In a new survey of expats, Beijing is seen as the best city in Asia in which to make money. Photo: AFP/Ed Jones
In a new survey of expats, Beijing is seen as the best city in Asia in which to make money. Photo: AFP/Ed Jones

Singapore may be the expat’s favorite Asian city to live in, but when it comes to making money, Beijing takes the biscuit, according to the latest InterNations Expat Insider Survey.

More than 14,000 expats living in 191 countries were asked about their quality of life, personal finance and work-life balance in the latest poll.

Singapore was the only Asian city that makes it into the global top 10 for the overall ranking. All others scored below-average results, with most struggling when it comes to a good work-life balance.

However, Beijing outperformed all of its Asian rivals in financial terms and secured the first place in the subcategory Personal Finance Index.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents in the Chinese capital agreed that their disposable income was more than enough to cover daily needs, the report said. The global average was 48%.

The majority of expatriates in Beijing (51%) said that their gross yearly household income was US$75,000 or more, with 11% earning more than US$200,000. That was considerably more than the world average, where 31% and 5% respectively could say the same.

“While the city is ranked only moderately in regard to the cost of living, incomes seem to sufficiently make up for that,” said Malte Zeeck, head of InterNations, the world’s largest network for people who live abroad.

China has the second-highest expatriate pay packages in the Asia Pacific region, after Japan, according to a report by consulting firm ECA International. The value of a typical total expatriate package for middle managers in Mainland China is US$290,000, 5% higher than last year.

Three main elements determine the cost of an expatriate package: the cash salary, benefits – such as accommodation, international schools, utilities or cars – and tax.

However, in smaller Tier 2 cities, expat pay is actually declining.

“Not all Chinese cities require such high packages. The cost of benefits provision in Tier 2 locations is still much lower than in Tier 1 cities and if they, alone, were to be taken into account, China would appear towards the bottom of the regional ranking,” Lee Quane, Asia director at ECA International, said in a statement.

One possible explanation behind the high salaries is that so much else in the Chinese capital is undesirable, from pollution to hardship to settling in, and that it’s therefore getting more challenging to attract international talent. Last year, twice as many expats moved out of China than into the country, according to a study by UniGroup Relocation.

Malte Zeeck, head of InterNations, the world’s largest network for people who live abroad.

In InterNations’ 2016 country ranking, China dropped 10 places to 48 out of 67. The biggest issue respondents had was pollution, which led to 84% having a negative view of the environment.

The study concluded that China’s fast growing economy and career opportunities had come at the expense of public health: not a single expat surveyed considered the environmental quality to be excellent.

“Pollution is definitely a big problem. That, in the perception of the expats, is getting worse and is perceived as a reason not to go there,” said Malte Zeeck.

Although the career opportunities in China are seen as positive, work-life balance is not. More than a quarter of those polled said they were unhappy with their hours.

Expat jobs that are especially in demand in China include banking and financial services, sales and marketing, human resources, advertising and communications, manufacturing and industry, health sciences and IT, according to Expat Arrivals, a website supplying destination information. Teachers are always sought after.