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Working in the Far East

27 April 2005

Singapore

Founded as a British trading colony in 1819, Singapore has been independent since 1965. It has a free market economy, reliant mainly on exports. If you want to work in five-star hotels, some of the best in the world are here.

Upsides

  • Singapore has long been known for its terrific shopping precincts
  • Location - you're at the heart of Asia and it's a great base to explore from
  • Professional, Western facilities - this is no backwater, Singapore has modern-day working practices and technology
  • You're in the tropics so, provided you like it hot and humid, Singapore is a great place to be
  • Singapore has one of the lowest taxation rates in the world - non-residents pay 15% while residents pay up to 22% on a graduated scale.

Downsides

  • The government can be authoritarian, and there are rules such as no jaywalking or chewing gum, which some people may find oppressive
  • This is a small place and, once you've done the tour, you may find it claustrophobic
  • While Singapore is a modern-day city, there are still different cultures to cope with - 77% of the population are Chinese, 14% Malay and 8% Indian, with only about 1.5% Eurasian
  • Owning a car is extremely expensive, and on top of that Singapore has one of the most sophisticated electronic road-charging systems in the world.

General facts
Official name:
Republic of Singapore
Population: 3,438,600
Capital: Singapore City
Languages: Chinese, Malay, English, Tamil
Currency: Singapore dollar
Population mix: Chinese, 77%; Malay, 14%; Indian, 7.9%; others
Religions: Buddhist, Christian, Confucian, Muslim, Taoist
Land area: 610sq km (236sq miles), including the main island and 58 smaller islands within its international borders.
Climate: tropical; hot, humid, rainy; two distinct monsoon seasons - northeastern monsoon from December to March, and southwestern monsoon from June to September; inter-monsoon - frequent afternoon and early evening thunderstorms.

Where to find out more General information: www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/sn.html
Singapore tourist board: app.stb.com.sg/asp/index.asp
Government of Singapore: www.gov.sg/
Job sites: www.contactsingapore.org.sg/oppor_careers.shtml
Cost of owning a car: www.onemotoring.com.sg/
Salary indicator: www2.homefair.com/calc/salcalc.html
Lots of information about living and working in Singapore: www.expatriatesingapore.com; www.xpatxperience.com/

Hong Kong

Once the pride of Britain's colonies, Hong Kong has been under Chinese administration since 1 July 1997. With few natural resources, it thrives on free trade and thus is a prime meeting point for international business people. It is still one of the key financial centres in the world, and as a result the big hotel companies are all here, jostling for position.

Upsides

  • As mainland China eases travel restrictions, tourism is booming, so job stability is high
  • This is the perfect base from which to explore mainland China either as a tourist, or using Hong Kong as a professional stepping stone into China as the hotel boom continues there
  • There's a vibrant nightlife, plenty of clubs and bars, and lots of cultural venues to keep you busy in your time off
  • With 200 islands making up Hong Kong territory, it's possible to escape the hustle and bustle of the main island - it's a sailor's paradise, with plenty of scenic bays to anchor in for a Sunday picnic.

Downsides

  • Hong Kong Island itself is relatively small and can be claustrophobic after a while
  • If you're after peace and quiet, you won't find it here
  • It's a long way off, but China has only agreed to maintain Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy until 2047 - what happens after that is anyone's guess
  • Unlike some postings in Asia, the cost of living is not cheaper than in Europe or the USA.

General facts
Official name:
Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China
Population: 7,310,000
Important cities: Hong Kong, Kowloon, Tsuen Wan
Languages: Chinese (Cantonese), English
Currency: Hong Kong dollar
Religions: Varied denominations and local beliefs
Land area: 1,092sq km (422sq miles) over more than 200 islands
Climate: Tropical monsoon; cool and humid in winter, hot and rainy from spring through summer, warm and sunny in autumn.

Where to find out more General information: www.discoverhongkong.com/login.html; www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/hk.html
Expatriate site for those in Hong Kong: hongkong.asiaxpat.com/
Good site for jobs and more in HK: www.hongkonglists.org/

China

For centuries, China stood as a leading civilisation, outpacing the rest of the world in the arts and sciences. But, since the late 1940s, a Communist dictatorship has kept strict control over everyday life. Market-oriented reforms have ensured economic growth for the country and trade with the West, but political controls remain tight on the Chinese population.

Upsides

  • China is emerging as a major force in the hospitality industry, with a plethora of new hotels being built by international hotel companies over the past five years. It is considered one of the last "new" destinations for many travellers and, as a result, offers a great opportunity for international hoteliers
  • A posting in China would give you a chance to see life behind the last dominant Communist-ruled country in the world
  • Foreign investment is pouring into China and, as companies expand, they are looking to put more expatriates into positions to oversee this growth. According to the head of car manufacturer DaimlerChrsyler, Peter Schoof, China is destined to be "the biggest expatriate destination in the next five years".

Downsides

  • Working practices are different to those in the West, and any manager will have to take on board cultural differences when working with the local population
  • The cultural divide is huge and you must be willing to adapt to local customs in your personal life as well.

General facts:

Official name: People's Republic of China
Population: 1,319,132,500
Capital: Beijing (population: 14 million)
Languages: Standard Chinese or Mandarin (Putonghua, based on the Beijing dialect), Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghaiese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan, Hakka dialects
Currency: yuan
Religions: Daoism (Taoism), Buddhism, Islam
Land area: 9,326,410sq km (3,600,927sq miles) - the world's fourth-largest country (after Russia, Canada and the USA)
Climate: extremely diverse, tropical in south to subarctic in north. Natural disasters include frequent typhoons (about five per year along southern and eastern coasts), damaging floods, earthquakes, droughts, and land subsidence.

Where to find out more: General information: www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ch.html
One expatriate's tips on relocation around the world: www.expatexpert.com
Expatriates' site: www.expatriatesinchina.com
Classified ad site: www.expatriates.com
Shanghai expatriates' site: www.expatriatesh.com; www.shanghaiexpat.com; www.entershanghai.info

Bali, Indonesia

Visitor numbers to the island of Bali are reported to be recovering after the terrorist attack on a nightclub in 2002 decimated tourism. The island is known for its natural attractions, perfect climate and relaxed atmosphere. It was one of the first destinations on the original hippy trail.

Upsides

  • The weather is fantastic, the beaches golden and the atmosphere relaxed
  • In your time off, there are loads of watersports to engage in as well as relaxing on those pristine beaches

Downsides

  • It can be difficult to get a job as the country has a high unemployment rate and the government will only accept highly qualified expert expatriate
  • Senior hotel executives transferring within their own companies are probably the most likely to get a job
  • As with working anywhere that's beautiful, you'll have less time to enjoy it than you might think
  • There are still concerns about the political stability of Indonesia - Foreign Office advice should be taken into consideration before accepting a job (see: www.fco.gov.uk).

General facts
Status:
The island of Bali is part of the Republic of Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world, with more than 17,000 islands.
Capital: Denpasar
Climate: Pleasant, low-humidity conditions, with average daily temperatures between 70º and 93º year-round. The rainy season is December through March, with most of the showers falling in the evening.
Location description: about 580 miles directly east of Jakarta, Indonesia
Terrain: Dormant volcanoes (some exceeding 3,000m in height) stretch across the island. Tropical rain forests, crater lakes and rivers dot the landscape, and there are the famous white sand beaches of the south.
Languages: Bahasa Indonesia (official), English, numerous local dialects
Currency: rupiah
Population: 3,315,000
Land area: 5,632sq km (2,174sq miles)

Where to find out more

Expatriates' information for Indonesia: www.expat.or.id/
Information on visas for Bali: www.balivision.com/visa/workingpermit_kitas.asp
Information on Bali, including an expatriates' chat room: www.bali-information.com
Help getting a visa to Bali: www.bali-expat-business.com/

Vietnam

The country, located in southeastern Asia, has made a commitment to economic liberalisation since new leaders were elected in 2001. As a result, there is a general openness towards business and visas can be obtained to work in Vietnam.

Upsides

  • If you're an early bird, this is the place for you. Local Vietnamese often rise before the sun, around 5am, to enjoy the freshness of the morning and the tranquility of the city to do their daily Chi Gong session
  • Motorbikes are the transport of choice, and you can get almost anywhere in Saigon in less than 10 minutes - compare that to commuting on London's Tube
  • The Vietnamese are clever and have great entrepreneurial skills, so you'll be working with people who you can bounce ideas off and learn from
  • For many Western expatriates, the lifestyle is better than they have at home - more money and cheaper living costs
  • Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon) is vibrant, and changing quickly; Hanoi is quieter and more beautiful, with green spaces
  • The Vietnamese are quite open and willing to talk - but you may have trouble understanding; think about learning some of the language
  • This is definitely a good place to take up a martial art as you'll see people practising everywhere
  • Vietnamese food has to be one of the best benefits of living here. Eating in the street in Vietnam is cheap, convenient and offers a new whole world of food to Western tastebuds.

Downsides

  • The Vietnamese are keen on noise - don't expect to get away from it in Saigon. They're particularly fond of honking their car horns for no particular reason
  • As an expatriate, you'll stick out in a crowd, and you may be stared or yelled at in the stree
  • The telecommunications system still lags behind that of its modern neighbours, although the system is being modernised. Mobile phone usage is on the increase
  • Green space is not a priority in Ho Chi Minh City, so there's rarely an escape to the closest park
  • Not necessarily a downside, but be aware that all companies in Vietnam must allow employees to form a trade union. The working week is also controlled, at 40 hours.

General facts
Official name:
Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Population: 82,700,000
Capital: Hanoi (population: 1.3 million)
Languages: Vietnamese (official), English, Chinese, French, others
Currency: dông
Religions: Buddhism, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, Christianity
Land area: 325,360sq km (125,621sq miles)
Climate: throughout all seasons, the entire expanse of Vietnam is hot and humid. The only exceptions are the cooler winter conditions in the mountainous areas of the far northwest, and in the upper reaches of the central Annam Highlands. Large amounts of rain, often more than 50in per year, fall during the monsoon season (May to October).

Where to find out more

Vietnam tourism: www.vietnamtourism.com/
Good basic information on Vietnam: www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/vm.html
Great site to get a feel of life in Vietnam: www.livinginvietnam.com/

Malaysia

Once, the current area of Malaysia was a British colony, but as we know it today Malaysia has existed since 1963. British citizens don't need visas to travel but do require them for employment purposes.

Upsides

  • Living costs are much cheaper than in other Asian countries such as Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore
  • Fuel is cheap and so are cigarettes
  • Most expatriates can afford a maid
  • There is plenty to see and do in the country on your days off
  • The climate is generally good, although humidity of 80% may be difficult for some foreigners to take - make sure your home, office and car are air-conditioned.

Downsides

  • Imported cars are subject to heavy tax, so bringing your own car probably isn't worth it
  • As in Thailand, saving face is important to most Malaysians, so there will be a work culture that may take some getting used to.

General facts:
Official name:
Malaysia
Population: 24,014,000
Capital: Kuala Lumpur (population, 1.4 million; metropolitan area, 3.7 million
Languages: Bahasa Melayu, English, others
Currency: ringgit
Religions: Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, others
Land area: 328,550sq km (126,855sq miles)
Climate: tropical; annual southwest (April to October) and northeast (October to February) monsoons.

Where to find out more Tourism: www.tourism.gov.my/
Newspaper: thestar.com.my/
Expatriates' websites: www.alloexpat.com/ ; http://www.expatkl.com

Thailand

Well before Alex Garland penned "The Beach", Thailand was famous as a tourist destination. The sun-kissed beaches, warm climate and warmth and generosity of the local population make the southern stretches of the country and the islands favourite holiday spots. Tourism is one of the country's key industries.

Upsides

  • Assuming you're recruited outside the country, your contract should provide you with a healthy salary that will go far - the cost of living is cheap here
  • There's no shortage of tropical weather, paradisical islands and beaches
  • The food, both fresh and available in restaurants, is affordable and delicious
  • The Thais themselves are friendly and welcoming.

Downsides

  • Thailand is still a developing country so don't expect everything to work the way it does in the West - do your research before you go so as to be prepared
  • Keeping face is terribly important, and this cultural divide could be most managers' biggest challenge
  • The pace of working life is much slower than in the West
  • Your life outside the office is not necessarily your own - Thais place far greater significance on actions outside work than a Western employer would.

General facts:
Official name:
Kingdom of Thailand
Population: 63,394,000
Capital: Bangkok (population: 6.6 million)
Languages: Thai, English, local dialects
Currency: baht
Climate: tropical; rainy, warm, cloudy southwest monsoon (mid-May to September); dry, cool northeast monsoon (November to mid-March); southern isthmus always hot and humid.

Where to find out more: General information: www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/th.html
One expatriate's helpful hints on living in Thailand: www.stickmanbangkok.com

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