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Asia’s new gilded visas target wealthy and highly paid

·6-min read
If you have cash to splash and fancy a change of scenery, there have never been so many options in Southeast Asia.
Governments in the region are increasingly floating plans for new visa programmes targeting professionals, retirees or other affluent people. (PHOTO: Bloomberg)

By Anders Melin and Yoojung Lee

(Bloomberg) — One by one, countries in Southeast Asia and beyond have begun telegraphing to people around the globe: If you’ve got money or a well-paying job, our doors are open.

Governments in the region are increasingly floating plans for new visa programmess targeting professionals, retirees or other affluent people. Several started taking applications, calling on tycoons, “rainmakers” and digital nomads to consider a new harbour.

Indonesia aired plans for a new visa scheme in 2021. Cambodia followed earlier this year with one for “resourceful foreigners.” In recent weeks, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand rolled out their own fresh set of policies.

All are seeking to tap into a growing demand for migration options as legions of educated workers look to use their newfound freedom to do their job remotely. For the countries, there’s the lure of wealthy expats with money to spend. And governments, unwilling to be outdone, often shift immigration rules in lockstep, meaning the number of such programs is likely to keep growing.

“Malaysia sees what Thailand is doing and vice versa,” Philippe May, chief executive officer of citizenship advisory firm EC Holdings, said from Singapore. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Indonesia came out with something more solid. The Philippines may come up with new schemes, too.”

New Freedoms

People willing to put up enough money have for years been able to reside and sometimes work, at least temporarily, in several of these countries. But experts say the new programs offer added benefits.

Many are designed to let people not just live but also study, work or run businesses. Some seek to shield visa holders from the headaches of a transnational lifestyle, such as double taxation. They also tend to have more relaxed requirements for physical presence and cross-border travel.

Countries are particularly seeking to attract corporate leaders and established entrepreneurs, said Jaya Dass, a managing director at recruitment and HR-services provider Randstad.

“You wouldn’t put senior people here without giving them the resources, the infrastructure, the teams,” Dass said of Singapore’s new program. “One headcount will have a trickle-down effect throughout the whole organization and create employment opportunities.”

So if you are on the lookout for a change, here are the latest options:

Singapore

The city-state announced plans in August to offer a so-called Overseas Networks and Expertise pass for high-earning foreigners and their spouses. Minister of Manpower Tan See Leng said it aims to bring “rainmakers” in areas like science, technology and sports. The program is set to start Jan. 1.

Why go there? Low taxes, political stability and a strong currency. With more than 50 Michelin-starred restaurants and dining venues, Singapore is also known for its vibrant food scene, including the hawker centers featured in “Crazy Rich Asians.”Who’s eligible? Most will need a minimum monthly salary of S$30,000 ($21,500), though high-achievers in fields such as sports, arts, science, technology and academia who don’t meet the salary criteria are also eligible.Validity? Five years.What will it cost? The government has said it will release details about the application process later.

Malaysia

The Premium Visa Program, announced on Sept. 1, targets affluent individuals looking to study, work or run businesses in Malaysia. The Immigration Department said the scheme is open to “global tycoons” from all over, except Israel and countries that have no diplomatic relations with Malaysia.

Why go there? Centuries-long history as a cultural melting pot; a broad range of cuisines; a mix of pearly beaches and wild jungles stretched over towering mountain ranges.Who’s eligible? Participants must have annual income from abroad of at least 480,000 ringgit ($105,300) and deposit 1 million ringgit with a domestic bank. After one year, they’re allowed to use as much as half of that to pay for schooling or medical procedures, or to buy real estate.Validity? Up to 20 years.What will it cost? A fee of 200,000 ringgit for the main applicant and half of that per dependent, which can include a spouse, children under 21, parents-in-law and domestic workers.What else do I need to know? Holders aren’t bound by a physical presence requirement, however the program doesn’t offer a path to citizenship.

Cambodia

Cambodia My Second Home, or CM2H, targets “resourceful foreigners, such as investors, entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists and intellectuals with high knowledge and ability,” Kirth Chantharith, the director general of Cambodia’s immigration department, said in July.

Why go there? Rich history colored by the Khmer Empire and French colonial era; attractive cost of living; an exotic mix of jungle, beaches and sprawling plains, much of which is under protection by the government.Who’s eligible? Applicants must invest at least $100,000 in eligible asset classes and be involved in a real estate project approved by the government.Validity? A decade, with an option to apply for Cambodian citizenship after five years.What will it cost? Unknown. A government representative didn’t respond to an email seeking information about application fees, permitted asset classes, and whether the visa comes with a physical presence requirement. “We will judge every application on its merits rather than issuing lengthy checklists,” a spokesperson told local newspaper Pattaya Mail.What else do I need to know? Visa holders aren’t subject to any entry or exit restrictions. It comes with a slew of other benefits: work permit, health care, basic translation services, help to set up bank accounts and business licenses, and concierge service at the airport upon initial arrival.

Thailand

Thailand launched a new visa program on Aug. 31 that aims to attract 1 million wealthy or talented foreigners over the next five years. The country received around 400 applications through Sept. 12, mostly from pensioners and remote workers, Narit Therdsteerasukdi, deputy secretary-general of Thailand’s Board of Investment, said in an interview.

Why go there? Scenic beaches, Bangkok’s famed night life and some of the world’s best food. This year, it became Asia’s first country to decriminalize cannabis to promote its use in medicines, food and cosmetics.Who’s eligible? There are a few different groups. First: affluent individuals who make a minimum investment of $500,000 in assets such as Thai government bonds or property, have at least $1 million and make $80,000 or more a year. Second: affluent retirees aged 50 or older who meet that same income criteria and have health insurance with coverage surpassing $50,000. Third: digital nomads and certain other skilled professionals with at least five years of work experience in their fields and an annual income of $80,000 or higher.Validity? Up to 10 years.What will it cost? The processing fee is set at 50,000 baht ($1,350).What else do I need to know? There are no presence requirements and income earned overseas is tax exempt.

Indonesia

Indonesia last year floated the idea of a special five-year visa exempting remote workers from paying local taxes if they don’t earn an income domestically. The country, which currently offers work permits for up to two years, hasn’t yet released more detailed plans.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.