Singapore, Singapore Report of what it's like to live there - 08/31/08

Personal Experiences from Singapore, Singapore

Singapore, Singapore 08/31/08

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No (Edinburgh).

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government (worked at the Embassy).

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

About 24 hours from DC, less from the West Coast (most flights stopped in either Tokyo or Hong Kong).

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Beautiful housing, although it's getting smaller and further away from the Embassy (I was on our housing board and saw rents double in two years). Commutes are generally short unless people live up by the American school, in which case they can be close to an hour.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

You can find nearly anything, but at a price. We found that cooking Western or American cuisine wasn't worth the price, so we mainly ate out.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

More Mexican food and spices!

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Lots of fast food: McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Carl's Jr. Lots of decent restaurants - our favorite was La Forketta, a moderately priced Italian restaurant with several outlets. Hawker centers are plentiful, safe, and cheap for a quick meal.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Available in large numbers (Filipinas and Indonesians, mostly) and relatively cheap. We didn't have a maid, but most of our friends did. Non-embassy employees have to pay some sort of bond - I don't remember the exact cost, but it struck me as high.

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Very easy, although not as many places take credit cards as do in the US.

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, in most denominations.

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes, and cheap.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Absolutely none. Most Singaporeans speak English better than I do (when they want to).

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

As someone who lugged a stroller around Singapore for a year, I'd say that it's generally wheelchair friendly, except for the fact that Singaporeans don't hold doors, and there aren't any automatic ones! There are lots of ramps, though. Sidewalks are very narrow and don't always exist on every major road (mostly due to the everpresent construction).

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Left.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes.

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3. 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?

There's really no need for anything bigger than a sedan. Cars are extremely small in Singapore because parking spaces are about half of the size. We had a Mini and it was perfect, until the baby came along and we had to fight with the car seat!

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes - about what you would pay in the States.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

The pay-as-you-go worked well for my husband.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

I had a cheap cell phone plan and could make hour-long calls for about US$2. Phone cards are cheap and readily available as well - my husband called Bolivia for about ten cents a minute.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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?

For highly educated folks, yes. For blue-collar workers, absolutely not.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

More relaxed than in the States. Women never wear hose because of the hot and humid climate. Open-toed shoes are fine. Singaporean men wear blue or white shirts and dark pants - it's their uniform!

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Good, except when the Indonesians were slashing-and-burning.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Most would say almost none - but our bike was stolen in broad daylight from a subway station bike rack. People tend to get complacent in Singapore.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Wonderful health care - for my pregnancy, we got much more attention than we would have in the States.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Always hot and humid! Sometimes a bit less hot, sometimes a bit more humid. That said, it's always over-air-conditioned inside, so bring light jackets and shawls (or buy gorgeous ones on Arab Street).

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

We didn't have kids in school, but the Singapore American School has an excellent reputation - supposed to be one of the top international schools in the world. The only complaint I ever heard about it was that even high-achieving kids felt that it was a pressure cooker.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

18,000 Americans.

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2. Morale among expats:

High - great living conditions. A little bit of boredom, but that's alleviated by regional travel.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Movies come out at or close to the same time they do at home. Many world-class entertainers pass through Singapore, although concerts are very expensive. Lots of clubs and bars, but again the vice tax made those prohibitive for all but the best-paid expats.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

For families, it's great. Wonderful schools, high level of security, great health care. We had a baby in Singapore and were delighted with the experience. I lived there for several months as a single woman, though, and I always jokingly tell my husband that Singapore is one of the reasons I came back to the States to visit him (and we ended up getting engaged) - there is not a vibrant singles life AT ALL in Singapore, especially on a government salary. If you were in the financial sector and could afford to go out every night - alcohol prices are sky-high because of the vice tax, and the cost of living in general is quite high - then it might be a different story.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Singaporeans in general are very focused on race and get puzzled when they can't put you in one of their nice little categories (Chinese, Malay, Indian, or other).In general, though, they are quite accepting of all races and religions, in large part due to a government program enforcing those norms. I didn't experience any gender prejudice, but the fact that Singapore's never had a female Minister says a lot (and is a hot topic of debate among Singaporeans themselves).

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

The Night Safari is a must. Sentosa is fun for people with kids. We enjoyed the ethnic enclaves the most. Chinatown's not exciting for anyone who's ever spent any time in any major American city, but Little India and Arab Street are terrific, and we hung out in those two areas the most.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Despite the tag line of

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9. Can you save money?

Heck, no.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Hard to say. If we had older children, definitely. As a single woman, I'd be hard pressed.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Extra stuff, because you won't have any storage space.

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3. But don't forget your:

Swimsuit, sunscreen, etc. - most living complexes have pools.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Kirpal Singh is a well-known Singaporean creative writer - he has some stuff on Amazon that's great.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Kirpal Singh is a well-known Singaporean creative writer - he has some stuff on Amazon that's great.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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