South Eastern Asia region

  • South Eastern Asia contains eleven countries and is mainly a remittance-receiving subregion.
  • There are three countries (the Philippines,Timor-Leste and Viet Nam) for which remittances make up significantly more than three per cent of GDP.
  • The subregion also includes the important sending market of Singapore.
Predominantly receiving countries
Predominantly sending countries
Brunei Darussalam
Migration Sources: UNDESA 2017
  • South Eastern Asia has one of the fastest-growing emigration rates in Asia and the Pacific.
  • In 2017 there were more than 21 million emigrants in this market, which has grown at a CAGR of 2.4 per cent since 2010.
  • 61 per cent have moved to other markets in Asia and the Pacific, such as Japan, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia (particularly from Indonesia) and Hong Kong SAR, China, while the balance are predominantly in the Gulf countries, North America and Europe.
  • Nearly all of the 10 million migrants to countries in South Eastern Asia are from within the Asia and the Pacific region (more than 91 per cent) and in particular from China, the Philippines, India, Thailand and Indonesia.
  • The immigrant growth rate is significant, with a CAGR of 1.9 per cent since 2010.
Immigrants to South Eastern Asia 2010 2017 CAGR1 2010-2017(%)
Total 8,673,693 9,873,600 1.9
From all Asia and the Pacific 7,612,191 9,049,438 2.5
Emigrants from South Eastern Asia 2010 2017 CAGR 2010-2017 (%)
Total 17,914,856 21,084,994 2.4
To all Asia and the Pacific 11,380,417 12,808,237
Remittances (millions of US$) Sources: WB, Remittances bilateral matrix 2016
Inbound Remittances
  • Remittance flows into the area are significant, more than US$65 billion in 2017, and show a growth rate of nearly 12 per cent for the past 10 years.
  • Most of the funds are received from outside Asia and the Pacific.
  • The main sending markets to the subregion are the United States of America, Canada, the Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait) and Europe.
Outbound Remittances
  • The subregion sent over US$18 billion in 2017, of which 93 per cent was sent to Asia and the Pacific.
  • Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are the main sending markets to the rest of the subregion, with more than US$2 billion each.
Inflows to South Eastern Asia (US$ million) 2014 2017 CAGR 2014-2017 (%)
Total 56,817 65,267 4.7
From Asia and the Pacific 15,040 17,5345.2
Largest inflows > US$ billion
Main receive countries from the sub-region
Viet Nam13.8
Outflows from South Eastern Asia (US$ million) 2014 2017 CAGR 2014-2017 (%)
To Asia Pacific16,54893%
Largest outflows > US$ billion
Main receive countries from the sub-region
Inflows origin
United States21.1
Saudi Arabia7.4
United Arab Emirates5.0
Hong Kong SAR, China1.2
United Kingdom2
Republic of Korea
Outflows destination
Remittance reliant countries with remittance/GDP > 3% (2016)
Viet Nam5.8%
Costs Sources: WB RPW Q1 2018
  • With the average cost at 9.2 per cent, it is expensive to receive money in South-Eastern Asia.
    Pricing is particularly high for sending money from Thailand to Cambodia (16 per cent).
  • Eventhough other markets are less expensive (such as the Philippines, at 5.6 per cent, and both Indonesia and Viet Nam, at 7.6 per cent each), they are still significantly above of the SDG 10.c target.
  • Sending remittances from South-East Asia is more competitive than some other regions, with prices at 4.8 per cent for the first quarter of 2018.
  • However, the cost to send has remained steady for the past three years.
Costs to receive US$200 (% of amount sent)
Viet Nam7.5
Costs to send $200
Market operators Sources: RemitScope survey 2018
  • Most payouts are handled by banks, often working in partnership with multiple sending MTOs.
  • In countries such as the Philippines, large retail chains and small shops act as payout agents and the market is competitive. There are many send entities, including corridor specialists such as iRemit,┬áIME and LBC, as well as Filipino banks based overseas, traditional global MTOs and newer operators such as GCash and Smart.
  • However, in other markets such as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Myanmar, banks dominate formal remittance flows and there is still an extremely large informal market for which there are no official data.
  • In certain corridors, such as Thailand to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Western Union and MoneyGram dominate the formal remittance markets.
  • Remittances sent from the main South-East Asia markets have traditionally been handled by global operators such as Western Union and MoneyGram from Singapore and Malaysia, while there are also strong regional players such as IME and Merchant Trade, which have a significant share of the key corridors.
  • Besides traditional players, there is an increasing use of “newer” fintechs proposing digital transfer methods through companies such as Singtel Dash, Instarem, BOSS Money, WorldRemit and others.
Presence at the receiving end
Global MTO Number of countries where these companies are present (among the 11 Central Asia countries)
  Western Union
11 out of 11
  Money Gram
11 out of 11
  Xpress Money
7 out of 11
7 out of 11
8 out of 11
Regional MTO Number of countries where these companies are present (among the 11 Central Asia countries)
  Merchant Trade Money Transfer
2 out of 11
  KL Remit Xchange
2 out of 11
Main types of RSP
Receiving end
Bank (ATM)
Post offices
Mobile money providers
Other NBFI
Agent networks
Sending end
Bank, Exchange Houses
Post offices
Mobile money providers


Dominant Significant Emerging Marginal and/or not applicable
Transfer methods
  • Like other regions, cash is still the dominant payout method.
  • Accounts are becoming increasingly used at the receiving end.
  • Digital sending services are beginning to establish a foothold.
  • There are a number of blockchain developments (alongside cryptocurrencies), especially in the Philippines, for settlement purposes, for example Bloom Solutions.


Dominant Significant Emerging Marginal and/or not applicable
  • The regulatory environment for paying-out remittances has traditionally focused on permitting banks and MTOs and generally allows for the use of agents (in seven out of eleven countries).
  • However, regulations that enable MNOs to operate are only present in three markets.
  • Innovation is increasingly being seen in the sending markets and new Fintech solutions have been encouraged by the regulators in both Malaysia and Singapore.
Types of entities allowed to distributed remittances Sources: RemitScope survey 2018
Number of countries
11 out of 11
10 out of 11
  Use of agents
7 out of 11
  Digital currency
3 out of 11
3 out of 11
Incidence of de-risking policies affecting remittance service providers
  • Derisking has not impacted SE Asia as much as many other parts of the world.
  • This is mainly due to the strong presence of banks and proactive approaches by regulators in most markets to establish clear regulatory regimes and to conduct ongoing supervision.
Low   Average   High  
INCLUSIVE FINANCIAL SERVICESSources: Findex survey 2014 (Pacific region countries not available)

Financial inclusion rates for the subregion, at 47 per cent, are lower than the average for Asia and the Pacific (52 per cent).

The share of account ownership among the adult population of mainly receiving countries remain below 50 per cent with the notable exceptions of Thailand and Malaysia at 82 and 85 per cent respectively.

While close to one quarter of the population receives domestic remittances, only 36 per cent of the recipients use an account throughout the subregion. Thailand and Malaysia, with more than 60% of recipients using accounts, show the most significant change to cash habits.

A number of governments in receiving countries have developed programmes to use remittances as a trigger for financial inclusion. Examples include the Philippines through programmes that foster migrant household financial literacy and diaspora banking, and in Indonesia, through the promotion of innovative digital remittance models.

In sending countries such as Malaysia, the regulatory reforms in the remittance market have led to a significant increase of access points and fostered the emergence of e-wallet remittance models. These have reduced the comparative advantages of informal remittances and paved the way for the provision of a broader suite of digital financial services bundled with remittances.

The use of regulatory sandboxes in Malaysia has introduced an innovative element to the development of new regulations and licenced entities.

Donors’ support encompasses the provision of remittances linked with digital and/or banking products targeting the most excluded populations, such as the IFAD projects in the Philippines for rural populations or the United Nations Capital Development Fund SHIFT project in the Mekong region, focusing on women receiving remittances.

Account ownership among the adult population +15 year old (%) Sources: Findex survey 2017 (Pacific region countries not available)
Average for South Eastern Asia
Average Asia region
Adult population receiving domestic remittances and patterns to receive money
Average adult population receiving domestic remittances (%) 24
In person and in cash (%) 30  
Over the counter(%) 28  
Through a financial institution (%) 36  
1 Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR)