Welcome to Davao city, why are there so many foreigners here?

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ June 12th, 2010. Updated on September 22nd, 2014. Published in: Travel blog » Philippines.
The wide roads in Davao

The wide roads in Davao

Davao city doesn’t get much of a write up in my guide book. All I know of the place is that for some reason it’s popular with foreigners looking for a place to live. Sounds like I had a plan of direction after all.

The guidebook mentioned that crime was low, it has several crocodile farms which they seem obsessed with writing about in every big town here. And, it was a port city which is nothing unusual in the Philippines.

Thank goodness for wiki-travel and word of mouth.

Who lives here?

4,000 expats & foreigners live in Davao. That’s quite a number of foreigners for a place that doesn’t get much of a write up. It meant there had to be something about the place they liked. And, there is. Maybe I’d like it too?  Is Davao my missing link …

The best city in the Philippines for getting around:

Davao is quite large, yet it’s relatively easy to get around. The roads are wider than any other city I’ve visited in the Philippines. Traffic seems gentler too. A taxi is no problems, jeepenys and tricycles either. The city doesn’t seem to be in a rush. And, herein lies the secret to Davao.

The Entrance way to China town in Davao city

The Entrance way to China town in Davao city

Contradictions of travel began once I arrived and checked into a cheap pension house not so far from the Ecoland bus terminal. Online most were offered at around 1000 + pesos, on the ground they were 250 -300 fan rooms, and 500 peso A/C rooms right near malls and some of the attractions of the city.

On the ground:

I hate malls, but the temptation of air conditioning at Gaisano Mall was too much, it was also lunch time.

Secondary to that, I was  minutely curious to see if it was any different so far south compared to say Manila. Nope, no difference. Floors upon floors of retail outlets and fast food. Slightly higher prices than local places, but pretty much the same.

No free WiFi. And, Smart on my mobile phone is not doing well at all. Hence I am spending a lot of time processing photos.

Time to check out the other sights around Davao City

Rows of Durian fruit at Magsaysay fruit vendors stall in Davao city

Rows of Durian fruit at Magsaysay fruit vendors stall in Davao city

Magsaysay fruit vendors is infamous for what the equally known Durian fruit is famous for. The worlds stinkiest fruit in the world is held with pride and passion in this city.

“You try Durian!” called out a woman with a smile as I stumbled onto the market.

I walked over and asked the price of a slice.

“160 pesos” which is about USD $3. I never understood why Durian is so expensive in the Philippines as it’s so populous.

They say the smell is worse than the taste. But I do believe if something smells bad, don’t eat it. I travel long term, this saves me. If I was only there for a few weeks, no problem. (and, yes I have tasted Durian fruit)

Every city has a China town:

China town was a little further up ahead. And again, aside from a colorful archway, was just another street. Though it did have an extra few Chinese stores running along it.

But dark clouds and a sweetness in the air told me it was about to rain. Time to retreat back to Gaisano mall. It took only 10 minutes to get back across the city. This is unheard of in the rest of The Philippines.

China Town road in Davao city

China Town road in Davao city

So the answer to why foreigners like Davao is …

The long awaited rains are now here, and the people of the city come into the mall for shelter. Among them, many, many foreigners. These foreigners were different though. Outside of Manila it was the first time I saw younger more long term foreigners in The Philippines.

Volunteers, English teachers and the odd married guy. Workers, people in business attire, and generally slightly smarter looking foreigners. Davao simply makes sense to live in, because it works.

Moreover this is one of the reasons so many foreigners live in Davao. It’s not  because it’s the most exciting place in the world. It’s at the bottom of a “war torn” island.

Yet, at the same time its very safe. It’s easy to get around. You can get just about anything you want. And, the pollution is minimal here. Not only that, but the city simply seems to work.

It’s not a paradise island place like El Nido in Palawan. But, it is a good place to live as normal a life as an expat could have overseas, it would seem.

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Coming soon:

Finding Buddha …

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25 Great responses to Welcome to Davao city, why are there so many foreigners here?

  1. shotgunchick says:

    With your write up, I could just imagine how Davao has progressed since the last time I visited, 8 years back. I fell in love with the city right away and back then, things were very much simpler.

    These are what I recall from my experience:
    > Matina TownSquare, where every youngster would go for night life. Does it still exist?
    > The Venue, an alternative to MTS. “Party Place”
    > If all else fails, we hit the gas station and just hangout.
    > Blue Grey – coffee place
    > Criselda’s – Makes very good chocolate cake; this was served to me when I celebrated my 23rd birthday in Davao, and since then, I’d have friends bring me THAT particular cake, when they asked me what I wanted from there.
    > Space Burger
    > Ateneo de Davao
    > Most special of all, the friendships that I have built!

    Coming from Manila, I found it very laid back. 10 – 20 minutes from your starting point, you get to your destination. Though it’s closer to the equator and many say that it’s warmer down there, I didn’t mind it too much. Perhaps, it isn’t as polluted, as you mentioned in your article. What I would always look forward to was the chance to go to the hills and hangout at that restaurant (which name I forgot already) and see the view of the city and stargaze at the same time. They claim to have the cleanest water (potable) and FACT: IT’S THE LARGEST CITY IN THE WORLD (in terms of geographical size).

    I have always planned to retire in Davao. Life is simple there.

    Good luck!

    I’ll be waiting for your next post.

    • -shotgunchick- Well you certainly know Davao better than me :) It’s definitely a different breed of city within the Philippines. And, seems, quite well run compared to many other places. Many people give a thumbs up to the administration here, so that’s a first!

      Can’t really comment on the party places, as it’s not on my agenda. Though talking to others, the place is still filled with them. Likewise coffee places, and cafe’s. Though for anyone coming here, it’s really not a resort city! Far from it. It’s more a come and live here city.

      -Eli- There’s actually not that much to do here in terms of SEA activities. At least none that compare say to Palawan for diving or Sagada for caving mountains etc. Davao is more a laid back city compared to the rest here. Not saying it’s not worth visiting, it just depends on what you are looking for.

      -jessiev- Some of the best are!

      -floreta- For long term living, it definitely rates high. For lots to do … not so sure.

      -ciki- No easy to find free WIFI is a serious problem here. Davao tourisim or a local business needs to look into this. And to any guest-house listening, I don’t mean a 40kb drop in or out connection! It’s a good reason to move out, rather than get people to move in!

  2. Eli says:

    That’s all I ask for in a city to live in, somewhere where everything is easily accessible on foot, without ridiculous road traffic, and where the people are friendly for the most part.

    Sounds like Davao City is a great place. I’m putting it on my checklist for my Southeast Asia tour. The list is getting bigger everyday:)

    Thanks, Eli

  3. jessiev says:

    sounds like a well-kept secret!

  4. floreta says:

    I know someone online in Davao that I could probably visit! I never thought of it before but you’ve just piqued my interest! A hub of foreigners/expats sounds like a cool place to hang. Looking forward to your finding Buddha post! ;)

  5. ciki says:

    no wifi.. how can?!! i’ve already stricken it off my list :P

    i too dislike the durian;)

    • dodonghenry says:

      SM City Davao has free wifi.maybe when he bought durian it was not peak season. and normally the price is a bit higher.

  6. ayngelina says:

    Wow it has really grown. I was there 10 years ago and I was literally the only foreign female I had encountered. A great city in an amazing country.

  7. Davao in one of the best city in the Philippines. Unlike Manila, Davao has less pollution yet it is a highly commercialized city. People in Davao are very accommodating and like you’ve said, there so many foreigners there nowadays. But still i want to go there again. Thanks for the post!

  8. Hail Davao! I have been to the place and I agree with you, the whole city just seem to function well without the rush. And the Davao may not be as expensive as my favorite Keswick Hotels, but they can hold up to their own.

  9. susan madrigal says:

    try to visit Davao city best restaurant afhat, best gym metro lifestyle, best hair salon Joan de Castro Hair salon , best barbeque Penongs and many more…………….

  10. wanderlass says:

    it’s laid back, cheap, and 30 minutes to go diving! love davao, but manila will always be home. :)

  11. Joseph says:

    To shotgunchick I think the restrauant in the hills you are talking about is Jack’s Ridge. I was in Davao City this past April for 2 weeks visiting my finacee and her family and we all had lunch there. What a Beautiful view of the city and the bay, it’s a very livable city because of the hospitality and laid back atmosphere. I only regret not finding out about Mindinao Bob before my trip there I would love to have met him! :)

  12. LeslieTravel says:

    It’s true. there seems to be a Chinatown in every city around the world! And usually it’s the place to find tasty, cheap food.

  13. For those of us who were born in this place, we are fiercely proud of our city and call this a haven. Thanks for writing about Davao and its secret formula to foreigners. :-)



    Davao is really amazing…….I will always love you my HOME,MY PLACE AND MY PARADISE…

  15. whacky says:

    davao is my home, i’ve been to lot of places in our country and been to other countries too specially europe and scandinavia known for being clean and environment-friendly countries..however my heart want to stay here because of so many factors(some of them are already mentioned above) that’s why i decided to come back home and live a peaceful life here. thanku for writing about davao. davaoenios are really proud of our city.

  16. I super love durian. Proud to be Dabawenyo:)

  17. charlie says:

    Maybe you should try out going to the beach or Mt Apo next time you go to Davao City. And yes, Davao is a peaceful place to stay. thanks for the post.

  18. PV says:

    Thanks so much for your insights on Davao City. Is there anyway you can give us information on apartment rental fees, rough size for 1 bedroom apartment(s)?

    Also, is it possible for foreigners to own land/dwellings?

    I’d be very interested to know about insects and any problems with snakes in the urban area?

    How noisy is it ….daytime/night time?

    Sorry for so many Qs but as you seem interested in sharing your knowledge …hope you won’t mind too much.

    Thanks in advance.


    • Hello, I don’t know the rental fees in Davao. But I know Bob on http://www.mindanaobob.com has a lot of live in the Philippines info that might be able to help you out.

      No it’s not possible for foreigners to own land in The Philippines. Most foreigners who by houses in the Philippines do so through their spouse. So yes, their spouse actually owns the property. This in turn can lead to many problems.

      Mosquitoes and ants are probably the main everyday insects that will give you problems. I’ve never come across a wild snake in The Philippines.

      Hope that helps.

      • john says:

        it is true foreigners can not own property in philippines,usually buy in spouses name. i found out that altough my wife can actually own the property but foreigner can own the STRUCTURE!! interesting. that will certainly be the way i will go.plan on moving to davao soon as i sell my house in u.s. i can give my kids a better life there with what money i have. health care as well as private school too. not to mention a man is a man there. with rights unlike here,plus no divorce in the philippines.i love my country of the u.s.a. but i’m done with it.it’s a mess now for sure.