A foreigner’s life in Iloilo City

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Iloilo does not get nearly so many foreign tourists as Cebu and Manila. Places like Boracay, Dumaguete and Bohol see more tourists and have many more resident foreigners than Iloilo. Sometimes, I can spend the day in the city and not see another foreigner. A big part of the explanation must be that these places have much better beaches, but I also think that the Ilonggo character is part of the answer.  I find Ilonggos, male and female, to have a reserve and seriousness which differentiates them from the more outgoing Cebuanos and even Tagalogs.  They seem serious, proud, industrious, honest, and pious compared the more fun-loving Cebuanos or Tagalogs.  Beyond the reserve, I find Ilonggos to be honest, kind, and courteous, but don’t expect them to fawn over you because you’re a foreigner.


Iloilo’s new riverfront esplanade

There’s certainly nothing unusual about young Cebuanas dating foreigners but this does not seem common here. While Iloilo has a few “girlie bars” it does not have the kind of pervasive sex tourism/bar scene found in Angeles or Cebu City. Casual dating of a “white” guy would not be considered proper by many Ilonggas. I rarely see young Filipinas with older foreigners, a very common sight in Cebu. Many of the Filipina-foreigner couples appear to be married couples who have grown plump together over the years.  In short, Iloilo is not the best choice for the foreigner looking for a good time.

The upside of this is that the foreigner is more a curiosity than an opportunity and is generally left in peace and treated with respect. It’s unusual for me to be overcharged or otherwise taken solicited or taken advantage of because I’m a foreigner. There are not so many beggars. Sometimes when I do see children begging money, they will approach other Filipinos or my wife but not me.  I wonder if the relative lack of begging and prostitution relates to Ilonggo pride.

In almost ten years I have never had even a hint of a problem with crime or pickpockets. On the contrary, we have experienced so many acts of kindness.  I left a bag with cellphone and digital camera behind when getting off the jeepney. Fellow riders stopped me to be sure I did not forget the bag. If I drop something, multiple people rush to make sure I get it back.

When this post was originally written, Iloilo was a quiet small city, easy to get without too much traffic.  That is rapidly changing as the city grows at a breakneck speed.  Traffic congestion and lack of parking is are increasingly serious problems and getting around the city can be a trial.  Hopefully residents will benefit from this rapid growth and expats will have new housing and shopping options, but for us going into the city is no longer as easy or enjoyable as it once was.

However, does have  a community of resident expats, many who have been in Iloilo many years. Expats hold meetings twice monthly on the first and third Wednesday of the month at Langford Place Cafe, which near the SM City mall.  Langford Place is just off  Diversion Road behind the Philippines Airlines office.  The get-together starts at 3:00 p.m.

You can also join to the Iloilo Expat’s Yahoo Group. It’s not an especially active group so you won’t be deluged with email but you will receive reminders of the meetings.

Click to join Iloilo-EXPATS

Click to join Iloilo-EXPATS


Comments (19)

  1. Thank everyone for the comments on ILOILO. My fiancee and I am sold! Now we need to find a reasonable priced 2 bedroom apartment. Any help would be greatly appreciated. We need to be in the Molo area or city proper since my wife works for DTI and will be commuting Again, thank you in advance for any help you can provide. Please contact me at L8309@aol.com.

  2. Greetings! What I just read above there makes me feel proud of being an Ilongga. Honestly, it was very flattering that you find us Ilonggos pleasant, kind, plus the explicit “Ilonggo Pride”. Thank you very much and I hope you enjoy your stay here in Iloilo. God bless you! ^_^

    • Thanks for your kind comments. I do very much enjoy living here and much of that enjoyment is due to the kindness of Ilonggos.


  3. ***posted in the forum that featured this blog. Might post it here as well as a comment

    I am an Ilonggo and beaming with pride while reading the OP. It’s true, Ilonggos are not likely to go ga-ga over celebrities or foreigners which may sometimes perceived as arrogance. But it’s mainly due to the strong elitist roots.

    Nevertheless, Ilonggos take pride in their work and do not scam people(foreigners), or degrade their honor just to get some extra cash.

    We show our hospitality not because we want a piece of foreign money, we are hospitable because we are proud.

  4. Hi,

    Scott here from San Antonio Texas. I have been reading a lot about the crime rates and it would appear that it is safer more north than in the south. Davao city was on my list but not sure now. I hope to be in a place that we don’t have to worry and can have a good life with good people. The USA is rally getting bad, we are in so much trouble here. I would really like to get some feedback from anyone to know where the best place is to settle. We hope to be there soon. Thanks for the really nice blog…hope to hear soon from anyone that can point me in the right direction.


    • Hi Scott,

      Davao is considered to be quite safe in recent years due to pretty extreme law enforcement. We have lived in both Cebu City and Iloilo City and feel they they are both fairly safe. I feel like I really have to be careful in Manila. How you live is just as important as where you live. Keep a low profile, treat Filipinos with respect and don’t be out womanizing and boozing and you should be fine.


    • Scott
      I live in Tagum near Davao, its a good place, to relax and hang out, you do get the odd annoyances but there are lots of expats around who have settled there and are pretty happy.

  5. Enjoyed every minute of staying In Iloilo. An interesting and very fast developing city. Will be glad to come back one day.
    Thank you for your blog, without it’d never do.

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  7. Hi Bob and Carol! What a wonderful blog you have! My parents hailed from Iloilo but I grew up in Mindanao. My parents instilled those values of human dignity in us. We were taught never to take advantage of other’s weaknesses. I grew up from a very poor family as well. But my parents had that set of values that I am now passing on to my children. I am earning a living overseas. But I never had a hard time gaining my employer’s trust and respect. My parents would keep telling me and my siblings: “We are poor, dignity is the only thing that we have. In your decisions, always remember that the end does not justify the means”.

    Thank you for your posts about your retirement house construction. I soo love it. Btw, I am a civil engineer and can relate to all posts. I never had the chance to practice my profession in my country and am clueless about its common construction practices. Having worked for 8yrs in Singapore in the construction industry, I guess I will be able to apply my experience here to help build my country when the time is ripe. Thank you for the practical tips. With the current economic situation in the Philippines, I really don’t know how to give my kids, a decent life they deserve without having to work abroad.

    Thank you for seeing those hidden treasures in Iloilo. Btw, my cousins are still there. You gave me more reason to be proud of my roots as an Ilonga.

  8. Iloilo city has a great bonding place’s now days, the last time I came here in 1995 this city was crappy religious city! Nor now there are some parts of iloilo are still conservative, but the Dinagyang and other fiesta I’m sure iloilo has the best fiesta and boat feast. Just drop by iloilo at small ville, enjoy the nonstop party night! Not that much as awesome as Manila, cebu, bohol or others! But for a small city its awesome!! People here are sweet enough and agree with not stealing ur wallets they would help you when you are in trouble.

    Syrian guy

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  10. I’ve been researching the various areas of the Philippines for around ths last 6 months at least with the aim of settling and living the last years of my life there.
    On most of the important points of interest such as real estate costs security and seemingly the attitude towards foreigners, Iloilo so far has come out well on top.
    Within the next few months I shall visit the place and look around for an honest
    estate agent -(in Australia a rare bird) – to help me decide on the best place to live for my fiancee and I – if a good one picks up on this blog – I’ll be a grateful contact.

  11. Ilonggo’s, will always find reasons to justify their flaws and weaknesses.

    The reason why there are not so many foreigners flocking into your city as compared with Bohol or Dumaguete or Boracay or Cebu is simply because your city is not that attractive for them. Don’t give the reason that your ladies are more conservative and thus, don’t cling so much on every foreigner’s arm.

    So many Ilongga’s meet their foreign boyfriends outside of Iloilo.

    • Why there are not more foreigners in Iloilo? I agree it many not be so attractive for some foreigners, especially those looking for a good time. Iloilo is a bit of a conservative place. The people definitely don’t fawn over foreigners as some opportunistic ones do elsewhere. In Iloilo, the foreigner might just be left alone. In my experience Ilonggos are more restrained and buttoned-down than people from Cebu. For a foreigner in Cebu, there is a whole industry available to cater to foreigners. They are catered to in the beach resorts and night spots. Iloilo is really a big college town with thousands of students. The nightlife is geared to those students, not foreigners looking for a good time. The beach a scuba scene in Iloilo is not great.

      I have met many, many foreigners in the Philippines. Many in Cebu and Dumaguete are enjoying a second childhood, drinking, chasing girls. Most of the foreigners here are married to Filipinas and living fairly quiet lives. Some teach, are involved in medical missions and other good works. Some just live quietly.

      I’m not sure what Ilonggo flaws and weaknesses you mean. Perhaps they seem a bit over-proud to other Filipinos. Anyway, my experiences with them are so very good. If you collapse in the street they will help you, not pick your wallet.

    • “The reason why there are not so many foreigners flocking into your city as compared with Bohol or Dumaguete or Boracay or Cebu is simply because your city is not that attractive for them.”

      That’s true White_Uling, Iloilo is not attractive to “most foreigners” ‘coz as per what GOIloilo mentioned in his blog we don’t have lots of girlie bars (no pervasive sex industry). And as we all know majority of the foreigners coming here in the Philippines/South East Asia wanna have a good time and being wasted with exotic Asian girls is a big part of that “good time”. Well, it’s OK for us ‘coz we Ilonggos don’t need the dollars they are going to spend and in return transform our beloved city to a modern day version of Sodom and Gomorrah! Being from C.P.U., (Central Philippine University) we have our own share of foreign visitors and we have lots of them visiting our school and yes they are respectable, well educated, and good people not the rowdy, arrogant, & boisterous foreigners they have in other cities.

      Also true, most of our girls are conservative or let me say, timid. Been to all the cities you mentioned. You can dance with our girls on a disco, no problem, but touch her private part for sure you’ll get slapped or worst her posse will beat the hell out of you but in other cities the girls might even wink or smile at you. So you’re right, if you wanna have a “not so wholesome good time” don’t go to Iloilo.

    • “Don’t give the reason that your ladies are more conservative and thus, don’t cling so much on every foreigner’s arm.” Been to Scandinavia, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, where Aupairs are quite common. Met a lot of Filipina women, and I can know, I’ve met and I’ve seen, that those girls who would even wear sleeveless hanging shirts and short shorts in a cold winter weather is a Cebuana who wished to catch a white guy.
      While Ilonggas are conservative, timid and reserved, Cebuana’s are not.
      And fyi, if you happen to hang out at Smallville, you would find that most prostitutes are not Ilongga but Cebuana. See they even come to Iloilo just to hunt for a white guy.

  12. I agree with what you posted Bob. The Taxi or Cabs are almost always very honest in the city. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve feared for my life or at the very least become rather anxious riding the cabs in Manila.

    Word travels fast in this city especially if someone did something considered dishonorable here(stealing, mugging, scamming,etc.). People become wary of you.

    I did notice that Ilonggos seem to be not as easily impressed as compared to people in Manila. One example was when a celebrity was doing a terrible dance number and there were hardly any reaction from the crowd. That celebrity would probably receive applause in any other part of the country.

    Nice blog you have hear. Enjoyed reading about the house building.

  13. Hello!I agree that Iloilo is the best!It is not a very big city and not so small either ; most people are sweet and considerate, hard working , helpful , honest and always well meaning. it is a place where if you see your good hard working neighbor needs help you would not hesitate to help ; even housing a relative or friend at time; basically it is how Ilonggos live ; most Iloggos really have a good heart. Just another Ilongga in N.Y.

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