August 10th, 2012
09:07 AM GMT
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Editor’s note: Outlook is CNN's in-depth look at business climates around the world. To August 12, 2012, we’re focusing on Singapore.

(CNN) – It’s always been a case of two-way traffic in the spirited rivalry between Singapore and Hong Kong to attract expats – those that do a stretch in Singapore often do one in Hong Kong, too.

The comparisons form a staple of bar room chatter in both Asian cities.

After Singapore’s manicured dormitory suburbs, the sometimes over-weaning presence of the state and its tame media, Hong Kong’s fast pace polity and bare-knuckled local press can be a breath of fresh air.

For those escaping to Singapore from Hong Kong’s ineluctable pollution, a breath of fresh air, quite literally, is all they want.

Last week, Hong Kong choked in the worst pollution to hit the city in two years.

The human resources consultancy ECA International – whose location rating survey gauges expatriate living conditions – ranks Hong Kong as Asia’s third most livable city after Singapore and Japan’s Kobe.

Rebecca Bisset, editor-in-chief of Singapore’s Expat Living magazine, says that Singapore takes its fair share of corporate refugees from Hong Kong, many of them seeking a more family-oriented environment after the work-hard-play-hard ethos of Hong Kong.

“I guess Singapore is the place you come when your body just can’t take it anymore,” she jokes. “Apart from the fact that it’s more of a party town, the biggest problem for Hong Kong seems to be pollution.

“In Singapore, there are no problems with typhoons, the cold, the sort of things you get in Hong Kong,” she says. “Here it’s pretty much summer all year round and we love it.”

While Singapore has a more staid reputation than Hong Kong, expat families are willing to overlook a certain that for the convenience and fresh air.

“I do have one friend who says she will definitely go back to Hong Kong from Singapore once her children have grown up,” says Bisset. “But mostly people here like the easy lifestyle.”

The government’s push to attract foreign talent, however, has recently stirred a backlash in Singapore where ostentatious displays of wealth have played poorly with the local electorate.

A deadly car crash in May involving a mainland Chinese expat driving a Ferrari at breakneck speed through the city center galvanized xenophobic sentiment. Prior to this incident, Bisset says, there had been a large-scale clamp down on work permits for foreigners throughout the city state.

“That has softened a bit this year but there is, perhaps, a sense that people are coming from outside and taking top paying jobs,” she says. “But when they see how much expats have to pay for housing and schools, it puts it into some perspective.”

Nevertheless, the government’s drive to build Singapore as a world-class center for commodities trading as well as other financial services means the flood of expats is unlikely to dry up anytime soon.

Financial services providers are increasingly basing their operations there.

Richard Straus, who heads Citi Private’s North Asia division for global family offices - a branch of the bank that runs offices that manages finances for mega-wealthy families - says Singapore is becoming a focus for investors, adding that 1,000 to 1,500 family offices will emerge in Asia by 2015.

“When I talk to family offices all around the world, many of them are very interested in the Singapore story in terms of the infrastructure and the environment there,” says Straus.

As well as being in the Asian time zone, the city-state has a pool of experienced financial professionals and a transparent legal system. The Singapore government views the establishment of family offices as giving them a competitive advantage, and is keen to make sure that international rules apply.

While Hong Kong also has a favorable environment for family office structures, Singapore has recently gone the extra distance to turn itself into a hub for high net worth families.

“Infrastructure, rule of law and talent make Singapore very attractive,” says Straus.

CNN’s Outlook series often carries sponsorship originating from the countries we feature. However CNN retains full editorial control over all of its reporting.

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soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Commentor

    It's so easy for people to forget what hard-fought-for democracy means for even Westerners. Sad.

    August 10, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  2. Nick

    Hong Kong is a "party town"? Don't make me laugh. The author obviously has never been to Bangkok, Pattaya or Bali!

    August 11, 2012 at 3:51 am |
  3. Jason Lim

    Singapore and HongKong were like the Indians/ Mayans when Hernando Cortez came along with Columbus. We worshiped white people here and wished we were white as well.

    August 11, 2012 at 5:13 am |
  4. Basman

    "Hong Kong is a "party town"? Don't make me laugh. The author obviously has never been to Bangkok, Pattaya or Bali!"

    i think he means it's easier to get dope in Hong Kong than Singapore...

    August 11, 2012 at 5:18 am |
  5. reality

    are not these expats up to " nonsense"...???

    August 11, 2012 at 11:28 am |

    " We worshiped white people here and wished we were white as well." ... now, this is sad!

    August 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  7. Gizmo

    Unfortunately singaporedont like foreigners among them! We expect foreigners to go back home.

    August 11, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  8. Joy

    There are expats all over the world, of all races.. Many Singaporeans and HKK expats are working in Sydney, London, New York and Hongkong. I am sure they weigh up the pros and cons of the countries they are choosing to work. And when they change countries they will read different reports to help them make choices. Those resports based on first hand recommendations are usually quite important.

    August 11, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  9. Amit-Atlanta-USA

    Singapore is hugely succesful mainly b'coz it’s successive govts. starting from the dictator Lee Kuan Yew laid out some solid policies with shared responsibilities for both business and the govt..

    Secondly, and more importantly Singapore success can be attributed to the fact that its' easily the ONLY NATION on Earth that has succeeded with Multi-Cultaralism with a uniform civil code that is NOT partial to any religious group, something that is often misused by Muslims worldwide.

    No wonder even with a sizeable Muslim population, one never hears of any Islamic terror or any connections even remotely passing through Singapore.

    India, Europe, US, Australia, NZ and much of the free world DIRELY need such laws to both keep growing and keep its EVER DEMANDING Islamists at bay.

    August 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  10. Aamir-Nigeria

    @ Amit-Atlanta-USA-Terror is terror. There is no such thing as Islamic Terror. By the way Malaysia is another good example.

    August 12, 2012 at 1:31 am |
  11. Glenn

    I have been to both places. In my opinion I prefer Hong Kong. I find Hong Kong a lot more exciting than Singapore. There is simply more to do there and the nightlife is far better too! Singapore came across to me as being TOO sterile. Too strict. Yes, there is pollution in HK but not always. Singapore is more of the Asian "suburbia", for those families with children. Not for me.

    August 12, 2012 at 2:42 am |
  12. Verne

    Any place is what you make of it. I haven't lived in Hong Kong, but in the 12 years I've lived as an expat in Singapore, I have never found it sterile or restrictive. The only difficulty is finding time to take advantage of the cultural and entertainment opportunities here.

    August 13, 2012 at 4:34 am |
  13. George

    The thing about Singapore other than the very high cost of living for expats is the comments like below. The local people dont realize that if it were not for the expats there enconomy would not be thriving.

    Comments like these are heard daily, news, mrts. The pregidousness here is getting bad.
    Unfortunately singaporedont like foreigners among them! We expect foreigners to go back home."

    August 14, 2012 at 2:01 am |
  14. Nikki

    I hate this "white people is better" mentality enshrined in the Asian countries. I say get rid of the expats and promote your own people. What is wrong with the Asian government for allowing the expats in. Expats are also so much more expensive and enjoy all the luxuries of live in the host countries. Ridiculous!

    August 14, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  15. Sean Carless

    "A deadly car crash in May involving a mainland Chinese expat driving a Ferrari at breakneck speed through the city center galvanized xenophobic sentiment.". It's hardly xenophobic sentiment is it? SIngaporeans hardly get xenophobic towards other Chinese.

    August 24, 2012 at 12:12 pm |

    MABUHAY Manila !!!!!!!

    August 24, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  17. Charlie

    Having lived in Singapore for more tan two years, I have yet to feel any resentment from Singaporeans. I have found them to be friendly, helpful and welcoming. Of course, there are exceptions, but that is true anywhere. Indeed, most are glad to have Western expats who bring much needed skills and money. While some Western expats think they still exist in the colonial era, most are very happy to call Singapore home. As for 'rich' expats, given that Singapore is a financial center it has it's share of over-paid, obnoxious investment bankers – just like London, New York, Hong Kong.... Singapore's truly wealthy are more likely to be local or regional rather tan Western – outside of financial services the vast majority of Western expats would best be characterized as middle management.

    August 25, 2012 at 3:00 am |
  18. cmac1939

    HongKong is where expats go to make money; Singapore is where they go to get warm!

    August 25, 2012 at 5:39 am |
  19. reno

    Singapore's economy is so much active and so with Hongkong. These countries or territory are the pillars in SEA.
    Please refer to this –>

    August 27, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  20. Edza

    Reg , something interesting for you !

    August 30, 2012 at 12:41 am |
  21. yack

    Singapore would be a lot better off without expats – like Ms smart alec Rebecca Bisset – who come to Singapore, think they are God's gift to Asians.

    PS: No one really reads NOR ADVERTISE in Singapore Expat.

    September 2, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  22. yack

    oh I was referring to WHITE expats.

    September 2, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  23. Tenebrae_blu

    Expatriate: Euphemism for unemployed and unemployable white people now desperately seeking jobs abroad. Also known as 'immigrants;.

    September 5, 2012 at 2:17 am |
  24. lista opium

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    November 8, 2012 at 3:50 am |

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