Living in the Philippines – Most Popular Urban Retirement Cities of Foreign Retirees

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When it comes to retirement locations in the Philippines, one has many options – major urban cities, larger rural cities, beach resorts, mountain retreats. Each has its own unique and attractive features. The major advantage of retirement in a major urban Philippines city are (i) international airport accessibility, (ii) excellent healthcare accessibility, (iii) all major sports activities, and (iv) secure, upscale shopping, night life and entertainment. In this category of major urban cities are the Manila metropolitan area, Cebu City in the Visayas area of the country, and Davao City in Mindanao.


Manila is the capital of the country, and the primary port of entry for every foreigner flying to the Philippines. It is the gateway to the Philippines. For a foreigner seeking quick access in and out of the country, Manila is the place to be. Travel to Manila from California is 15 hours, from Hawaii it is 10 hours, from Tokyo it is a little over 4 hours, from Hong Kong it is less than 2 hours, from Singapore it is 3 hours, and from Europe it is basically 20 hours. Once you are in Asia, sitting in the China Sea, Manila is at the center. Trips to Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam, and Indonesia are quick and easy from Manila.

Manila is actually part of a major metropolitan area with an overall population of over 11 million people. So yes, it is crowded overall, yet, like all major cities in the world, there are areas within the metropolitan area which are quite diverse from one another.

Depending on one’s retirement income, retiring foreigners tend to favor either the upscale, highly westernized Makati, Ortigas/Mandaluyong, or Alabang areas. These areas have all the amenities westerners are accustomed to, including all the biggest and most upscale shopping malls in the country. Makati is the financial hub of the Philippines, and it is full of western style upscale condominiums with all the latest amenities.

For those wanting an upscale, big city living, with access to the best entertainment, sporting events, unlimited shopping options, and most westernized lifestyle, within easy reach of foreign destinations, Manila is your best choice. The downside is that it is the most expensive than Cebu City and Davao City


Cebu City is located on the island of Cebu in the chain of islands known as the Visayas. It is more centrally located in the country and is a domestic trading and transportation hub. It is much smaller than Manila, with a population less than 1 million, yet its people have a higher per capita income level. It is very pro business, and a more efficiently run city than Manila. It is very progressive and has become a large center of commerce. It has aggressively expanded its airport, which does receive certain direct international flights, though few in number.

Cebu has a large population of foreign retirees in relation to its population. Foreigners are drawn to its abundance of beaches and resorts. It is a beautiful city, surrounded by mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. Like Manila, it too has its upscale, modern shopping malls, casinos, and a great night life. Being a smaller city, getting around the city is much easier. It is now only beginning to see construction of high rise condominiums, which are abundant in Manila, and a favorite of western retirees.

Cebu has great medical facilities and it has just recently launched an effort in conjunction with the national government to further develop Cebu as a major medical tourism and retirement center for foreigners.

All in all, it has most of the westernized benefits of Manila, yet a lower cost of living, combined with the presence of many, many beautiful white sand beach resorts. Those who love living near the seaside, have interests in diving and other water sports, yet like the efficiency and amenities of a smaller modern city, then Cebu City would be your choice.


Davao City is THE city of Mindanao, and by square miles it is the second largest city in the world. Its population is approximately 1.4 million. Located on the southern of Mindanao, it is the most rural of the three major urban cities, and it has the lowest cost of living. So, if you enjoy the lifestyle of a large city, but have limitations on your cost of living, Davao is the place for you.

Davao City does not get large numbers of foreign travelers, yet for those seeking outdoor adventures, the options are plentiful. Living in Davao is a bit like living in both an urban and a rural city, as the city has modern shopping centers, upscale gated communities and hotels, yet living there you become deeply rooted to the land outside the city. Just outside the city is Mt Apo with forested slopes and abundance of hiking opportunities, and located on a gulf, it is only a short boat ride to white sand beaches. Most of the land outside the city has been turned over to massive plantations growing pineapples, bananas, and other citrus. The city has a new, great world class golf course, and low rise condominiums are newly being built. It has committed itself to the development of a world class medical center, and is aggressively pursuing medical tourism.

In conclusion, it has been my experience that for a person who wants to retire in a major urban city in the Philippines, the choice between Manila, Cebu and Davao usually comes down to one’s pension and/or other monthly retirement income. Manila is the most expensive, Cebu is next, and Davao has the lowest cost of living. Manila is the most cosmopolitan, and the Davao the most rural. All three are attractive spots for a foreigner seeking retirement in the Philippines in an urban environment.

Do you want more in depth information about retirement living available to foreigners in the Philippines? I have just completed my new book on “Retirement Living in the Philippines”, which provides a comprehensive study of opportunities for fun, adventure, love and great friendships living in the Philippines.

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