The Asian Tigers Make for a Very Varied Picture
- Almost all expats in Singapore (99%) feel safe and secure (vs. 84% globally).
- Expats in Hong Kong love the transportation infrastructure; 79% even give it the best possible rating.
- 94% of expats are satisfied with the affordability of healthcare in Taiwan (vs. 61% globally).
- 22% of expats in South Korea are unhappy with their work-life balance (vs. 17% globally).
- Except for Hong Kong, expats are very much satisfied with official COVID-19 communications.
Comparing Life in the Asian Tiger States
While Taiwan ranks in the top 10 destinations in the Cost of Living Index (6th), the other three Asian Tigers are found in the bottom 20, with Hong Kong (59th) even ranking last worldwide. Luckily, results in the Personal Finance Index are not quite as dire, with South Korea’s 31st rank the worst place here. The Asian Tigers perform exceptionally well regarding their transportation infrastructure, all ranking in the top 10 for this factor, with Singapore even coming in first and Hong Kong ranking in second! However, Hong Kong (48th) and South Korea (46th) perform poorly in the Quality of the Environment subcategory, with both destinations found in the bottom 15. In contrast, Taiwan (29th) and Singapore (26th) receive rather average results.
Opinions are similarly divided when it comes to the Health & Well-Being subcategory: Taiwan (1st) and South Korea (2nd) perform exceptionally well, whereas Hong Kong (39th) and Singapore (41st) come in the bottom 20. In fact, over four in five expats in Taiwan (94%) and South Korea (84%) rate the affordability of healthcare positively, while Hong Kong (49th) and Singapore (57th) land in the bottom 15 for this factor. Interestingly, Hong Kong (23rd) only receives average results for the quality of medical care, while the other three destinations rank in the top 10, with Taiwan (1st) and South Korea (3rd) even in the top 3.
When it comes to the ease of settling in, Taiwan’s first place in the Friendliness subcategory cannot be matched by Singapore (38th), Hong Kong (43rd), and South Korea (50th). Singapore, on the other hand, stands out with its second place in the Language subcategory, compared to Hong Kong (41st), Taiwan (44th), and South Korea (50th), though this may well be due to the status of English as one of the four official languages in Singapore. Singapore (9th) and Taiwan (11th) both perform exceptionally well compared to South Korea (28th) and Hong Kong (37th) regarding the state of the local economy. However, expats are less happy with their working hours in South Korea (50th), Singapore (53rd), and Hong Kong (58th) — the latter even comes in second to last for this factor. In comparison to these poor results, Taiwan ranks in fourth.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Expat Life
Expats in the Asian Tiger States, with the exception of Hong Kong (68%), are very much satisfied with the official communication regarding COVID-19 and the information on related regulations — nearly every expat in Singapore (93%), for example, gives this factor a positive rating (vs. 66% globally). What’s more, when asked about the impact of the pandemic on their expat life, respondents in South Korea (28%) and Taiwan (34%) are much more likely to say they decided not move back to their home country in the near future due to COVID-19, compared to Hong Kong (18%), Singapore (15%), or the global average (18%). In fact, a higher-than-average share plans to leave Singapore and move to another foreign country now (12% vs. 6% globally). Overall, respondents in the Asian Tiger States share that the pandemic has had the biggest impact on their personal travel, with 32% or more selecting this factor (vs. 28% globally).
Singapore: A High Quality of Life…
Coming in 13th place out of 59 destinations, Singapore has an above-average performance in most indices of the Expat Insider 2021 survey. The city-state ranks best in the Quality of Life Index (13th). In the Digital Life subcategory of the index, 97% of expats find it easy to get high-speed internet access at home (vs. 79% globally), placing Singapore first worldwide for this factor. Additionally, 94% of expats are happy with the availability of government services online (vs. 63% globally). Singapore performs even better in the Safety & Security subcategory (2nd), where only Finland (1st) ranks higher. Almost all expats feel safe in Singapore (99% vs. 84% globally) and rate the political stability positively (95% vs. 64% globally). An expat from India shares: “I like the higher sense of safety, security, and, most importantly, the friendly locals.” In fact, 43% find it easy to make local friends, which is about the same as the global average (44%). However, only 8% of respondents have mainly local friends (vs. 20% globally), while 39% mainly hang out with other expats (vs. 32% globally). Just over half (52%) describe their friends and acquaintances as a fairly mixed group (vs. 48% globally). Overall, 76% of expats find it easy to settle down in Singapore (vs. 62% globally).
I like the higher sense of safety & security in Singapore.
…but a Poor Work-Life Balance…
While Singapore lands in a mediocre 30th place in the Working Abroad Index, it does receive very good results for the state of the local economy (9th), which 85% of expats rate positively (vs. 62% globally). Most expats in Singapore (78%) are currently working full time (vs. 55% globally), while only 6% work part time (vs. 12% globally). However, the overall result in the Working Abroad Index is impacted negatively by a poor performance in the Work & Leisure subcategory (52nd). The city-state lands in the bottom 10 for this subcategory and for the two relevant rating factors: working hours and work-life balance (53rd for both). In fact, 22% of expats rate their work-life balance negatively (vs. 17% globally), and 23% are unhappy with their working hours (vs. 16% globally). At 47.1 hours, expats in Singapore work more hours per week than most expats globally (43.2 hours). An Indian expat says, “There is no work-life balance and no family time.”
… and High Expenses
Singapore performs worst in the Cost of Living Index (54th). Almost two in three expats (63%) rate the cost of living negatively, compared to just over one-third (34%) globally. An expat from India says: “It is extremely expensive to live in Singapore, and it is difficult to find decent housing for an affordable price.” On the upside, 67% of expats are satisfied with their financial situation, compared to 64% globally, and 81% of expats say their disposable household income is enough or more than enough to cover everything they need (vs. 77% globally).
Hong Kong: Lacking Stability…
Ranking 46th out of 59 destinations in the Expat Insider 2021 survey overall, Hong Kong also performs below average in the Quality of Life Index (37th). It ranks especially low in the Safety & Security subcategory (57th). In fact, 70% of expats rate Hong Kong’s political stability negatively, which is more than four times the global average (16%). This is also a very poor result compared to other Tiger States like Singapore, where 95% of expats rate the political stability positively. Furthermore, 30% would not describe Hong Kong as peaceful (vs. 9% globally).
Another factor that lowers the quality of life in Hong Kong is the air quality (57th), with over half the expats (54%) rating this factor negatively (vs. 20% globally). On the upside, Hong Kong ranks fifth in the Travel & Transportation subcategory: 96% of expats are satisfied with the transportation infrastructure, compared to 76% globally. A German expat says that “there is great transportation infrastructure, and everything is within easy reach”.
Everything is within easy reach in HK.
…and While Incomes Match Expenses…
Hong Kong ranks slightly above the average in the Personal Finance Index (26th): about two in three expats (66%) are satisfied with their financial situation (vs. 64% globally). The majority of expats (84%) also feels their disposable household income is enough or more than enough to cover all their expenses (vs. 77% globally). However, Hong Kong ranks last worldwide in the Cost of Living Index (59th): 78% of expats are unhappy with the cost of living (vs. 34% globally). Among many other respondents, a South African expat lists the “high cost of living” as one of the worst things about living in Hong Kong.
…Expats Dislike Their Working Hours
Hong Kong also performs poorly in the Working Abroad Index (48th), where many expats are unhappy with their working hours (31% vs. 16% globally) and work-life balance (27% vs. 17% globally). In Hong Kong, expats with full-time jobs work on average 44.4 hours a week (vs. 43.2 hours globally). An expat from Indonesia shares: “Now that I am looking for a job, I realize that the work-life balance here is really bad.” The sectors expats in Hong Kong most commonly work in are finance (27%), education (14%), and healthcare (9%).
Taiwan: The Best Destination for Expats…
Taiwan ranks 1st out of 59 destinations for the third year in a row in the Expat Insider 2021 survey. It also comes first in the Working Abroad Index for the second year in a row: most expats are satisfied with their job security (83% vs. 61% globally) and the state of the local economy (85% vs. 62% globally). A Bulgarian expat shares: “The political and social stability is great, world’s best handling of COVID-19!” Additionally, three-quarters (75%) are overall happy with their job (vs. 68% globally). The top 3 fields of work for expats in Taiwan are education (26%), manufacturing and engineering (18%), and advertising, marketing, and communication (10%). Almost three-quarters of expats (74%) are satisfied with their working hours, compared to a global average of 66%. In Taiwan, full-time employees work an average of 39.9 hours a week, which is below the global average of 43.2 hours per week.
…with an Incredible Healthcare System…
Taiwan also lands in first place in the Quality of Life Index, and the majority of expats (80%) is generally happy with their life, 36% even very much so (vs. a global 75% and 19%, respectively). Furthermore, 96% of expats rate the quality of medical care positively (vs. 71% globally), and another 94% are satisfied with its affordability (vs. 61% globally). An expat from Chile shares: “The Taiwanese healthcare system truly considers people as human beings instead of mere numbers.” Moreover, not a single expat feels personally unsafe in Taiwan (vs. 8% globally). An expat from Canada shares: “I can live independently. I feel safe wherever I go, and everything is convenient.” This convenience might be due to the Taiwanese transportation system, among other things: Taiwan ranks eighth in the Travel & Transportation subcategory, and 90% rate its transportation infrastructure positively, compared to 76% globally.
… and a Very Friendly Population
Although Taiwan places slightly lower in the Ease of Settling In Index (13th), it is the best-ranking destination worldwide in the Friendliness subcategory (1st). Most expats find it easy to make friends (62% vs. 48% globally) and describe the population in Taiwan as friendly towards foreign residents (96% vs. 67% globally). This is backed up by the fact that 60% of expats in Taiwan have a mixed group of friends that includes both expats and locals, a much higher share than the global average of 48%. An expat from France says: “Taiwanese citizens make me feel at home. I do not feel like a foreigner.” Only the local language holds them back, as more than half the expats (55%) consider it difficult to learn (vs. 42% globally).
Taiwanese citizens make me feel at home.
South Korea: Expats Don’t Feel at Home…
Narrowly escaping the bottom 10, South Korea ranks 47th out of 59 destinations in the Expat Insider 2021 survey. It performs worst in the Ease of Settling In Index (54th), where it cannot avoid being ranked among the worst destinations in the world. The country receives very poor results in the Feeling at Home subcategory (56th), with only 54% of expats feeling at home in the local culture (vs. 63% globally) and 38% finding it difficult to settle down in South Korea (vs. 22% globally). Over half the expats in South Korea (54%) also find it difficult to make local friends, compared to just 36% globally. An expat from the Philippines says: “It is difficult to learn the language — and probably due to the language barrier, it is also difficult to make local friends.” In fact, 64% of expats struggle with learning the local language (vs. 42% globally). In South Korea, most expats (70%) do not speak the local language at all or just a little — a far higher proportion than the global average (43%).
…but Appreciate Local Healthcare…
However, South Korea performs much better in the Quality of Life Index (28th). This can be largely attributed to its healthcare system: 84% of expats rate the affordability of healthcare positively (vs. 61% globally), and 92% are happy with the quality of medical care (vs. 71% globally). South Korea also performs better than average in the Travel & Transportation subcategory (20th), with 92% of expats rating the transportation infrastructure positively (vs. 76% globally). An Irish expat shares: “The healthcare, personal safety, and transportation are all very good.” Almost all expats (92%) feel safe in South Korea (vs. 84% globally), and only 2% say they do not feel safe, which is below the global average (8%). However, over half the expats in South Korea (52%) are unhappy with the air quality (vs. 20% globally), placing the country in the bottom 10 for this factor (55th).
…though Job Security Comes at a Cost
South Korea does not perform well in the Working Abroad Index (40th), and expats particularly dislike their working hours and lack of work-life balance (50th for both). One in five expats (20%) is dissatisfied with their working hours (vs. 16% globally). Interestingly, expats working full time actually work less than the global average (39.5 vs. 43.2 hours a week). Overall, 22% are unhappy with their work-life balance (vs. 17% globally). A Jamaican expat claims that “the working culture is problematic and there is not enough work-life balance.” On the upside, expats consider their jobs in South Korea to be secure, as 63% rate this factor positively (vs. 61% globally).
The working culture in South Korea is problematic.
Want to take a look
at other years' results?
Check out the Expat Insider 2022!