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I had the pleasure of spending 3 weeks here in August last year and based on my experience, it seems hardly surprising that Singapore tops HSBC’s Expat Explorer Survey in 2017.
Singapore is in first place for the second year running, ahead of Norway (6th in 2016), New Zealand (2nd) and Germany (10th). An eclectic top 10 also includes the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Austria, and the United Arab Emirates.
The league tables are generated based on 3 major criteria; Economics, Experience, and Family, which have their own subcategories. Amongst others, job security, politics, and wage growth potential, for example, within Economics; health, culture and quality of life for Experience; and social life, school quality and childcare quality for Family.
Why is Singapore #1?
Although it can be tough to secure residency in Singapore – the city state has stringent residency requirements which you can read about here – Singapore offers all the benefits of city living: state of the art architecture, beautiful and inspiring green spaces such as the botanical gardens, and the Gardens by the Bay, cleanliness, good transport, law and order, and intense monitoring of its citizens – for better, or worse.
Singaporean society is upwardly mobile, hard-working, ambitious and deeply knowledgeable. It is hierarchical also, with young Singaporeans’ futures decided from an early age based on their academic performance, and a lack of social mobility thereafter.
This is precisely how Singapore was intended to develop by “Harry” Lee Kwan Yew, the Cambridge educated Singapore native who governed the city state for 3 decades, until his death in 2015; his son, Lee Hsien Loong, is Singapore’s current Prime Minister. This is a hard-working, inclusive society based on the principles of Plato’s Republic, that favours academic ability and encourages the elite to set the agenda and tone of its society.
Expats in Singapore can expect to benefit from excellent schools, a diverse cultural melting pot that includes Singaporean, Malay, Chinese, English and other traditions and values, social cohesion, a generally safe and secure city, and an enviable opportunity to further their careers in tropical climes.
Some might find Singapore’s culture of achievement and hegemony stifling – or too competitive, perhaps – but if you are prepared to make certain sacrifices – working long hours, making sure you immerse yourself in the culture and throw yourself into your social duties – the rewards on offer are as good as you will find anywhere in the world.
There is a reason why one in every 3 people that you meet in Singapore will be a millionaire, and also why Singapore is such a trusted, corruption free place to do business. In this wildly successful state – a colonial backwater until Sir Stamford Raffles recognized its potential in the late eighteenth century – the equation is simple; the more you put in, the more you get out of your experience.
The best of the rest?
It’s intriguing to see Norway score so highly as it is probably few people’s first choice when thinking about relocating overseas, but this is an HSBC survey, after all, and Norway’s vast oil reserves make it a wealthy country. It is also a place of great beauty; a touch remote for some, perhaps, and expensive too – but a rewarding place to live and work in, with firm values and, crucially, a great sense of humour.
It is less hard to come up with reasons for Australia’s presence in the top 10 – sunshine, a recognisable culture that is easy to adapt too, and wealth brought about by the country’s dealings with China and the rest of Asia. Bear in mind, however, that Australia is a an awfully long way from anywhere.
The United Arab Emirates is the only middle-eastern country on the list, perhaps surprisingly (Bahrain topped Internations’ list of the best places to live and work abroad), Canada is highly thought of by just about everyone (although also ignored by many, too, perhaps because of its noisy neighbours down South), and Sweden perhaps represents a more accessible Norway, with EU membership, and a high quality of life – especially in Stockholm – at least during the summer months.
The best of the Worst?
Africa is distinctly under-represented in HSBC’s list, with only South Africa, Kenya and Egypt making the top 50. A shame, as from a mobile and payments perspective, Africa is ahead of the game, integrating mobile wallets and finally beginning to reach its vast “unbanked” population.
Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and Egypt, make up places 43-46 on the list – the “bottom” 4 places. Other notables? Turkey places 34th, Japan 29th, France 23rd, and Thailand 22nd.
The truth is, no matter how many data points surveys like these include, there will always be a strong element of personal choice about where, why, and how, people choose to relocate overseas.
If you are preparing for a spell abroad and have options, however, it would be foolish to ignore surveys like these – even if you end up bucking the trend.