Ultimate Guide For Expat Entrepreneurs In Davao City
As we’ve mentioned before, one of our goals is to nurture and expand the ever-growing entrepreneurial scene that’s been popping up in Davao City, Philippines in the last 12-18 months.
We’ve seen an explosion of growth in this area and are hearing from and meeting more and more people that are coming to the city to get their business or freelancing careers started. This post will be dedicated to them and will be a reference post we can use to share with those looking to come to this city and get started. We’ll add and update this post over time, providing entrepreneurs the best information they can find about getting started and building a business in Davao City, Philippines.
Note: This is a bit of a break from our typical or traditional posts here at Empire Flippers. Please feel free to skip this one if it doesn’t apply to you, but we’re hoping it will stand as a great resource for the network we’re looking to build locally.
Our Growing Community in Davao
Last Updated: 4/8/14
I’ve mentioned a short-list of expats that are here and looking to build their businesses and I thought I’d give a brief introduction and explain who they are, what they’re working on, etc.
- Justin and Joe – Yours truly! We are both Americans in our late 30’s and run our publishing empire here through our brand, Empire Flippers.
- Vincent – Our Marketing Director from the US joined us here in November 2013 to help us grow our business.
- Damian – Runs Linchpin.net and helps small business entrepreneurs with strategy and setup of Ontraport / Infusionsoft.
- James – British transplant – he works on websites in the online gaming niche and stopped in and is staying a while to hang out, work with his local VA, etc.
- Andrew and JayMar – They run multiple local businesses here in Davao City including Outback grill, Zoofari, and others. You can find out more about them and our life in Davao in this post.
- Paul – Just made the move with his wife and kids to Davao looking for change and opportunity in a low-cost environment.
- Daniel – Runs an outsourcing company here in Davao with his partners and is primarily involved in lead generation and sales for US companies.
- Dave – An AdWords/Regargeting expert that helps eCommerce and service-based businesses (like us and TropicalMBA) setup and maintain their paid advertising budgets.
- John – Experienced in the restaurant industry, John’s working on WP themes and add-ons for developers and restaurant owners.
There are other foreigners in Davao looking to build their business, but these are the people we network with here on a regular basis and we’ll add to the list as the community continues to grow.
You will need to have an outbound flight ticket when visiting the Philippines. It’s better to do this ahead of time online so you don’t get stuck buying an expensive ticket last minute at the airport. The ticket can leave from anywhere in the Philippines, so your best bet is picking up a one-way out of the country with one of the budget airlines like Air Asia, Tiger Air, or Cebu Pacific for as cheap as possible. You can always ditch that ticket and purchase a new one when you’ve decided on a new destination.
The Philippines offers a 30 day visa on arrival for most countries. If you plan to stay in the Philippines for more than a month, you could get a visa in another country beforehand (i.e. your home country or another country that you are visiting). In the United States you can get a 60 day visa for $60 by visiting the Philippines Embassy. To be clear, though – it’s awfully easy to extend your visa in the Philippines. You can arrive on a 30-day visa and extend as long as you’d like, typically.
If you decide to extend your stay in Davao, you will need to go to the immigration office located across the street from Victoria Plaza on JP Laurel Avenue. The office is open Monday through Friday until 5pm. You’re better off avoiding Mondays and Fridays as the office tends to get quite busy on those days.
The office of an immigration attorney is located on the 2nd floor in the building to the left of the Immigration Office. If you need help, you can go there and pay 500 PHP for them to help you with the process, but this is largely unnecessary – the process is pretty straightforward.
To extend your visa you will need your passport, a copy of your passport information page, a copy of your most recent visa/stamp, 1 passport/visa photo, and a completed visa extension form. They have a copy machine there if you need to make copies (3 PHP per page).
You can get the visa extension form at the Immigration Office Window 3. The form will ask for your basic contact info (local phone number, local address, home address, etc). It will also ask for a local reference. I don’t think this part is a big deal, so you can just put down someone’s name, phone number, and address that you know here.
It will cost you roughly 2,000 PHP per month for visa extensions. Bring cash. The good news is that you do not have to leave the country, you can just go straight to the Immigration Office and keep extending. You can extend 2 months at a time (4,050 PHP).
You will need to provide your passport, passport copies, local address, phone number, and complete an application form. They will charge you mandatory express fees and require you to purchase a national ID card (~3,500 PHP and valid for 1 year) on your second extension.
The Visa Extension Process: Go to window 3 to pick up the required form. Complete the form and give it to the guy/girl at window 3. He will check it to confirm everything is correct, and then give you a number. Sit down. When your number is called (about 30 minutes later) you will pay the total extension fee in cash (PHP). Sit down. In about 30 minutes your name will be called and your passport & visa will be ready. Check the visa to make sure it is correct before leaving.
Important Note: If you leave the country, your visa will reset to the 30 day visa on arrival.
The Special Visa For Employment Generation (SVEG) was signed into law in 2008 and allows foreigners a permanent, multi-entry visa to both live and work in the Philippines. There are specific requirements to get it (Must employ 10+ registered Filipinos in a professional position, must be a major stakeholder in the company, etc.) This is worth getting if you meet the requirements as it can’t be denied like some of the other visas available. I won’t go into all the specifics about it right now, but you can read more about it here and here.
Frustration: The Philippines doesn’t do the best job at providing information online, explaining what forms you need, what the requirements are, and what the process is, so you’ll need to be a little patient here.
Business Resources In Davao City
We want to share with you with some useful links, tools, and resources to help you as you build your business and continue your entrepreneurial journey in Davao:
Doing Business In Davao and Entrepreneur.com in Davao – These are currently the best step-by-step resources regarding setting up a company or business in Davao City. Neither currently have the forms you need to begin the process and we think the timelines given are aggressive, but these will definitely help to get you started in setting up your company here.
American Chamber Of Commerce Davao – This group has been around for many years in Davao but have just recently begun a campaign to attract more foreign investors and business owners to the city. We decided to join in December, 2011 with the intention to assist them in providing assistance and advice in promoting investment and business opportunity here.
Blinque Tech Electronics (and their FaceBook Page) – Getting all of your electronics needs in Davao can be a bit of a pain in that there aren’t many one-stop shops that specialize in that here. Luckily, we’ve come across these guys and have had FANTASTIC service from them in setting up multiple offices, getting our computers serviced, etc. Highly recommended.
If you’re interested in setting up a business here in the Philippines, make sure to reach out and contact us. We have some rent-to-own services where you only pay a percentage over cost and can effectively rent our license and contacts to get everything setup quickly.
Housing Options In Davao For Entrepreneurs
There are quite a few suitable accommodations across a wide range of budgets available for business travel in Davao City. Below we’ll give you a brief run-down on places we’ve stayed and had friends, acquaintances, and guest stay at here in Davao.
0-2 Month Visits
- Marco Polo – High-end, full-service hotel. The best in Davao. If you’re here for a short stay, are less comfortable traveling abroad, or are worried about security this is probably your best choice. You’re looking at $100 – $150 per night, depending on season, promotions, etc.
- Park Inn by Radisson Davao – A nice business hotel in the newer part of Davao, right next to SM Mall, Lanang. Built in 2013, this hotel is new and has all the features a business traveler would need. Reasonably priced at $80 – $100 per night.
- Apo View – A Tier 2 hotel that will meet most needs for business travelers visiting the city. Before the Marco Polo, this was the best hotel in town but is now showing some wear and tear and is in need of some renovation. Reasonably priced at $60 – $100 per night.
- Pinnacle Hotel – Another Tier 2 hotel in Davao. The hotel itself seems to be much newer and nicer on the outside and in the common areas, but we found the rooms to be sparsely furnished. They didn’t have great long-term stay deals when asked. $50 – $80 per night, depending on the room selected.
- Legaspi Suites – Smaller (20 rooms) mid-range Tier 3 option. The rooms are clean and the hotel is smack in the middle of downtown which makes it easy to walk to places, catch taxi’s, etc. The rooms are $30-$70 and easily negotiable directly with the hotel. They DO offer some pretty good longer-term deals for people, but staying there more than 2 weeks may leave you wishing you had a bit more in the room.
- Ecoland Suites – Newer budget accommodation. It’s right across from SM Mall which is quite convenient, but a good 15 minutes from downtown. The rooms are clean, but small. The hotel has a 24 hour cafe and patio on the second level. They don’t offer long-term discounts, but you may be able to work something out. Priced at $20-$30 per night.
REALLY cheap options – There are a ton of options that are $5 – $20 per night and the value and cleanliness of these places will vary greatly. You’ll also have to put up with things like dormitory-style living, shared bathrooms, etc. If this is more of what you’re looking for, we would recommend one of the cheaper options listed above for the first week and then seeking out these really cheap rooms and hotels once you’re “boots on the ground” so that you can find a place that meets your needs as far as amenities, cleanliness, privacy, etc.
2-6 Month Visits
While Davao City offers some excellent accommodations when compared to most Western countries, you’ll find that the city’s a little less accommodating to those passing through with a mid-range length of stay. (3-9 months) The real problem is “cash-flow”…or the amount of money you’ll have to pay upfront for only staying a few months. Many houses or apartments will require a 3 month deposit, first month’s rent, and a 6 month contract at a MINIMUM before allowing you to move in. (12 month contracts are likely.)
An exception to this would be some of the privately-owned condos at Magallanes. They’ll often take month-to-month renters with at least a one month deposit. The size and furnishings in these condos can vary greatly, so it’s a good idea to know exactly what you’re getting into. The monthly price will vary from $350/month for a 1-bedroom to $800/month for a larger 2-bedroom place. You can see if they have any Magallanes places available here.
This can be a bit rough on cash-flow for an early entrepreneur without much business to speak of. If you’re looking for a really cheap place to come and work to get your business off the ground, we would recommend one of the hotel options listed above and then asking around locally once you’re here.
6+ Month Visits
There are plenty of resources online pointing to houses, townhouses, and apartments available in Davao, but you might find when you’re here it’s much more difficult in that the information is not always updated, the places have some serious downsides, getting around from one to another via transportation can be a pain, etc.
- $150-$400/month range – Small but clean apartments for rent that might be a bit away from the more popular areas of town. These places will typically have a mix of western amenities along with local amenities. Running water, electricity, etc. will be included.
- $400 – $800/month range – Higher-end apartments or townhouses and smaller houses will fall into this range. Most of the options here are in great communities, but you’ll want to make sure it’s not too far outside the main areas of the city.
- $800 – $1,500/month range – Mid to high-end houses can be found in this price range. The houses might include 3 bedroom family homes to 6 bedroom mini-mansions. Some business owners will setup work/live situations in the large houses in the price range. The problem with the high-end options is that most of them are pretty far away from the main parts of the city.
We have some Real Estate friends that were EXTREMELY generous in taking us around to view a ton of available properties when we first arrived and have offered their services to others that have come to Davao more recently. It’s convenient in that you give them a price range and general requirements, they’ll set an appointment for you, and will then be able to pick you up and drive you around, place to place, to help you find the perfect place for you.
They went even further than that for us, helping us furnish our places here in Davao and getting us completely setup for a fee. They’ll give you the low-down on the landlords, neighborhoods, and pretty much anything you want to know about the property as best they’re able. Feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to put you in touch.
Internet And Communication Options In Davao City
There are two main providers for home/office internet services in Davao City, SMART/PLDT and GLOBE. You’ll find the DSL lines to be considerably slower when compared to the US, but tolerable for basic tasks and web applications. The cost is around $35-$40/month.
Cell phones require a SIM card and you can use pre-paid cards to “load” your phone with credits. You can purchase SIM cards at any of the malls and you can load your phone at the same places or most of the convenience stores and even small, local stores will often carry load for you to top up. Using data normally can get quite expensive, so most prefer to use the weekly/monthly promo codes found at SMART or GLOBE. Keep in mind that if your phone requires a nano SIM, they will most likely just cut up a micro SIM so that it fits in the phone. (This will work)
Internet isn’t that reliable or fast in the Philippines overall.
WiFi: Internet speeds vary depending where you are. Some hotels/apartments will have something faster and more reliable, but most likely you’ll have to find another option.
3G: If you have a 3G connection on your phone or hotspot, you’ll find it’s fairly reliable around town, with minimal dead zones. Typical speeds are 0.1 – 2.0 Mbps.
4G/LTE: If you purchase a SMART LTE SIM card for a pocket WiFi device, you will get the fastest internet available in Davao. Be warned, 4G/LTE reception is not available everywhere, so you’ll want to test it before deciding on an apartment. Typical speeds are 8.0 – 26.0 Mbps when accessing 4G/LTE. Also, it may be challenging to find the pocket WiFi devices and LTE SIM cards because most places are out of stock, but they are available if you keep looking.
You can buy a generic prepaid LTE pocket WiFi device like Huawei from one of the general phone stores like Herrara Brothers. And make sure you purchase the SMART LTE SIM card because the regular SIM cards will not work. You may need to check multiple phone retailers to find this LTE SIM card.
Once you have the pocket WiFi device and your SMART SIM card, you will need to add load to the SIM card. You must purchase the Smart Bro Load, normal load will not work for LTE SIM cards. You can get unlimited data for 995 PHP per month if you text “LTE 995” to 2200. You will need to add load and activate the plan each month so set reminders in your calendar.
To add more load and activate the plan, you will need to insert the SIM card into your phone, add the load and text the promo code, then remove the SIM card from your phone and insert it into the pocket WiFi device.
SMART LTE provides you with 7 days of unlimited data when you buy the SIM card (350 PHP). After that you will need to add more load to the card and activate the monthly prepaid promotional plan (“LTE 995” to 2200).
Hang-Out Spots In Davao
There are some great coffee shops with free WiFi popping up all over Davao City. The top places would include Bo’s Coffee, Bluegre Coffee, Green Coffee, Chicco Di Cafe, and the newest is our own Starbucks! Unfortunately, we’ve found the WiFi at Bo’s to be quite slow and Starbucks is still too new/busy to be an effective place to hang out and get some work done. We recommend checking out the Green Coffee on Torres or Chicco Di Cafe in Bajada for the strongest internet connections and a decent place to sit back and knock out some work.
My latest (favorite) spot is a sports bar downtown near the Apo View named Primo Cafe. They’ve got a great, modern location, good food, and fast WiFi. I’d recommend getting here in the afternoon…they usually have live music in the evenings and it can get a little too loud/crowded for a great work environment…but it’s a great place to knock out a few beers once the work is done!
The nightlife in Davao is much more subdued than places like Manila or Cebu, but there are still plenty of regular places to go check out if you’re a night-owl and like to party. Most bars and party areas have last call at 1am and are closing down around 2am, so this is definitely not a party-round-the-clock town. (Although there are some after-hour “Speak-Easy” type places…let’s meet in person to check them out?) You’ll also find that (like anywhere else) the popular spots tends to change pretty rapidly. Weekends are usually better than weekdays, although there’s a bit of action on Wed/Thurs nights.
This list is by no means comprehensive – it just lays out some of the places we like to hang out when we want to let loose:
Matina Town Square (MTS) – A collection of open-air bars and restaurants. This is a more relaxed, laid-back spot in the Matina area that also includes a few coffee shops, a McDonalds, etc.
Bogsners – A laid-back, no frills bar at Times Beach that sometimes has live bands, fire dancers, etc. Not the nicest place in town, but they serve cold draft beers and are great for a casual meetup or place to get the night started.
Autoshop Area – This is a collection of bars/clubs all bunched into one block on Palma Gil Street in Obrero. This is the higher-end club scene in Davao, with Starr and Hybrid being the most popular of the two (small) clubs.
The Patio – Right next to the Autoshop complex, this is a newly built area that consists of inside/outside bars with a setup for a live band in the middle of the square. The most popular establishments here would include Business Class and The Brewery.
Legaspi Suites Complex – There is a small hotel at the corner of Legaspi and Rizal streets that has a small collection of bars and restaurants with a small patio in the middle. They often have BBQ served at the patio and one of the bars has a wide selection of imported beers. This isn’t much of a hangout spot to meet new people – better to visit with friends.
Some Place Else Bar – This bar is on Rizal street and just across from the famous Claude’s restaurant. There is a small collection of bars in this area, but Some Place Else serves the best margaritas in Davao.
KTV’s – These are karaoke bars sprinkled around town that cater to small-large groups of wanna-be and amateur singers. You’re better off heading there in groups and can be a great way to close out the night. The more popular KTV’s include World Palace (upscale) and K-1.
Costs In Davao
We’re often asked how much this or that costs here in the Philippines and Davao specifically and wanted to show you this GREAT purchasing power comparison resource we came across. Generally speaking, anything that is labor intensive (massage, maid services, etc.) is much cheaper in the Philippines and in Davao City specifically, but things like electronics tend to cost a bit more because of the out-of-the-way location for shipping the goods.
Safety In Davao/Mindanao
In our experience, much of what the media says about Davao comes across as quite alarmist. We’ve found Davao EXTREMELY safe when it comes to pickpockets, muggings, scammers, etc. (Much safer than Manila or Cebu when it comes to petty crime like this) We’re regularly out at all hours of the night and haven’t come across any real problems. There are certain dangers that come with any international travel and you should keep your wits about you, but I can safely say Davao City is probably safer than many major cities in the US. That being said, there are definitely places in Mindanao you should probably avoid and others areas you absolutely DO NOT want to go to under almost any circumstances. Still, the mayor (old and new!) have done a good job of keeping the city quite safe for tourists and visitors, albeit with some controversy.
Transportation/Travel In And Around Davao City, Philippines
The local transportation (like much of the Philippines) is the Jeepney and costs around $0.20 per trip. The Jeepneys have regular routes that are painted on the sides and can be a bit difficult for someone new to the city to figure out. You’ll most likely pay around $0.60 to get from one side of the city area all the way to the other side (Bangkal to Damosa, for example) but the real problem here is the amount of time it takes. (Anywhere from 1 to 2.5 hours, depending) Good for the experience of riding in one, but a terribly inefficient form of travel.
Taxi’s are our transportation of choice. The same trip listed above would cost approximately $4.50 and can be done in around 30-50 minutes, depending on traffic. (Davao is quite large geographically) I’ve found the taxi drivers in Davao to be EXCEPTIONALLY honest when compared to other cities and you should have no problem getting to anywhere you need to go as there are a ton of taxi’s available. (Except when it’s raining!) If you’re going somewhere that’s quite out of the way and you might have trouble finding a taxi back, negotiate with the driver and most will be willing to wait for you as it means a guaranteed fare back to the main parts of town.
Personal Vehicles – I’m a bit biased here, but I DEFINITELY don’t recommend driving yourself around Davao. Most of the driving here would be extremely confusing for foreigners and very hard to navigate. The locals seem to do quite well with each other, but there are bound to be mistakes and we’ve seen some pretty nasty accidents around town. Most of the foreigners that drive themselves and have been here for more than a couple of years have been in at least one accident.
NOTE: We looked into buying cars, hiring drivers, etc. While it would be nice to have a personal driver, the cost and utility just didn’t seem worth it and taxi’s seemed the better route to take. We know a few locals and foreigners that have gone this route and their driver typically doubles as a bodyguard. My personal opinion there is that unless you are a celebrity or part of the 00.1% of top-end business people a bodyguard is highly unnecessary and probably stands to put MORE of a target on your back! (If you’re reading this I’m almost 100% sure you don’t fit into either of those categories mentioned!)
Food Options In Davao
I’ll expand this section a bit further later, but some other local bloggers like Ria Jose and Blogie cover this topic quite well in Davao, actually. Check out DavaoDeli, DavaoFoodie, and DavaoFoodTrip to find some great information on the restaurants in town. In addition to the local bloggers mentioned above, you might also like to check out a guy known as “Mindanao Bob” who runs the Mindanao Magazine and LiveInThePhilippines.
One of the things I LOVE about SEAsia in general is the street food. In places like Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, etc. you’ll find that some of the BEST restaurants or food options are from street stalls or tucked away restaurants you’ll have never heard of.
Unfortunately, most foreigners find the street food options in the Philippines less than desirable.
Aside from the unsafe health conditions of the food, it’s just not all that great. Still, if you’re here and brave you should definitely try some Balut (aka duck abortion!) or the Davao specialty, Durian. (I think it smells like rotten feet and tastes only slightly better…but so many SWEAR by it, I may be wrong?) While the street food is not so hot, there are some delicious dishes available you should check out, so don’t let me scare you off!
That being said, Davao has some AMAZING fruit options available. From amazingly fresh and delicious mangos, pineapples, and bananas to the more exotic fruits like Dragon fruit and Pomelo, you won’t be hurting for delicious fresh fruit on a daily basis. If you do venture around the city, make sure to stop by some of the fruit stalls and sample some of what they’ve brought in from the provinces.
As I mentioned, I’ll be adding more to this page in the weeks and months to come and will primarily use this as a resource for those looking to visit or setup their business in Davao. Big thanks to John N. for helping put this together!
Last Updated: 4/8/14