Is it Singapore or Hong Kong?

Hong Kong and Singapore are two of the four “Asian Tigers” that have followed very distinct routes to advancement. While Hong Kong’s geographic location was advantaged in playing the role of economic powerhouse for hundreds of years, Singapore, on the other hand, only began rapid development as a primary port and trading center after achieving its independence in 1959.

Today, Singapore and Hong Kong are two cities that share numerous characteristics of developed countries; examples include high per-capita income, low poverty rates, and advanced centers of capitalism. In the midst of two, neck-and-neck global headquarters of foreign expertise, workers are often faced to make a choice: Singapore or Hong Kong? Which country is better for expats?

Many of us have grown up in Singapore and know its pros and cons well.  So I wanted to explore the lure of Hong Kong, it’s biggest rival.  On a recent trip (with camera in hand) I sat out to capture a glimpse of the aspects of Hong Kong life that most stood out to me:


Made up of an eclectic mix of locals, Chinese, and expats from over the world, Hong Kong inhabits around 7.2 million people, growing at a pace of 1% per year– similar to Singapore’s growth rate of 1.2%. 

“I love how even with such a small area, Singapore manages to encompass so much variety and contrast. As a citizen living here, I’m able to go on a hike, make a trip to a museum, and have a meal in a hawker center all in one day,” remarks SAS Junior Zi Tong Lim (Singaporean).

The large expat community in both locations ensures that sole English speakers would have no problem living there. The three main languages are Cantonese, English, and Mandarin. Singapore’s are English, Malay, Tamil, and Mandarin, with all students in government schools being taught English as their first language. The social and ethnic fabric in Singapore essentially embodies a cosmopolitan lifestyle with unique blends of cultures.


In Hong Kong, the most popular public transport is through the MTR (Mass Transit Railway), a convenient way of traveling through regions such as Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, the New Territories, and Lantau Island. Likewise in Singapore, citizens travel around the country by the MRT or LRT.

“Although Hong Kong’s routes may seem really complicated due to all the construction, it’s actually really easy to get around without getting lost, thanks to all the transportation services such as the MTR, ” says SAS Junior Tristan Kwok (half Cantonese – half Singaporean)

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Hong Kong’s MTR is often said to be “old but better.” In October 2017, the public scolded Singapore’s public transport management due to its consistent breakdowns, floods, and lack of executive accountability. While the MRT system in Singapore suffered an average of one disruption for every 133,000 train-km clocked in 2016, the Hong Kong MTR encountered only one breakdown for each 520,000 km traveled.

Hong Kong’s taxi fares and fuel costs, however, are correspondingly 62% and 20% more than those of Singapore’s. Vehicle purchase is a different story: Singapore requires a shocking 250% more for a new purchase of an average car.  So for transportation purposes, your most economic route is public transportation in Singapore.  If you want your own wheels, Hong Kong is the place to live.


Although monsoons and typhoons affect the city at various times of the year, Hong Kong has four separate seasons: summer, winter, spring, and autumn. Singapore, on the other hand, maintains a typical tropical climate, situated near the equator and having abundant rainfall and high temperatures and humidity. Its climate is characterized by two monsoon seasons: the Northeast Monsoon occurs from December to early March and the Southwest Monsoon from June to September.

“The ION bathrooms make me so happy,” says SAS Anonymous student

In terms of general urban cleanliness, Singapore would definitely outdo Hong Kong. The government fines people for putting spent chewing gum anywhere other than a bin ($100), for urinating in lifts ($500), and for failing to flush a public lavatory ($100); regular spot checks are made by police officers. Hong Kong also trails behind Singapore when it comes to clean air and pollution levels.

Haze in Singapore, nonetheless, is an annual occurrence that usually occurs between May and October. This air-borne mixture of pollutants predominantly comes from Jakarta (specifically Sumatra and Kalimantan) where farmers practice forest-burning in their agricultural process.

Cost of Living

“I end up spending way too much money every time I go out, not because I’m a big spender but because everything is just so expensive,” states SAS Junior Jaehee Koh (Korean)

Whether it be restaurants, food stalls, of food courts, both cities provide an abundance of locations for food—the foodies’ paradise! Unfortunately, it’ll cost you between 8 – 11% more to dine out in Singapore than it will in Hong Kong. If you’re into grocery shopping, however, you’re in for a treat. Expect to pay around 43% less for chicken and 25% less for beef!

Cantonese Cuisine

Currently, Hong Kong is said to be the most expensive property market in the world. According to data from Expatisan,com, the overall rent in Hong Kong is 47% more expensive. Hong Kong’s top issue would essentially be housing. While Singapore has less land than Hong Kong, the average Singaporean’s living area is 270 square , compared with a Hongkonger’s 170 square feet.  58% more spacious.  So rejoice, Singaporean: Your digs are palatial compared to your northern neighbor.

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Cathie Chung, director of research at JLL in Hong Kong forecast, expects that that the size of apartments would continue to shrink, regardless of any price change. This has already been shown by the average new unit price of 95m2 in 2013 being contracted to 57m2 in 2017.

To top it off, electricity, heating, water, garbage costs, and local authority taxes will be around 40% more in Hong Kong. So the basic necessities of urban living are more affordable here in our home.  It’s not a surprise that the Mercer Quality of Living Survey of 2017 placed Hong Kong No 7, and Singapore No 1.

But smartphone lovers, brace yourselves: internet costs in Singapore will be around 21% more, and tariffs are expected to be a staggering 250% more than the same charges in Hong Kong.

So… Singapore or Hong Kong?  We hope you’ll stick around 😉

Author: Mi Le Jang

Mi Le Jang, currently a senior in SAS, is one of the Chief Media Editors. This is her 18th year in Singapore and her third year working for The SAS Eye. Although she was born in Singapore, she remains deeply attached to her hometown in Korea. She loves watching YouTube videos, experimenting with film and editing, traveling to new places, and spending time with her family members. She spends most of her time chilling in the library or media lab, but she can always be contacted at

2 thoughts

  1. Prodigious filmmaking Mi Le! The comparison of Singapore and Hong Kong in this piece was really insightful. It was a pleasure to read 🙂


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