Top 10 Asia Pacific Expat Destinations

Asia Pacific

The Asia Pacific is a vast region stretching from New Zealand up to the far north of Russia.

With such diversity in climate, language, culture and society, it’s tricky to select the best places to live in this part of the world.

Most of the nations are UN members contracted to the Asia and Pacific Office. This term is abbreviated to APAC and commonly used to describe the Asia-Pacific region.

While Europe and America have long been leading expat destinations, we’re seeing millions of people look further afield, seeking career enhancement in locations such as Singapore and Australia.

Here we’ll explore the best 10 destinations, ranked according to expat communities, weather, living costs, healthcare and educational opportunities to help you narrow down that shortlist.

Australia

Kicking off with the famously sunny Australian shores, home to 1.3 million British expats and a staple on the backpacking trail.

There are many reasons to consider Oz as your new home from home, not least that the Mercer Quality of Living ranking considers Sydney the 11th best city in the world, closely followed by Melbourne (17th) and Perth (21st).

The environment is clean, and over 80 per cent of Aussie residents live within 50 kilometres of one of the beautiful coastlines.

Aside from the guaranteed sunshine, Australia also offers an excellent healthcare system, alongside an outstanding private healthcare network.

All kids in Australia receive free state education, and there are world-class universities in Melbourne and Sydney.

Australia as an Expat Destination

  • Weather: Warm and sunny. The coldest months are between June and August, although temperatures rarely dip below 5°C as a minimum.
  • Cost of living: Consumer prices are 15 per cent higher than in the UK, although restaurants are a little cheaper. The average net monthly income is $4,841 (£2,645) compared to £1,949 in Britain.
  • Economy: A strong service sector, with employment in multiple industries. Australia has the tenth-highest natural resources of any country in the world.

New Zealand

Around 215,000 British expats live in New Zealand, split into North and South Island and over 700 smaller islands.

Auckland is one of the best cities to live in worldwide, placing joint third with Vancouver, Canada and Munich, Germany on the Mercer City Ranking 2019.

Life here is peaceful, with astonishing landscapes, low crime rates, and the naturally friendly nature of Kiwis, with roots in traditional Maori culture.

Work/life balance is outstanding, and even the most significant cities aren’t overcrowded.

Population density is 18 people per square kilometre (the UK figure is 281), giving some context into how spacious New Zealand feels.

There are roles here for skilled expats, and the New Zealand economy is growing fast. Most vacancies eligible for work permits are in IT, healthcare, finance and tourism. 

New Zealand as an Expat Destination

  • Living costs: Salaries in New Zealand are higher than in Britain, with a net monthly average of $4,006 (£2,030). However, living costs are also slightly higher, with consumer prices about eight per cent more expensive.
  • Education: Excellent schools and free tuition for all ages, excluding uniforms, lunches and books. 
  • Economy: New Zealand is ranked second on the 2021 Index of Economic Freedom, with generous social benefits, a strong economy, and one of the wealthiest economies in the Asia Pacific.
  • Visa applications: There are strict rules on visa applications, but you can apply depending on whether you wish to start a business, take up an employment offer, or invest in New Zealand.

Singapore

In a different climate, 5,300 miles from New Zealand, we come to Singapore, with a 45,000-strong British expat community. 

The climate here is sticky and tropical, but if you’re comfortable in the heat, it’s considered a straightforward place for expats to live, with excellent public transport systems, around 1.3 million foreign nationals, and a large tech industry.

However, it’s also costly – Singapore is one of the priciest cities in the world. 

Salaries are correspondingly high, with average net monthly take-home wages of $5,095 (£2,721), almost 40 per cent more than the UK.

For expat families, the education system in Singapore performs exceptionally well. There are public schools, but many foreigners opt for a private international school to help kids settle in and learn the language.

Singapore as an Expat Destination

  • Living costs: Income averages are approximately 40 per cent higher, but consumer prices are 16 per cent more costly. Rental accommodation prices can be sky-high, with typical costs double that in Britain.
  • Education: Public education in Singapore is highly rated, but most expats opt for private schooling since local lessons are taught in Tamil. English is widely used in business, but not as a first language in state schools.
  • Economy: Singapore has a developed free-market economy and a business-friendly regulatory environment that makes it a hub for multinationals and global employers.
  • Visa applications: Employers appointing expats can apply for Employment Passes and S-Passes, for professionals meeting an in-demand skill with a minimum salary of $2,400 a month (£1,335).

Thailand

The next most popular Asia Pacific nation is Thailand, with 41,000 Brits. 

From the busy streets of Bangkok to the incredible island paradises, Thailand is a low-cost place to move and a global tourist destination.

Around 95 per cent of Thai people are Buddhists, with historic temples found everywhere in the country.

The tourist regions around Phuket, Chiang Mai or Hua Hin are perhaps the most accessible places to live (since most people speak English), and Bangkok is a top choice for professionals.

You’ll find many visa options, including a four-year Smart Visa, which includes a spouse and children. To apply, you need to earn over 200,000 Baht (£4,545) a month and be in a designated industry.

With 34 million visitors a year, petty crime and chaotic traffic are prevalent, but serious crime is scarce. 

Thailand as an Expat Destination

  • Living costs: Life in Thailand is low cost. Rental accommodation is 53 per cent lower than the UK on average, and consumer prices 35 per cent more affordable.
  • Education: The OECD rates the Thai education system as below average, although schools vary considerably. Literacy levels are high at over 98 per cent in children.
  • Economy: This Southeast Asian nation is known as a beautiful tourist spot, but the economy relies on exports, making up about 60 per cent of GDP.
  • Visa applications: The correct Thai visa depends on how long you wish to stay and why you’re moving. You can apply online or in-person through the Royal Thai Embassy in London.

China

There are 36,000 British expats across China and Hong Kong.

Life is somewhat different in Hong Kong than on the mainland – people speak Mandarin in China and Cantonese in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is a prime attraction for professionals as the leading global financial. The islands are beautiful, peaceful, and you can hop on a ferry to travel to work or take kids to school.

It’s an excellent place for families, with low crime levels, excellent public transport, and an exceptional local education system.

Mainland China is more conservative. However, it’s easy to live here as a foreigner with lots of western conveniences, familiar brands, and amiable people – who are used to navigating the everyday bureaucracies.

China as an Expat Destination

  • Living costs: Life in mainland China costs around 50 per cent less in terms of rent and 42 per cent less for consumer goods. In Hong Kong, things get a lot pricier. In comparison, rent is 128 per cent more expensive than in the UK.
  • Education: Chinese education is mainly state provided, with just a nine-year compulsory education. Hong Kong offers multiple high-quality international schools, some of which are seriously expensive.
  • Economy: The primary economic activities in China and Hong Kong are manufacturing, services and agriculture.

Japan

Japan is an incredible place to live, with a blend of tradition and modernity, unbelievably clean cities, and urban residential areas that look like nowhere else in the world.

Living standards are excellent, and you’ll find a festival almost every month of the year with 23,000 British nationals living here.

Pop culture, street fashion, e-sports and J-Pop are all hugely popular with younger generations, and the magic of the spring blossoms is otherworldly.

Costs in Japan are relatively similar to those in the UK. 

Salaries are around two per cent higher, with rent about 16 per cent more affordable, but consumer goods cost 14 per cent more – on balance, it’s very comparable.

Japanese food is delicious and healthy. You’ll find more Michelin starred restaurants than anywhere else in Asia, and life expectancies are some of the longest in the world.

Note that as an expat, you must have mandatory health insurance. However, the Japan Universal Health Care Programme covers non-citizens who remain in residence for over a year.

Japan as an Expat Destination

  • Living costs: Like the UK. Average net monthly salaries are 308,243 Yen (£1,988) compared to £1,948 in the UK.
  • Education: The Japanese population is the best educated globally, with 100 per cent enrolment in school and zero illiteracy rates.
  • Economy: Japan has the third-largest GDP in the world and is ranked only behind the USA and China – quite a feat for a country with a fraction of the population.
  • Visa applications: Most Japanese visas are available for online applications through the eVisa system. However, there are complex requirements, and you’ll need a sponsor for most work-related permits.

The Philippines

Let’s travel from one of the wealthiest countries in the Asia Pacific to one with a newly developing economy. 

The Philippines is a beautiful place to live, with crystal clear waters and exceptional beaches throughout the 7,640 islands. 

Around 14,000 British nationals live here, and although foreigners cannot buy land, they can purchase apartments – or condos – with most living in Manila.

Nearly everybody speaks English, and there are hundreds of local dialects. 

This multilingual culture has led to a considerable increase in business process outsourcing (BPO) organisations in the country.

With a tropical climate, low living costs and attractive investment opportunities, the Philippines draws businesses, young professionals, families and retirees looking for a different lifestyle, available on a modest budget.

The Philippines as an Expat Destination

  • Living costs: Costs are very low in the Philippines – consumer prices are almost half that in the UK, and rent is nearly 70 per cent cheaper.
  • Education: The country is ranked one of the happiest in the world. There are excellent universities, but education standards do vary depending on whether you’re in the heart of Manila or somewhere more rural.
  • Economy: The Philippine economy is growing. GDP is forecast to increase 4.5 per cent in 2021 and 5.5 per cent in 2022, according to the Asian Development Outlook.
  • Visa applications: You will need a long-term permit to live and work here. Professional expats require an Alien Employment Permit (AEP) and a work visa from the Philippine’s Bureau of Immigration.

Malaysia 

Malaysia is a great place to live if you’re looking for space, rainforests and tropical beaches. The low-population density offers all that in spades, with a community of about 13,000 Brits.

The MM2H (Malaysia My Second Home) visa programme makes it one of the easiest Asian countries to move to, primarily aimed at retirees.

You can move to Malaysia for ten years – on a renewable permit – with liquid assets worth 500,000 RM (£86,000) or 350,000 RM (£60,200), plus a minimum offshore income of at least 10,000 RM (£1,720) a month.

The cuisine is incredible, and Malay people are famously friendly and welcoming. There aren’t any expat ‘zones’, but you’ll find foreign nationals living in all the local communities.

Expats have a range of public and private schools to choose from, and the healthcare services are first class, with hospitals in all the major cities. 

Health treatments are of such good quality that Malaysia has become a medical tourism destination.

Malaysia as an Expat Destination

  • Living costs: Average salaries in Malaysia are almost 70 per cent lower than in the UK – so the living costs are correspondingly very cheap. 
  • Education: Most expat children study at private or international schools where lessons are taught in English. These cost an average of 25,700 RM a year (£4,430).
  • Economy: The Malay economy centres around financial businesses in Kuala Lumpur, with a robust industrialised market. Exports include rubber and tin.
  • Visa applications: Most expats in Malaysia apply for a residency visa through the MM2H visa programme, which has very few restrictions aside from being financially self-sufficient.

Indonesia 

The ancient Indonesian culture is rich, and you’ll find a population of 259 million people, with around 11,000 UK nationals.

One of the best things about life in Indonesia is the relaxed, friendly and social outlook. 

You’ll meet expats and locals from every walk of life, and although it’s the fourth most populous country in the world, everyone is welcomed and accepted.

The weather in Indonesia is tropical, hot and humid. You need to be mindful of the monsoon season (which happens twice a year) – and when it rains here, it really does pour.

Public healthcare in Indonesia isn’t great, so it’s advisable to have full private insurance, and work visas can be tricky to secure.

Still, the thousands of islands in the Indonesian archipelago are a unique place to live, with a choice between bustling cities or a quiet coastal life.

Indonesia as an Expat Destination

  • Living costs: Costs of living in Indonesia are low, with rent almost 70 per cent cheaper and grocery prices about 34 per cent less.
  • Education: Schools in Indonesia are of a high standard, with 300,000 schools and compulsory education up to senior school level. 
  • Economy: The economy here is the 10th largest in the world, and Indonesia is a G20 member. It is a stable place to live, with the primary industries in services, mining, natural gas and petroleum. 
  • Visa applications: Indonesian tourist permits are straightforward, and you can apply for a Visa on Arrival for 500,000 IDR (£25). Work visas are more involved and require employers’ assistance, although many are familiar with hiring foreign nationals.

Brunei

With 6,400 British expats, the small country of Brunei has only 400,000 or so residents.

This tropical nation offers the highest global living standards, dominated by oil and gas industries, with over 40 per cent of the population being foreign professionals. 

While famous for natural resources, the tiny island is also home to a biodiverse rainforest and exceptional beaches.

Income is tax-free, employment is well paid, and expats flock to Brunei from Western Europe and North America.

You do need to be conscious that Brunei is strictly Islamic, and you’ll have to understand the rules and laws about sexual contact, dress codes and public behaviour.

All drugs are illegal, and expats must hold a license to import alcohol – and then only to a maximum personal limit assigned. 

There is a public education system, which is improving, along with outstanding international schools. Most children go to school in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan.

Brunei as an Expat Destination

  • Living costs: Brunei is a low-cost place to live, with rent 32 per cent cheaper than the UK, consumer costs 31 per cent lower, and groceries 15 per cent more affordable.
  • Education: Most expat children attend one of the many prestigious international schools. Average tuition fees are $16,877 a year (just over £9,000). However, that is still 32 per cent cheaper than private UK schooling.
  • Economy: Brunei’s economy is rock-solid, owing to the vast natural reserves of natural gas and petroleum.   
  • Visa applications: Jobs for expats in Brunei are available but controlled through a quota system. You’ll need to fill a skills shortage to apply and may only work for a company that has lodged a security deposit with the government.

Top 10 expat Destinations Asia-Pacific FAQ

Which are the best Asia Pacific cities for young professionals?

The allure of career hubs and affordable housing means that 58 per cent of millennials around the globe live in the Asia-Pacific.
 
The most popular cities include:
·       Melbourne, Australia
·       Guangzhou, China
·       Hong Kong
·       Tokyo, Japan
·       Singapore

How is quality of life different in the Asia Pacific From the UK?

Standards are high throughout the Asia-Pacific. In most of the top 10 countries, you’ll find that living costs are higher, but incomes correspondingly greater than the UK average.
 
Social security benefits are also generous, although most expats will need to take out private medical cover.

Can British expats work in China?

It’s fair to say that life in China is startlingly different from Britain, ruled by a long-standing communist government.
 
However, younger generations lead lifestyles closer to western norms than you might expect.
 
Z-Visa is a Chinese work visa, and you’ll need to have an offer of employment before applying.

Which Asia-Pacific country offers the highest average salaries ?

The ECA International Expatriate Market Pay Survey looks at expat pay rates worldwide and ranks Japan as the number one country.
 
Average middle management salaries are salaried at $375,000 (in USD, equivalent to £265,700).

Can I move to Australia as a UK expat with children?

You can – although the visa application process can be pretty drawn out. 
 
One option is to apply for residency as an individual (ideally through a work visa or investment route) and then apply to relocate your family members too.
 
Another popular visa route is to apply for a student visa, open to mature student applicants over 31. A student visa permits you to work, provided you attend a course of some kind.

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