Is migration easy in Singapore

Singapore: The future in front of your eyes


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So this is where they think they can land with their untaxed German tax millions. So here, still a bit crumpled from the long flight to the tropics, an heir, a high earner or a pensioner arrives a few times a week, goes up the few steps from the taxi stand to the bank lobby and asks for an appointment with a customer advisor at the sandstone-colored reception counter .

A shimmering green skyscraper in the financial district of Singapore. High above the city, a banker steps to the window of the meeting room and looks down: "We are getting rid of these people, we don't want their money. We'd be stupid if we allowed that." The banker doesn't want to read his name in the newspaper any more than that of his institute. He says: "Nobody is putting their business at risk for a few million from Germany."

If you want to do business in Singapore, you have to play by the rules of the state, otherwise you will be kicked out. It's that simple. And because a lot of things are so simple in the tropical city-state, Singapore is fascinating. A government that runs their country like a company, the citizen as an employee, the prime minister as the CEO - that's what many Swiss business leaders like. For example, the banker and conservative thought leader Konrad Hummler has been dreaming of Switzerland as a "mixture of Hong Kong, Singapore and New York" for years.

Singapore doesn't just react to external pressure, it anticipates problems

And indeed, twelve hours by plane from Zurich, the most pressing questions about the future of Switzerland can be studied under a magnifying glass. Delegations from Singapore traveled to Switzerland until the 1970s. The model of the world-famous Singapore Airlines was the old Swissair, the National Service took over the repetition courses (WKs) from the Swiss Army, and the Swiss banking secrecy was copied down to the article numbers. Today the journey goes in the opposite direction. In the small state, the federal councilors are hand in hand. The last to arrive at the beginning of November was Johann Schneider-Ammann with a top-class business delegation.

It's always about business. But little Switzerland could learn a lot from little Singapore. Not the authoritarian leadership of the ruling People’s Action Party. But the answers to burning questions that concern citizens in the tropical city-state as much as Mr and Mrs Swiss.

The recently submitted popular initiative by the Ecopop association is fueling the debate: How do we want to live in an increasingly narrow Switzerland? The SVP's mass immigration initiative poses problems for the economy: How do you get the cleverest minds into the country without the free movement of people? And the failed tax agreement with Germany leaves even experts at a loss: How do you free the financial center from constant pressure from abroad?

In Singapore, all bank CEOs received a letter from the state financial market regulator at the end of September. From June 2013 onwards, the officials write, whoever accepts funds from willful tax offenses in Europe or the USA will be punished. The institutes must also have checked their contaminated sites by then.

The bankers felt that the Singapore regulators are considered tough dogs. Every client advisor has to personally vouch for the origin of his money, all telephone calls are recorded, and the state subjects every bank employee to a skills test before starting a job. There is no grumbling, the business in the Far East is too lucrative. Industry experts estimate that UBS, for example, already manages $ 200 billion in Singapore, of which only $ 5 billion comes from Europe. While thousands of jobs are being cut in Zurich and the USA, the bank plans to double its Asian business over the next three years.

"The government here does not make promises that it cannot keep," says the banker in the meeting room with a sea view. Singapore does not develop a sophisticated white money strategy, but rather makes pragmatic decisions: it only gives in where resistance is futile - but then the state intervenes without pardon. It's about business and reputation, not ideology. Basta.

"Your name, your passport number, your signature," grunted the porter in his khaki uniform. Matthias Richter shakes his head, apologizes for the hardship. A year and a half ago, he and his wife Martina moved to Singapore with their young son Maxi. "In Zurich you are happy if your team is still there at the end of the year, we are expanding here," says the client advisor at a Swiss bank. Now the young family lives in The Waterina, one of them gatedcommunity in the former red light district of Geylang. The eight-story apartment blocks are grouped around an inner courtyard with two pools, barbecue areas and a playground. The Richters pay the equivalent of 2,700 francs for their three-room apartment on the second floor with a view of a main street - in a city where a programmer earns 45,000 francs and a taxi driver just under 27,000 francs. "We live comparatively cheaply here," says Richter. In the city center, monthly rents of CHF 15,000 are not uncommon. The real estate market in Singapore is a gold mine for investors, the price trend only knows one direction: upwards. In the neighboring house of the Richters, a three-room apartment has just been sold for 1.1 million francs. The leases run for a maximum of two years, after which the owners can increase the price at will. The weekend edition of the Strait Times overflows with real estate advertisements, vacancies are low and demand is high. Even the drastic increase in stamp duty on property purchases for foreigners did not slow the boom. The country is too rich and too attractive. Nowhere else do so many millionaires live in proportion to the number of inhabitants as in Singapore, namely 17 percent - more than in the Arab oil states of Qatar or Kuwait and almost twice as many as in Switzerland.

But success has its price, not just a political one. The party of state founder Lee Kuan Yew has been ruling the island with a strict hand since 1965. The Singaporeans also have to limit themselves personally. A society that lives in such a small space has to forego freedoms - in order not to lose all freedoms. An insight that has not yet caught on in the increasingly densely populated eight million Switzerland.

This self-restraint becomes visible on the multi-lane expressways of the Megapolis. Only ten percent of the Singapore population own their own car. The Richter family also lives car-free. "I did the math, it's just not worth it for us," says Matthias Richter. Because the state charges new cars with a horrific special tax, a small car like the VW Polo therefore costs 98,000 francs. If you want to drive your own car, you also have to bid for a state car license that is valid for ten years - currently you have to spend around 60,000 francs for this. There are also road tolls every time you drive into the city center - Singapore is probably the only congestion-free metropolis in the world.