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Making Waves: Southeast Asia Prepares for 2023

Curtis S. Chin

Curtis S. Chin

Curtis S. Chin is a former US Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, the Chair of the Milken Institute Asia Center, and the Managing Director of advisory firm RiverPeak Group, LLC.

“You shouldn’t look at Southeast Asia through the prism of the USA and China,” I once said to a team of journalists who were visiting Singapore from Brussels and Washington, D.C., “Southeast Asia should be seen as an opportunity in and of itself.” Indeed, as 2023 begins, many of the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) continue to offer a dynamic range of programs and incentives for the globally mobile.

Getting ready for recovery

“This is Southeast Asia’s moment,” I said last September at the Milken Institute Asia Summit in Singapore. This dynamic city-state and much of Southeast Asia continue to move forward, away from the strict Covid-19 travel restrictions that marked 2021 all across the Indo-Pacific. With some 700 million people, a combined GDP exceeding USD 3 trillion, and world-class financial centers, Southeast Asia remains a major draw for high-net-worth individuals seeking second residences and new business opportunities.

City skyline at sunset.

As 2022 ended, this diversity of opportunity was on full display as diplomats, corporate executives, and journalists from around the world traveled to three major international summits: ASEAN in Cambodia, the G20 in Indonesia, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Thailand. Even as these summits move on to other cities both in and out of Southeast Asia, in 2023, global nomads should continue to take note of the three host nations that drew headlines in the previous year.

Cambodia welcomes ASEAN

In November 2022, Cambodian capital Phnom Penh played host not only to ASEAN leaders but also to a U.S.-ASEAN summit, attended by US President Joe Biden. The Kingdom of Cambodia has continued to take steps in attracting long-term visitors and investors, as even some of the less developed nations of Southeast Asia might well be considered by those seeking to relocate to the region.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism (MoT) announced a special tourism policy “aimed at attracting long-stay tourists, high-spenders, repeat tourists and potential tourists who can be investors in the country”. The MoT also plans to offer an Angkor Lifetime Pass to help attract foreigners to Siem Reap, the gateway to the ancient Khmer city of Angkor.

Cambodia’s Secretary of State Tith Chantha said that targeted “special tourists” spend about USD 2,000–3,000 per trip, visited the country more often, and stayed longer, with a majority of them having businesses or jobs in the country.

Indonesia holds G20 summit

Soon after the ASEAN summit, the world’s eyes turned to the Indonesian island of Bali for the 2022 G20 summit. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was a no-show, but the event did see the first in-person meetings of Xi Jinping and Joe Biden as presidents of their respective nations. Bali is likely to remain a key option for the globally mobile exploring long-term stay options in Southeast Asia in 2023.

Indonesia is by far the largest Southeast Asian nation by population, economy, and geography. Yet, as The Economist proclaimed, Indonesia is the most important country that people routinely overlook. This should change, and the Indonesian government is working on new initiatives targeting international travelers.

Indonesia has announced plans to issue ‘second home visas’ targeting wealthy foreigners. These visas would allow foreign investors to reside for up to 10 years. One expected requirement is that applicants have a minimum of USD 130,000 in an Indonesian bank account. Numerous other places in Indonesia also offer tremendous potential for foreign investors and long-term residents, including the cities of Bandung in West Java, Pekanbaru in Sumatra, and Surabaya in East Java.

Thailand plays host to APEC

Late November 2022 saw attention shift to the Thai capital city of Bangkok, as the nation hosted the APEC leaders’ summit. It is not just delegations from some 21 member economies of APEC that are likely to find Thailand a destination of choice in 2023. In addition to an existing Flexible Plus Program designed to attract high-net-worth foreign investors, the Thai government introduced new immigration rules that took effect on 1 September 2022.

These rules allow certain ‘high-potential foreign nationals’ to apply for a 10-year long-term resident visa. This includes remote workers for well-established overseas companies. Holders of the visa would not need to obtain a re-entry permit when traveling to and from Thailand and would get fast-track service at international airports in Thailand and the opportunity to obtain a digital work permit, among other benefits.

To the summits and beyond

This autumn 2023, the ASEAN summit moves to Indonesia, the G20 shifts to India, and the USA hosts APEC. The competition to attract globally mobile, high-net-worth individuals to Southeast Asia is set to continue. New programs and policy innovations are likely to emerge, and would-be global nomads will want to stay focused on the latest initiatives being offered to attract long-term investors and residents.

A new government in Malaysia and a Vietnamese leadership hoping to take advantage of supply chain shifts might well offer up new initiatives to attract wealthy individuals in the coming year.

Singapore has come roaring back and, in many ways, has set the pace for other destinations seeking to treat Covid-19 as an endemic challenge to be lived with. The international financial hub continues as a destination of choice for high- and ultra-high-net-worth individuals from Asia, Europe, and beyond.

The complexity and diversity of Southeast Asia offer up a range of locations for the well-heeled globetrotter to consider in 2023. ASEAN is also about to get a little bit more diverse. One concrete step out of last year’s meetings was the acceptance in principle of Timor-Leste as ASEAN’s 11th member state. For wealthy travelers looking for another residence, that can only mean more options to come in 2023.

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