Singapore, Singapore Report of what it's like to live there - 08/10/15
Personal Experiences from Singapore, Singapore
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
This is my first experience as a trailing spouse with children in tow. However, prior to family life I lived in Rome, Italy and spent time in Cape Town South Africa.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Our home base is Washington, DC. This is a pretty long flight with connections in Tokyo or Hong Kong. Usually, there is only one connection but for cheaper flights of course there are a few.
3. How long have you lived here?
We have lived here for two and a half years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Many people who are employed by U.S. Embassy live in condos, really nice condos if I may add which are pretty close to U.S. embassy. The commute is pretty easy since the Island is so small and public transport is excellent. There is no place the MRT or bus cannot take you.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
This is where you need to rely on local knowledge. We find grocery shopping affordable by going to pretty affordable places such as Hyper Fairprice, Giant, Mustafa and Wet Markets. Mustafa is a one stop shop and has incredible prices for house hold products and cosmetics and everything else you can think of.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Our favorite couch!
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
All fast food restaurants are available! The cost is pretty comparative to U.S. if not a bit higher. I cannot vouch for the taste.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Because Singapore is tropical, there is a continual ant problem. Long after humans are gone from the earth the ants will remain. Roaches can also be a problem if you leave food out and fail to spray repellent.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
US Embassy DPO
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
This is very much available. This is one of the highlights of Singapore. You will pay between US$600-800 for experienced help.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, but depending on what you are used to a bit pricey. I believe the cheapest is US$120 per month. Most condos have gyms.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
If possible getting a local account is great! It is a lot cheaper and you can pay by nets.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I believe everything is available here. Singapore is truly religiously pluralistic so you can find whatever you are looking for. We were able to find an incredible local church (Christian) here with no problems.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Most people speak English. However, if you have local friends like we do you might need to learn some "Singlish." Often locals will break off speaking a mixture of hokkien and Mandarin blend of language that might leave you lost in group convos.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Unless you have a car, this could prove to be problematic Depending on what physical disabilities you have, there may be places where wheelchair access is not available.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Cars are extremely expensive here. It is Right Hand drive so it might be difficult to bring your car. Depending on what department you work for there are restrictions on bringing a car.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes! Super super high-speed. The cost depends on the carrier. We have Starhub and pay about US$50 a month for fiber internet.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Yes! If you want to work bad enough and have the qualifications you can find a job. You may need to take another certification course (like I did in my case teaching) but ultimately there are many opportunities to work here. It might not be your dream job or what you went to school for, but if you are open and willing you can work.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are many! However, you will have to search for them.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual seems to be the norm for most people. I was surprised at work that many of my colleagues did not wear full suits to meetings.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are absolutely none. If you think about it this is a pretty incredible statement for a small and seemingly vulnerable nation state like Singapore. However, I must say they run a tight ship and should be applauded at the way they are able to keep their island safe. Honestly, the biggest threat to security here is the "enemy within the walls." This means that if you hire a helper or cleaner who steals. This is the extent of it.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Excellent health care! I had my youngest child here and couldn't have asked for better!
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
The air quality is pretty decent most of the year. Unfortunately, during the summer (The U.S. summer that is) they often burn tree in Indonesia which brings on a haze. As someone with chronic sinus problems I do often fight severe sinus infections during this time. However, it is nothing that meds will not cure.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Chronic Sinus conditions (like myself) can struggle here.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
As previously stated there are two seasons, hot and hotter. The hot season which is really wet season runs from about October to the first week in January. December will usually be the coolest time of year here but only at night. After the first week of January it runs into to hotter season. This is about as much variety as you will get
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
My children are both under 3 so they attend local preschools. We have not experienced international schools on this post.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
If you plan to send your child to international preschools and some local preschools, prepare to pay college tuition Preschools here are incredible expensive. I have stood at many principals' desks with my mouth open at the costs. I vow to never pay college tuition for my child to have "play group" class. However, we were able to find a great school at a great cost by sending our daughter to a Baptist school up the street. The churches here subsidize most of the school fees which allow parents to pay less than 500 a month. We have been soo happy with their program and the love and attention she has gotten from teachers. There are many schools like this such a Kay Poh Road Preschool and Thompson Road Preschool.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
I believe so but depending on the sport I hear it is very expensive compared to US.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
As a trailing spouse, I am not so sure. I work in the local economy so the majority of my friends are either local or from outside U.S. Embassy.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
There is every type of dining/drinking option here. One of the main things my local friends like to do is go and grab a meal either in a home or out or grab a cup of coffee (This is popular because it is not as expensive). Singapore nightlife provides endless options but can be expensive...very expensive.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is an excellent post for families. In fact, I do not think there is a better place for families. As long as you throw out cost of living which can be expensive.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I do not have experience with this but one of close friends here has lived here with his partner and they both do not ever want to leave. They feel more at home here than I do.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Singapore strives to be extremely open and pluralistic. They really want to be inclusive. However, having said, there is no perfect society. I would say there are issues and prejudices with foreign domestic workers and foreign workers. There are tensions between some expats and locals. Since Singapore is small and there is a tight job market, some locals feel bringing in foreign talent is a threat. I believe there are many more tensions brewing under the surface here in Singapore, but it will take something drastic to bring them all out.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We have really enjoyed travelling around Southeast Asia. We have been to so many places that would not have been possible to get to if we did not live here. As a central transport stop, you can get anywhere in Southeast Asia within 2.5 -3 hours. One of the biggest highlights for us was travelling to Maldives and India
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are too many to name, so I will name a few: Running or walking through botanical gardens, grabbing Turkish food and coffee on Haji Lane, Grocery shopping in Tiong Bahru or hiking through Macritchie Nature Trail.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
There are numerous advantages to living here! As a cynic I have never believed in Utopia, however, this is as close to Utopia as you will ever get. Singapore is one of, if not THE safest place in the world. It a a great post to raise children, especially young children. The schools, public transport and overall administration of the country are incredible. We live in an eternal summer! There are so many activities for children there is rarely a dull weekend here. In addition, since almost everyone speaks English you can make great local friends. Singaporeans LOVE to gather and eat so befriending locals means eating a lot of excellent food!
9. Can you save money?
This is extremely hard here. I wish we could save more but Singapore is very, very, very expensive. Everything is pretty expensive. You must really make an effort to save and be okay missing some social nights out drinking and eating with friends.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That this was Disneyland for adults!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely, in a heart beat!
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter/fall belongings, you will NOT need them!
4. But don't forget your:
Ketchup. I know this sounds weird, but really the local ketchup tastes different.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Crazy Rich Asians (this book is silly but it does give a glimpse of Singapore, albeit from the super rich side lol)
6. Do you have any other comments?
Have been truly enjoying this post!