There are plenty of emigration options close to home, right here in Asia Pacific.

While no one is going anywhere right now—and according to the CDC, Hong Kong is among the lowest-risk locations in the world—many of us are still looking at moving around on a more permanent basis. Though Australia, Canada, the UK and the US remain at the top of the destination list for most potential emigrants, there are a handful of places in Asia Pacific that are appealing for re-locators (Australia as part of APAC is a fluid notion, but more on that later). So where in Asia beckons, and how hard is it to get there?

Familiar faces

Are Hongkongers, in fact, interested in locations beside the so-called big four? “Yes, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan are popular,” says Goldmax Immigration Consulting’s Anna Tsim. And of those, “Taiwan would be the most popular.” That’s not really a surprise, given there are linguistic, cultural and social commonalities that make each an easy choice, among other factors — including close proximity to friends and family left behind. “Malaysia does not have an immigration programme… As for Singapore, people are interested in it but most of them are not qualified. The requirements are so harsh it makes [applicants] go for alternatives.

“Most Hongkongers have been to these places, especially Taiwan. [There is] no big cultural difference. It’s relatively easy to integrate into the society and there are fewer language barriers,” theorises Tsim. “In terms of ideology, Taiwan is the same as the US, it is liberal. Having rights on universal suffrage is one of the main reasons Hong Kong people migrate to Taiwan too.” Though the Taiwanese might disagree, compared to the high cost of living in Hong Kong and its long working hours, Taiwan’s relatively low cost of living, high standard of living, laid-back lifestyle and more affordable property values add to its appeal. Business operating costs—rent, labour, taxes—are low, and the Taiwanese are notoriously welcoming. In addition, the relatively low investment demanded to emigrate vis-à-vis other (largely) Western locations is a bonus. Taiwan demands an investment of roughly TWD6 million—about HK$1.5 million—into a new local company. By comparison, Australia can demand as much as AU$8 million, or HK$38 million, after a rigid approvals process.

The retirement option

It’s been well documented that the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) has been a winner for both the country and for retirees looking for a high standard of living at a reasonable cost. MM2H grants a 10-year entry visa for applicants that have MYR350,000 cash in the bank (HK$650,000), an income or pension above MYR10,000 (HK$18,000) and a property of a fixed minimum value in Malaysia. After a year and a deposit into a local bank, applicants get a visa. But if you’re under 50 years of age, applicants must present more than MYR500,000 (HK$880,000) cash in the bank, the same salary, a property and a transfer of MYR350,000 into a Malaysian bank. Neither of these leads to permanent residency or citizenship, and in neither case are MM2H visa holders allowed to work.

Also perpetually popular for retirement is Thailand. Long a magnet for Europeans and North Americans for its low cost/high standard of living dynamic, appealing weather and cosmopolitan cities, Hongkongers have slowly but surely started gravitating to one of the SAR’s favourite vacation destinations. Affordable property helps the decision.

To apply to relocate to the Land of Smiles, applicants should start with a non-immigrant visa, held for three consecutive years, and fulfil criteria in one of the investment visa (valued at THB3 to 10 million; approx. HK$713,000 to 2,380,000), business or work, family, or academic immigration categories, or one specially determined and approved by Thai Immigration. Thailand’s retirement visa requirements were amended in March 2019, and now demand over-50s keep THB400,000 (HK$100,000) in a Thai bank and prove a THB65,000 (HK$15,000) monthly income. That makes Thailand an affordable option, but applicants have to be ready to retire.

The dark horse

Even if they’re technically in Oceania, scores of multinationals lump Australia and New Zealand into Asia Pacific. And it’s no surprise Australia is still the star down under. “When comparing these two countries, Australia is always the first priority for Hongkongers,” says Tsim. Equally unsurprising is that the draw of the Australian National University, and the universities of Melbourne, Sydney, New South Wales (UNSW Australia) and Queensland outranks New Zealand’s only blue chip school, the University of Auckland. On top of that, “From the economic and business point of view, the job opportunities, prospects, potential for development in Australia is greater than in New Zealand,” Tsim finishes.

Nonetheless, New Zealand started to gain a bit of immigration traction despite investor visa demands of between NZ$3 and $10 million (HK$14 to $48 million) over three to four years, plus business experience, which can then lead to permanent residency. “That’s actually double the price of Australia and for Hong Kong people who fulfil the criteria, their first choice will be Australia,” agrees Alice Wong at Paul Bernadou Migration. “And the New Zealand application process is tough, particularly in how applicants earn their money.”

Like Malaysia, New Zealand is an ideal place for retirement. Its stripped down, relaxed pace makes it suitable for families that wish to enjoy a natural life there—an older family. Finishes Tsim, “Unlike Hong Kong, there is not much nightlife.”

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