Why are so many Engineers making the move to South East Asia?

Author: Paul Goodwin

Why are so many Engineers making the move to South East Asia

With the engineering industry seeing one of its biggest booms in a long time, we look at why so many engineers choose to leave the comfort of their jobs, homes, friends and family to begin a new life in a number of locations across Asia but, more specifically, in the South East.


Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Philippines, South Korea, Cambodia to name a few, are on paper, desirable holiday locations but, for an engineer, what does it mean to live and work in country?

They all offer different things. The days of moving to the Middle East for Large tax-free salaries are dwindling and the countries above can offer a comparable option.

To give a few examples of the locations…

Singapore’s metropolis provides an exciting life style with access to an extensive array of projects but Singapore is a lifestyle move nowadays and will suit some but not all. Income tax is around 15% but the cost of living can be expensive. Saying this, saving nearly 25%+ on the UK tax system, this could build a nest egg for the future.

Malaysia is a stone throw away from Singapore yet, in terms of tax and cost of living, it’s completely different. Tax can be 28% at the top level but cost of living is considerably cheaper. For example, if you buy a beer in Singapore and it will cost you £6, whereas in Malaysia the cost is only £2.50. This means that Malaysia is another viable option to leave the shores of the UK.

Australia, where do I start? Well, it’s busy, very busy. Infrastructure projects are popping up left, right and centre and the need for good solid engineers has never been more apparent. The infrastructure system was in need of a shake up and the government took note and delivered. Whether it’s a brand new project, extending a project, modernising a project or even the long job of removing all level crossings in country, it’s going on. The need for UK engineers now is more apparent than ever too as Australia has a certain sized talent pool and every contractor, consultant, PMC, client is after the same talent within country.

To add to this, tax is high, 45%+ high, and it will take a large amount of your hard earned salary before you’ve even started. Salaries, though, are relative to this and are higher than the UK so there is potential to store away some cash for a rainy day providing you spend this carefully as each major city has a different degree of high cost of living.

Why else is a move abroad a good idea?


Put simply, it’s better… Warm sunny days are the norm and, yes, it may rain near as damn it every day for short spells but, ten minutes later, it’s dried out and you’re back to your warm climate. There’s no real need for that £300 North Face BIG coat any more, pack that away and stock up on your shorts and flip flops.


This is where engineers can get excited. The projects are big, expensive and even iconic some would say. It’s a great opportunity to gloat once you’ve helped design, build and project-manage the largest building in Asia, the longest underwater tunnel or even the longest HSR project spanning numerous countries. In recruitment, engineers are often chosen because of the projects they’ve worked on before. A signalling job at Clapham Junction will certainly have its issues and challenges but a signalling project on the Singapore MRT Line for 3 years will more than likely help you secure that next opportunity in Jakarta or Hong Kong.

Salaries & package:

I’ve touched slightly on the salaries above but most engineers will see an increase in salary compared to their UK one. The main reason for this point is to look at the benefits most clients will offer, to take some of the stress out of the move. Return flight tickets annually to see family and loved ones left behind, relocation allowance to cover the costs of mobilising your belongings including your favourite couch or piano (We’ve seen it all). Medical, Dental cover is standard for all international employees. Bonuses can be a great addition to your already uplifted salary and some organisations in certain countries will pay a 13th Month salary as bonus every year without fail, add that to a performance bonus and you could really be living the high life.


Living in the UK, most families will look to holiday in Europe or surrounding countries during the six weeks holiday for the pure ease of the 2-4 hour flights. South East Asia opens up a whole new region to explore. Live in Singapore and you could spend the weekend in Malaysia or Hong Kong for a measly £45 return flight. Within a couple of years and you’ve ticked off the Great Wall of China, the Silk road and the Rice Terraces in the Philippines off your bucket list to name a few. I’m aware this is a trivial point but, if travel is your thing, South East Asia has long been a desire for many people and now’s your chance.


If you’re a foodie, why haven’t you relocated already? Whether it’s a Chili Crab in Singapore with a Singapore Sling or a deep-fried locust kebab in Bangkok. There is something for everyone, really there is. Some of the best food can be found in the streets but if you’re looking for top restaurants for something more formal, then Gaggan in Bangkok is the 4th best restaurant in the world, should you get past the three month waiting list that is.

To summarise, there’s many reasons to look at opportunities across the other side of the world and I could go on and on but, if there’s ever the time to do it, now’s a perfect time to put the feelers out. Feel free to drop me a message to discuss any of these points in further detail.

Paul is a global construction and infrastructure recruiter with over 11 years of experience.