Twenty years ago, backpacking around South East Asia meant no internet no cell phones, and places like Chiang Mai, Saigon, and Bali were mere quaint backwaters.
Southeast Asia remains one of the most popular places for backpackers, travel bloggers, and digital nomads to travel, play, and start location-independent businesses in some of the region’s most livable cities for entrepreneurs.
There’s no doubt that the low cost of living in Southeast Asia has made it an attractive place for those just starting up. Our founder, Andrew Henderson, has often suggested that students should consider spending a year on the ground here in lieu of attending university to see just how many opportunities exist in this part of the world.
While Southeast Asia does attract plenty of startups and lifestyle entrepreneurs, it is also a dynamic region teeming with opportunity and lifestyle benefits for owners of larger businesses that aren’t as concerned with finding the lowest cost of living.
Here are 10 reasons to consider Southeast Asia for your personal or business base of operations:
1. Cost Of Living
Outside of Singapore, Southeast Asia can be remarkably affordable. Entrepreneurs can live on $1,000 a month, including the rental of a onebed apartment in Chiang Mai.
Entrepreneurs can easily live the kind of lifestyle they could only dream of back home. You can hire a maid, live in a family home with a garden or pool, and even use the services of a personal chef for around $2,000 a month.
Living the millionaire lifestyle for a slice of what you’d pay back home is great, but it gets better when considering how that impacts your business. If you’re a startup, you don’t need to ￼extract thousands of your cash flow to stay afloat. You can retain more money in your business and allow it to grow organically.
2. Coworking Spaces
Basing out of Southeast Asia isn’t just a lifestyle choice but also makes sound business sense.
Southeast Asia really comes into its own when you look at the explosion of coworking spaces in recent years, providing all-inclusive setups for business for around $200 a head.
But it’s not just about the money. Coworking spaces can provide robust internet connectivity where previously there was none. Ubud in Bali has turned that once remote tropical island into a realistic base for many entrepreneurs previously turned away by a familiar frustrating internet experience.
Southeast Asia has some of the fastest internet speeds in the world. For example, average speeds of 234.55 Mbps in Singapore.
3. Quality Of Life and Lifestyle
Southeast Asia has some of the top amenities expats cite when looking for a new home overseas: good weather, shopping, quality food, and interesting culture.
Weather in much of the region is excellent year-round, with high temperatures during the day, pleasant temperatures at night, and plenty of humidity. The region is home to some of the best malls, and all sorts of food are widely available.
For entrepreneurs seeking a fast-paced environment with lots of hustle, Hong Kong, and to a lesser extent Singapore, fit the bill. More laid-back environments can be found in the Philippines, Indonesia, and here in Malaysia.
Before it became a serious business option, the lifestyle in this part of the world attracted expats for decades. With world-class food, weather, and beaches, South East Asia has it covered.
Entrepreneurs can run online businesses from cafes or coworking spaces, eat out every night of the week, and enjoy three-day weekends snorkeling some of the world’s finest reefs and, at the same time, manage to save significant sums of cash at the end of the month.
Southeast Asia is by no means a paradise, and there are still many things that need work, but as it stands, it’s a very exciting option for entrepreneurs.
4. Ease Of Visas And Taxes
A lot of countries worth doing business in make obtaining a visa relatively easy these days. Europe is full of countries that offer entrepreneur visas for people starting companies there.
Asia is even more open to businesses, as well as those who merely wish to live here without actually running an Asia-based company. Location-independent business owners with companies incorporated outside of Asia can easily live here while paying taxes overseas or running an offshore company.
Malaysia, Cambodia, and Vietnam, in particular, offer friendly tourist visa regimes for perpetual travelers who want to come and go. While Vietnam requires a visa, it’s easy to get and is good for 90 days. Malaysia offers the same 90-day visa-free to most nationalities and is one of the easiest countries to enter.
If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, Cambodia offers the ability to extend a tourist visa to a one-year business visa for around $35, allowing you the opportunity to come and go as you please.
And if you want to settle down in one place, Malaysia’s MM2H visa program is among the most straightforward. Singapore also offers qualified business owners the chance to become residents there and even work toward citizenship, although you will be required to pay taxes to qualify.
While securing a stable, long-term visa is difficult, you can hack the system and renew your visa every 30 to 60 days. Many entrepreneurs in Thailand are familiar with the visa run to Bali or Cambodia to reset the clock, even though the government there has cracked down on the process. Of course, there are no guarantees of reentry, but compare the process to the US.
The prospect of keeping your offshore income tax-free and the relatively low cost of living in cities like Kuala Lumpur makes Malaysia an interesting long-term option for entrepreneurs. Less pretentious and costly than Singapore, Malaysia also offers open borders to economic migrants who can contribute long-term to the economy.
5. Access To Wealth Havens
Hong Kong and Singapore are two of the world’s greatest wealth havens, and living in Southeast Asia puts you within close reach of both of them. Flying from Hong Kong to Singapore takes about four hours and is relatively inexpensive; flights to either city from within the region are prevalent and cheap.
Hong Kong is a great place to set up an offshore company if you run a business whose customers demand a world-class image. While many digital nomads can get by with a company in a tax haven like Belize, many larger businesses have reasons to consider planting their flag in a more stable place.
Living in Southeast Asia means you’ll have easy access, not only to your company’s registered offices if you decide to incorporate here but also to your bankers. Hong Kong, Singapore, and Labuan are world-class banking hubs that offer excellent banks and great peace of mind.
Similarly, if you are seeking to raise capital, you’ll have access to those wealth hubs as well as be within striking distance of India and China. Southeast Asia also has its own small but growing VC scene that some on-the-ground entrepreneurs can take advantage of.
6. Greater Personal Freedom
Personal freedom in the Western world is on the decline. While Thailand has become more of a police state in the most populated areas, the rest of Southeast Asia is wide open. Sometimes, it’s even hard to find the police, let alone find police harassing people for no reason.
Southeast Asia will suit you well if you want to be left alone without the threat of being ticketed or arrested for something as innocuous as not pulling over far enough.
7. Easy International Travel
Kuala Lumpur is not only one of the most affordable cities from which to travel, it’s also one of the best connected. Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia are both based here and fly practically anywhere you want to go in the region or internationally. New service is constantly being added, such as ultra-cheap, non-stop flights to Seoul, and non-stop service to London.
Middle Eastern carriers like Emirates, Qatar Airways, and Turkish Airlines offer frequent service here at reasonable, and occasionally dirt cheap, prices.
Elsewhere in the region, Singapore offers excellent connectivity as well. Singapore’s Changi Airport is one of the world’s most efficient and has almost every airline on earth flying there. Singapore is also home to low-cost airlines like Scoot and Tigerair that serve regional destinations.
Additionally, Bangkok serves as a hub for Thai Airways as well as AirAsia Thailand. It is also a Star Alliance hub that sees frequent flights from airlines like Lufthansa that cooperate, making regional and international flights easy. Even Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City offer decent connectivity.
8. Proximity To New Markets
Hong Kong is within a four-hour flight of major Asian cities and a five-hour flight from half the world’s population.
If your business is interested in Asia’s emerging markets, practically any location in Southeast Asia puts you within a stone’s throw of it all.
While Africa could be the most interesting emerging market story in the latter half of this century, its 1.2 billion-strong population is dwarfed by Asia’s 4.7 billion people.
It is hard to find more potential in such a diverse region, from the frontier markets of Myanmar and Cambodia to emerging markets like Vietnam to middle-class and wealthy nations like Malaysia and Singapore.
9. Free Market Economies
It’s not just immigration where Southeast Asia is a little more relaxed than the West but also the economy as a whole. While Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia can sometimes appear chaotic, there are distinct advantages to this lack of planning.
Unlike the US, most entrepreneurs are relatively free to get on and run their businesses. Sure, you have to fill in forms and pay taxes, but there are less heavyhanded authorities bearing down on everyday life.
Singapore and Malaysia lead the way in the region. According to the World Bank, Singapore ranks as the 2ndh easiest country to start a business in the world, and Malaysia number 12.
10. Entrepreneur Networking Opportunities
Entrepreneurs often forget that even though they can run their entire business online, nothing beats the real-world connectivity of offline. That’s why cities like Chiang Mai (Saigon) and islands like Bali make for excellent networking opportunities. Networking is so easy, in fact, that many partnerships and lifelong friendships are formed in the short time that many entrepreneurs spend in these cities.
In the world of entrepreneurs and high-net-worth individuals, there’s a space that only the truly visionary occupy. It’s not about money; it’s about foresight, understanding global shifts, and acting ahead of the curve.
Our annual Nomad Capitalist Live event is informative, entertaining, and motivational. Not only will you learn new strategies and our unique approach to internalization, but you will also have the unique opportunity to network with like-minded people. Nomad Capitalist Live 2024 is where visionaries convene. Reserve your spot on the waitlist today.