Opinion: Relocation in Asia – Balancing Real Estate and Environmental Quality

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Relocation in Asia – Balancing Safety, Society, and Environmental Quality

This is a post that is different of what I intended originally to write. I started with the idea of comparing the real estate average price for condominiums in a few Asian cities and thought to compare those cities with five pro and contra criteria. Tokyo was actually not in my initial city selection. Then I started to think about where I would want to raise my 6-year-old daughter and my initial project went to hell. In this post, we are only discussing purchases by foreign buyers of condominiums or flat units that are not subjected to prior approval by local authorities. Do not hesitate to contact us at connect@swissfintechpro.com

Comparing Condominium Prices and Foreign Ownership Conditions

In the table below, we compare condominium prices and the conditions for foreign ownership in five popular locations for international buyers across Asia. Additionally, I have included Tokyo—not typically a top choice for foreign buyers but a city that offers unique advantages.

City Price per SQM in USD in capital center Condominium Ownership
Singapore 19658 Freehold in Private condominium or flat unit
Tokyo 7998 Freehold no restriction for foreigners at all
Bangkok 5052 Freehold ownership up to 49 percent foreign ownership in the building or leasehold up to 30 years
Saigon – Ho Chi Min City 4534 Leasehold 50 years up to 30 percent foreign ownership in the building
Manila 3951 Freehold up to 40 percent ownership in a building or leasehold up to 50 years
KuaLa Lumpur 2456 Freehold ownership up to 100 percent foreign ownership in the building

Air Quality Issue

As explained above in my initial plan for this post, I intend to present a balanced list of five pros and cons for buying real estate in various Asian cities. However, I have decided to shift the focus solely to one crucial factor: air pollution.

Environmental Issues

Truth be told, I was never particularly keen on environmental issues. Having lived in Bangkok from 1997 to 2012, air pollution barely crossed my mind. But things have changed—I now have a six-year-old daughter. My awareness and concerns about the environment have heightened, influenced by the pressing issue of climate change and its visibility today compared to when my older children were young.

Air Quality is Now a Significant Concern.

Most studies suggest that PM2.5 levels at or below 12 μg/m3 are safe, posing minimal health risks. However, levels reaching or exceeding 35 μg/m3 over a 24-hour period are deemed unhealthy and problematic, especially for individuals with respiratory conditions like asthma.

Here’s a snapshot of the air quality in 2023 for the cities we’re focusing on, according to IQair data and other sources:

  • Kuala Lumpur: 22.9 μg/m3
  • Saigon: 21.8 μg/m3
  • Bangkok: 21.3 μg/m3
  • Manila (est.): 20 μg/m3 (data for the first six months of 2023)
  • Singapore: 13.4 μg/m3
  • Tokyo: 9.7 μg/m3

These figures suggest that most listed cities grapple with air pollution, especially concerning PM2.5 particles. For instance, let’s consider Bangkok—a city I deeply love and where I lived for 15 years. In 2023, Bangkok faced considerable air quality challenges:

Bangkok Example

  • Good Air Quality Days: Only 31 days recorded good air quality.
  • Moderate Air Quality Days (Yellow): 241 days were marked by moderate air quality. While not harmful to most, this level indicates a significant presence of particulate matter.
  • Sensitive Groups Affected (Orange Days): Air quality affected sensitive groups on 78 days, marking a 21.43 percent increase from the previous year.
  • Dangerous Air Quality (Red Days): The air quality reached dangerous levels on 14 days, an increase from the previous year.
  • Worst Month: April was particularly poor, with an average PM2.5 level of 115.47 µg/m³, far exceeding the local safe standard.

The situation in Bangkok mirrors the air quality issues in Kuala Lumpur, Saigon, and Manila, which all have similar annual average PM2.5 levels. So you might expect those cities to have those good, bad, and dangerous days.

This refocused examination underlines the critical importance of considering air quality as a determinant in real estate investment decisions, especially when thinking about the health and future of our younger generations.

Where would I settle with my Daughter?

If I were to settle somewhere outside of Switzerland, Japan would definitely be my first choice. Despite the risks of earthquakes and tsunamis, Japanese society handles these challenges remarkably well. Plus, the safety that allows a five-year-old to walk to school alone is highly appealing. My second choice would be Singapore. While I would still visit Thailand for vacations, I wouldn’t consider resettling there. Interestingly, I also thought about Dubai—a city flanked by desert and sea, modern in every sense. One might assume it would boast excellent air quality, yet the reality is different, with an average PM2.5 level of 49 µg/m³ in 2023, which is surprisingly high.


When considering, Relocation in Asia – Balancing Safety, Society, and Environmental Quality, my preferences lean towards countries with strong societal frameworks and safety. Japan tops my list due to its robust approach to natural disasters and the general safety that permits young children significant independence. Singapore follows closely, with its stable and clean environment. While Thailand remains a favoured vacation destination, it doesn’t meet my criteria for resettlement. Dubai, despite its modern allure, falls short due to its unexpectedly poor air quality. These reflections highlight the importance of not only the aesthetic and economic aspects of a location but also its environmental and societal standards when deciding on a new place to call home. Do not hesitate to contact us at connect@swissfintechpro.com

This article was first seen on FintechSetup.com

The author Rene-Philippe Dubout is a Swiss lawyer that specialises in fintech licensing and fintech-related matters: Head to www.FintechSetUp.com For any inquiries or further information, or contact him at contact@swissfintechpro.com

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