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10 Tips for Living in Singapore

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Expats love that Singapore has dozens of expat clubs and associations, wonderful international schools and incredible nightlife. These factors definitely help to make up for the high cost of living and relentless heat and humidity.

Expats in Singapore - 10 Tips for Living in Singapore

Cost of Living in Singapore

Singapore ranked as the world's most expensive city according to the Economist Intelligence Unit in both 2014 and 2015. An expat in Singapore warned, "try to negotiate a good expat package here - including generous housing, medical and school fees. These items are all expensive and can make the difference between making the posting worthwhile financially. Once you're here, try to live below your means. It's easy to live the high life and there's lots to spend your money on. Many expats leave with nothing to show for the time they spent here."

Meeting People in Singapore

There are dozens of organizations and associations for expats in Singapore. American Association of Singapore welcomes families of all nationalities. It hosts an annual George Washington ball, the Ambassador's Club Golf Tournament, a thanksgiving turkey trot, an independence day celebration and many more social events. The American Women's Association of Singapore welcomes women of all nationalities and hosts social, educational and fitness events and activities during the week and on evenings and weekends, which is great for working women. Events include tennis tournaments, golf outings, cocktail club, mahjong, kids cooking classes, book groups, sailing lessons and much more. SACAC is another wonderful organization that offers sports teams and lessons for kids of all skill levels, some classes for adults (Zumba, scuba, etc) and counseling for expats. Am Cham Singapore (American Chamber of Commerce) is an international business organization that supports American businesses and business people doing business in Singapore. The British Association of Singapore welcomes members of all nationalities and hosts a variety of social, sporting and kids events. The Australia and New Zealand Association is also open to all nationalities and hosts numerous events such as mahjong, golf, ladies nights, mens lunches, playgroups, tennis and much more.

There are also numerous country clubs with swimming, tennis, dining and events. The British Club is a tennis and swim club with several dining options and events. The Hollandse Club has swimming, tennis, fitness classes, dining and events. Golf clubs include Raffles Country Club (located 25 minutes from Singapore's central business district), Singapore Island Country Club, Laguna National, Jurong Country Club and several others.

Adjusting to the Heat in Singapore

Singapore is located just north of the equator and has a rainforest climate. It's hot and humid, with the hottest months being April and May and a monsoon season from November through January (source Wikipedia). This weather can be especially challenging for expats from more temperate climates. Be prepared to sweat, rely upon air conditioning and learn tricks to keep cool. When the sun goes down, the city truly comes to life!

International Schools in Singapore

Singapore American School is a pre-school through Grade 12 school with over 3900 students, 70% holding US passports. German European School Singapore is less well-known as many newcomers looking at schools assume its for German students only. It has a large English speaking section the follows the IBO Curriculum. Stamford American International School welcomes students from nursery through 12th grade is located at 1 Woodleigh Lane and a short drive from most expat communities. The Overseas Family School welcomes over 3800 k-12 students from 73 countries. Chatsworth International School is a k-12 international school with several locations: East (25 Jalan Tembusu) Campus, Orchard Hill (37 Emerald Hill Road) Campus and a kindergarten program located on Piccadilly Circus. Canadian International School (CIS) serves students from ages 3 to 18, from over 70 nationalities. View our article, International Schools in Singapore for more information on these and other international schools.

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Where to Live in Singapore

"Choose a place that's reasonably close to both your work and your kids' school. Depending on whether you drive a car or take the MRT, adjust accordingly. Either way, the objective is to keep travel time to a minimum, especially for the kids. Second, try to find a place that's not too noisy or too hot. Facing away from both the sun and traffic is ideal," advised an expat in Singapore.

In her article, Property in Singapore: Top Tips for Moving House in Singapore, Kay Vasey described the main choices in terms of areas to live in Singapore. Kay explained, "Central or 'Pretty much Malaysia' MRT stations Newton and Marina Bay on the North-South line and Tiong Bahru and Bugis on the East-West line are the limits of what I would call Central. Outside of that, I would consider Holland Village and Portsdown Road because both areas contain pockets of properties that are full of character. I am sure you can perceive my bias for living centrally given the label for all other areas outside of those above-mentioned as 'Pretty much Malaysia'. Unless you are minted enough to own a car, or you actually enjoy long taxi rides with Uncle, I would steer clear. East or West North is a non-starter unless your job is based in the Heartlands and you relish the idea of being surrounded by nothing other than a sea of residential dwellings. East wins on proximity to 'beaches' (not that you would want to swim in the rancid oil-infested waters) and the airport but unless you live in Geylang, you will be far from the MRT and you will live your life between bus stops. West has far better transport links and a greater variety of things to do: Botanic Gardens, Bukit Timah, Jurong Bird Park, The Southern Ridges to name a few."

Finding an Apartment in Singapore

"Find a reliable agent, preferably through a reference, because a good agent can save you lots of time and plenty of frustration. I stay in a condo. Yes, most expats prefer a condo, although some live in landed properties. It should be said that nowadays more and more expats stay in HDB flats, too. I selected my house on its proximity by the sea. I called a property agent; he turned out to be a great help in getting me the unit I'd set my eyes on," advised one Singapore expat. An HDB flat is public housing managed by the Housing and Development Board. Unlike public housing in most other countries, public housing in Singapore is extremely popular and for people of all economic levels, with varying amenities and finishes.

Squeaky Clean Singapore

Singapore is well known for its cleanliness. "Singapore is considerably more clean, protective, and all-round 'nice' than pretty much any other country in the world, including the US. The usual complaint about Singapore is that it's too sterile and clean... I spent a couple of years in Singapore and loved the cleanliness, beauty, inspiring cityscape, and efficiency," recalled a former expat in Singapore.

Diversity and Racism in Singapore

"The locals are fairly accepting of diversity although there is some underlying racism between some of the different racial groups that all locals will deny exists. The Chinese think the Malays are lazy and the Indians and Bangladeshis are thieves. The Malays think the Chinese are tight and very non-generous. The Indians tend to keep to themselves and do not mix much with any other races. These are of course generalisations but the locals will all deny any of this exists. Overall all races are very accepting of expats, especially Australians, Kiwis and Brits," said one expat. Another expat spoke from personal experience, "when it comes to culture shock, what I had considerable difficulty with was the very inherent racism - not of a derogatory nature, but of a 'race=culture' and 'cultures can't mix' variety. As someone in a mixed-race relationship, I found that very hard."

Finding A Little Peace and Quite in Singapore

In his article, Living in Singapore: Escaping the Singapore Squeeze, Bryan Norman offers advice for escaping the crowds and noise, "is there a way to escape the crowds? Is there any real nature left in Singapore? Fortunately, there is. Believe it or not, there still are plenty of areas within Singapore that are sparsely populated and quiet, even tranquil. It may take you a while to get there, but if you're yearning to recharge your peace and quiet batteries, then try the Bedok Reservoir or the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. The silence will be deafening, just the way you like it. If you're keen on the sea, spend a few hours (www.manamana.com) or the weekend (www.goldkist.sg) at the East Coast. Alternatively, take a stroll along Changi's Boardwalk. You'll be ready to take on Singapore's hustle and bustle again before you know it."

Bringing a Dog or Cat to Singapore

Singapore has strict guidelines for immigrating cats and dogs. According to the ecitizen.gov.sg article, Pet immigration: Moving your dog or cat to Singapore, certain dog and cat breeds are forbidden entry, quarantine periods of 10 to 30 days are typical based upon when the animal was vaccinated and quarantine spaces must be reserved 3 to 6 months ahead of your move. Plus, be sure that the apartment that you rent allows pets and your pet's breed and size. Read the article above for detailed advice.

Need more information on living in Singapore?

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

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First Published: Mar 17, 2015

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