Last updated September 9th, 2023.
We usually focus on Asia’s countless opportunities for profit. Generally speaking, Asia has a very bright future ahead of itself.
The continent’s economic growth rate exceeds practically anywhere in the western world. This trend appears set to continue in the foreseeable future.
With that said, not all countries in Asia have strong economic prospects. That’s the purpose of this article. Knowing where not to invest is just as important as knowing where you should.
Brunei is one place investors should avoid at all costs. This small, wealthy, oil rich sultanate of 400,000 people is heading in the wrong direction.
Here are several reasons why Brunei is the worst country to invest in Asia… perhaps excluding North Korea.
Brunei’s Nearly Endless Recession
We’re not in 2008 anymore. Yet Brunei suffers from one of Southeast Asia’s worst economies.
Brunei’s weak economy posted only four years of GDP growth over the past decade. Both the IMF and World Bank predict sluggish growth in the immediate future too.
2% growth is way better than a recession. But that still makes Brunei rank among Asia’s worst economies in a region of mostly winners.
Why has Brunei barely escaped recession a decade after the last global financial crisis? Low oil prices are a main contributor to the problem.
Vast oil reserves once made Brunei the richest country in Southeast Asia on a per capita basis. The nation barely diversified its economy outside the oil and gas sector though.
That’s contrary to Dubai or neighboring Malaysia, as examples, which used their oil money to become top financial hubs. Brunei suffers from extremely poor long-term planning in comparison.
With crude oil prices still far lower than the mid-$100 level previously seen in the early 2010s, it’s easy to understand why Brunei is now going through some rough times in the 2020s.
Two additional reasons below certainly don’t help Brunei’s status as the worst country to invest in Asia either.
Brunei is oil-rich and boasts one of the world’s highest energy reserves per capita. Unfortunately, that’s about all they can offer you.
Brunei isn’t Friendly to Foreign Investors
Brunei is also one of the hardest places to invest in Asia – especially as a foreigner. Here are a few good examples.
Foreign investors cannot own property in Brunei. You could not even get a long-term lease on real estate up until recently.
Responding to poor economic conditions, the government began allowing non-citizens to lease property for a maximum term of 99 years back in August of 2017.
Yet this small, practically meaningless step toward business deregulation won’t help Brunei at all. A leasehold extension is very unlikely to attract any significant amount of capital or foreign business.
It’s too little and far too late. Foreign investors will flock toward better options nearby such as Malaysia where you can own land on a freehold basis.
Furthermore, Brunei doesn’t have a stock exchange either. The fact that you’re not able to buy equities or real estate in Brunei leaves foreign investors with just one feasible option: starting a local company.
You shouldn’t be surprised that doing business in Brunei is also an absolute pain. Every other type of investment in Brunei is too, after all.
The government is difficult to work with and Brunei’s energy sector is about the only industry with any resemblance of decent long term prospects.
Creeping Islamization and Sharia Law
This reason might be controversial. We should clarify that Muslim countries aren’t necessarily bad to invest in.
For example, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, and plenty of other Muslim majority nations are doing fine economically.
Brunei is taking things to a whole different level though. They’re less like “Malaysia” and more like “Saudi Arabia” with regards to the legal direction they’re going.
Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei and among the world’s richest men, is overseeing Brunei’s transition toward a system of Sharia law.
Sharia law will replace existing ones in several planned phases and the transformation will apparently finish in 2035.
Until then, Brunei’s Sultan is pushing forth laws that involve banning Christmas celebrations, stoning adulterers, and cutting off the limbs of thieves.
We aren’t here to criticize people’s religion. Our site is about investments in Asia – not social commentary. But hopefully you can understand why such factors would make foreigners reluctant to live or invest in Brunei. It directly leads to declining foreign capital, which means weaker economic growth.
Put simply, you should strongly reconsider if you’re thinking of starting a business or otherwise investing in Brunei.
Don’t go to the worst country to invest in Asia. Start looking the region’s best places to invest instead.
EDITOR’S UPDATE: This article was read by over 40,000 people in Brunei since it was originally published. That’s 10% of the entire country’s population.
Naturally, locals have given us a lot of hate (and some support!) because we said Brunei is the worst country to invest in Asia.
The truth often hurts. InvestAsian will continue telling our readers the facts about places that aren’t competitive though.
Brunei’s situation might improve if locals were less eager to defend an economy that has been in recession for most of the past decade.
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