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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Hear Me Roar? Working in the Tiger States

Given the name “Asian Tigers”, it is hardly surprising that expats in these four nations are positive about the economies, but the opinions regarding job security and work-life balance are a bit more varied.
  • Newcomer Taiwan outshines other Asian Tigers in Working Abroad Index
  • Satisfaction with career prospects high in all countries
  • Work-life balance receives low ratings across the board
  • Job security and state of the economy generally perceived positively

The Four Asian Tigers — Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan — came to be called this after their impressive economic growth from developing countries to some of the economic leaders in the world. For example, South Korea’s GDP was comparable to some of the poorer African nations as late as the 1960s, but the country now has a strong economy. With newcomer to the Expat Insider 2016 survey Taiwan coming in second place in the Working Abroad Index, and Hong Kong and Singapore being typical expat destinations, the so-called Asian Tiger (or Dragon) states deserve closer inspection.

Expat Statistics 2016

How Expats Rate Working in the Four Asian Tiger States — infographic

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Relatively Steady

The four states don’t do too badly in the Working Abroad Index. South Korea has been gradually improving year by year since the first Expat Insider survey in 2014, in which it came 31st out of 61 countries; it is now 22nd out of 67 in 2016. Hong Kong and Singapore have both slipped down the rankings since 2015, with Hong Kong going from 22nd out of 64 countries in 2015 to 33rd this year and Singapore falling to 32nd in the latest survey from 14th in 2015. Nevertheless, all four countries are ranked in the top half of the Working Abroad Index in 2016, with Taiwan even making it to the second spot in its first year.

A Mixed Bag

In the Job & Career subcategory, quite a wide spread can be seen among the countries. Taiwan is ranked first while, performing the worst of the four countries in this subcategory, South Korea comes 42nd.

In terms of job satisfaction, Hong Kong is just outside the top 20 in 24th place. Just 10% are overall unsatisfied with their job there compared to 17% globally. Meanwhile 34% of expats in Taiwan are completely satisfied with their job compared to 16% globally — indeed, just 7% are overall dissatisfied.

In comparison to the wide range seen between the countries in terms of job satisfaction, career prospects are considered a bit more positively in all four destinations: South Korea does the worst of the four in 37th place, but even so it still matches the global average of expats who are completely satisfied with their job prospects (13%). In Taiwan, meanwhile, just 9% are overall unhappy with their career prospects compared to 24% globally!

All Work, No Play?

It is well known that working hours in this region are higher than in other countries around the globe. Indeed, it has been stated that “East Asian economies such as Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea all come out well above the US in average hours worked per year”. As a matter of fact, it appears that expats in all of the four Asian Tiger states are less than impressed by their work-life balance.

Singapore is nearly at the bottom of the index in 65th place, while Hong Kong is not much further ahead in 59th place. An impressive 31% are generally dissatisfied with their work-life balance in Singapore compared to 19% globally. In addition, 30% of expats in the country are overall unhappy with their working hours and 29% feel similarly in Hong Kong.

Hard-Working Expats

The majority of expats in all four countries work full time. Meanwhile, the two countries coming last of the four in the Work-Life Balance subcategory also have the longest working hours. Indeed the average full-time hours worked in Hong Kong and Singapore per week are also significantly above the global average of 44.6 — Hong Kong comes in at 48.5 hours per week, while Singapore’s figures aren’t quite as high at 47.2 hours per week. Although there is no direct correlation between long working hours and dissatisfaction with work-life balance, it is still interesting to note. South Korea and Taiwan, while slightly lower than or just as high as the global average, do not work many fewer hours, with full-timers spending 43.0 and 44.6 hours at work, respectively.

But does all the work pay off? It would seem so: in both Hong Kong and Singapore 65% and 66%, respectively, say that they have improved their job-related income by relocating, well above the global average of 54%. (In South Korea and Taiwan, 53% say the same). This increase in job-related income might be due to the fact that quite a few of the expats in these countries were sent there by their employer, and foreign assignees tend to do well financially. In Singapore 21% of expats moved there for this reason, while in South Korea and Hong Kong 20% and 17%, respectively, cite it as their main motivation (globally it’s just 13%).

Long-Term Career Paths

While expats may feel they work too much in these countries, they are much happier about their job security, with all four nations ranking in the top 20 in the Job Security subcategory. Expats in South Korea, which comes eleventh in this subcategory, are quite a bit happier than the global average: 28% are completely satisfied with their job security in comparison to 17% around the world. Meanwhile 63% and 57% are overall satisfied with this aspect in Hong Kong and Singapore, respectively.

The state of the economy in these countries is considered even more positively. Not one person in any of the four countries says they are not at all satisfied with the state of the local economy in their new home. In fact, at least three-quarters of expats in all four countries say they are overall happy with it — 76% in South Korea, 77% in Hong Kong, 79% in Taiwan, and 86% in Singapore. Already prior to their move, 64% of expats in Singapore considered the economy and/or labor market there a potential benefit.

These positive opinions are interesting: in Singapore, for example, which has the highest percentage of expats who are overall happy with the state of the economy among the four states, it can be seen that the economy isn’t actually looking quite as rosy as expats may think. The growth of the economy is, in fact, currently slowing down, suggesting that expats here have a more positive perception than reality. In fact, it would seem that the economic growth of all four countries is currently heading into a slump. The Tiger states do continue to roar — but they do it rather more quietly nowadays.

Further Reading