'? are difficult to answer. Generally, real estate is NOT cheap in Philippines, too much land is owned by too few people, Philippines failed totally to carry out a reasonable land-reform. Also construction material is not cheap, typical for a nation on islands, where all and everything has to be transported using ships.

To meet people for all and everything, this cannot be a problem in Cebu, I think, there are now around 1.5 million people or so. BASIC English widely spoken.

Food shortages did not exist anymore, when I was there in April this year.

Food is often Western style, if you come from US or EU you can pay for that bill easily. There are clean food-courts in the shopping malls and department stores, like SM, Robinson, Ayala etc.

Water supply out of public supply was always OK in Cebu due to much rain.

Cebu is deeply into Catholic Christianity, feminism a la US-style is not appreciated. Still no legal divorce in Philippines, registration of children in or out of wedlock, father's rights truly respected

(otherwise I would not take care of my fostergirl in Mandaue near Cebu City)

I do not know about any 'farang prices' in Cebu. Not like in Thailand. Taxis have meters within Cebu City, and if not ON when getting in the car, get quickly out again.

Fixed pricing for a route is not illegal however, when getting out of the city limits, airport should be around php 300,- and Mandaue City, like Canduman district not over php 150,-

Receipts are common in hotels/pensions, also credit cards accepted, and Citibank has 2 offices in Cebu which I used myself, Ayala and FuenteOsmena, internationa ATM working within a few seconds.

Restaurant-menus have only one price, and often all in English. Same for entrance fees etc, shopping etc.

I think, only market, street vendors etc. are for negotiation sometimes, like used items.

Be aware, that beach hotels in Mactan Island, on the other side of the int'l airport are often under foreign administration and they are truly expensive - and there is nothing around the hotel ... nothing.

About Cebu, please come back with any question.


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i used to live in manila and cebu. i have never been to davao though. My experiences of manila was the traffic is always gridlocked. I lived in Makati for a while, i remember it sometimes took me an 1 1/2 hour's in a taxi to go from one side of makati to the other. For me manila really feels like a concrete jungle. Really the traffic is a big downer.

As for Cebu, i loved cebu. The traffic is much better and you can travel to the beach resorts on mactan island. They have some big shopping malls as well and a few good expat bars. It's much much cheaper than manila if you want to rent a condo or a house. The city is quite small and you can get around easily without to much bother. You can also travel around cebu island, there are many nice places to visit. You can also take the super ferries and go island hopping. Cebu is a strange place in that you always seems to bump into the same people all the time where ever you are going. You can't hideout in cebu!

In my opinion, stay clear of manila.

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I am from the Philippines and I would try to give you some answers to the questions you have.

Initially, what I know from these 3 cities is that prices are always coupled with quality. Interestingly, these three cities you've mentioned are from the three different main Islands. These three big cities are famous for its unique local cultural background. All these three cities also have international airports.

Manila is the busiest of these three cities but it is also the most accessible financial district like any other capital cities. About the cost of living, almost everything in Manila cost a little bit more than in Cebu or Davao. Note that it has nothing to do whether you are a foreigner or a local. Since earning money in Manila is quite difficult, people living in the city are more cautious and wise with their dealings. People tend to socialize lesser with the strangers and that means people can be rude or cunning at times. The most obvious problem in Manila or in these other three cities is that you are less likely to have a freedom of showing your valuables in the public. Like your Mobile Phones, Jewelries or Cash. It is well understood to us to be extra cautious and alert at all times when you get around Manila. I have stayed in Manila but I was never involve in these unpleasant situations but I have never considered being lax of these warnings.

Cebu is also another big city but not as busy as Manila, still you can find malls and very good accommodation. I cannot say a lot of things since I have stayed in Cebu for only 2 days. I have a lot of friends from Cebu and they are really good people more sociable and friendly. As what I have noticed that these people loves music and most of them can really sing. Cebu has plenty of expat since its safety and security is satisfactory. A lot of big and international businesses are situated here. I would say it is just a second financial district in the Philippines. Cebu is located in the central part of the Philippines, so getting around the country takes shorter time than staying in Davao or Manila except when we talk about the convenience of air travel from one place to another as we have airports around the country.

Davao is the biggest city when we talk about the land area and the weather is not as warm as in Cebu or Manila. It is more like a countryside setting. The area is clean and crime rates have gone low since the mayor impose the laws a little bit tighter than in these other two cities. Though Davao is located in the southern part of the Philippines or made known as the hot spot for terrorism it is not bad as it showed by the media. Davao is known for a lot of fruit farm or one of the biggest food baskets in Mindanao. Most of the people here are naive and the least negatively western influenced comparing to Cebu and Manila. I have a really great time exploring the white beaches in Samal Islands since Davao is close to my hometown and I was able to stay here for a month. Presently, a lot of progress has occurred in this city since and that means that it is more convenient place to stay as it progress with almost the same level as with Cebu city.

About finding spouse and friends, you might find it easier and desirable in Davao or Cebu since people here were less likely influenced by negative western influences. I would also suggest that you take it slowly when you look for a spouse as we are thinking that you are looking for a really nice catch. What I mean with these is that in general, Filipinas would like to create a friendship in a relationship and that takes really quite sometime as you get to know the family and relatives. I am talking about the idea of having the traditional Filipina. We may be intimidated to speak English but English is widely use in any part of the Philippines as a formal communication, so when a Filipina is a professional it is more likely that she can speak good English.

About the food, Cebu and Davao have the rich cultural influence of local cuisine and Manila has its collection of foods from every province. I love the variety of food both from Davao and Cebu, so I cannot say which one is better. I just suggest you explore for yourself. As for the international cuisine, you can enjoy the exclusive restaurants like Western, Oriental or Mediterranean style.

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Thanks everyone for the info.

Yeah for me it's a toss up between Manila and Cebu i can't decide. Call me whack but actually I don't mind concrete metropolis feel of the city, Manila prob has that. In saying that though I also think the beaches of cebu looked amazing and they supposedly had more reasonable traffic and costs of living.

I'm leaning toward Cebu but I'm concerned about it being a place more for "tourist" then for people actually wanting to live there. More westernized people, westernized prices, westernized cuisine and westernized women etc... All because of a high amount of tourist? Are my concerns an issue in Cebu?

Also how does Cebu compare to Manila for this same issue? This is the decision maker I guess

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Cebu does have a decent sized expat population, you'll find all the local expats will frequent just a few bars only. It has more of a friendly feel than in Manila. As for tourist's, you won't really notice them unless you go to Mactan Island, the tourist tend to stay inside the resorts. You won't find many tourist in and about the city.

Cebu though is so much cheaper than Manila, you get much more value for your money, especially accomodation. I actually loved living in Cebu and after a few months it really felt like home and i was sad to leave. Manila is such a big city and believe me the traffic is something to be believed. Cebu Is a hub to get to all the other beautiful surrounding islands. Hop on the super ferry or supercat for next to nothing! Good luck!

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i'm filipino and i highly recommend CEBU over any other city in the Philippines because of the relarive cheapness, history, safety, tourist attractions, and most especially: GIRLS! I've found the cutest mestiza girls in Cebu and that alone makes it my favorite cities in the Philippines. They're more conservative and extremely Catholic over there :lol:

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Cebu does have a decent sized expat population, you'll find all the local expats will frequent just a few bars only. It has more of a friendly feel than in Manila....

I agree, if you have the possibility to go straight into Cebu (as I do with Philippine Airlines Tokyo - Cebu nonstop) then do it. If you have to change airplane in Manila and you have a good connection flight to continue, then do it the same day. To avoid Manila is not a bad idea. Compared to other, but much smaller cities in Philippines, Manila is like time-waste.

A considerable part of Manila city is poverty life, has often flood, beggers and criminality, traffic jam, very dirty, and as it is a huge city area, and therefore it is much more expensive than in Cebu or elsewhere.

However Manila is not easy to avoid, there are very few other international airports in Philippines. Except some few flights from Cebu to Tokyo, Hongkong and Kuala Lumpur I think, almost all other international air traffic is going to Manila. If there is no connection flight same day, so what else can you do but to stay in Manila?

Also HENROGUY's follow up comment is about saying the same.

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