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Expat Focus International News Update June 2023

Kuwait: Deportation of Expats

Over 11,000 expats have been deported from Kuwait in the first four months of 2023, according to the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior. The deportations have been made on the basis of violation of residency laws. Surveillance and enforcement measures have been stepped up, as reported in the Gulf News recently, with over 90 expats per day being sent home. This crackdown is largely due to recent ‘localisation’ policies – but it depends how useful you are, as the country is also in the process of hiring domestic workers from Ethiopia, a consequence of recent tensions with the Philippines having threatened the domestic employment sector. Currently, recruitment from the Philippines has ground to a halt. 

Expats Choose Malaysia Over Singapore

We’ve reported extensively on rising rental costs in Singapore. Al Jazeera reported early in June that many expats are voting with their feet and leaving the city state entirely, relocating to cheaper Asian cities such as Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City. It’s not rents alone that are the issue, although some have gone up by 20% to 30%, but also other soaring costs such as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) which has risen to 8% and is due to increase to 9% in 2024. Recruitment agencies say that an increasing number of companies are aiming at moving staff out of Singapore to save on costs, and with a room in a shared rental available at around $600 in Kuala Lumpar, as opposed to over $1,000 in Singapore, it’s easy to see why.

Salaries are also increasingly being requested to be paid in USD to avoid currency fluctuations, and although Singapore is still popular due to its proximity to venture capital and investors (not to mention low tax and the recent One Pass visa), recruiters believe the trend of expats moving from Singapore to Malaysia will continue. 

ECA International 2023 Location Ratings Survey

It would, however, be a mistake to write Singapore off just yet: the ECA International 2023 Location Ratings Survey has rated it as the most liveable city for East Asian expats, followed by Tokyo in second place and New Zealand’s Wellington in third. Yet they also note that three Malaysian cities – Kuala Lumpur, George Town and Johor Bahru – have risen up in the rankings. This is due, the ECA says, to a relaxation of COVID regulations: Malaysia was one of the first Asian countries to lift restrictions, and life returned to normal more quickly than in nations such as China, and thus proved appealing to expats and companies keen to get on with business.  

As for the rest of the top ten, the rankings feature a range of geographical locations: fourth and fifth place are claimed by Japan, with Osaka and Yokohama, with the Antipodes coming next (Adelaide, Brisbane and Auckland), then the outlier of Copenhagen in ninth place and finally Sydney.  Asia generally did well in the rankings, with the exception of Myanmar’s Yangon, which fell as a result of political unrest in the country. Hong Kong also dropped 15 places, due to Covid-19 restrictions, and all the Chinese cities featured in the list also fell for the same reason. The ECA points out, however, that there is still a big differential between other Asian cities and Singapore. 

Spain Launches Digital Nomad Visa

A number of countries have been releasing digital nomad visas recently, and Spain is latest, announcing the move as part of its new Start Up act to attract digital talent into the country. This has been expected since 2022 and is now becoming a reality, being open to non-EU remote digital workers who have a maximum of 20% of their salary from Spanish employers. It’s also open to self-employed freelancers. However, you’re not eligible if you have lived in Spain in the previous five years, and your employer must have been in business for at least one year. You will also need to have worked for them for at least three months. In addition, you will need to demonstrate that you have enough income to be self-sufficient and that your country has a social security agreement with Spain. 

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All this is quite daunting, but if successful, the new visa will allow you to live in Spain for up to a year, and will also allow you to apply for a residency permit which can then be extended (five years in total). 

If you have queries, contact your local Spanish embassy/consulate, and they will be able to advise you. You will also be able to apply for the visa through them, although you can do so in Spain itself if you’re there on a tourist visa. 

UAE ‘Has No Plans’ to Introduce Income Tax

Authorities in the UAE said in early June that the state ‘has no plans’ to introduce an income tax, which has been feared for some time. Haji Al Khouri, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Finance, told the press that there were also no intentions of introducing corporate tax on the incomes of expat workers. The question has arisen since corporate tax was introduced on June 1, fuelling speculation that private incomes could be taxed in the future. This is a significant issue for expats in the region, who currently enjoy a high disposable income as a result of the lack of tax. 

Saudi Arabia and Oman Discuss Plans For Joint Tourist Visa

The Arabic nations of Saudi Arabia and Oman are currently in talks to promote tourism in the region by issuing a joint tourist visa, the Gulf News reported in early June. Seasonal flights and a joint tourism calendar are also on the agenda. Tourism between the two countries themselves is already well established, with over 160,000 Omanis visiting Saudi in the first few months of 2023, but the states are keen to open up the tourist market even further.

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