Singapore beat Hong Kong in our latest online poll, which asked readers to name the Asian financial centre that offers the best quality of life for expats. Tokyo followed in a distant third place and poor Shanghai barely registered.
The result agrees with the latest findings in a survey published by ECA International, a human resources consultancy, which ranked the Lion City the best place for expats to live in Asia — for the 11th year in a row.
“Singapore’s high quality infrastructure and health facilities, combined with low health risks, air pollution, crime rates and a cosmopolitan population help make the city an easy place for Asian assignees to live in,” said Lee Quane, director of Asia at ECA, in a press release.
Of those, air quality is probably the most common reason people cite for leaving Hong Kong in preference for Singapore — which seems reasonable given the horrible pollution levels in Hong Kong recently.
The government’s air pollution index (API) hit a recent high yesterday of 168 (general API). According to the Environmental Protection Department, a reading of 100 to 200 is considered “very high”, which means that “people with existing heart or respiratory illnesses may notice mild aggravation of their health conditions”, according to the department. It adds that “generally healthy individuals may also notice some discomfort”.
In fact, general air pollution levels have been in the high (51 to 100) or very high region for most of the month — at all hours of the day and night. The government advises that “chronic health effects may be observed if one is persistently exposed to API of 51 to 100 persistently for a long time”.
Clearly, such filthy air is a turn-off for foreign residents, particularly those with young families. “Hong Kong’s long-standing air pollution problems contribute to its position behind Singapore,” according to Quane. “Air pollution in the SAR is worse than most of the other Asian cities analysed and it remains in fifth position within the region.”
To make matters worse, the government seems indifferent to the problem, rarely displaying much commitment to tackling the problem seriously.
Meanwhile, air quality in Singapore has been “good” recently, as measured by the National Environment Agency’s pollution index, which conforms to international standards.
Of course, Hong Kong has some attractions, such as good quality housing and schooling, as well as good transportation and communications infrastructure, but those qualities also apply to Singapore, where it is relatively easy for financial professionals to find similar jobs, often even within the same institution.
However, aside from the better air quality, many Hong Kong expats can see few other reasons to prefer Singapore. “Sure, Hong Kong might be dirty and smelly, but at least it has a pulse,” is how one former Singapore resident who moved to the city summed it up.
But it would be nice to be able to see Lion Rock once in a while.