Hong Kong versus Singapore: The Wrong Career Debate?

I have often been posed the question by Hong Kong professionals as to whether they should advance their career in Hong Kong or whether a move to Singapore would be the better option in terms of professional development. So, how do these two Asia powerhouses stack up against each other in a battle of Hong Kong versus Singapore?

Research published just yesterday by the World Bank in their “2016 Doing Business” report ranks Singapore in 1st place and Hong Kong in 5th for the Easiest Places to Do Business as measured by Regulatory Quality and Efficiency of the countries studied.

One-nil Singapore then. But in reality, when making a career move the considerations might be less about the overall business environment and more about individual career upside, both financial and professional. So, let’s break this down.


Money Talks

If compensation is the main motivation driving your career change then it could be worth looking into Singapore. Towers Watson’s annual compensation survey found salary levels for Executives and Senior Management to be 10% higher than Hong Kong.

However, perhaps recognising reduced financial competitiveness, 79% of employers in Hong Kong intend to increase salaries within the range of 3% to 10% + whereas Singapore falls behind with only 67% of employers looking to raise pay (Hays’ annual salaries report for Asia). Given that Hong Kong is seemingly intent on regaining a level footing when it comes to compensation, then considering Hong Kong’s tax advantages over Singapore it might be worthwhile staying put (although both cities rank amongst the most favourable in Asia).

Verdict: Hong Kong (just)


Money Can’t Buy Happiness

Money alone shouldn’t rule the Hong Kong versus Singapore debate. Sometimes a shift in environment or working location can help us revitalise our careers. A recent JobsDB survey reveals that over 50% of Singaporeans are happy in their jobs. In stark contrast 62% of Hong Kong employees are either unhappy or dissatisfied with their current roles.

Verdict: Singapore  


Overall, there’s really not much to split the two cities. Which leads us to a more contentious question – Is the Hong Kong versus Singapore debate the wrong one to be having?

Referencing the Global Financial Centres Index, we learn that Hong Kong and Singapore rank 3rd and 4th respectively in regard to competitiveness. Worryingly though, across measures of financial sector development, infrastructure and human capital both cities are actually declining. Of course Hong Kong and Singapore are not going to lose their attractiveness overnight, but if you are building your career over the medium or long-term it’s important to observe trends over the same time horizon.

If you are at the stage of your career where new challenges and greater responsibilities outweigh the need for creature comforts then perhaps rapidly developing and improving Asia cities such as Bangkok and Manila (gaining 18 and 20 places in the Global Financial Centres Index respectively),  could provide the best career opportunities. Working and living in these cities will not only provide the most eye-opening experiences for you, but for employers, this type of experience can dramatically differentiate you from your peers.

On the other hand, if ease of living or family concerns around education and healthcare are the priority, then both Singapore and Hong Kong remain outstanding career destinations.



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