The attraction of Singapore has died off

Hong Kong has increased the income tax paid by anyone earning over $640k and above to 15%, but compared to Singapore, Hong Kong looks generous. In Singapore, income tax is 15% from $89k and 22% from $237k and above.

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As the cost of living in Singapore rises, this increasingly matters. Last year’s Mercer Cost of Living survey put Singapore in second place to Hong Kong as the most expensive city in the world for expats. In 2022, Hong Kong was still ranked first, but Singapore was ranked sixth.

Hong Kong has always been expensive. But the gap with Singapore is closing, and it’s suddenly an issue. Hong Kong bankers say the island nation’s cost of living is a key reason why they wouldn’t countenance moving there now. 

“It would take a really significant career opportunity to get me to Singapore,” says a managing director on the trading floor at one European bank in Hong Kong. “The cost of living there is just too high, plus Hong Kong is where all the action is. Singapore is more boring – there’s no real excitement there,” he considers. 

It’s a perspective that’s been voiced to eFinancialCareers before. In January 2023, Hong Kong bankers suggested to us that Singapore was “expensive and dull.” This was after the pandemic, when Hong Kong bankers escaped strict COVID rules by moving to Singapore. Since then, many have moved back, and the cost of living in Singapore has risen further. 

“The attraction of Singapore has died off,” says another managing director with decades of experience on Hong Kong trading floors. “Anyone who wanted to leave has left, and it’s no secret that Singapore has become quite expensive in terms of housing and taxes. Singapore’s immigration rules there have also been tightened due to their own political issues, plus it’s all small scale in Singapore and that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.”

One Hong Kong equity strategist tells us that he too wouldn’t go to Singapore now because it’s “in a bubble.” – “The cost of living is higher than it used to be in Singapore – you’ll pay more there for accommodation and for schooling, so it’s better to live in Hong Kong,” he says. 

Like the other financial services professionals, he also favours Hong Kong for its broader lifestyle. “I don’t mind a two or three-day trip to Singapore for shopping and eating, but there’s not much else to do there,” he says. “In Hong Kong there are mountains, hiking, national parks, beaches and Shenzhen all a stone’s throw away. I’d be bored stiff living in Singapore.” 

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