Investment Guide to Southeast Asia, Top Opportunities by Country

Read this guide before you invest in Asia's Silicon Valley, where you can find an established consumer base and a thriving digital economy.

This is an update to our previous blog on the same topic.

With a burgeoning population of over 669 million, Southeast Asia (SEA) emerges as a robust global contender for investment with cultural and economic diversity. Given its varied range of established high-tech economies with fast-evolving adjacent markets, it offers a sea of opportunities. SEA countries form the fifth largest economy of the world with progressively well-off and young consumers having USD 300 billion in middle-class disposable income by 2022 as per a report by Bain & Company.

According to insights projected by the World Economic Forum, tech-savvy millennials and Gen Z will form 75% of SEA consumers by 2030. Moreover, this region already has a resilient and competitive digital economy with USD 8.2 billion in capital for tech investments in 2020, which will continue to grow into an estimated 360 billion in gross merchandise value by 2025

Technological, economic, and social megatrends contribute to this region’s growth, with substantial changes underway. While its countries are going through different stages of transformation, each market provides a set of well-defined and flexible opportunities, from first-mover benefits to a prospective base for international innovation.

To help you understand your choices, we have put together an investment guide to Southeast Asia, with relevant information for businesses looking to expand or establish in this region with a sharp focus on the sectors to watch, incorporation process, talent pool, and tax system of every market.


Singapore, with an annual GDP per capita of USD 59,785 is one of the most competitive economies in the world, globally recognized for its strong economic performance, efficient government, and well-established business infrastructure.

Since 2021, the government has kept aside USD 18 billion for its Research, Innovation and Enterprise as per the 2025 plan, which aims to leverage R&D to reinstate Singapore as a global business avenue, build sustainability solutions and drive digital economy initiatives.

Singapore is home to not only an unrivaled talent pool of highly skilled workers but also some of the best universities in the world. 

It has a simple tax framework with 17% corporate tax and 7% GST. Foreign investors can also enjoy double tax reliefs and no dividend tax. Usually, it takes a company only 1.5 days to be incorporated in Singapore

Key Sectors in Singapore

The primary sectors in Singapore comprise services ranging from professional, and financial to information and communication technology contributing to 70.95 % of the national GDP. On the other hand, 24.37% of its GDP is driven by industries such as electronics and precision engineering, and chemicals among others. 

Strengths & challenges

 There are several advantages of setting up a business here:

  • High penetration of mobile and online services
  • Resilient rules and regulations
  • Diverse cosmopolitan society

Some cons of setting up a business in the country are as follows:

  • Cost of living is considerably quite high
  • Domestic market is quite small


With average GDP growth of 7.2% annually over the past decade, Vietnam is the world’s fastest-growing economy. Being close proximity to China and other SEA countries, Vietnam is the most popular investment hub in the region, attracting FDI inflows worth USD 15.8 billion in 2020. In recent years, the government has embraced digital transformation endeavors by tapping into Industry 4.0 to encourage economic activities. Vietnam has increased tax transparency with 20% corporate tax and 10% standard VAT. Ranked 44 on Global Innovation Index, it takes 44 days for a business to be incorporated in Vietnam.

Key sectors in Vietnam

Services such as food, healthcare, technology and telecommunications have a 41.63% contribution in GDP. The second largest key sector comprises construction, infrastructure transportation, storage, wholesale and retail activities amounting to 33.72% followed by agriculture, forestry, and fishing with a contribution of 14.85%.

Strengths & challenges

Some reasons why Vietnam is popular with the investors:

  • Growing Internet penetration 
  • Open and evolving economic property protection
  • Abundance of skilled and low-cost labor
  • Growing purchasing power, with the rise of middle-income consumers

Some challenges encountered by the investors are as follows:

  • Irregular cash flow and funding issues for startups
  • Weak IT Infrastructure
  • Poor intellectual property protection

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With an average GDP growth of 7% from 2011 to 2019, Cambodia is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Owing to its large young workforce and fertile land, the country is predicted to witness sustained growth in the coming years. The government is attracting investments in priority sectors such as drugs and medical equipment production among others as per their 10-year Industrial Development Policy 2015 – 2025.

The online portal of the Ministry of Economy and Finance is instrumental in the registration of companies. According to the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2019, Cambodia stands at 106th position while according to Global Innovation Index 2021, it ranks 109. It takes 99 days for a company to be incorporated in this country and also has one of the lowest corporate tax rates at 20%.

Key Sectors in Cambodia 

Just like Singapore, in Cambodia services contribute to 36.21% of GDP and is, therefore, one of the main sectors followed by

industries including construction with 34.67% and 22.84% of GDP is accounted for by agriculture, forestry, and fishing.

Strengths & challenges

Cambodia is an appealing destination for its foreign investors because of the following reasons:

  • Youthful population 
  • Easy to repatriate profits 
  • Investment incentives in Special Economic Zones

On the contrary, it also poses the following challenges:

  • High energy costs
  • Weak law enforcements including IP rights


Indonesia, the famous archipelago nation, is the largest economy of SEA, with over 300 ethnic groups. Since it lies along major sea lanes from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and is closer to other business hubs, its strategic location could be quite useful for incoming businesses.

With middle-class consumption growing at 12% annually since 2002, it is the key force in driving the economy. It is estimated that youth will account for 70% of the Indonesian consumers by 2030.

Indonesia has a quick incorporation process and it takes only 12.6 days as access to a single online portal is required in order to register a business. It has a self-evaluated taxation system and there are several tax incentives to help businesses with 22% corporate tax and 10% GST.

Key Sectors in Indonesia

The main sectors include services such as tourism, information & communication followed by finance and insurance activities amounting to 44.40% of GDP. Digital and energy industries contribute to 38.26% of GDP and the third largest sector is agriculture, forestry and fishing with 13.7%. 

Strengths & challenges

This quickly growing economy can offer prospective investors the following benefits: 

  • Natural resources in abundance
  • The largest domestic market in SEA
  • Fast and easy trade by land and sea

Some cons of setting up a business in this country are:

  • Expenditure on infrastructure and service networks
  • High logistics cost
  • Complex tax system and immigration processes


Malaysia stood on 5th position of Bloomberg study of emerging

Markets. The country is brimming with the rapid development of its digital economy and public agencies like the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation. Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint, worth USD 5 billion, is an investment to be made over the next five years by the government in the development of a nationwide 5G network and a stronger international submarine cable network. 

Latest initiatives such as Cradlen Investment Programme Ignite (CIP Ignite) and Cradle Investment Programme Accelerate (CIP Accelerate) also lend support to tech startups. It takes 17.5 days for a business to be incorporated into the country. It has a single-tier tax system with 24% corporate tax, 26% sales and service tax and 0-15% withholding tax. 

Key Sectors in Malaysia

Business services, Oil, Gas & Energy, Research & Development (R&D) and Information & Communication form the main sector with 54.78% of GDP. Building Technology, Life Sciences, and Electronics form the second largest sector with 35.91% followed by agriculture and forestry with 8.21% contribution is the third largest sector in the country.

Strengths and Challenges

Some factors that are beneficial for businesses in Malaysia are as follows:

  • Well-developed infrastructure 
  • Government policies favorable for business
  • Promising business culture
  • Flexible banking system

Also, there are quite a few challenges too:

  • High corporate tax
  • Restriction on foreign ownership for certain sectors, such as professional services and financial services
  • Exorbitant trading costs across international borders


Myanmar has a strategic geographical location as it shares its borders with Bangladesh, China, India, Laos, and Thailand. Its capital, Yangon, is the key economic hub that contributes to 22% of the country’s GDP. There are three Special Economic Zones  set up by the government  in Thilawa, Kyaukphyu and Dawei, offering simplified processes, investment incentives and modern industrial facilities to bolster investment. The online portal Myanmar Companies Online (MyCO) can be used to register new businesses which generally take 7 days to be incorporated. Myanmar occupies 127th position on the Global Innovation Index 2021.

Key Sectors in Myanmar

Services with 41% contribution to GDP form the primary sector, followed by industrial  with a contribution worth 35.77% and the agricultural sector, making up 22.82% of GDP. 

Strengths and Challenges 

Doing business in Myanmar has the following benefits:

  • Large youthful population
  • Low labor costs
  • Abundant natural resources

Following are some of the cons of doing business in the country:

  • Lack of proper infrastructure
  • Instability of Myanmar kyat as opposed to US dollar
  • Small talent pool workers well-versed in English

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The Philippines

One of the most dynamic economies in SEA, the Philippines archipelago has an average annual GDP growth rate of 6.4% from 2010 to 2019. Being the world’s 13th most populous country, it has a young, skilled workforce with a median age of 23 years and highly proficient in English. This includes the USD160 billion “Build, Build, Build” program, which aims to enhance the overall development of the country. Occupying 51st position on the Global Innovation Index 2021, it takes 33 days for a business to be incorporated in the country.

Key Sectors in Philippines

Services such as healthcare, Business Process Outsourcing and tourism amount to 61.42% of GDP and form the primary sector. The second-largest contribution, at 28.40%, is made up of industries like pharmaceuticals and shipbuilding among many others. Agriculture is the third key sector with a 10.18% contribution to GDP.

Strengths & challenges

Some advantages of doing business in Philippines are:

  • Expanding infrastructure
  • English-speaking population
  • Rising domestic consumption
  • Young and skilled workforce

Strategic location in SEA Some disadvantages of doing business in in this country are:

  • Restrictions on foreign equity/ownership is up to 40% in some business sectors 
  • Heavy traffic and congestion in metro cities


Apart from being the 2nd largest economy in SEA, Thailand is popular for its vibrant tourism sector. With a robust domestic market and better connectivity to key economies in Asia, Thailand’s economy is very diversified ranging from textiles and food, to  electronics, automotive and machinery. Moving towards digitization of the economy, the government has launched the “Thailand 4.0” initiative under which key projects worth USD 450 million have been sponsored for country-wide broadband networks and business parks focused on technology. 

Key sectors in Thailand 

Tourism, wellness and financial activities form the biggest sector with 58.25% of GDP. Industries like automation and robotics contribute 33.10% followed by agriculture at 8.34% of GDP.

Strengths & challenges

A few pros of starting a business in Thailand are: 

  • Close to Asia’s fast-growing markets
  • Diversified exports including car parts, agrifood products and electronic components
  • Ample agricultural resources such as natural rubber, rice, and sugarcane

A few negative factors that could hamper starting a business in Thailand are: 

  • Complicated government bureaucracy and legal procedures
  • Complex contract enforcement procedures
  • Tedious incorporation process

We hope this guide can help you get a better understanding of the ever-evolving melting pot that is Southeast Asia and make the most of your investment.

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