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Best place for US Citizen to Live in Asia?

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I'm a US Citizen. I have accepted a job to be a territory manager for Asia Pacific. I have some input on where my wife and I choose to live. Anywhere in the mid asia region is available, but I need a big airport.

The following cities are on my list, but this is not exlcusive

Singapore
Hong Kong
Jakarta
Manila
Kuala Lumpur
Bangkok
Ho Chi Minh

Important factors are:
Quality Airport, need to travel to Japan, Australia, India occasionally.
Safety for my wife, I'll be out of town some. Crime rates, etc. Is the city safe?
Cost of living - Not getting a COLA adjustment.
English: Yes, I plan to learn the local language, as will my spouse, but that will take some time.

I've been to a few of these cities, but only for business. I was not really paying attention to life in the suburbs, the crime rates, or how much stuff costs. Any help from folks that have lived in one of these cites, and could tell me the good, bad, and ugly......would be appreciated. OR if you have another city to suggest, that is in the area....please do so!

Many Thanks!

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    Singapore is easy - almost everyone speaks English, it's cleaner than wherever you live now and safer, but more expensive (would your company provide housing?). The airport is often voted the world's best and there are greaet connections to everywhere.

    Hong Kong is lively and interesting, also very expensive, especially for housing.

    Bangkok is my favorite city in the world, so if it were me, I'd choose Bangkok. More reasonably priced than SIngapore and Hong Kong, great food and shopping.

    KL I find a bit dull. But it is safe and has good air connections, though not as easy as Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore. Housing is less expensive than Hong Kong and Singapore.

    The above four cities also have excellent medical care available.

    Jakarta I'd put way down my list, as I would Manila and HCMC. These places have more crime than the other cities, though crime in large Asian cities is generally much less than in the US.

    What a wonderful opportunity!

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    kathie is right on..

    singapore would be fab, but is very very expensive to live..
    same for hong kong

    bangkok is diverse, affordable, well served by a great airport and by many airlines... it would be my choice..
    english is easy there for the most part. people are fab..

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    >>>Any help from folks that have lived in one of these cites, and could tell me the good, bad, and ugly......would be appreciated. OR if you have another city to suggest, that is in the area....please do so!

    Many Thanks!<<<


    Greetings sseale68 and warm welcome to Fodor's.

    To date, have truly appreciated and cherished living and working in Singapore. Mind you, enormous family, professional and personal reasons involved. My current work entails a fair amount of air travel and Changi, and yes, Singapore Airlines, are proving to be invaluable. (Big surprise -- I've always loved that airline and airport from childhood days forward.)

    As for basis of comparison, my primary post-studies cities for work assignments and living have been London, New York and San Francisco. Of all, I'll take Singapore, thank you. (Again, those reasons mentioned above.)

    (And will also use the opportunity for a heartfelt promotion of beloved Bangkok. I currently fly - via SQ, naturally - between SIN and BKK on a monthly basis for 1-3 day meetings. So many joyous times in the City of Angels.)

    Wherever you settle, hope it works for you, perhaps in SIN. Speaking of Singapore's Changi, I'm sending this missive off from that fine airport. (My current business travel circuit is primarily BKK, HKG, NRT and SFO -- and the occasional LHR. Soon to be flying today via SQ16 : SIN-ICN-SFO, for ~ a week of meetings and checking on the property. Should any 'Fodorites' be in the vicinity of a certain SIA SilverKris Lounge in Terminal 3, well, tea on me -- the good stuff can wait until boarding.)

    Fine Friday times to all from a fine Singapore morning,

    macintosh (robert)


    ... Singapore Girl, You're a Great Way to Fly ...

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    ss, weighing pluses and minuses here, if cost is a factor, then you have remember that there's a reason that things are cheap. I've lived in Hong Kong and Jakarta and have traveled quite a bit to the other places, especially Singapore and Vietnam. They all have tradeoffs, but (surprisingly!) my first choice would be Jakarta. The ratio of quality to life to cost is excellent.

    The major expense will be rent, so if you're not on an expat package (i.e., the company pays) then you should worry about Hong Kong and Singapore. You don't mention kids, so I assume school isn't a factor. If it is, that would be #2.

    Next is taxes. Consult a tax specialist in country before you make any decisions. You will pay US taxes. In some places you will also pay a substantial local income tax.

    You also don't mention the impact of the actual regional office. Setting up and running an office in all of these places is also vastly different.

    The good points: housing is cheap and very nice -- pool, garden, space. Staff -- maid, cook, gardener, driver -- is affordable.

    Crime is very low. [Kathie, I don't think you're right on this. Jakarta is actually extremely safe, even by US standards.]

    Good restaurants, shopping. Vibrant, social, friendly expatriate community, of all ages. Lots of spouse support. Big US Embassy, energetic American business community. Health care is just fair, but getting better. Singapore is accessible.

    English widely spoken and the Indonesian language is easy to pick up. Wonderful travel opportunities. Good connections throughout Asia/Australia (once you get to the airport).

    Negatives: traffic, traffic, traffic. Diabolic bureaucracy.

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    For me, traffic and airport would rule out Jakarta. For whatever reasons, Jakarta seems to have the worst air connections of any SE Asian capital, and I regularly see people complaining of 3 hour commutes to and from the airport, or anywhere else in the city.

    Marmot raises a very good point about setting up an office. If you have to do that, definitely go with Singapore or KL.

    I'm coming up on 20 years living in Bangkok, so I'm comfortable here, and I know a lot of expats who are as well. But I 'retired' a couple of years ago, in large part due to the sheer frustration of trying to do business here (and because I could).

    If I were to have to leave Thailand, which is a possibility I've had to consider from time to time, my first choice would probably be Phnom Penh. A distant second would be Bali.

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    On getting to the airport in Jakarta: 9 out of 10 times it takes about an hour. It's that 10th time, when you get impossible snarls, that can be discouraging. The good news is that someone else will be driving.

    Jakarta is not a major hub, like Singapore and Hong Kong, but there are ample flights to all of the places on ss's list.

    Foreign direct investment is pouring into Indonesia right now and I believe that all infrastructure is improving.

    I would (and did) choose Bali too, but unless your business is tourism it's not an option.

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    I have lived in Singapore and currently live in Hong Kong, and know the other cities fairly well. Of course visiting a city for work or vacation, and living there are ENTIRELY different experiences.

    Crime is basically not an issue in any of those cities, so I don’t really think you have to worry about that. IMO your wife is safer in any of the above places than in any medium-sized city in the US.

    I assume your company has looked into the tax and regulatory rules in all of the above and has determined that they will work from their prospective. You will need a work permit to live and work in any of these countries, and so they may need a license to have you there as a representative, they may need to set up a branch or a sub, and there may be tax implications to the company. As mentioned above, this can be a lot of paperwork, much of which will fall onto you I think. But make sure they have looked into this, as the last thing you want is to get settled and then for the company to decide they have made a mistake in placing you in that country. In terms of painfulness in dealing with the government, of the countries you have listed I would put Vietnam first and Indonesia next. In both, in addition to lots of paperwork and time spent sitting in bureaucrats’ offices, everything will need to be translated. That will be somewhat the case in Thailand too, although they are a bit more streamlined. Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia are quite easy and all documentation can be filed in English.

    Bear in mind also that in many of these countries you CANNOT arrive on a tourist visa and then “convert” it to a work visa once you opened an office and are ready to work. You also technically cannot work at all on a tourist visa. Vietnam is a big stickler for this, Indonesia may be as well (Marmot may know more about this). Singapore usually requires this, especial if you want to convert to PR status later (see more below). Hong Kong has this rule too but it usually is not observed. But in any event, you may have to go out of the country for a while and then apply for a work visa from a third country (like Thailand for Vietnam or Hong Kong for Singapore). You will need to work closely with your company and someone in-country who can help to make sure you do things correctly. While this website is helpful, most people on it are tourists, and it is not a substitute for the correct information on work visas, so make sure your company helps you with this. Or try the website for the US embassy and consulate in each country you are considering, see http://travel.state.gov/ for a link.

    Some of the rest of this will depend, IMO, on how long you plan to be here. If you are only going to be here for a year or so, then you probably can stand most anything, cost may not be a huge issue, and it will be lark to live in any of them, IMO. So I might just toss a coin or pick a name out of a hat. And at that point, I agree someplace like Bali would be really interesting. But if you plan to build a career or long-term life here, if you have children or plan to have children while you are here then I think you have to think more seriously about it.

    If you have to travel to Japan, Australia and India occasionally, then you really have to rule out Manila and Ho Chi Minh. There are currently no non-stops to India and somewhat limited non-stop service to Australia and Japan as well, esp from Manila. Take a look on Kayak and Expedia and those sites. While it’s a 4-hour flight to Delhi from Hong Kong, it will take you 9-hours from Manila, and you have to sit around a connecting airport for an hour. Having to take connecting flights will get to be a pain for you IMO. (And you will invariably connect through Hong Kong, Singapore or KL and then you will start to wonder…..) Jakarta is a bit limited as well, IMO. While air lift will eventually get better for Ho Chi Minh, I don’t think it ever will really improve for Manila. If you are only doing flights to these countries a few times a year, maybe it does not matter so much. I also have to say that I think HCM airport is terrible, esp compare to something like Hong Kong, Singapore, KL or even Delhi. While I am sure a gleaming new airport is in the plans, it currently is fairly outdated and not that well-run. Mania’s new airport has had a host of problems, you might want to search some articles about it. Perhaps it is working better now.

    It’s hard to beat Singapore and Hong Kong in terms of air service, although KL is quite good as is Bangkok.

    I don’t think any of these cities are actually “cheap” in terms of the lifestyle you may be used to and are comfortable with. Singapore rents are quite close to Hong Kong rents at this point, however you do get larger flats. That being said, if you are willing to live in less central locations in both, you can find flats in more reasonable rents (and by that I mean NYC type rents, not Des Moines, Iowa rents). Once you take out rent, living costs are actually quite reasonable in Singapore and Hong Kong. For example, you don’t need a car in either city, as public transport is excellent and inexpensive. That would not be the case in Jakarta, Manila, or Ho Chi Minh which have minimal public transport, mostly buses. I would want a car in Bangkok probably (although the skytrain/subway would help a lot), and think you would want one in KL, depending on where you live.

    Vietnam’s is experiencing very high inflation, which can make food prices and other costs difficult to budget for, you probably need to do some research on that. (Of course if the Dong continues to sink in value against the Dollar, your purchasing power can increase a bit if you are paid in US Dollars; but it can go the other way too:, and your salary can decrease in purchasing power as the local currency increases against the Dollar. You may want to lock in an exchange rate or have a ceiling and floor.)

    Air pollution is a big concern in many of these cities. Bangkok, Jakarta and Hong Kong probably have the worst. If you have asthma they could be an issue. If you have children or plan to have children while here, and will be here for a number of years, I would re-think those cities personally (And I live in Hong Kong, but have no children.)

    Bangkok probably offers the best value for rentals, lots of stuff on the market, again for the quality you want you won’t get it for US$1000 a month, more like US$2500-3000 a month based on what friends and colleagues there are paying currently. Jakarta may be similar. You can get maid service in any of these places quite inexpensively, including live-in help if you want it.

    Ho Chi Minh has a bit of a housing shortage (at least of quality housing) more is coming onto the market, but you may have to look around a bit to find something you like.

    If you are seriously thinking you might stay in Asia for the long term, or want to retire here at some point, then Singapore might be a good first choice, as you can become a permanent resident with as little as 6 months of residency. In Hong Kong it takes 7 years; and many of the other countries don’t offer the option at all; but check the immigration websites to see their plans. Thailand offers a retirement visa for people who want to stay 1-2 years and not work. (But bear in mind that if you are under 40 you may have to do national service in the Singapore army on weekends for about a month a year if they call you up….) Having PR will allow you to live in Singapore without a job and allows you to get an APAC travel pass which lets you travel visa-free to a slew of countries in Asia including India, China, Australia, etc. It’s definitely worth considering, IMO, you may as well help yourself out as well as helping out your company.

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    BKK - yes vote - traffic and crime are an issue but the food, prices and connectivity make it great.

    HCMC - OK - getting better as time proceeds. Crime is high and traffic is an issue too. Connectivity is a problem.

    HK and Sing - yes votes - VERY expensive but great connectivity and virtually no crime. But no where near the character of BKK of HCMC. Singapore food is great, HK is so-so IMO.

    KL - snooze...Actually it's OK

    Jakarta & Manila - Heck No! I saw above that 9 out 10 times the traffic flow is good to those airports - I guess my luck has been the exact opposite in those towns. Connectivity is an issue as is crime. Food in Manila is, hmmm....let's just say...Philippine cuisine ranks near the bottom in Asia. Indo food is awesome though...IMO...

    Sounds like you have some fun choices to make! Good luck!

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    Whatever place you choose will come with tradeoffs. Visas and taxes are always the most complicated issues and one impacts another, moreso if your wife intends to work.

    It's difficult to quantify your net income without professional tax advice. Many expenses covered by your company will ultimately be considered part of your taxable income -- by the US and in some cases by your host country.

    I found that companies that already have expats in their foreign offices are better equipped to structure the details than those that are doing it for the first time. If you are the first and/or only you may have to pioneer the arrangement so it's important to gather information about hidden costs.

    If you get to the point where you want more information on Indonesia either on doing business or day to day life, let me know. It's not an easy country but even with a moderate income the expat standard of living can be exceptional. And the people are wonderful.

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    Would advise that all these comments are totally monitored and censored to conform to Fodor's notion of what is proper for the forum. Hence, many opinionated or objective comments will not be seen by the readers. You will see only the 'nice' things.

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    The comments that get deleted are mostly spam, though sometimes inappropriate comments like comments on the availability of purchased sex or racial/ethnic insults.

    So did you have an "objective" comment you wanted to make here, jobin?

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    Going back to the topic at hand...

    I've tried going to Vietnam, Hong Kong, Philippines and China. I think Philippines is the best place to live in Asia taking all things into consideration. Most of the population can understand and speak English. The cost of living is ok too. They have a lot of food choices (American, Middle Eastern, Asian, etc.). I found the country easy to adapt to.

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    I have lived in both the Philippines and Thailand. Of the two I prefer Thailand. I think Bangkok is safer, cleaner and better managed than than Manila. I still visit Manila every now and then but for a good part of the year I live in Thailand.

    My opinion, Singapore and Hong Kong are more expensive. Nice places to live, especially if someone else is paying for your apartment, but a little more restrictive too. Singaporeans and Malaysians visit Thailand to cut loose a little and have a holiday that is more affordable. KL, nice place to visit. Many expats live there but there is an undercurrent of religious intolerance if you are not a particular religion. But not as bad as Jakarta.

    When I was a kid I lived in Vietnam in the military. I have no real problem with Vietnam but Bangkok has more to offer. The Vietnamese are hard working, but I think your quality of life is better in Bangkok than Saigon/HCM.

    From any country in this part of Asia you can easily FLY to other countries. From Thailand you can also go overland by bus and train to nearby countries. When I take a bus in Manila to other cities that bus is crowded and the passengers bring their items into the bus because they are afraid of using the storage under the seats because of thieves. On long distance buses from Bangkok locals store their bags and not worry about it. Bangkok has better garbage collection, the streets have better lighting at night and local transportation in Bangkok is pretty good and affordable. Right from the airport you have rail service to the city. You have the Skytrain in the city and you have a subway too.

    Yes, in Thailand you may have fewer people speaking English Than the Philippines, but you have enough who do so you can get your point across. Besides most Thais can read their own language so having a small English Thai dictionary will help you with the specifics. Most restaurant menus are in English. No problem with food in Thailand at all! Besides Thai specialties you can find just about any Western type meals you want to eat. Not counting McDonalds, Burger Kings and KFCs! I think Thailand does tourism better than the other countries on your list.

    If this move is not immediate visit some of these places ahead of time and see what you like.

    Up to you!

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    sseale, that makes things a lot simpler. Visas, local taxes and work permits vary widely from country to country so be sure to talk to a local lawyer and tax consultant before you decide. In some places you'd be able to go in and out of the country on a business visa, but that may not work for your wife.

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    Just to be clear, even with a “home office” there is no country in Asia (or the world as far as I know) that will let you live on a tourist visa indefinitely. 90 days is the longest you are permitted to stay in most countries on a tourist visa. I don’t believe any country would allow you to live in their country on a business visa. The terms of most business visas (at least the ones I have) do not include any long-term right to live in the country and are predicated on the fact that you are briefly visiting the country to do business for your out-country employer. For example, Singapore’s business visa is only good for 60 days. As mentioned above, your wife is not part of your business visa and would not have any right to stay in the country based on your business visa.

    So you need the right to live there long-term. To get that right, you need a work permit. To get a work permit, you either have to be sponsored by a local existing employer or become your own employer, which means you have to apply for a business license or its equivalent. Even with a home office. All this will require some paperwork, possibly the incorporation of a subsidiary or the registration of a branch.

    Once you have a work permit, your wife would then have the right to live with you on a dependent’s visa. If she gets a job locally she can also be sponsored for her own work permit. If you live in the country long enough, you may be eligible for a pemanent residency which means you don’t need a work permit any longer to stay in the country.

    While theoretically you and your wife could come in on a tourist visa, stay for 90 days and then leave a country multiple times and keep getting a fresh 90 day tourist visa, in reality the immigration officials will catch on to this. You also have to pay local income tax after you have lived in-country for a minimum period of time (usually 180 days), and the local tax authorities do not look kindly on people trying to avoid their income tax obligations by living and working on tourist visas. Also, it will be difficult to rent an apartment, open a bank account, apply for a credit card, get mail/internet/phone service, etc in most of these places without a work or resident’s permit.

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    I can't reinforce what Cicerone has said enough: Be very careful with visas and taxes. Don't take personal risks to make things easier for your company. If they want you to work overseas, they should take responsibility for structuring the business so that you and your wife are there legally.

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    All interesting places for sure. How about Tokyo? It's a very cool, interesting, and safe city. That's where I'm based. All the expats here generally love it and don't want to leave. You are lucky to have so many interesting choices.

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    National service is compulsory for Singapore citizens and second-generation permanent residents who have reached the age of 18 to enroll in the military. Thereafter there's in-camp training of up to 40 days up to age 40 and 45 for non-officers and officers respectively.

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    I am an american from NYC living in Hong Kong. I would only consider HK, Singapore or Tokyo. I find Vietnam & Bangkok way too chaotic, polluted, and crowded. I just couldn't imagine crossing streets in Vietnam every day!

    1) The airport and access to it in HK is great. 20 minutes from central, and when you come back to HK your Hong Kong ID gets you through immigration.

    2)Saftey - HK, Singapore & tokyo are extremely safe, crime rates lower than the US. I feel much safer and less threatened here than I did in NYC. Jakarta and Manila are not safe. If you moved to Jakarta you'd live in an expat compound.

    3) Cost of living - in HK rents are high but otherwise cost of living is similiar to NYC. Food, if you like expat food from City Super, is more expensive, but overall you can buy meat/vegetables/bread very reasonably. You don't need a car, taxis and public transport are very cheap and convenient.

    4) local language - as for Hong Kong, on HK island most people know *some* english. There are still plenty of taxi drivers (15%?) who don't speak english. But, if you plan to learn very basic cantonese, you should be fine. I am learning Mandarin Chinese here in HK. in Tokyo I found many people only knew Japanese, and street signs/names are in Japanese. In HK our street names are english so it's easier for an American to remember say "Hennessey Road" versus some
    Asian name.

    I recommend Hong Kong highly, especially if you want warm weather. The city is over 70% park land and home to lots of great hiking trails that you can get to from the central business area in under 15 minutes in a cab ride that is about USD $10.

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    tansmets, I wouldn't recommend Jakarta for everyone, but I'd like to correct a couple of your statements. Violent crime is rare in Jakarta. For a city of its size (around 10 million)it is extraordinarily safe. It is also untrue that all expats live in compounds. Some choose to, but it is not the norm. As in many developing countries, you find a wide range of income levels, but upper and middle class Indonesians and foreigners are well integrated.

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    Poster hasn't shared an update in awhile, so this may miss him, but I had to ask myself why Shanghai and Beijing aren't on his list. Maybe his business isn't currently in China but for some industries it's hard to imagine an Asia-Pacific HQ being based anywhere other than the PRC.

    As for me, I'd only consider HK, Singapore and Shanghai.

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    Yep...It's been a while since the OP has been in here, so maybe it's just a tad more daunting than the original basic plan, but...as someone has mentioned earlier, why not include Japan in on the equation..? Osaka (Kansai is a big enough airport for most folks requirements) would be a very central place to operate from, in this regard, and very easy to get in and out of.
    I love Singapore, as does the rest of my small family, and we tried to live there, but the cost of living meant us losing a very healthy swag (we would have lost a min.$AUD72k a year) of our income to maintain a similar lifestyle as we currently do in OZ. Same situation in HK...Great place, but you have to fork out the bucks to get established. Mind you those involved rental accom costs/School fees and loss of income for the missus...so it's not the same situation as the OP has.
    I do notice that the posting is as "Territory Manager for Asia Pacific", so as an alternative, why not even look at Australia anyway..? Darwin or (heaven forbid) Cairns area offer a very relaxed/safe lifestyle, and no problems with language barriers (mostly). From Darwin (fair enough, it's only a piddley airport) you can get to anywhere in Asia easily enough.
    Just a thought, cheers,

    Rick
    Cairns & PNG

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