Home » Japan » Why Are Expat Professionals Leaving Singapore For Japan?

Why Are Expat Professionals Leaving Singapore For Japan?

Singapore has been regarded as one of the best Asian destinations for expats from all over the world for a long time now. This island managed to upgrade itself from the third to the first world within a couple of decades after achieving independence from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965.Today, the Lion City has become one of the most important financial centers of its continent. It also ranks third on the list of the richest nations across the globe, in terms of per capita income, below only Luxemburg and Qatar. The Red Dot portrays an astounding Trade to GDP ratio of 359.3, and is the 13th largest export market for the United States.

In spite of its small size, this city state has several accomplishments under its belt. It receives around 15 million international visitors and attracts Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) for an amount of 60 billion US Dollars. The state has undoubtedly emerged as the best investment destination in Asia, for American companies, with the US, Netherlands and Japan as its top three investors.

Several multinational companies are choosing Singapore as their gateway to Asian markets, primarily because of its advanced infrastructure and technology. Everyone in Singapore speaks fluent English, or rather Singlish, which is a localized variant of the language. As a result, a number of expats from North America, Europe, Australia and other parts of Asia have taken up lucrative job opportunities on this island. The city state offers an excellent quality of life to all of its residents, including foreign nationals. However, these benefits come at a premium; the cost of living in this city is extremely high.

One of the downsides of working in the Lion City is the complete lack of work life balance. According to an article published by Asia One, Singaporeans have the longest working hours in the world. Things have not changed for the better since the article was written. Unfortunately, the productivity of an individual or a team is not necessarily proportionate to the amount of time they spend at work.

This trend is mirrored in other countries in Southeast Asia, primarily Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. Japan had been one of the few exceptions to this practice. In fact, working hours in the Land of the Rising Sun are similar to the US, Canada and Great Britain. For more information on this report, click here.

While Asians may be used to working extremely long hours, North Americans, Europeans and Australians tend not to be too comfortable with this practice. Many expat professionals from the Western world, especially those who have moved with their families, are therefore seriously thinking about leaving Singapore for Japan.

Get Our Best Articles Every Month!

Get our free moving abroad email course AND our top stories in your inbox every month

Unsubscribe any time. We respect your privacy - read our privacy policy.

Of course, many people will argue that employees in Japan work for extended hours too. Meetings in this country are known to go on for as long as 8 hours and at times, office workers are made to sleep at their desks instead of going back home at the end of the day.

However, people who have worked in both the countries claim to prefer the professional environment in Japan, for the following reasons.


In general, the society in Japan is very collective and cooperative, as people go out of their way for one another. This value is often extended to the workplace too, as people take ownership of their actions, even if they are not in the wrong, instead of throwing their colleagues under the bus. Leaders and mentors are highly protective of their wards, which is why employees trust their seniors and colleagues. This is balanced out by the fact that people are happy to take credit too, when they believe that they deserve it. People do not get promoted very fast as their performance is gauged over a period of time.

On the other hand, the Singaporean society is very individualistic, which has inculcated a highly competitive spirit at work. People may resort to underhanded tactics at times to outdo each other. Passing the buck on is also a common problem in this region. Professionals often try to take the credit for any kind of success even if they are not responsible for it. This mainly happens because growth is based on perceptions, rather than performance. While promotions happen at a faster pace, there is no stability at all. People could lose their jobs within a week of being moved to a new position.

Career Development

When it comes to choosing a location that offers excellent long term career development options, Japan is a better bet. Most firms take good care of their staff members and invest heavily in their training. Employees are given extensive benefits after they have served their companies loyally for an extended period of time. However, these facilities are only extended to permanent workers. Those who are working on a contractual basis are generally underpaid and are given few or no benefits. Getting a long-term job in Japan can be quite challenging, but these jobs come with the reward of stability and potential growth.

The work environment in Singapore is very dynamic and most professionals will switch jobs every two to five years. This is because staying loyal to a company on a long-term basis has no tangible benefits. Professionals believe in taking advantage of salary increases and advancement opportunities by changing organizations every year or two. Many companies hire people according to their requirements, and later let the redundant staff members go once that need has been met. Minimal time, money and effort is invested in training, coaching and mentoring the new recruits.

Relationships with Colleagues

In Japan, it is common for professionals to spend time with their colleagues even outside of office hours. Team members often have gatherings at bars or restaurants after work or at weekends. Workers are often joined by their supervisors and managers too. Many of them look at the informal environment as an opportunity to bond with their teammates. Misunderstandings are often cleared over a drink or a meal and people feel closer to one another. These outings are great for expats, as they get a chance to interact with locals in a more relaxed setting. Unfortunately, people may feel obligated to participate in these social events even if they have other things to do, as a result of social pressure.

The relationship between local colleagues in Singapore the opposite to this! Professionals may be cordial to each other at work, but they are not likely to spend time socialising outside of the office. This practice is not necessarily followed by expats though; many of them catch up with other foreigners after work or on the weekend, even if they all work in the same company.

Despite all this, certain aspects of professional and personal life in Singapore are said to be better for expatriates than Japan. These aspects include the following.


Interacting with the people of Japan may be quite a challenge for a foreigner, since not all locals speak English fluently. Japanese is the main language of communication at the workplace, in terms of conversation as well as documentation. It is therefore best to learn the language as early as possible so that you can participate in meetings and important discussions with your colleagues and clients. However, since Japanese is not easy to learn, many expats have no choice but to engage the services of a fulltime translator.

On the other hand, almost everyone in Singapore speaks fluent English, even if it’s not their first language. The dialect differs from the English you will hear in the Western world and will definitely take some getting used to. However, as long as you can speak and understand English, you should have no trouble communicating with clients and colleagues. All the paperwork related to business is also usually in English. If you spend a long period of time in Singapore, you may also pick up other languages including Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil.

Demand for Foreign Talent

The hiring practices of the Japanese are heavily influenced by a preference for hiring local people. Even senior professionals discriminate against outsiders in terms of employment and growth, as they believe that they are taking care of their own people. As an expat, you are only likely to get hired if you are highly skilled in a certain area and have the ability to do a job that cannot be performed by a local. Even if you are proficient in Japanese, you will always be regarded as an outsider.

Singapore on the other hand follows a completely opposite trend. Companies actively discriminate against locals and prefer to recruit expatriates if they can. When firms hire Singaporeans, they pay huge amounts of money towards the employer CPF contributions. It is a well-known fact that many establishments only hire the locals to meet the minimum quota regulations. Alternately, a Singaporean may be given preference if they possess a skill that cannot be matched by a foreigner. While this attitude is not good for the local economy, it works in favor of expatriates.

Gender Equality

The Japanese society is chauvinistic in many ways and many women face severe discrimination at work, which in turn interferes with their chances of both getting a job and progressing at work. This is the mindset of traditional employers, and it can be worse in the case of female expats. Fortunately, things aren’t that bad at multinational companies in the corporate sector. The authorities are also trying to award employers that encourage gender diversity.

In Singapore women find it easier to seek employment, especially if they are single. Those who can keep up with the pressure of work and make a mark for themselves also climb the corporate ladder at a fast pace. However, while maternity policies may appear desirable, women may lose their jobs when they become pregnant, although this is put down to “poor performance”.

Salaries and Taxes

The pay scales in Japan are known to be very high to offset the country’s high cost of living. Moreover, the tax rate paid by employees is much more than Singapore’s. Subsidies are provided to employees and retirees in return for what they pay. However, they do not apply if a worker leaves before retirement. This means that if you work in Japan for a short period of time, you pay heavy taxes but get nothing in return for it.

The salaries in Singapore are lower than in Japan, but workers lead the same, if not a better, quality of life. This is because the tax rate is almost non-existent for foreigners. This makes Singapore an ideal destination if you are looking for a short-term assignment. However, if you decide to get Singapore citizenship, you may be subject to higher tax rates.

Cost of Living

Japan is undoubtedly one of the most expensive places to live in the world. While the quality of life is good, you are likely to pay exorbitant prices for housing, groceries, transport, utilities, education and healthcare.

Singapore is also fairly expensive, but it is cheaper than Japan in terms of food, travel, healthcare and entertainment. If you plan to send your children to a private or international school, you will find cheaper options on this island than in Japan.

Choosing Japan over Singapore will be a personal choice, since both places have pros and cons. Apart from the work culture, other factors such as housing, healthcare and education will also need to be considered. It is therefore important to weigh all options carefully before making any decision.

Have you lived and worked in Singapore or Japan? Share your experiences in the comments below, or answer the questions here to be featured in an interview!

Latest Videos

Expat Focus Financial Update February 2024 #expat #expatlife

Expat Focus 28 February 2024 2:53 pm

This error message is only visible to WordPress admins

Important: No API Key Entered.

Many features are not available without adding an API Key. Please go to the YouTube Feeds settings page to add an API key after following these instructions.