Crazy Rich (Southeast) Asia: Why The Wealthy Are Here to Stay
The super-rich are flocking to Southeast Asia. Buoyed by a remarkable growth spurt, the region is increasingly becoming a magnet for millionaires and billionaires.
Family offices in Singapore have increased nearly sevenfold since 2017, with over 700 in the country today. Thailand’s new Long-Term Resident visa, launched in September last year to attract high-net-worth individuals, saw almost 2,000 applicants in just three months.
It is a reflection of their growing confidence in Southeast Asia, which is one of the world’s fastest-growing regions. The Asian Development Bank estimates that ASEAN will expand by 4.7 per cent this year – above the global average of 2.7 per cent and putting it on track to become the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2030.
This positive outlook might signal the arrival of even more affluent individuals. But to sustain this trend for the long haul, countries must also think beyond simply being an outlet for the wealthy to park their riches. “It’s also about whether they can settle in the country on a long-term basis,” said Winston Lee on the final day of the Southeast Asia Property Investment Show (SEAPIS) organised by PropertyGuru.
The Director of Special Projects at PropertyGuru Group was moderating a panel session that discussed how Southeast Asia countries were rolling out the red carpet for the wealthy to set up a second home, by dangling attractive immigration incentives. These range from long-term visas to hassle-free applications.
In the last session of the two-day event that saw industry stakeholders gathered at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre to share insights on Southeast Asia’s promising property market, speakers zeroed in on the offerings from three countries: Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
The Singapore Stability
With its security, global connectivity, and generous incentives, Singapore has traditionally been a haven for the world’s richest. The likes of Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, billionaire investor Ray Dalio, and Haidilao restaurant group founder Zhang Yong have bases here.
“Singapore has been viewed as a country where it is very stable economically and politically,” said Mr Charles Lim, Managing Partner of fund management firm Red Beacon Asset Management. “We are also in a very good strategic location that gives us good global access.”
To this end, he pointed to a programme that has put individuals on the fast track to permanent residency: the Global Investor Programme (GIP). Introduced by the Economic Development Board to draw in foreign investors, the initiative has seen 200 investors become Singapore permanent residents between 2020 to 2022.
Alternatively, there is also the Family Office Regime, a more popular programme that allow sone to obtain an employment pass, along with dependent passes for families.
“Each programme has its unique benefits and meets the different needs of these high-net-worth individuals,” said Mr Lim. “It demonstrates the Singapore government’s commitment in attracting them to consider making Singapore their second home.”
A New Market for Malaysia
To attract tycoons and businessmen, Malaysia launched a new visa scheme last September intending to bring more foreign investments to the country. Called the Malaysian Premium Visa Programme (PVIP), it is expected to attract at least 1,000 participants in the first year.
Successful applicants are given a multiple-entry pass to stay in the country for up to 20 years, and they are free to run businesses, study and buy property there. “It allows you to be active in employment and investment,” said Ms Daisy Ong Danker, Deputy President of Malaysia My Second Home Consultants Association. There are no age limits for this programme, and participants can bring in family members on dependent passes.
For those looking for an alternative, there is also the Malaysia My Second Home programme which grants families visas that can be renewed every five years. Unlike the PVIP, which has no age limit and no minimum stay, applicants must be 35 years old and above and staying Malaysia for at least 90 days a year.
Thailand: Keeping it Easy
Not to be left out in the race to attract high-fliers, Thailand has made it extremely accessible for wealthy foreigners to relocate there, said Mr Armin Parvin, Business Development Manager of AIMS Immigration and Relocation Specialist. “Everything is very smooth and quite easy,” he noted.
For instance, there is virtually no requirement for the Thai Elite Visa, which consists of seven membership programmes. Most only require a minimum one-time fee of THB 600,000, making it relatively affordable compared to immigration programmes in other countries. In comparison, applicants for Singapore’s GIP have to invest at least $10 million in a Singapore business.
In addition, the country’s development is just getting started, noted Mr Parvin, making it an exciting prospect to live there. “Thailand is a growing economy,” he said, citing Bangkok as an example. “The city has been expanding with sky trains, hospitals, and international universities."
“There are a lot of options available in Thailand – the government has been trying to provide everything for everyone.”
Note: Article content was written based on the speaker’s insights from Southeast Asia Property Investment Show (SEAPIS) event which was held on 25-26 March 2023.