Cebu Phillipines – Gregs Guide for Digital Nomads & Travelers
Since relocating to Asia in 2013 the Philippines has been on my radar. I heard of the beautiful beaches like Boracay and more recently the more unspoiled island of Palawan. However my trip research revealed bad and expensive flights and I had the impression it was an unsafe country.
First a bit about my Digital Nomad background. I’m a Travel Videographer that has already lived in Taiwan for 2 years before relocating to Thailand for over 3 years. I’ve already traveled deep in to Asia, which you can read about here.
Cebu is the most populated island in the Phillipines and is often the place most visitors want to go instead of overcrowded and dirty Manila. I actually haven’t been to Manila this is just what I heard, and I don’t have a strong desire to go there. I heard many good things from Filipinos from Canada and in Asia, Japanese, and vloggers like Lost Le Blanc.
After traveling here I can tell you that Cebu has a lot to offer and amazing experiences. Highlights include swimming with whale sharks in Oslob, seeing the Tamulog waterfalls, daytrips island hopping, and eating amazing food like chorizo sausages, mexican food, ribs, pulled pork, legit burgers, legit pizzas, italian food, legit phto and even Japanese Wagyu BBQ. The craft beers and wine are often cheaper than Thailand and in most of Asia. As someone that has developed into a foodie I can say that you can really indulge at more reasonable prices compared to Thailand.
Getting into Cebu
In December 2017 I met a french digital nomad in the Hubba cowork space in Bangkok that told me that Phillipine Air had opened up direct flights from Bangkok to Cebu. I decided to give it a try. Roundtrip flights take around 4 hours and go for about $320 us roundtrip. The flight times are not that great so you may be flying late arriving early or flying late and arriving late. On the positive you can can skip going through Manila all together.
How did I like Cebu
I stayed 6 days during the Sinulog festival. Sinulog is one of the largest annual festivals in the country. It meant that accommodation prices and availability were higher than normal.
Overall I enjoyed my stay. There is a lot of natural beauty to see from the paradise islands to the whale sharks. You would need months or longer to really explore Cebu. I really enjoyed the international foods at good value. There are a lot less tourists than Thailand so you may be able to enjoy an island paradise all to yourself.
I wasn’t impressed with the downtown areas in Cebu City as they are dirty and crowded. You do see a lot of poverty and dirty areas. The IT park and Ayala Mall Terrace are the nicer areas to spend your time. I got a couple of chances to get out of Cebu city. We did a whale shark and tumalog waterfall day trip, which was a once in a lifetime experience for me. It gave me a preview of more gems to explore if I were to stay in Cebu longer.
The people in Cebu are nice. Their english was not as strong as I thought it would be, but they can understand you at least. In my opinion there is a lot more poverty outside of the bubbles of IT park and Ayala. Because of this you can feel a bit of desperation from the locals that I don’t feel in Thailand. Generally I feel safe, but not as safe as I do in Thailand. i wouldn’t want to leave my laptop in a cafe and go for lunch like some do in Chiang Mai or Bangkok.
We managed to try out living in IT Park, one of the better areas in CEBU to live. It is an enclosed area with condos, upscale restaurants, shops, and coffee shops. Everything you need to be comfortable and live in a bubble. I also stayed in the island of Mactan, close to the airport. The roads were not as good, and the actual building was old. The entire room was renovated to a modern western standards, and it was interesting to live outside of usual expat bubbles.
Sample Projected Monthly Costs ( Comfortable Life)
I’m just doing a mock monthly budget for myself based on my trip costs and lifestyle. All prices are in US.
Studio Accommodation with wifi in IT Park 24000 pesos ($471 US)
Fancy Coffee 3600 pesos ($ 71 US)
Daily Western Breakfast 6000 pesos ($117) (Western breakfast obo 200 pesos)
Sim Card 800 pesos (obo $16 US) 1.5 gb data goes for 100 pesos.
Transport 9000 pesos (obo $176) Based on 300 peso transport budget. trips vary from 100-300 pesos
Cowork space hot seat member 4000 pesos ($79) Based on Tide coworkspace
Lunch & Dinner 18000 pesos ($354) Western meals with 600 peso daily budget
1 hour Massage 1200 pesos ($24) weekly 1 hour massage
Weekend Drinks 2000 pesos ($40) 500 peso weekend budget craft beer 240, local beer 80, wine 120
Monthly Projected Budget
$ 1348 US 68,549 pesos. This may seem a bit on the high end. Keep in mind this is just my rough budget. Everyone has a different lifestyle. We could make adjustments to the food, transport, and cowork space and bring this down about $200 US to 1148 US. You can eat local meals, skip alcohol, and take local transport instead of ubers all the time.
Would I recommend CEBU for Digital Nomads?
There are already a few digital nomads, but it is nowhere as popular as chiang mai or bali for community. I would recommend Cebu for a visit or a visa run from other Asian countries. There are some decent airbnb options to stay at short-term from $20-40 US a night for a good private apartment. It is harder to access local pricing unless you do what is considered a short-term lease for cebu (6 months). If you do a 6 month studio lease at the Avida towers with utilities and wifi you are looking at around $500 US a month
The Internet is not as reliable or as fast as Thailand. I suspect that uploading video would be frustrating living here long term unless you work from a cowork space. I did hear there are some areas that have access to Optic fiber.
My friend Kevin has opened a cowork space called Tide in IT Park; however I didn’t have a chance to check it out unfortunately. From my perspective Cebu could be an interesting place for a Stock footage Videographer or Vlogger looking to capture beautiful scenery.
Getting around was pretty easy with uber, grab, local taxi, and motorbike taxi.
The Internet is good enough for nomads not doing a lot of high bandwidth uploading. The Tide cowork space offers high speed Internet of 50mb up and down. I don’t think there is an established community or co-work space scene in CEBU yet, which is why my friend opened his cowork space to fill the gap. Cafes I went to gave me the impression that free wifi and outlets were a lot harder to come by than Thailand. If this is your thing you may want to try Bo Coffee or Starbucks (they have a 1 hr limit though and it’s often crowded).
As a Travel Videographer that creates high quality video footage to sell on stock agencies Cebu has a lot to offer. There are a lot of opportunities to create beautiful video and If you have a gopro or a drone this is the perfect destination to use it. If you’re interested in how I create video or monetize on it you can check out my Travel Videographer School.
Surprisingly, there are not a lot of foreigners I saw. It feels like CEBU is a bit more of the wild west compared to Thailand. While there are as many foreigners as Thailand, locals are comfortable and friendly to foreigners.
There is a lot to do and enjoy in CEBU. This is a good lifestyle to be enjoyed and CEBU has a lot to offer. I easily see people wanting to come here for a visit or even stay up to a month. The amazing indulgences, low prices, english friendly, decent accommodation options, whale sharks, and amazing sites make CEBU an amazing draw. My recommendation is to come for a short visit and see if you like it before committing for a month. I’m also writing this from the experience of a visitor so if I lived here for longer I would have more insights.
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