Banking In Singapore

Current Opportunities In This Land Of Rapacious Colonialists, Cutthroats, And Shifty Transient Traders

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Less than a century ago, tiny Singapore was a treacherous, malaria-infested, back-water island. Its raucous port city was full of rapacious colonialists, down-on-their-luck immigrants, cutthroats and shifty transient traders.

When you visit the wealthy island-nation now, it’s hard to imagine the Singapore of yore. Modern Singapore has one of the world’s most developed economies. It’s a country full of financial giants and mighty multinational corporations operating in towering skyscrapers overlooking a prosperous, safe, and clean city. Its seaport is one of the busiest in the world, and the little nation is a global offshore banking powerhouse with some of the safest, most solvent banks in the world.

Today, Singapore’s three major homegrown banks are all rated safer by Global Finance magazine than older, well-known institutions such as JP Morgan Chase, Barclays, and Deutsche Bank. In its 43-year history as an independent nation, Singapore has never had a bank failure.

Currently, Singapore manages about 5% of the world’s total private wealth and is considered a prime destination for private wealth management. Though still way below the private wealth management capacity of Switzerland, it is emerging as a primary destination for wealthy offshore investors, both private and corporate.

English is the language of business in Singapore, which makes banking easy for English-speaking foreigners. Whether you want to have a simple savings account, a multiple currency account, or a hedge against currency devaluations, banks here offer a full range of investment products. All the major banks offer internet and phone banking, telegraphic transfers, and credit cards.

There are other reasons to consider planting a flag in Singapore. Wealthy individuals who would like to live here can qualify for a long-term residents pass, and investors may be able to qualify for permanent residency status, which can lead to Singapore citizenship in as little as two years. Those who possess the education and skills find that Singapore welcomes foreign employees and rewards them generously with big compensation packages.

Singapore is considered the easiest place in the world to do business, according to the Doing Business 2012 report by the World Bank. Due to its transparent laws, healthy and highly developed economy, insignificant levels of crime and corruption, and excellent infrastructure, Singapore is perhaps the most successful of the Four Asian Tigers.

While there’s no shortage of banks in Singapore, some have certain restrictions in place related to U.S. citizen account-holders. However, not all. Further, note that, as of this writing, none of the banks I’d recommend you consider in Singapore has agreed to comply with the reporting regulations put forth by the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

Singapore has one of the highest standards of living of any country in the world. Certainly, though, this is not a bargain destination or a budget retirement choice. Singapore does not have a retirement visa, per se, but it does offer a renewable Long-Term Visit Pass with an initial validity of up to five years. To qualify, you must be at least 45 years of age, own a residential property or properties in Singapore worth a total of at least S$500,000, and meet additional financial requirements.

If the above criteria are met, you are in good health and have valid medical insurance, you are eligible to apply for a Long-Term Visit Pass. Under this program, your spouse and family members are also eligible to live in Singapore.

Investors and entrepreneurs have further options for obtaining permanent Singapore residency and even citizenship. To qualify, you would first apply for Singapore Permanent Residence (PR) status through the Global Investor Programme (GIP). Being accepted into the Global Investor Programme is a way to acquire permanent Singaporean residency.

If you don’t qualify for either a Long-Term Visit Pass or the Global Investor Programme, you could still live here legally under an employment pass. If you possess a needed skill and have at least a four-year college degree, it is likely that you could find employment here. The Ministry of Manpower has a list available that can give you a sense of what skills are currently in demand.

Whether you’re looking for safe offshore banking in a country that assesses no taxes on capital gains, a corruption-free country to run a business, a high-paying career, a retirement haven, or simply a new citizenship, you’ll find plenty of opportunities in Singapore. This English-speaking country offers a safe environment, a relaxing tropical climate, and all the amenities that well-to-do Westerners need. Although this is not a destination for everyone, if yours is a sizable nest egg, you will be warmly welcomed by this Asian tiger.

Wendy Justice

Editor’s Note: Today’s essay is excerpted from Wendy’s complete report on banking and other opportunities in Singapore, the feature article in this month’s issue of the Simon Letter, in the final stages of production now. If you’re not yet reading Lief Simon’s monthly offshore advisory service, you should be. More details here.

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