Singapore is the preferred business jurisdiction in the region for companies and investors from the United Kingdom. There are more than 2,900 British companies in Singapore; some of the big names include Rolls Royce, Standard Chartered, GlaxoSmithKline, Dyson, Shell Group, Barclays, BP, Royal Bank of Scotland and Diageo. The UK is the largest European Union investor in Singapore and the city-state is the largest trading partner in the region for the UK. There is a strong legacy for the economic and trade ties between the two countries. British companies, both large and small, have located their regional base in Singapore and moved some of the business operations to Singapore because of the distinct advantages that the island nation offers.

Strategic decisions relating to business locations are based on an evaluation of multiple factors. Tax and business costs have long ceased to be the parameter for identifying an ideal business hub; investors are keen on evaluating other important factors. These include the country’s trade and political relationship with the rest of the world, factors such as the workforce quality, living standards, infrastructure and regulatory framework. Singapore, despite being a small city-state, has consistently outperformed in several international surveys that measure the attractiveness and competitiveness of business jurisdictions. The following is a comparative evaluation of the competitiveness of Singapore vs the UK as business jurisdictions.

Country Snapshot

  UK Singapore
Population 65 million 5.5 million
GDP USD 2.7 trillion USD 471.9 billion
GDP Per capita USD 41,159 USD 85,253
Unemployment 5.5% 3.3%
FDI Inflow USD 39.5 billion USD 65.3 billion

Source: 2015 World Bank Data

Business Environment

Political stability

Singapore has a conducive business environment that is strongly underscored by the political stability resulting in a cohesive pro-business policy direction. The country has embraced liberalization, particularly, for trade, finance and trade as a means for economic prosperity.

The UK is one of the best locations for doing business in Europe. However, recent events have clouded the business environment. In a popular referendum in June 2016, the UK voted to exit the European Union economic bloc. The aftermath of the Brexit referendum has resulted in some uncertainty regarding its stand towards economic integration and globalization. The scope of its economic and trading engagement as well the immigration policy remains to be seen.

The Economic Intelligence Unit’s ‘Business Environment Ranking 2016’ placed Singapore on top of the 82 countries that it surveyed.  The EIU forecasts Singapore to remain as the most investor-friendly location during 2017-2021. Singapore’s score, in terms of ‘institutional effectiveness’, remained unmatched by other countries. In contrast, the UK, which held the 14th rank during 2012-2016, is forecast to hold 18th place in the ranking; it slumped by four places in the forward-looking global ranking following the referendum.

Ease of setting Up Business

Singapore has one of the easiest regulatory frameworks to set up a business. It allows for 100% foreign ownership and the company incorporation can be completed in one day. The Singapore company incorporation process takes an average of 3 steps, the UK, 4 steps.

In the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business Report 2017’, Singapore ranked #2 globally and the UK #7 for overall ease of doing business. For the ‘ease of starting business’ criterion, Singapore’s rank improved by one place from 7th to 6th. In contrast, the UK dropped from 13th rank in 2016 to 16th rank.

Judicial System

Rule of Law must be strongly embedded in the judicial system of a country to attract foreign investment and international business.  Singapore has always emphasised on the rule of law and has a strong reputation for its corruption-free governance, fair, efficient and predictable legal system.  The rule of law is emphasised in the British legal system as well; although the fundamentals of Singapore’s legal system was inherited from the British, several international surveys have rendered higher ratings for the city-state than the UK.

In the World Justice Project’s ‘Rule of Law Index 2016’, Singapore ranked #9 while the UK held the #10 spot. Singapore particularly scored over the UK in factors measuring regulatory enforcement, the absence of corruption, criminal and civil justice.


Singapore strives to uphold a harmonious society and peaceful coexistence amidst its multi-racial population. Singapore’s crime rate has always remained low compared to its neighbours. The peace within the country reflects well on the human development indicators such as education, health, employment and social support. The country also maintains a politically neutral stand in the international and regional space.  It has a strong military and police force to ensure the national security and domestic order.

The United Kingdom has low internal conflicts however its international military engagements and expenditure and the potential terror threats that it faces challenge the country’s peacefulness score.

In the ‘Global Peace Index 2016’, released by the Institute of Economics and Peace that examines the countries in terms of internal and external peace, militarisation, violence containment costs etc., Singapore ranked 20th. The UK ranked 47th on the list despite being located in the most peaceful region.

Economic Environment

Tax Regime

Singapore’s tax regime is one of the most competitive in the world. The UK’s tax rate is relatively higher.

Taxes Singapore UK
Headline Corporate Tax Rate 17% 20%
Tax-Free Personal Income Up to S$ 20,000 Up to  £11,000
Highest personal Income Tax Rate 22% 45%
VAT 7% 20%
Employer Social Security Contribution 17% 13.8%

Singapore ranked 8th globally in terms of ease of paying taxes in the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business 2017’ report. In contrast, the UK is ranked 10th in the world.

Related Article: Complete Guide for Singapore Taxation

Labour Market

Singapore has a highly productive and skilled workforce that is multi-racial and multi-lingual. A significant majority of its workforce are English speaking. Although it is pursuing a stringent immigration policy following its economic restructuring measures, Singapore continues to welcome deserving foreign talent.

The United Kingdom has a vast labour pool but unlike Singapore, has minimum wages rules that drive up the business costs. Singapore lets the market forces determine the wages. Post-Brexit, the end of the UK’s access to the EU may affect the mobility of skilled workforce and impact the availability of labour.

In IMD’s ‘World Talent Report 2016’ Singapore ranked 15th and UK ranked 20th in the world. Singapore ranks first in the world for its readiness of the talent pool – the availability of skills and competencies of its talent. It also holds relatively better scores in apprenticeship and employee training.

In the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Competitiveness Index 2016-2017’, Singapore ranked second in the world in terms of Labour Market Efficiency. In contrast, the UK holds the fifth rank. Singapore is far ahead of the UK in labour-employer relations and productivity, holding a #3 rank globally against UK’s 15th rank. In terms of attracting talent, Singapore pushes the United Kingdom to the fourth spot while holding the second spot on the list.

Access to Financial Services

As one of the leading financial centre in the world, Singapore has a comprehensive network of financial market players in the form of national and international banks, finance companies, fund management companies, private equity firms and foreign exchange dealers.

In the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Competitiveness Index 2016-2017’, Singapore ranked #2 while the UK ranked 16th in terms of financial market development. As for ease of access to loans, Singapore ranked #4 as against 82nd rank of the UK.  Though London is the world’s leading offshore financial centre, Singapore is forecast to overtake London as the leading financial centre by 2020.

Market Openness

Singapore remains plugged into the global economy through its openness to trade and investments despite being a city-state without any natural resources. Singapore continues to advocate and pursue economic integration with the regional and international economies; ASEAN Economic Community, Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements are examples of efforts towards its economic integration. The country has a vast network of FTAs and DTAs signed with partner countries globally to facilitate trade and investment. More than 99% of the goods enter the country’s domestic market duty-free.

The UK’s Brexit referendum clearly indicates the country’s shift towards protectionism. The impact of its decision to exit the unified market remains to be seen. It is not clear if the country will renegotiate its treaty arrangements with other trade and investment partners.

In the ‘Global Enabling Trade Report 2016’, published by World Economic Forum and the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation, Singapore continued to hold on to its top spot for the fifth consecutive year. In contrast, the UK holds the eighth rank on the index. Particularly, Singapore’s border administration bagged the perfect score for its efficiency and transparency. Proof of it came with Singapore ranking #2 in the world in DHL’s ‘Global Connectedness Index 2016’, which ranks 140 countries on the basis of cross-border flows of trade, capital, information, and people. UK came in #8.

Likewise, the Heritage Organisation’s ‘2017 Index of Economic Freedom’, which ranks 180 economies around the world, rates Singapore as the world’s second freest economy while the UK is conferred the 12th rank on the list.

Innovation Environment

Global Competitiveness

Singapore reviews and revises its regulatory framework and improves the transparency and efficiency of its institutions and governance consistently. There is also continuous investment in infrastructure, education, healthcare, housing and talent development. This has contributed to its top-notch competitiveness and ability to attract talent, capital and companies. Despite being a young resource-scarce nation, Singapore has managed to achieve economic prosperity and a high standard of living. These are clear signs of its competitiveness.

In the World Economic Forum’s ‘ 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Ranking’ that ranked 140 economies, Singapore ranked #2 while the UK held the 7th rank. The index measures 12 criteria such as institutions, infrastructure, health, education, labor market efficiency, financial market development, technological readiness, market size and business sophistication, and innovation. When it came to innovation, Singapore ranked #9 in the world while the UK ranked #13. The UK lagged behind when it came to macroeconomic environment, financial market development, higher education and training. Singapore lost scores in areas such as market size and business sophistication.

IP Protection

Singapore has a strong national IP protection regime. The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore champions the cause of affordability and ease of protecting IPs, and enables businesses to commercially exploit and monetise IP. Despite being a late entrant into the IP ecosystem, Singapore has managed to excel and supersede other regional economies.

Singapore ranked fourth in the world for having the best IP protection in the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017’. In contrast, the UK ranked seventh.

The U.S. Global Intellectual Property Center’s ‘International IP Index 2017’ ranked Singapore eighth in the world for our IP environment. The ‘Global Innovation Index 2016’, which ranks countries’ innovation performance, ranked Singapore as the sixth most innovative nation in the world and top in Asia

Infrastructure and Connectivity

Singapore continues to sharpen its edge over the other economies by continuously investing in upgrading its infrastructure and digital connectivity. This is fundamental to drive technology adoption, business sophistication, business dynamism, collaboration, and innovation. Singapore has a high level of Internet and mobile penetration in the region and the adoption of smartphones and mobile Internet is growing at the fastest pace among the regional economies. Besides technological infrastructure, another physical infrastructure such as rail, road, airport and seaport is also top-notch in Singapore. It is well connected to most of the world’s major markets that could be reached in seven hours by air.

Singapore ranked #2 in the world for best overall infrastructure in the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017’. In contrast, the UK ranked #9. In terms of technological readiness, Singapore came in at #2 globally in Huawei’s ‘Global Connectivity Index 2016. The UK ranked #5. The study measures 50 nations’ digital progress using indicators covering the supply, demand, experience, and potential of five technology enablers – broadband, data centers, cloud, big data, and IoT.

Living Environment

Singapore’s high quality of living standards distinguishes it as the most desired relocation destination for expatriates. The clean and green environment and the low crime rates along with cosmopolitan lifestyle amenities and choices make it a top draw among world-class talents. The racial harmony and colorful cultural tapestry set against pristine environs and outstanding working conditions together make Singapore a great place to live, work and play.

In Mercer’s ‘2017 Quality of Living Index’, Singapore ranked 15th in the world and UK’s highest ranked city, London, ranked 40th. Singapore topped the league of 45 countries while the UK was ranked 22nd In HSBC’s ‘Expat Explorer 2016’, which surveys the expatriates’ experience of living abroad in three aspects – economics, experience and family.

Related Article: Moving to Singapore as an Expat

Summary of Global Rankings Singapore Vs the UK

Organisation/Survey Category Year Global Rank
Singapore UK
Business Environment
The Economic Intelligence Unit/ Business Environment Ranking Most Investor Friendly Business Location
2016 1 18
World Bank/Ease of Doing Business Ease of Doing Business 2017 2 7
World Bank/Ease of Doing Business Ease of Doing Business 2017 2 7
World Bank/Ease of Doing Business Ease of Setting up Business 2017 6 16
Transparency International /Corruption Perception Index Least Corrupt Country 2016 7 10
World Justice Project / Rule of Law Index Country with best Rule of Law 2016 9 10
The Institute of Economics and Peace/ Global Peace Index Most Peaceful Countries in the World 2016 20 47
Economic Environment
World Bank/Ease of Doing Business Ease of Paying Taxes 2017 8 10
IMD/World Talent Report Singapore Country with the Most Talent Competitiveness 2016 15 20
World Economic Forum/ Global Competitiveness Index Labour Market Efficiency 2016-2017 2 5
World Economic Forum/ Global Competitiveness Index Financial Market Development 2016-2017 2 16
World Economic Forum/ Global Competitiveness Index Ease of Access to Loans 2016-2017 4 82
World Economic Forum and Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation/Global Enabling Trade Report Country Most Open to Trade 2016 1 8
DHL/Global Connectedness Index Country Most Connected 2016 2 8
Heritage Organisation/Index of Economic Freedom World’s Freest Economy 2017 2 12
Innovation Environment
World Economic Forum/Global Competitiveness Ranking Most Competitive Economy 2016-2017 2 12
World Economic Forum/Global Competitiveness Ranking Innovation 2016-2017 9 13
World Economic Forum/Global Competitiveness Ranking Intellectual Property Protection 2016-2017 4 7
World Economic Forum/Global Competitiveness Ranking Best Overall Infrastructure 2016-2017 2 9
Huawei/Global Connectivity Index Digital Connectivity 2016 2 5
Living Environment
Mercer/Quality of Living Index Cities with Best Quality of Life 2017 15 40
HSBC/Expat Explorer Best Country to Live Work and Raise Family 2016 1 22

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