Join now
Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Sun in One Asian Tiger State, Rain in Another

The Asian Tigers — Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan — vary quite drastically in their results. While Hong Kong and South Korea lean towards the lower end of the spectrum, Singapore and Taiwan rank in the global top 5.
  • The Asian Tigers have top 10 ranks across the board for Travel & Transportation.
  • Finding friends is not always easy in the Asian Tigers.
  • Taiwan ranks 2nd for work and 1st for quality of life overall.
  • Singapore is the best option for satisfactory family life (12th out of 50).

Transportation a Plus, Though Well-Being Varies

Singapore and Taiwan offer an excellent quality of life overall, ranking fourth and first, respectively, in this index, while Hong Kong (32nd) and South Korea (23rd) at least make it into the top half.

Out of all of the topics covered in the Expat Insider survey, travel and transportation is the only area in which all four Asian Tigers perform consistently well. Each destination holds at least a top 10 ranking in the respective subcategory. Singapore even tops the list, with Hong Kong and Taiwan not far behind ranking 2nd and 5th out of 68 destinations, respectively.

The public infrastructure is well kept, and transportation is remarkable in South Korea.

Within the Travel & Transportation subcategory, the transportation infrastructure is rated as very good in the Asian Tigers — Hong Kong even snags first place for this factor. The opportunity to travel is also highly regarded, with the exception of South Korea, which places 32nd out of 68. Still, “the public infrastructure is well kept, and transportation is remarkable in South Korea,” according to a US American in the country.

The results in the Health & Well-Being subcategory are significantly less consistent: Taiwan does quite well, ranking 5th, while Hong Kong sits toward the bottom at 57th overall. Singapore and South Korea are much more average (23rd and 27th, respectively). Over three-quarters of expats in Taiwan (77%) give the affordability of healthcare the best possible rating, while two-thirds regard its quality as excellent. South Korea does very well, too, ranking third for both factors. However, its overall result in the subcategory is dragged down by a subpar rating for the quality of the environment, which is regarded negatively by 45% of respondents in South Korea, while close to three in five (59%) say the same in Hong Kong.

Safe and Relaxed? Depends on the Destination

Feeling safe in the Asian Tigers really depends on the exact location — Singapore and Taiwan perform quite well in the Safety & Security subcategory per usual, though Hong Kong and South Korea lose some ground in comparison. Taiwan takes 1st for personal safety, though peacefulness and political stability are more average with rankings of 15th and 21st.

Singapore wins for overall consistency: the country ranks 6th out of 68 in the Safety & Security subcategory, with over nine in ten respondents there rating the political stability (91%), the peacefulness (92%), and their personal safety (98%) favorably. Expats looking for a safe and secure environment can consider Singapore the best option out of the Asian Tiger States. Hong Kong, in comparison, loses out due to expats’ steadily worsening opinion regarding the peacefulness in the administrative region: ranking 32nd out of 64 destinations for this factor in 2015, it has since dropped 21 places to land on 53rd out of 68 in 2018.

In Taiwan, there is plenty to do and stunning natural places to explore.

In terms of leisure options, though, none of the four states does very well. Only Taiwan has a decent ranking in this subcategory at 15th out of 68. A respondent from the US shares that “there is plenty to do and stunning natural places to explore”. Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea all perform poorly in contrast and have the most unsatisfactory results regarding the climate and weather (Hong Kong 45th, Singapore 36th, and South Korea 47th). Expats in Taiwan (35th) are also not always satisfied with this particular factor, though.

Taiwan Feels Most Like Home

Results in the Ease of Settling In Index are similarly varied. South Korea ranks the worst of the four, landing in 59th place. Singapore and Taiwan remain on the opposite end at 18th and 15th, respectively, though Singapore doesn’t always shine when looking at subcategories and individual factors.

The Finding Friends subcategory, for example, is a series of some of the Asian Tigers’ worst scores: South Korea ranks near the bottom at 55th, and Hong Kong and Singapore follow suit, coming in at 51st and a slightly better 34th, respectively. Taiwan, unsurprisingly, is the exception to the rule with its top 10 rank in the Finding Friends subcategory.

It can be a bit stressful with all the people in Singapore.

Over three-fifths of respondents in Taiwan (63%) generally agree that it is easy to make local friends. In comparison, less than half the respondents in the other three Tiger States (46% at most) say the same. According to a Swedish respondent, “it can be a bit stressful with all the people in Singapore. Sometimes I feel that people (locals) are friendly because they have to be, not because they want to be, and that makes it not genuine to me.”

Taiwan similarly outperforms its counterparts when it comes to friendliness, ranking third overall and even first for locals’ attitude toward foreign residents.

Singapore and Taiwan Top for Work

The Working Abroad Index is quite clearly divided between near perfect scores for Taiwan and Singapore and unsatisfactory rankings for Hong Kong and South Korea. Taiwan takes 2nd place out of 68 in the index, and even 1st for the job security factor.

Singapore, though not as high in the ranks as Taiwan, is still rated 14th out of 68 in the Working Abroad Index and even places in the top 10 in the Economy & Job Security (5th) and the Career Prospects & Satisfaction (6th) subcategories. Singapore’s top employment statuses also stand out compared to global and regional results: 31% of expats in Singapore are managers, whereas the most common occupations in the other Asian Tiger States include teachers and employees. A noteworthy number of expats in Singapore (9%) are also entrepreneurs or business owners — an occupation that does not make the top 3 list in any of the other Tiger States.

Hong Kong and South Korea, on the other hand, do not perform nearly as well when it comes to work. Work-life balance in particular seems to be a primary concern among expats: Hong Kong is near the very bottom, ranking 65th out of 68. One German expat in Hong Kong emphasizes the “busy lifestyle and long working hours”. With 46.8 hours, the average length of a full-time work week in Hong Kong is noticeably above the global 44.0-hour average.

Work-life balance is similarly poorly rated in South Korea, though weekly full-time working hours are well below the global average at 39.1 hours per week. Nevertheless, results for working abroad in South Korea in general tend toward the lower half of the spectrum (40th in the index), with below-average results not only in the Work & Leisure subcategory (56th) but also in terms of career prospects and job satisfaction (51st). “The work culture is bad. I imagine this is what working 50 years ago was like. Very hierarchical and no human respect,” a Danish expat in South Korea says.

Financial Stability? Taiwan’s the Best Bet

Taiwan once again stands out among its peers in the Personal Finance and Cost of Living Indices. In both areas, Taiwan takes 10th out of 68, which, compared to Hong Kong’s 52nd place for finance, is quite noteworthy.

Life in Hong Kong is too expensive, especially the real estate.

It’s quite ironic, then, that Hong Kong tops the charts for highest income among the four Asian Tigers: more than one in five expats in Hong Kong (21%) report an annual household income between 100,000 and 150,000 USD, and close to a third (32%) have more than 150,000 USD at their disposal, compared to 12% worldwide. Still, Hong Kong ranks only 46th for disposable household income being enough to cover daily costs and even places last for cost of living. An Italian expat points out that “life in Hong Kong is too expensive, especially the real estate. The cost of living in general is very expensive.”

Family Life in Singapore Outshines the Rest

For someone looking to minimize headaches when it comes to childcare and education, Hong Kong and South Korea are certainly not great choices. Singapore and Taiwan, though, have a few more advantages than disadvantages, placing 12th and 20th out of 50 destinations, respectively, in the Family Life Index. Singapore ranks seventh for availability of childcare and education, with over two-thirds of expat parents (68%) agreeing that childcare options are numerous and easy to get. Most noteworthy in Singapore, though, is the quality of education, outperformed only by Finland: Singapore scores 2nd out of 50 in the Quality of Education subcategory and 5th for family well-being in general.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Hong Kong, ranking of 44th out of 50 in the Family Life Index. The special administrative region ranks last in the Availability of Childcare & Education and Cost of Childcare & Education subcategories. As a Spanish expat points out, “there are very limited housing and education options in Hong Kong unless you are really wealthy!”

Further Reading