One size doesn’t fit all in Asia

What is the best way to tailor a relocation benefits for international assignments to China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia?

A map of Asia
Asia is a diverse place with multiple countries, languages and cultures. Relo Network Asia, formerly Orientations, serves 17 countries in the region and no one knows better that each one requires a different approach.To share the complexity our team manages for assignees on a daily basis, we will compare some information from the countries of our four office locations: Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Malaysia. While we execute services based upon clients global or regional relocation benefits policies, we also customize the time we spend to help provide the information most beneficial based upon assignee needs and the destination.

Country size and language

The difference between the largest and smallest populations of the four countries is almost a million people. The smaller of which, Hong Kong and Singapore have very little variation while Malaysia and China offer internal differences between cities. These differences range from the availability of public transportation, foreign language support, international school availability and even how rent is paid.The English language is prominent in Hong Kong where it serves as the language of government and in Singapore where it is the official language of the country. In Hong Kong, Cantonese is the official language. Malay or Bahasa Malaysia is the official language of Malaysia although here too, English is considered to be the unofficial business language and is widely spoken. Mandarin is also widely spoken in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong and is the dominant language in China.

Safety and security in Asia

Hong Kong and Singapore are among the safest in the world with low crime rates when compared to other sizable cities. China Tier 1 cities such as Shanghai and Beijing are also very safe; however security challenges can vary more in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Normal precautions are always advised and we recommend in both China and Hong Kong to have translated information for important addresses such as the preferred international clinic or hospital. The security level in Malaysia is markedly different - still the most abundant crime is petty such as pickpocketing and bag snatching and it is recommended that taxi services be booked online or over the phone. A thorough security briefing is always provided with service programs.Whenever visiting a different country, understanding local laws is important. They can be different from ones in the home location and have stricter penalties in some cases. Our safety and security briefings help assignees be excellent guest in their host countries.

Government compliance

Beyond the standard visa process, only China and Hong Kong have additional local compliance requirements. In Hong Kong, a Hong Kong ID Card must be obtained for the assignee and all family members aged 11 years and older within ten days of arrival. China requires all foreigners to register their address with the local police station within 24 hours. Most hotels will take care of this process for guests, but the registration must be made every time there is a change of address.


It is highly advisable for assignees to open local bank accounts, especially if there is a need to make rent and tuition payments quickly. The process is different based on country as well as the chosen bank. In Singapore the process takes approximately 5 business days and in Hong Kong, processing times can be a matter of days or up to two weeks depending on the assignee’s nationality.China, which has a restricted currency makes having a local bank account even more important as it can be challenging to make payments from accounts outside China. Traditionally, China has predominantly been a cash-based society. The use of credit cards has been skipped almost entirely in favor of digital payments. Almost everywhere will accept mobile payments such as WeChat and Alipay, with some shops now taking only digital payments. Both WeChat and Alipay will link only to a local account.


Home finding can be the most different for assignees. Not as much initial focus is placed researching lease periods and rental payment cycles as is spent learning more exciting aspects of a new location. But there can be a big difference between what is normal in the departure location compared to the destination.The typical lease term for Singapore, Malaysia and China tends to be 12 – 24 months. Hong Kong’s typical lease period is 24 months, however leases typically specify the first 12 months as fixed with a 2 month notice to cancel. A security deposit equal to 2 months’ rent is standard in China, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Singapore’s security deposits can range between 1 and 2 months’ rent but is most commonly equal to two months.Real estate fees which are charged by the real estate broker are paid by the landlord in Malaysia and in Hong Kong, the tenant pays an amount equal to ½ months’ rent. China and Singapore have a slightly different system which can be dependent upon the amount of the monthly rent. In China, it is typical that apartments with monthly rents above RMB 15,000 that the landlord pay the real estate commission. Below RMB 15,000, the tenant typically pays an amount equal to ½ months’ rent. In Singapore, the monthly rental threshold for the landlord payments is SGD 4,000. Below that amount, the tenant will typically pay a fee to the real estate agent equal to 1 months’ rent.All four countries will accept both a personal or a corporate lease however diplomatic clauses are only accepted under certain terms in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.What to pack in a shipment is a question that always comes eventually, if not in the first few consultation calls. Knowing if an apartment is furnished or not helps shed light on one of the most expensive parts of the move.In all four locations, standard kitchen and bath appliance are typically included and bringing such items from home is troublesome due to the differences in currents and hardware. Hong Kong typically do not include any additional furnishings. In Singapore and Malaysia, partial furnishings including window dressings can be expected while most properties in China will come furnished or at least partially furnished. Landlords in China, Malaysia and Singapore also commonly add furniture upon request.In general there are also many subtle differences in housing depending on the country. For example, it is uncommon for kitchens in Asia to have hot water available from the kitchen sink. Some newer developments have added this as standard, however it remains unlikely in older properties. Dishwashers are also relatively uncommon as Asian kitchens tend to be smaller than those of many other countries, especially Western countries. In Singapore and Malaysia, typically bathrooms will only come equipped with a shower but no bathtub. In Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia it is quite common to have a live-in maid. Oftentimes there will be a small “maids quarters” located just off the kitchen.In our over thirty years of helping people move to and within Asia, we’ve learned the fine art of viewing our country destinations from the arriving assignee and family’s perspective. Successful transitions begin with the appropriate expectations. Setting those expectations correctly and early is something at which our team excels. No relocation is ever without its surprises, but we work towards leaving only the many pleasant ones for our clients to discover.

For more news, visit our Asia section.

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