A Case for Singapore (Where in the World is Happening Right Now?)

A Case for Singapore (Where in the World is Happening Right Now?) post image

My friend, DCer, and all around super nice guy Tom planted the idea of home exchanges in my brain a few months back.

It’s exactly what it sounds like. You put your house up on the website for a small fee, and find other home owners who would like to trade with you for an agreed amount of time.

Because of it’s recognizable brand, homes in Bali have a lot of pull on home exchange sites. Even though our house only costs us $18,000 annually, it shouldn’t be a problem exchanging it with a European family who has a beautiful home in, say, the middle of Paris. Home exchange arbitrage!

It got us thinking– if you could exchange your house and go live somewhere new for a few months (and potentially somewhere expensive), where would you choose? 

Initially visions of the south of France, the Alps in the summertime, Paris, Los Angeles, Florence, and Tokyo all started dancing in my imagination.

But this week I’ve been thinking about two new ideas: 1) what would be best for our future business? and 2) what’s happening right now?

By happening I mean something like, what’s an interesting and relevant emerging scene that we could see first hand. You know your writer friend who went to Paris for the summer and was disappointed that young writers don’t hang out there anymore? When Ian and I spent a week in Hong Kong last year we kinda said to ourselves “if only we had millions or were here in the 90’s.”

Where’s in the world is “happening” right now? 

  • Cebu City – for moving your tax base abroad into a PEZA zone and hiring English speaking college graduates to help you build your internet start-up. Cebu and Manila are still the only two major forces of gravity for top talent in the Philippines.
  • Davao City – For the lowest cost scalable English speaking workforce you can find, and a small but growing group of entrepreneurs.
  • Chiang Mai – (haven’t been here yet) for bloggers and internet business people living a good lifestyle at a great price.
  • Shenzhen – if you want to hustle up a fortune trading goods from the world’s largest manufacturing base. From a rice paddy to a major global player in 15 years. The prototypical “go east young man” location.

Singapore will likely have growing importance for web based entrepreneurs in the coming decade.

Last week it occurred to me: Singapore is happening. For getting financing and investments in Asia. For incorporation and wealth management services for entrepreneurs. For networking with like minds in Asia. For one of the best alterative passports in the world.

I got a ton of positive praise, both publicly and in private, for my article about internet entrepreneurs setting up in Hong Kong. The runner-up to our Hong Kong decision was Singapore, which was ultimately judged by Ian and myself and a handful of DCers as “slightly more favorable than Hong Kong but more expensive.”

We opted for Hong Kong at the time because we are cheap and we go to China often. You don’t have to twist my arm to hang out in Hong Kong!

Here are some reasons that Signapore is has a ton to offer internet entrepreneurs:

  • Potentially the best all-around first offshore incorporation zone for internet start-ups (a little more expensive than HK, but more agreeable terms).
  • Vibrant start-up and university scene pulling students and talent from all over Asia.
  • Singapore is actively seeking out entrepreneurial talent form other parts of the world. 
  • Cheap flights to anywhere in Asia.
  • Friendly, easy, cheap visa.
  • Best airport in the world.
  • Great food everywhere! Relatively affordable entertainment costs.
  • We probably wouldn’t want to pay the rent if we weren’t doing a home exchange!
  • Laid back city vibe, not so oppressive and large like Bangkok, Hong Kong, NYC.
  • Fast WIFI.
  • Lots of money, entrepreneurs, and opportunity. Entrepreneurial talent from the West is in demand.
  • A crossroads of Asia. Lots of people coming through.
  • Melting pot culture, relatively easy to accept outsiders.
  • If we go there, something relevant might happen for our business. I’m not sure what…

Plenty of downsides too! It’s sorta boring. If you’ve been to both– it’s sort of a mega-rich aspirational Makati with some Las Vegas sprinkled in. It’s expensive, and probably not nearly as much fun as other locations.

If you all were going to relocate for the summer, where would you go? We might just take your advice.



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Published on 03.21.12
  • Nice to see two of my choices on your list. Great minds think alike, fools seldom differ, and all that jazz.

    Davao is great for a super low-cost runway to build my business, surrounded by that ever growing group of entrepreneurs you mentioned.

    Singapore is where my Global business will be incorporated and where I will end up “based” out of probably next year as I do miss living in a city, have a ton of VC & IT colleagues living there, and love their infrastructure.

    I just need to make enough money to pay the crazy rent! ;)

  • Conni Biesalski

    It’s happening in Berlin. Massively.

    The Internet start-up scene here is exploding. So many creative and inspiring people here. Lots of networking and skill exchange events going down almost every day somewhere. Too easy to meet enthusiastic and motivated people. 
    Lots of great co-working spaces, such as the betahaus. Lots of cool cafes to set up digital nomad offices.
    Berlin is also packed with artists of any kind. It’s a very creative atmosphere.
    Amazing nightlife (Berghain!). 
    Lots of expats.
    Increasing but still highly affordable rents.

    Yeah, it’s not Asia and it comes with a harsh winter, but man the summers are the best here.

    In two words: It rocks.

    I’ve been here for 10 months now and I’m leaving in a few weeks to head back to Asia. It kinda sucks actually, cause Berlin is just too good to leave…

  • Fin

    When I head off on my adventures it will probably be to Chiang Mai. I’ve already stayed there about 5/6 months and I love it.

    I also want to stay on Koh Phangan for a bit, more for the parties. Also, I have friends in Taiwan so I’ll probably stay there for a while.

  • I have fancied giving Singapore a look over, I have heard good stuff and have a few friends already installed. When do you get up to Chiang Mai? 

  • As far as rent in Singapore, what would be a monthly price you could find for a 1BR in a good part of town? For a 2BR?

  • $8-$15sgd for a beer and rent expensive
    wouldn’t be a good place to start out in
    great city though…

  • If a trip for business, surely only you know what’s best for your business. For fun, I always suggest to friends anywhere they’ve not been before. 

  • $3,000 – $5,000 (and WAY UP) depending on location

  • Eeeeeeesh, forget geo-arbitrage there! Sounds like a great place for the successful entrepreneur though.

  • Yessir. 

    Hence my first 1-2 years in the Philippines as I build out my business and THEN the move to SG.

  • I was in Singapore last weekend and I loved it, certainly seemed like a place where I could stay a month or more. It’s not as cheap as Thailand of course, but it’s got a great western vibe going perfectly mixed with asian influences. 

  • Dan

    In particular I loved the food, and though there were a great mix of people there. RENT man it kills ya, but happy to hear you loved it! A lot of ppl. seem to be ambivalent about it. 

  • Dan

    Chris sometimes I’m not sure I”m the guy who knows whats best for my business! :) I think I’d really like to go to Tokyo, loved your posts on the topic as well. 

  • Dan

    haha yeah ya gotta avoid the pubs and drink at the hawkers stands or the mini mart ! 

  • Dan

    Yeah, it’s like geo-arbitrage for ballers. how can we pay as much as humanely possible for rent! SINGAPORE!!!

  • Dan

    Don’t know right now, everythings up in the air! 

  • Dan

    I’m also amazed by the costs for rent in Koh Phangan, great deals there. I’d be very interested in going on a culinary adventure in Taiwan.

  • Dan

    ya know I’ve heard this a lot !!! one of my best buds lived there for years and I’ve visited before, although more than 10 years ago! one of our top choices in Europe for sure. Very cool to hear that opinion from you. 

  • Dan

    haha, yeah man, that rent is big money and the shame is that if you aren’t in teh center of Singapore i think it would reduce the quality of the experience quite a bit. living in the burbs and being a 15-20 minute cab ride from the action would be depressing in my experience. the cost differential is huge on that front in SG which is a bummer. 

  • give me a shout when you know I will pop over for a couple of days..

  • Interesting you mention home exchanges Dan.  My parents have a home in the south of France (http://www.mapetiteruine.com) that we offered up on HomeExchange.com.  It’s a great site and it has a small monthly fee and the fee keeps most flakey people out. It’s great – we put what our preferred destinations are and then people start making you offers from all over the world. We’ve gotten offers from Spain, Portugual, all over the U.S., and we’ve only been on the site for 6 weeks. The villa in France is now booked at 3 different periods over the course of next summer.

    Around Bali I was looking for a place for my Fiancee and I to stay at when she visits and I made some offers to villa owners here in Seminyak and Kuta last week. The dates didn’t work out, but they we’re totally open to an exchange in the future. In fact I’m going to check out one place in Seminyak in person next week. 

    If your interested in staying at our place Dan (exchange or not), hit me up. The listing -> http://www.homeexchange.com/show.php?id=221571

  • Dan

    great to meet you last night Mike, inspiring to have smart guys like you joining up with us in the tropics! :) let’s talk soon, thanks for the links…

  • Hello Dan

    Much Like Neale on a similar budget, moved to Chiang Mai 3 weeks ago and love it….(been in Thailand since January).. it is cheap..maybe we could all get together and share ideas.

    Be lovely to meet you….

    Love the podcast…

    Best Wishes Jackie



  • Hi Dan,

    I don’t know what is good for your business, but I gave this quite a bit of thought before I moved last time. Admittedly, I was only looking at Europe, but for international internet types both Malta and Cyprus are very attractive. It might be less so for an American than a European, but still…

    Its funny because I have thought about this quite a bit when I listen to you singing the praises of Bali on the podcast. I bet that if you had decided to move now, not a few years ago, with your business as it is now, you wouldn’t have chosen Bali. Building something sustainable? Making increasing amounts of money? Able to operate anywhere? Worried about tax? If you were starting again, I bet you’d end up in the Caymans, BVI or Bahamas. Or perhaps worse, Panama.

    Otherwise, I’d recommend Chamonix in the French Alps (for natural beauty and health), Rome (for history), Berlin (but not for winter), Florence (to meet American girls), Brussels (to meet European girls and drink great beer), Barcelona (for fun) and Cape Town (for an amazing eye-opening experience). All amazing in different ways. And of course Malta (for tax and starting up).


  • Likewise. Looking forward to many more pool parties. Will get you my digits once I get a phone.

  • Dan

    Well it’s sort of a different question– where you live and where you do business. For example right now we are doing a lot of business in Hong Kong, but I don’t see it as a big advantage to be located there. 

    Would LOVE to hang for the summer in Chamonix, that’s right up my alley. 

    After 4 years running around South East Asia, it’s very difficult for me to imagine myself living full time in the developing world, but I tend to change my mind quickly. 

    Speaking of Bali, I’m pretty sure I’m on board for another year at least. This place is tough to beat!!! 

  • Dan

    cheers sounds fun!!!! At minimum I’m going to BKK in October. 

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