Singapore tops survey as best overall destination for expats

Singapore has taken the top spot in HSBC’s Expat Explorer country league table for the second year in a row.

Go to the profile of Claire Tennant-Scull
Sep 28, 2016
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Delegates who attended FEM’s recent APAC Summit there may not be surprised to learn that expatriates in Singapore not only have some of the best career opportunities, but also the greatest financial rewards in world. The survey also found that the City-State offers what it judges to be an excellent quality of life and a safe, family-friendly environment.

More than three in five (62%) expats in Singapore who responded to the survey say that it is a good place to develop their career, and the same proportion have seen their earnings increase after moving to the country (compared with 43% and 42% respectively of expats globally).

The average annual income for expats in Singapore is USD139,000 (compared with USD97,000 across the world), while nearly a quarter (23%) earn more than USD200,000 (more than twice the global expat average of 11%).

Overall, 66% of the expats polled agree that Singapore offers a better quality of life than their home country (compared to 52% of expats globally), while three quarters (75%) say the quality of education in Singapore is better than at home, the highest proportion in the world. The global average figure is around 43%, but it should be noted that most expat families send their children to fee-paying international schools in Singapore (which is well served by the sector).

26,871 expats took part in the survey, which in its ninth year is one of the longest running and widest surveys, asking questions on a range of aspects of life abroad including expat careers, financial wellbeing, quality of life and ease of acclimatisation in the society for families and children.

Other findings reveal:

Millennials pursue expat life to develop their careers

Nearly a quarter (22%) of expats aged 18-34 say that they moved abroad to find more purpose in their career. This compares to 14% of those aged 34-54 and only 7% of those aged 55 and over. Millennials are also the group most likely to embrace expat life in search of a new challenge: more than two in five (43%) say this, compared with 38% of those aged 34-54 and only 30% of those aged 55 and over. Millennials seem to be gaining satisfaction from this strategy too, with almost half (49%) reporting that they are more fulfilled at work abroad than they were in their home country.

Expat experience accelerates progress towards financial goals

The expats polled also reported that far from slowing progress towards their longer-term financial goals, they find that many are fast tracked by life abroad. Around two in five of them say that moving abroad has accelerated their progress towards saving a sufficient amount for their retirement (40%) or towards buying a property (41%), compared to around one in five (20% and 19% respectively) whose move abroad has slowed their progress towards these financial goals. Almost a third (29%) of expats say living abroad has enabled them to save for their children’s education more rapidly, compared to only 15% who say it has slowed them down.

Switzerland tops the poll for its economy

For the second year running, Switzerland has been judged to offer unrivalled financial wellbeing and a strong economy for expats. Nearly nine out of ten (87%) expats living there express confidence in the political stability of the country and four in five (80%) feel confident about its economy. Three quarters (75%) of expats say the earning prospects are better in Switzerland than they are back in their home country, with an average annual income of USD188,000. Nearly three quarters (71%) of expats in Switzerland are able to save more of their income there, while 73% now have more disposable income. This compares to global expat averages of 53% and 56% respectively.

New Zealand leads the way in the expat experience

According to the survey, New Zealand offers an unrivalled expat experience. The vast majority (83%) of expats there praise the country’s environment in terms of its clean air and water and view it as being better than their home country. Almost three quarters (73%) say their quality of life has improved while they have lived there, which compares to 52% of expats globally. Nearly three quarters (72%) of expats say they are integrating well with the local people and culture, and the majority (57%) agree that New Zealand is better at welcoming people regardless of faith, races, gender and sexual orientation.

Sweden is best for family life

Families moving abroad say that Sweden offers an excellent environment for them to settle. Three quarters (75%) of expat parents in Sweden rate their children’s quality of life as higher than their home country. Almost half (46%) view the quality of education in Sweden as superior and 72% say it is less expensive. A similar proportion (75%) believe that the quality of childcare available in Sweden is better than it is at home.

Dean Blackburn, Head of HSBC Expat, commented, “Expats consistently tell us that moving abroad has helped them achieve their ambitions and long-term financial goals, from getting access to better education for their children to buying property or saving more for retirement. Most expats also find that their quality of life has improved since making the move – and that they are integrating well with the local people and culture.”

Changing economic tides

It is interesting to review previous surveys and to see how they reflect the seismic changes in the global economy. Whilst Singapore has topped the survey for two years now, in 2014, the Middle East (with Qatar in the prime spot) was found to be the most popular choice among the most career-minded. At that time, Brazil was also the most popular destination with expats sent to the South American country by their employers, but this year, it doesn’t even make it into the top 10.

It is sobering to recall that just four years ago, in 2012, Brazil had overtaken the UK to become the world’s sixth largest economy and was the ‘B’ in BRICS – the economic group that was so feverishly discussed. At that time the country enjoyed a GDP of over $1 trillion and its growth seemed steady, but an economic crash was not far away, and although it now seems to be recovering, Brazil’s recent history is a reminder that fortunes can swiftly change and that in the global mobility sector, being an agile operator is a vital attribute.


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Go to the profile of Claire Tennant-Scull

Claire Tennant-Scull

Head of Content & Events Director, Forum for Expatriate Management

Claire Tennant-Scull is Head of Content and acting Events Director at the Forum for Expatriate Management (FEM). She chairs all FEM’s Conferences and Summits in the Americas, APAC and EMEA. Claire also leads FEM’s London Chapter and manages the FEM website and associated reports. Claire has more than 20 years’ experience in publishing, working as a managing editor, writer, journalist and broadcaster, both in the print and digital world. She has worked for major publishing houses and was previously the Online Editor at a respected global mobility publisher. Claire is always keen to meet new members and to broaden the FEM community.

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