I’m tossing this subject out there, mainly for an open discussion, and also because I have a ‘friend of a friend’ who is struggling with that question right now. Said friend doesn’t feel I have addressed this question often enough, or clearly enough. That’s a fair enough criticism, but I’m not sure this article is going to make things all that much more clear for those who are totally at sea on this question.
The definitive answer, in my view is, there is no best place to live in the Philippines. Since we are all individual thinking humans and not sheep (thank God), our needs are all different and the things that make us happy are all very personal.
But I can make a few general observations that may help. These are some major questions and differentiators to think through before you get to the point of pinning things down to a particular province or town.
Countryside or City: You really need to give this one some thought. Especially if money is a big consideration in your plans. I’ve listened, ad nauseum, to years of argument on this topic. “It’s expensive to live in Manila”, “It’s cheap to live in province X”, etc., etc.
There’s even an official publication of the Philippines government that says something like the cost of living in major provincial cites like Davao and Cebu is roughly 80% of the cost of living in Manila, and the costs of living in smaller provincial towns is 80% of the cost of major provincial cities.
This appears to be a yardstick for budgeting certain government programs here. There is some usefulness to those guidelines, but do not take them to the bank.
First of all, they are figures for Filipinos. The costs for a foreigner, or a Philippine-foreigner couple, are not likely to vary as much, from what I have seen. The possible savings from living well out in the provinces are very likely to be offset by the increased costs of imported items, medical care, continual travel to major cities for immigration issues, other government actions, etc.
One thing for sure. If I were down to scraping my last few dollars, I am darn sure I could find a cheap roof over my head (pension house, hostel, seaman’s bunk house, bedspacer, etc.) and cheap food in Manila more than in any far-flung province.
The majority of people reading this (even Filipinos thinking of relocating ‘back home’ after along time abroad) are not going to live at the bottom of the economic scale.
Spouse’s Family: You will find a heck of a lot of advice online about whether or not you should live in close proximity to the Filipino spouse’s family. Opinions vary from adamantly opposed to encouraging a close relationship, and the confusing thing is, virtually every piece of advice is valid, at some time or another.
If you live really close to your spouse’s immediate family (I do, by the way), there may be times it wears on you. Times when it seems your spouse is busier with her family issues than your own couple’s concerns.
But there will also be times when there is no possible better place to live. I am close to almost all of my wife’s family. They have given us invaluable assistance in getting settled, making a life here and sometimes nothing more than having someone trustworthy to talk with when decisions have to be made.
So for me, living almost next door to the family home has been wonderful. And I never spend money on trips home, either
But if you don’t know your spouse’s family well, or you know them and don’t get along so well, there’s a lot of advantages to living farther away. All my advice here “depends” on personal circumstances, but this area of decision is likely the most sensitive of all. Not only do you have to discuss this throughly with your spouse and weigh all the plus and minus factors you can, mutually, you have to be sensitive to the fact she may be saying where she wants to live based on what she thinks you want.
This is a very common problem here, not just between married couples. Getting a Filipino spouse, relative or even a neighbor to tell you what they prefer doing can be very, very difficult. One of the most maddening phrases you are going to have to deal with is the famous, ” ‘Sup to you.”
Finding out the real underlying desires require patience, understanding and, well let’s face it, a little luck also.
Climate: This id one of the more scientifically provable decision factors. One that a lot of people spend way more time studying and pondering about than the decision warranted.
Since I often tend to write too long for some people’s tastes, I’ll make this parts simple.
Wherever you chose to live it’s going to be hot. Period.
You’ll run into endless online discussions, even arguments about “A” being better than “B” because it’s cooler there. Mostly, these discussions are just noise … with a few minor exceptions I am gong to cover in a few more paragraphs down the page.
Here’s a wonderful, free tool that is far underutilized. A page with dozens of Philippine weather conditions … and if you explore around you’ll find tons of historical data by drilling down into the selections for the cities you are interested in. Highly recommended.
But you are going to find very little variation. At least not enough to make much difference in deciding where to live. With one important exception.
Altitude. It’s really about the only thing that makes any difference. One piece of writing of mine on “Where to Live in the Philippines” I have always liked is this one:
Hmm, don’t you have that headline wrong, Dave? I’ve seen that saying a dozen times or more in motivational literate and it always seemed to read, “Your attitude determines your altitude”. Well, yes, that is likely the most usual way it is used, but here in the Philippines a lot of things we ‘know’ from the Western world don’t always seem exactly the same as they were before. One “minus” about living in the Philippines that can’t be ignored is … it is hot here. When I watch the news about blizzards in Colorado and ice storms in New England I enjoy the warmth, but here in our little low-lying town it’s hot… (go ahead and read the rest of the article on how cclimate is affected by altitude if this snippet got your attention)
Frankly, I don’t like the heat all that much, although I certainly have grown quite used to it by now. Why don’t I live in Baguio or another higher altittude place? Good question.
To me they are all too far off the beaten track, too crowded,(in the case of Baguio, polluted worse than Metro Manila) and too rich for my blood.
But you may find them ideal. Ad the expression goes, YMMV.
I could write a lot more words, but I doubt I could say that much more on the subject. I will be happy, though, to chat with anyone individually who wants more information on a particular place.
Where would I go if I had no friends or family here? In my case, easy choice. Olongapo/Subic or Angeles City, st least for y immediate landing zone. A good place to get my feet wet in the Philippines and lots of other foreigners and foreigner-oriented businesses and infrastructure.
Since I do have some friends in the Philippines already, my own personal choice would be Davao City. Been there twice now, taking a whole tour group there in March, like the place, and lover the fact there are no typhoons.
Bottom line? I don’t think there is any one single best place to live in the Philippines, except, without argument from me, the one which suits you the best.