Singapore vs Hong Kong – Where would you rather be living in?

October 19, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Columnists, Damon Yeo, Economics, Opinion

By Damon Yeo, Business Correspondent

It is not difficult to hear Singapore and Hong Kong being mentioned in the same breath. The general consensus is that these two states are similar in many ways except that life is more stressful in Hong Kong. This article will seek to unravel if there is any truth in this particular generalisation.

Singapore and Hong Kong are almost identical culturally, historically and economically, thus warranting a comparison of lifestyles in the two states.

Both states are Chinese-dominated in terms of population. Chinese make up about three-quarters of Singapore’s population and about 100% of that in Hong Kong. Traditional Chinese beliefs, customs and practices influence a large portion of the people in both states. Also, population density is high both fully urbanised states, with Singapore being the 3rd most densely populated in the world and Hong Kong being the 4th.

The colonial histories of both states are heavily linked to the British. Both states thrived as important trading ports for the British Empire in the Far East because of geographical location, with Singapore the centre of command for trades through the Straits of Malacca and Hong Kong, the South China Sea. Entrepot trade is a main driver of development of both ports.

Economically, we could not be more similar. Lack of arable land and natural resources meant that both states are heavily reliant on the labour force to succeed. Over the last thirty years or so, both economies had progressed rapidly from relying on light manufacturing in the 60’s and 70’s to services from 90’s onwards. Both Singapore and Hong Kong are now important financial centres in Asia.

To measure stress levels is highly subjective and debatable. Naturally, different people worry about different things. To make any sense for comparison, we are hypothetically creating a protagonist named Joe. He is from middle-class background and employed in the financial services industry (39% of labour force in Singapore and 21% in Hong Kong). He is 35-years-old, married and have two kids (one at primary education level, the other at secondary). The main drivers of stress levels for Joe are financial well-being and the well-being of his young family.

Two publicly available reports are used for this article – WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report 2009 and UBS’ Prices and Earning Report 2009.

Joe is likely to worry about the stability of job and his financial well being. In a previous article (read , it was noted that Singapore had been ranked number one in labour efficiency by the WEF, somewhat implying the most stressful working conditions for Joe. Hong Kong is not very much better for Joe in this aspect (overall 4th in the world). However, Joe can feel slightly more assured in Hong Kong, because he can expect a redundancy payout of about 62 weeks of wages should he be made redundant there (just 4 weeks in Singapore).

In terms of wage levels, Joe in Singapore will only take home (post-tax) 74% of that Hong Kong Joe. This means very little of course, but if we look at domestic purchase power, Singapore Joe only earns 69% that of Hong Kong Joe (hence can afford less – this will be explored in detail below).

When we look at average working hours, we can conclude that Joe in Hong Kong works about an hour a day longer than if he was in Singapore. In Singapore, Joe will enjoy a day more in annual leave but it is important to bear in mind that there are 17 public holidays a year in Hong Kong and just 14 in Singapore.

Also noteworthy is that Joe is much more likely to delegate authority in Singapore (19th) than in Hong Kong (39th). We can only assume that he is likely to be less stressful at work if he is able to delegate some work to his subordinates.

Female participation in the labour work force is higher in Hong Kong than in Singapore, indicating that Hong Kong Joe is less likely to be the sole breadwinner, hence less stressful.

As a family man, Joe is concerned about the well-being of his family. For his children, Joe will be losing sleep over how well they are taught in schools and if they can move up the education ladder. This is where Singapore Joe will have a lot less to worry about.

Quality of primary education is third best globally in Singapore and only 34th best in Hong Kong. Level of secondary enrolment is 17th highest globally in Singapore and tertiary enrolment is 29th. The same benchmark for Hong Kong is only 73rd and 66th respectively. It means that Singapore Joe’s kids are significantly more likely to enjoy secondary and tertiary education. Quality of the overall educational system in Singapore is in fact ranked number one globally.

Singapore Joe can also feel safer about his family. Organised crime is significant less of a problem in Singapore (9th versus 33rd), while the police force in Singapore is the third most reliable in the world (8th for Hong Kong).

To relieve stress from work and family, Joe can purchase modern items of entertainment or engage in other social activities. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the more entertainment Joe can afford, the less stressful he will feel.

Electronic appliances are clearly more affordable in Hong Kong. On the average, it takes 19 working hours for Hong Kong Joe to buy an iPod Nano (8GB) and 27.5 hours for Singapore Joe. A basket of electronic goods (including an electric steam iron and a personal computer among others) costs 5% cheaper in Hong Kong.

Eating out in a very classy restaurant costs about the same in both states (~US$50), while Singapore Joe is expected to pay USD40 more if he decides to stay in a five-star hotel locally for a night as a way to relax.

Although both states face similar issues in traffic congestion, a car is likely to cost about US$17,400 less for Joe in Hong Kong. However, Hong Kong Joe is expected to pay more in tax and fuel for his car.

When it comes to luxury shopping in Singapore ,Joe can expect to save about 8% (the indicator here is a full set of men’s and women’s business wear from head to toe). Judging by social norm, this is more likely to make Singapore Joe’s wife slightly happier than her counterpart in Hong Kong.

In summary, it does look like there is little to distinctly state if Singapore Joe or Hong Kong Joe has a more stressful lifestyle. Singapore Joe has less to worry about the general well-being of his family but is less likely to afford entertainment than Hong Kong Joe. In terms of working conditions, there is very little difference in both states as it looks like Hong Kong Joe is paid slightly more to compensate for slightly longer working hours.

Perhaps we can now sadly admit that Singaporeans have a lifestyle as stressful as our Hong Kong counterparts.


Other articles by Damon Yeo:

>> DBS and a series of ‘unfortunate events’

>> Sale of Chartered – An Anatomy

>> 3rd most competitive natio in the world and what it means to the average worker


About the Author:

Damon is a proud graduate of Nanyang Technological University in 2004 with a degree in Accountancy. He is currently working in the finance department of a UK Bank. He is also a regular contributor at


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38 Comments on "Singapore vs Hong Kong – Where would you rather be living in?"

  1. contrarian on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 12:10 am 

    There is no substitute for trying it for yourself. Having lived and worked in HK for 3 months as part of a regional job, I am thankful to be living in Singapore.

    While HK has its advantages in some areas, this article misses out on several important quality of life issues:
    1. air pollution
    2. cost of comparable housing
    3. quality and size of housing units
    4. cost of eating out at low priced joints / street food
    5. starting salary for entry level graduates and non-graduates

    Once these are put back in the picture, the landscape changes. That higher pay in HK (for high-wage workers) is going to disappear into substantially higher housing costs, and that’s not even counting for quality, size or location.

  2. N on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 3:26 pm 

    Hong Kong can take a 45 minutes train/boat into different parts of China and enjoy the luxury of life at 10% the cost in Singapore. He can buy a suit for less than 300 RMB when it would cost S$700 in Singapore.

    Hong Kong Joe also enjoys full democracy, true freedom of speech and to demonstrate if he is unhappy with the laws. Hong Kong Joe’s government pays for welfare, listen to them and earns less than 20% of their Singaporean counterpart.

  3. Gwailo on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 4:37 pm 

    You fail to mention that in HK Joe is free to expres his opinions, can read anything he wants, can surf the internet freely, watch any movies, read newspapers that criticise the governement, protest if he wants to… Furthermore HK Joe can make as much money as he wants without the governement constantly intervening so as to make a buck out of it. In singapore everything is controlled and monitored.
    HK Joe is ruled by men that are paid surely less than the elite in Singapore and they accept ciriticism without suing left right and center or having to constantly justify their action on lengthy boring spin off articles on the propaganda press.
    HK is a large cosmopolitan city , Singapore a small village ruled by a senile bully , his son and the small elite around them.

  4. in love with HK on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 4:53 pm 

    Just came back from HK and I must say HK is streets ahead. Of oourse there are the poor and the oppressed in HK, isn’t it the same in every country? But what I see is a people willing to work hard and fast to earn their buck. There is much more freedomm…just take the recent protest by RTHK against the government over its independence….get this…they were allowed to protest on the streets even if things may not go their way eventually….

    Anyway, what I am most impressed about is its infrastructure, from its efficient trains with information about its present location and end point…the buses run so frequent and fast that you don’t even need to bother to chase for the bus as you know the next one is just round the corner…

    Look at Times Square at Causeway Bay….Wanchai, Central, Tsim Sha Tsui and all the little quaint eateries along mid levels….so much more that we can talk about HK but last point is….China controls HK and they are a communist country, yet they do not behave as one….even more open than some other supposedly open democracies…you go figure

  5. jiangbao on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 5:56 pm 

    HK is part of PRC, although Singapore is looking more like a province now, we still have hope. I never want to be a communist.

  6. Omega Lee on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 6:10 pm 

    Two words: National Service.

    And congrats, we are now DENSER than HK.

  7. mememe on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 6:34 pm 

    this is great! Now can someone do a comparison for another country? Let say Canada or Australia?

  8. Omega Lee on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 6:44 pm 

    “Quality of the overall educational system in Singapore is in fact ranked number one globally.”

    Something is very wrong with this ranking.

  9. Omega Lee on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 6:55 pm 

    “Singapore and Hong Kong are almost identical culturally, historically, and economically”

    A lassez faire economy and open democracy, producing the WORLD’s Elite vs its inverse.

    Other than the abovementioned, we are the same because the majority race of each city looks alike.

  10. Papee sucks on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 7:02 pm 

    they produce better movies, actors and actresses, ’nuff said.

  11. City on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 7:12 pm 

    HK and Singapore similarity:
    - chinese majority
    - fast pace
    - stress

    HK is also experiencing the same issues as Singapore now:
    - many PRC flooding their country (local citizens not happy with that too)
    - expensive housing
    - high government salary (if I am not wrong Donald Tsang’s salary is higher than the PM of China)

    Currently, HK is having a heyday critising Donald Tsang over his handling of the household LED light, electicrity, housing issues etc. In fact the ICAC are following up on this, and DT is facing pressure to be answerable (since there are supicious of corruption involve). The HK newspaper is reporting this everyday, and you can bet the people are angry.

    Next week, there will be a street protest in HK over the high property price which the government is not doing anything about.

    Another similarity we have is the gap between rich and poor is wide. HK is no 1 and we are no 2 ( Not something to be happy about definitely.

    If you are ask me, I might think HK is better. Simply because of freedom to express oneself. There are no Shitty Times there and the citizens are made known of the truth, as apparent in the Donald Tsang mentioned above. In addition, street protest are allow for citizens to express their displeasure (which did not lead to violence by the way). And if I am not wrong, it is with these 2 public pressure (newspaper, street protests), that lead to changes in HK (the fall of Dong Jian Hua for example). This freedom of express oneself is thus an important tool, because it makes the government fear and work for the citizens and not vice versa like here.

    Lastly, another important to note is that HK will always have the backing of China. Will China back Singapore? We should be secertly laughing that China is not ripping us dry already!!

    Side note – funny that the HKers seem to think highly of the Singapore government (if you read their political forum). Even praise the PAP for taking a pay cut :shock

  12. City on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 7:17 pm 

    Another thing to note, it seems that HKers are more street smart. Just look at how they conduct business. By the way, there is no Temasick in HK to set up hurdles for your business or Temasick related company (eg NTUC, Cheers) setup to compete against your business.

  13. spy on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 7:22 pm 

    Why all figures and numbers? How about the intangibles like the arts, culture and the society? For sure HK is a more alive & vibrant country than Singapore where everyone are mere photocopies of each other, soulless, mindless and apathetic.

  14. Not even close on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 7:32 pm 

    I lived in HK for 2 years. Well, it was the 2 better years of my life!

  15. for singapore on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 7:40 pm 

    Think singaporeans are less mercenary than HongKies but some of us are getting there,esprcailly some among our young.
    But I think Mr Donald TSANG is a good guy…no comments about the rest.

  16. fpc on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 9:06 pm 


    We are more communists than the mainland chinese.

  17. Round on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 10:38 pm 

    HK’s weather is better… 4 seasons.. so more cooling times during the year. their summer is not that bad. about the same as sg’s weather all year round. (besides, electricity cheaper so can afford to switch on air con all day long at home during summer; unlike sg it’ll cost u a bomb to do that for the whole year)

    but honestly, being native in cantonese is not much help when you go out to the rest of the world. most of the youngsters there now are still better in chinese/cantonese than in english, unless they have studied overseas for a few years.

    sg’s education is better because generally the younger generation here has a better command of english (but of cuz, a lousier command of chinese). but we definitely speak better putonghua than them of cuz though in in terms of writing they are definitely better.

  18. fair and square on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 10:57 pm 

    Well,we forgot one major difference.
    Since guys have already pointed,weather,economics in terms of
    feasible living conditions,etc, they are better.Good!
    Why Donald Tsang forget to raise his own and his ministers’ salaries?

  19. Anonymous on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 11:17 pm 

    HK has a great future with the backing of China. Singapore has a future with its back against the wall and the front the deep blue sea.

    And the politics of democracy here sucks ABSOLUTELY! Worse than communist China. Prefer HK anytime.

  20. Charles on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 11:50 pm 

    HK is now an integral part of China. 1.3 billion marketplace.
    China is its hinterland. The supply of fresh water comes from China, businesses come from China, millions of Chinese tourists come from China, the protection cones from China (HK saves on defence), the food (meat, vegetables, etc.) come from China, land (New Territories) is China’, etc.

    So any comparison, blockhead?

    Here our green neighbours see us quietly though as infidels. Luckily the water treaty has until 2061. Granite & sand for our construction & development, how?

    The world is so unfair, orh?

  21. ahmud on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 11:59 pm 

    vote against the spore government by taking your money out of the country and putting it somewhere else!!

  22. purr on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 12:00 am 

    cant argue on economic terms but my mom’s there in hong kong working now and she doesnt have to pay a single cent for utilities thanks to subsidies by the government because of the economic crisis.

    whats singapore doing? it stridently goes on the papers announcing the raise in utility rates based on forward fuel prices or some bullshit, while it quietly hides in one corner when fuel prices plummet.

  23. for singapore on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 12:07 am 

    Mistakes are ok if we are sincere and humbly correct them.
    In any system,there are some inherent flaws…even in the USA!
    You see,Mr OBAMA is trying…
    He gets the help of the best men for the massive reparation jobs.
    “Yes,we can ” too…can we?

  24. young01 on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 1:02 am 

    Unfortunately, the only reason why I would rather live in Singapore is because I don’t know Cantonese, and I’m not keen to be legally the subject of the CCP. Otherwise, for all purposes, it’s far freer there and more promising there for business than Singapore. Do you realise that those Hong Kongers that LKY loves to boast about having attracted here in the 80s and 90s are returning because of the greater political freedoms and more transparent economy (barring mainland China)?

  25. fpc on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 4:19 am 

    yeah and PAP is blaming it on us the local (the real ones)

  26. btan on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 12:38 pm 

    I will stay in Singapore if PAP is voted out or at least curtailed by a strong opposition. It is after all my home.

    However, if Singapore is continued to be ruled with a iron fist by PAP for the next 40 years, I rather emigrate to a western country like USA or Canada.

    I would not even consider Hong Kong since it is a small place like Singapore and the pace is still stressful. Besides, why would I want to move to a place where it is under the shadow of a communist country?

    All it takes is one crazy leaders to roll in the tanks and all that Hong Kong enjoys will evaporate in an instant.

  27. anonymous on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 12:43 pm 

    As a side note, when Hong Kong TVB (the wireless TV station which has been producing various drama series that we enjoy watching in Singapore but dubbed in Mandarin) first started in the late 60’s, it had to compete with the incumbent cable station Redifusion. To gain market share of viewership, it rolled out a nightly 2 hour entertainment show called “Enjoy Yourself Tonight (EYT)” Monday to Friday every week. EYT became a legend and built up the presence of TVB amongst HK viewers. But the producer of EYT was a Singaporean, Robert Chua. This showed that Singaporeans were as creative as HKers, at least in the late 60’s and early 70’s when PAP had not yet taken total control of the media.

  28. anonymous on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 1:00 pm 

    Here is the CV of Robert Chua:

  29. Muhammad Shamin on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 2:54 pm 

    #Charles on Tue, 20th Oct 2009 11:50 pm

    The world is not unfair. Our neighbours are not friendly to us is because of LKY’s survival ideology. They view Malaysia as a threat and has always been hostile towards them.

    It is also seen as a Zionist and Imperialist base to impose their hegemony especially those in the Islamic parties. You can’t blame them for that.

  30. curious about HK on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 3:02 pm 

    No doubt HK’s weather is good but no one seems to mention about pollution levels in HK.. :)

    Snippet from
    Urban pollution in Hong Kong has jumped sixfold in the past four years, with local vehicles more to blame than smog blown in from southern China’s manufacturing belts, according to a Reuters report this week, citing the local English-language South China Morning Post. Mainland factories have often been blamed in the past for the dense smog that regularly blankets Hong Kong’s harbor.

  31. Anonymous on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 3:35 pm 

    Hong Kong has both Freedom of Information Laws and Bills of Rights protection and they are UNDER COMMUNIST JURISDICTIONAL RULE OF CHINA.

    Singapore is without either, so we lived in the blind of information on the Government’s conduct and arcane rules of oppression – MUCH WORSE THAN LIVING IN COMMUNIST RULE.

    Is the contradiction more STARK than this? I prefer Hong Kong anytime.

  32. I love my country on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 5:01 pm 

    Less complaining and make more money instead

    Both places are heaven for the rich period

  33. Charles on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 7:10 pm 

    Muhammad Shamin on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 2:54 pm

    Sorri mate. Luckily I’ve migrated here 8 years ago. Amat berhormat Minister can brandish kris (dagger) on national TV to draw non-Muslim citizens’ blood; Mongolian beau can be blown up with controlled C4 explosives, etc. Aborigines (Orang Asli) live in poverty. NEP .. . .

    I really can’t imagine. You are still here “suffering” and I’m here comfortably, speak tonnes. Another fact being many local women still residing having married Malaysian Malay spouses also speaks volume. Right?

  34. Muhammad Shamin on Thu, 22nd Oct 2009 3:41 am 

    Charles on Wed, 21st Oct 2009 7:10 pm

    Good for you then. :)

  35. Sam on Thu, 22nd Oct 2009 8:10 am 

    Muhammad Shamin

    It’s not the rubbish “zionist” or whatever the Islamists have brainwashed you. Stick to the verifiable facts & truth in any dialogue.

    Have you heard of the latest by the non-partisan Chief Thai pathalogist regarding the mysterious death of the opposition member across the causeway. The state’s pathologists however claimed otherwise.

    She’s telling the world very politely (80% cocksure) after the post-mortem that the poor chap was murdered (killed)!

    Wow . . such values in the leadership. Appalling! Just because they are the majority.

  36. Muhammad Shamin on Thu, 22nd Oct 2009 9:55 am 

    #Sam on Thu, 22nd Oct 2009 8:10 am

    The view that Singapore is a zionist and imperialist base is not made up. I am just stating their view on us.

    I never said anything. So what the hell are you talking about being brainwashed?

    And I never praised their leadership. Only stating why they are hostile.

  37. Dumb Chinese Mother fuckers on Thu, 22nd Oct 2009 9:07 pm 

    For Your fucking information, the bloody HK economy is controlled by Indians. Not China, Chinese or some wannabe Dirty Harry or some NUS, NTU educated-singapore-politics-blinkered dumb fuck. Please go read what people are writing about us in other countries and how the island is at the low percentage in the standings of wages, education-job ratio and the availabilty of opportunities-racial discrimination ratio. Please dont be a straits times educated asshole. There are news papers, websites, IMF, NATO, UN and Interpol information into the fraudulant management of the nation in Singapore, the stockpile of potassium-combustible rain bombs, indonesian-garuda bank asylum seekers and a fucking host of other facts.

    So do yourself a favour and get educated.

  38. Michael C on Fri, 23rd Oct 2009 7:37 am 

    “Singapore and Hong Kong are almost identical culturally, historically and economically”–

    HAHAHA, whatever helps you Singaporeans sleep at night… I guess?