Making the Move: A Foreigner’s Comparison of Living in Manila and Cebu

Manila and Cebu are two of the most popular cities in the Philippines for expats looking to relocate. Manila is good if you like the hustle and bustle of a big metropolis while Cebu is often described as a perfect blend of city and provincial life. Having lived in both cities I hope this article can help you decide which one is for you.

Similarities Between Manila and Cebu

  1. Climate: Both Manila and Cebu have a tropical climate, with high temperatures and humidity all year round. The rainy season in both cities is from June to October.
  2. Language: English is widely spoken and understood in both cities
  3. Religion: The Philippines is predominantly a Catholic country, and both Manila and Cebu have many Catholic churches and religious landmarks. However, other religions are also practiced in both cities.
  4. Traffic: Both Manila and Cebu are known for their heavy traffic, especially during rush hour. Both cities have a high volume of vehicles on the road, which can make it challenging to get around.
  5. Shopping: Both Manila and Cebu have many shopping centers and markets, where visitors can find a wide range of products and goods.
  6. Tourist attractions: the two cities are popular tourist destinations, with many attractions and landmarks that draw visitors from around the world. Some of the most popular attractions in both cities include historical sites, cultural landmarks, and natural attractions.
  7. Both cities have a vibrant food scene, with a variety of cuisines, restaurants, street food stalls, and markets to choose from. They also have some local specialties, such as lechon (roasted pig) and puso (hanging rice) in Cebu, and adobo (meat stew) and halo-halo (shaved ice dessert) in Manila

That is where the similarities end. Here are some stark differences between the two metropolises.

Size, Population, & History

Table Manila Cebu
Population (2022) 14.7 million 964,169
Population Density 42,587 3,061

source: Philippines Statistics Authority (psa)

Manila is the capital city of the Philippines and is much larger and more populous than Cebu. Manila is home to over 14.7 million people, while Cebu has a population of around 964.169.

Historical significance: Manila has been the capital of the Philippines since the Spanish colonial period, and has a rich history that spans over 400 years.

Many historical landmarks, such as Intramuros, Rizal Park, and Fort Santiago, are located in Manila. Cebu, on the other hand, is considered the oldest city in the Philippines and was the site of the first Spanish settlement in the country. It is home to many important historical landmarks such as Magellan’s Cross, the Basilica del Santo Niño, and the Cebu Taoist Temple.

Infrastructure and Traffic in Manila vs Cebu

 

Infrastructure: In terms of infrastructure, Manila has an advantage over Cebu. Manila has a higher number of airports, with four airports in total, while Cebu has one airport. Manila’s airports include the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Clark International Airport, Sangley Airport, and Manila Domestic Airport.

Manila also has a more extensive public transportation system compared to Cebu. Manila’s public transportation system includes the Metro Rail Transit (MRT), Light Rail Transit (LRT), buses, jeepneys, taxis, and app-based ride-hailing services. In contrast, Cebu’s public transportation system consists mainly of buses, jeepneys, and taxis.

Manila also has a more extensive road network compared to Cebu. Manila has several major highways and expressways, such as the North Luzon Expressway, South Luzon Expressway, Skyway, and Manila-Cavite Expressway. Meanwhile, Cebu has fewer expressways, with the Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway and the Cebu North Coastal Road as the major highways in the city.

Traffic: Manila is known for its notorious traffic congestion. According to the 2021 TomTom Traffic Index, Manila has the second-worst traffic congestion in the world, with a congestion level of 53%. This means that drivers in Manila experience an average delay of 53% compared to free-flow traffic.

In contrast, Cebu has a lower traffic congestion level. According to the same TomTom Traffic Index, Cebu has a congestion level of 42%, which is lower than Manila’s. However, this still means that drivers in Cebu experience an average delay of 42% compared to free-flow traffic.

To address the traffic congestion in Manila, the government has implemented several measures such as the EDSA Busway, which designated a lane on the major highway for exclusive use by buses, and the construction of several elevated expressways.

Meanwhile, the government in Cebu has also implemented measures to address the traffic congestion in the city, such as the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which is set to begin operations in 2022. The BRT system will provide a dedicated lane for buses to reduce travel time and ease congestion on the city’s roads.

Internet and Cellphone Connectivity in Manila vs Cebu

Internet Speeds Avg Mpbs Manila Cebu
Download Speed 25.81 19.31
Upload Speed 21.55 11.09

In terms of internet and cell phone service, Manila and Cebu have similar levels of connectivity and coverage.

Internet: Both Manila and Cebu have access to high-speed internet connectivity through fiber-optic networks, cable internet, and wireless broadband. Both cities have several internet service providers that offer various internet plans with different speeds and data allowances.

According to the 2020 Speedtest Global Index, Manila has an average download speed of 25.81 Mbps and an average upload speed of 21.55 Mbps, while Cebu has an average download speed of 19.31 Mbps and an average upload speed of 11.09 Mbps. This indicates that Manila has slightly faster internet speeds than Cebu.

Cell Phone Service: Both Manila and Cebu have extensive cell phone coverage, and all major cell phone service providers offer services in both cities.

The Philippines has a high rate of cell phone usage, with around 70% of the population using cell phones, according to Statista. The country also has a 4G/LTE network that covers most urban areas, including Manila and Cebu.

However, the quality of cell phone service can vary depending on the location, with some areas experiencing poor coverage or slow data speeds.

In conclusion, both Manila and Cebu have similar levels of internet and cell phone service coverage, with Manila having slightly faster internet speeds. However, the quality of service may vary depending on the location and the service provider.

Lifestyle and Culture in Manila & Cebu

If you’re the kind of person that likes to bar and club hop all night long then Manila is the better choice.

Lifestyle in Manila: Manila is known for its fast-paced lifestyle and is often described as a bustling metropolis. It is a city that never sleeps, with numerous shopping malls, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs that cater to a diverse range of interests. People in Manila are generally friendly and hospitable, and the city offers a vibrant mix of cultures and lifestyles.

Cuisine in Manila: The cuisine in Manila is a reflection of its diverse cultural influences, with a wide range of local and international food options available. Some of the must-try dishes in Manila include adobo (a Filipino dish made with meat and a vinegar and soy sauce marinade), sinigang (a sour soup made with tamarind and various meats), and lechon (roast pig).

Culture in Manila: Manila has a rich cultural heritage, with influences from the Spanish, American, and Chinese cultures. The city is home to many historical landmarks and museums, including the Intramuros, which is a walled city that dates back to the Spanish colonial era. The city also hosts numerous festivals throughout the year, including the Feast of the Black Nazarene, which is a religious procession that attracts millions of people every year.

Lifestyle in Cebu: Cebu is known for its laid-back lifestyle, with a slower pace of life compared to Manila. The city is surrounded by beaches and natural beauty, making it a popular destination for tourists and expats alike. People in Cebu are generally friendly and hospitable, and the city offers a more relaxed and serene environment compared to Manila.

Cuisine in Cebu: The cuisine in Cebu is heavily influenced by the sea, with a wide range of seafood dishes available. Some of the must-try dishes in Cebu include lechon (roast pig), kinilaw (a type of ceviche made with raw fish), and sutukil (a seafood dish that includes grilled, stewed, and raw fish).

Culture in Cebu: Cebu has a rich cultural heritage, with influences from the Spanish, American, and Chinese cultures. The city is home to many historical landmarks and museums, including the Magellan’s Cross, which is a Christian cross that was planted by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. The city also hosts numerous festivals throughout the year, including the Sinulog Festival, which is a religious procession that attracts millions of people every year.

Manila and Cebu offer contrasting lifestyles and cultures in the Philippines. Manila is a bustling metropolis with a modern and fast-paced lifestyle influenced by Spanish and American colonialism. On the other hand, Cebu is a more laid-back city with a strong sense of community, known for its vibrant festivals and traditional Filipino lifestyle centered around family, religion, and social gatherings. Ultimately, the choice between the two cities will depend on personal preferences and priorities, such as cost of living, job opportunities, and social activities.

Manila vs Cebu Crime

 

Crime Factor Manila Cebu Source
Crime Index (2022) 65.31 51.39 Numbeo1
Safety Index (2022) 34.69 48.61 Numbeo1
Level of Crime High Moderate Numbeo1
Crime Increasing in the Past 3 Years High Moderate Numbeo1
Worries Home Broken and Things Stolen High Moderate Numbeo1
Worries about Being Mugged or Robbed High Moderate Numbeo1
Worries Car Stolen High Low Numbeo1
Worries about Things from Car Stolen High Moderate Numbeo1

 

*Focus crimes=murder, rape, physical injury, rape, robbery, carjacking and theft.

Cebu and Manila are the two largest cities in the Philippines, with millions of residents and visitors each year. However, they also face some serious challenges when it comes to crime, violence, and terrorism. How do these two cities compare in terms of crime and safety? Here are some key points to consider:

Manila has a higher crime index than Cebu, which means that Manila is perceived as more unsafe than Cebu. Manila also has higher rates of violent crimes such as assault and armed robbery, as well as property crimes such as vandalism and theft, than Cebu. For example, in 2022, Manila had a crime index of 65.31 and a safety index of 34.69, while Cebu had a crime index of 51.39 and a safety index of 48.61¹.

However, Cebu has a higher rate of drug-related crimes than Manila, which is a major problem in the city and the country as a whole. Corruption and bribery are also very high in both cities, but more so in Manila than in Cebu. According to Statista, a website that provides statistics and facts on various topics, the Philippines had 1.7 million drug-related crime incidents in 2021, with Cebu accounting for 10 percent of them². The same source also reported that corruption and bribery were the most frequent consumer fraud schemes in the Philippines in the first quarter of 2022².

The perception of safety may vary depending on the area and the time of day. Some areas of Manila, such as Makati and BGC, are considered safer than others, such as Pasay and Quezon City. Similarly, some areas of Cebu, such as IT Park and Mactan Island, are considered safer than others, such as Colon Street and Carbon Market. Safety also depends on personal behavior and awareness. It is advisable to avoid walking alone at night, carrying valuables or large amounts of cash, or getting involved in any illegal activities or disputes.

Both cities have some measures in place to prevent and respond to crime. For example, both cities have installed CCTV cameras in public places, increased police visibility and patrols, and implemented curfews and checkpoints. However, these measures are not always effective or reliable, as the police force is often understaffed, undertrained, underpaid, or corrupt. According to Statista, the Philippines had about 200 thousand prisoners in jails in 2022², with Manila having the highest number of prisoners by region (over 50 thousand), followed by Cebu (over 20 thousand)².

In conclusion, crime is a serious issue in both Cebu and Manila Philippines, but there are some differences in the level and type of crime that occur in each city. While Manila has a higher overall crime rate than Cebu, Cebu has more problems with drug-related crimes. Both cities have some areas that are safer than others, but safety also depends on personal behavior and awareness. Both cities have also faced some threats from terrorism and civil unrest, especially in the Mindanao region. Therefore, travelers should exercise caution and common sense when visiting either city.

More reading: How Expats Get Killed in The Philippines

Manila vs Cebu Cost of Living

Here’s a breakdown of the cost of living in Manila vs. Cebu based on actual data:

Prices are in Philippine Pesos (PHP)

Table

Manila Cebu
1-Bedroom Apartment 25k-40k 15k-25k
Mid Range Meal at a Restuarant 500-700 250-400
Taxi Fare Meter Initial Rate 40 40
Utilities (electric/water) 5k-8k 2.5k-5k
Gasoline 76 p/L 72.69 p/L

Housing: In Manila, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center is around PHP 25,000 to PHP 40,000, while outside the city center it can range from PHP 15,000 to PHP 30,000. In Cebu, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center is around PHP 15,000 to PHP 25,000, while outside the city center it can range from PHP 10,000 to PHP 20,000.

Food: In Manila, the cost of eating out at an inexpensive restaurant can range from PHP 100 to PHP 200 per meal, while a mid-range meal can cost around PHP 500 to PHP 700 per meal. In Cebu, eating out at an inexpensive restaurant can range from PHP 80 to PHP 150 per meal, while a mid-range meal can cost around PHP 250 to PHP 400 per meal.

Transportation: In Manila, the cost of a one-way ticket on public transport is around PHP 12 to PHP 15, while a taxi ride can range from PHP 40 to PHP 100 for a short distance. In Cebu, the cost of a one-way ticket on public transport is around PHP 7 to PHP 15, while a taxi ride can range from PHP 60 to PHP 150 for a short distance.

Utilities: In Manila, the cost of basic utilities such as electricity, water, and gas for an average apartment can range from PHP 5,000 to PHP 8,000 per month. In Cebu, the cost of basic utilities for an average apartment can range from PHP 2,500 to PHP 4,500 per month.

Overall, the cost of living in Manila is generally higher than in Cebu, particularly in terms of housing and utilities. However, it is important to note that the cost of living can vary greatly depending on your lifestyle and the area of the city you live in. Both Manila and Cebu offer a range of affordable and high-end options for food, entertainment, and transportation. It’s important to create a budget based on your individual needs and do your research before deciding which city to live in.

Conclusion:

Manila and Cebu are two of the most popular cities in the Philippines, each with its own unique culture, attractions, and lifestyle. Manila is the capital city of the Philippines and is much larger and more populous than Cebu. It is the country’s economic center, with many businesses, industries, and financial institutions located in the city.
Manila has a rich history and culture, with many historical sites, museums, and art galleries, and a vibrant nightlife and shopping centers. Cebu, on the other hand, is known for its history and cultural heritage, with many ancient landmarks and monuments. It is also an important economic hub, with a growing business process outsourcing (BPO) industry and a thriving tourism industry.
Cebu has a more relaxed and laid-back lifestyle, with beautiful beaches, natural attractions, and a strong culinary scene. Overall, both Manila and Cebu have their own unique strengths and attractions, and which one is better for you depends on your personal preferences and interests.
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