"Bad luck again to all the Hong Kong bankers now in Singapore"
If you're one of the bankers who left Hong Kong between 2019 and 2022 and who went to live in Singapore, I bet you're not feeling so smug now.
As an expat whose banking career has been spent in Hong Kong, I see a lot of people in this group. They felt incredibly superior a couple of years ago, but now their relocation has backfired.
So many people have left Hong Kong for Singapore, that the fragile balance of foreigners to native Singaporeans has been disrupted. The Singaporean government is fighting back.
The latest instance of this is the new announcement that foreigners in Singapore who want to buy land currently zoned for mixed residential and commercial use will be required (from today) to seek government approval before they can go ahead. This prevents expats from buying, for example, houses above shops and comes on the back of a doubling of the Singaporean property tax for foreigners to 60% in April and rent increases of 60%-100%.
While it's questionable whether front office bankers would buy homes above shops, the latest ruling is another reminder that expats aren't welcome in Singapore any more. Many Singaporeans enjoy subsidized government apartments, but if you're an expat in the city you're at the mercy of rising rents and buying a place of your own is increasingly out of the question.
At the same time, it's not simple just to return to Hong Kong. If you want to be a permanent resident here, you need seven years' continuous residence, so if you've left for Singapore and you come back again you'll need to start from scratch.
It stands to make the situation for some expats in Asia very difficult. The only other alternative might be to retire to Thailand, but Thailand is in the grips of a political crisis and riots and isn't exactly ideal either.
Maragold D’Orac is the pseudonym of a recently retired senior ECM banker in Asia
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