Cities Compared: Dubai, Hong Kong & Singapore

Singapore Skyline. My second home since 2011.

So among the cities you have lived at, which one is the best?

I often come across this question and it always catches me off guard, like in a normal conversation and you have to respond quickly. To be honest, I actually never given a thorough reflection the answer to this. I think I'd rather be asked "Which city do I prefer to live at?", because after all, these cities are equally great in their own ways. So to best answer this long sought query, I will compare Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore  based on my own experience.

Cost of Living

The first thing that everyone would have to consider when deciding to live abroad is the cost of living. At first I thought as long as I can pay my rent, utility bills and I have enough allowance for my grocery, food and transportation - that's it, I'll get by. But in reality, these are just the basic stuff you need to look after at every month's pay check. You have to consider as well, what I'd call "entertainment" - dining out, going out with friends, watching movies and all other activities that you'd do to keep your weekends occupied. I would add shopping as well because once in a while you'll have to buy something for yourself- whether it's a necessity or just luxury. You didn't just move abroad to just work. Apart from anything else, you will need a social life, a normal life outside of work, and this costs money too.

All of the three cities I have lived at are considered to be expensive. In fact, Singapore currently holds the title as the most expensive city in the world,(Source: which easily rules it out on this comparison. So it all comes down between Dubai and Hong Kong. I don't remember the exact figures any more so I will just have to base it roughly how much I spent monthly from my faint memory. The only figures I am sure that are accurate back then are the rent and utilities. However, these may have changed by now as well.

I was really quite careless when it comes to my expenditures back then and didn't keep tabs. But I can say that Dubai is the least expensive city to live at for me back then- given that it is after all a tax-free city. Hong Kong and Singapore are comparable but I have to agree that Singapore is still the most expensive. The figures above might not agree with my statement but then again, it still all depends on someone's lifestyle and way of spending money. In Singapore, I'm mostly out with friends so I was spending more. The room rent also varied on the location, like take for example in HK, I was living in the Midlevels so the rent was pricey but it was closer to my work place so I saved a bit of time travel and transportation allowance. 

Hypothetically, if I was to assume I was earning the same amount of money for each city and compare how much more money is left for me to save and spend after paying all my monthly dues, I had a lot more to save and spend when I was in Dubai. 

Location & Surroundings

Since Dubai is the farthest among the three cities from the Philippines, I didn't like its location. I only get to go home once a year for three weeks and it was really never enough to make up the 11 months I was away on a different time zone.

Singapore and Hong Kong are both closer to the Philippines, allowing me to travel more often back home especially on long weekends. Their locations make them good travel hubs as well which made my travel plans easier and convenient to arrange.

Hong Kong skyline. View from Victoria Harbour

When it comes to surroundings and overall vibe of the city, all of them had their own appeal to me. I would always think of Dubai's grandeur, Hong Kong's colorful and lively streets and Singapore's clean and green roads. 

For this, I would give both HK and Singapore a point each.


Dubai was ridiculously hot and uncomfortable especially during summer so obviously I dislike its weather.

The desert of Dubai

Singapore has a very unpredictable weather. Like in a day, some parts of it will be sunny, while other parts will be rainy. I can't even rely on its weather forecast any more.

Hong Kong has the complete seasons - winter, spring, summer and fall. So I think weather-wise I like Hong Kong more. There's just always something to look forward to when the season changes.

2011 Winter in Hong Kong.

Transport System

I have never driven any car and as embarrassing as it may seem, I don't even know how to drive. 

Back then in Dubai, you would definitely need a car. I only remember taking the public bus once from office going home. The 10-minute journey by taxi or car took almost more than 30 minutes by bus! So most of the times I would just take a cab, even in walking distance places (especially if it's summer - because it is unbearably too hot to walk outside). 

Singapore has a very good public transportation and most of the times are very efficient. What I like about commuting in Singapore is you can actually check for the timings of the next bus and train arrival which is very convenient for commuters. 

Hong Kong has a very flexible public transportation - from buses, mini buses, trams, taxi, the metro and even ferries- it's so easy to get around and quite cheap too.

Mini Bus, a very reliable mode of transportation in Hong Kong.

So for the ease and comfort of getting around the city and the variety of transportation system you can take, I would choose Hong Kong.


As a single woman living abroad, most people see it as a vulnerability to threats. But believe it or not, in the past 9 years that I have been living overseas, I honestly did not need to worry about my own safety. Sadly I even feel more threatened in my own country every time I go home. Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore all promote a safe and healthy environment for everyone.

People & Multicultural Environment

I find Dubai and Singapore have an evident multicultural diverse community compared to Hong Kong. What I found hard in blending in Hong Kong was the language barrier especially at work. In terms of social engagements and events, I find that there are more events and happenings in Singapore that I was able to see. In terms of interacting with the locals, I find Singaporeans are more easier to approach to compared to the locals in Dubai and Hong Kong.

Multi-Cultural Work Environment in Dubai

Work Visas and Residency

I was granted three years of work visa (which includes residency) in Dubai, whilst in Hong Kong, I only had a year. They offer permanent residency only if you have lived there for 7 consecutive years (unfortunately, I only lasted for a year). Singapore has quite stricter policies when it comes to foreign employees. Even if you are already hired by the company, your fate still relies whether the government would approve your work pass or not, and only then you are allowed to work. Permanent residency have to be applied and granted by the government but not all those who apply gets approved. So I would choose Dubai for the fact that they were more lenient when it comes to work visa approvals back then.

Sense of Belonging

Being a stranger in a foreign land hasn't always been as easy as some may think it is like traveling. There's always that feeling of indifference and trying to blend into a culture that you were never familiar with. There is no manual on how to survive living abroad, each one of us has a different approach into trying to fit in and get by. You'll be looked at differently, maybe mocked at and be judged just by the way you look and how you stand out in the crowd. Even if I have already spent a lot of years living in different cities with different culture, I will always be an outsider. 

Dubai was quite challenging for me to live at because it was a lot of first times for me. First time to travel outside of the Philippines and to live by myself. Homesickness was very difficult to overcome. Plus the fact that it is a Muslim country where almost every move you make, every word you say and even what you wear in public is carefully being looked at. I think what helped a lot for me to settle in is the fact that I had a Filipino family there when I moved in. Personally, I really think it helps me settling in knowing that I know people from back home. It just makes me feel comfortable there is a Filipino community I can be part of. 

The total independence combined that with my curiosity made me stay there for three years. But did I feel like I belonged there if I didn't know anyone from back home? I didn't think so.

Language barrier in HK was my greatest challenge especially at work wherein most meetings I have attended were in pure Cantonese. I may have blended well with my Asian features and was easily mistaken as a local, but I stretched out one year to try to live there but on my third month I already wanted to leave. That frustration added by the fact I was recovering from a terrible heartbreak made me decide to fly to Singapore.

Singapore has been my home for four years now and so far, I can feel a sense of belonging in its community. It might be that because I have my family and a lot of good friends here, which really add a lot of factor to one's happiness and contentment. Do I see myself living here for another year or more? Absolutely, as long as my work pass allows me to. 

The Score

1. Cost of Living - Dubai
2. Location and Surroundings - Hong Kong & Singapore
3. Weather - Hong Kong
4. Transport System - Hong Kong
5. Safety - All three
6. People - Dubai & Singapore
7. Work Visas & Residency - Dubai
8. Sense of Belonging - Singapore

All are equally tied!

I believe 'sense of belonging' greatly defines how you would like a city to call it your second home. You could be living in the most livable city in the world but if you are unhappy then it's pointless. Home is not particularly a place, but rather a feeling of belonging.

I have been blessed to have lived in these amazing cities and it might be unfair to compare them. But these are all based on my personal experience and preference. I have actually met a lot of people who both lived in HK and Singapore and they prefer HK more. 

Singapore may be the most expensive city to live at, the most difficult to get a work visa and Permanent Residency approval but if it makes me feel at home and happy then it already won my heart a million times over.

Cavenagh Bridge at Singapore River
Photo Credit: April Anne Loayon

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