Having been an expat now for three-and-a-half years, I keep asking myself when I will stop converting things back into British pounds. The realistic answer is probably never. The exchange rate for sterling in some countries makes it very easy to make a quick conversion – for example in Singapore, one pound equals two dollars. So all you need to do is divide the price in half to get your pound equivalent. If you are a tourist I can see the benefit of doing this. But when you are an expat, who earns their salary in Singapore dollars, there will never actually be any “’conversion’’ taking place. But that doesn’t stop me doing it in my head anyway. It would be better if I lived in Hong Kong as it takes much more mental arithmetic to divide prices by 12.A classic example of this currency conversion obsession happens when I look at the price of cars in Singapore, which are among the most expensive in the world, a deliberate tactic by the government to restrict the number of vehicles on the road. Basically you buy the car, then you have to buy a piece of paper (known as a Certificate of Entitlement) to allow you to drive it on the road. This certificate can cost as much as the car itself.
Begrudgingly, when forced by my wife to buy a car two years ago I bought the cheapest one I could find which was a Hyundai Matrix, lovingly built in 2007. But even this humble mode of transport cost me an incredible S$24,000 (£12,000 via a simple conversion in my head). A quick look on the UK website Exchange and Mart reveals a few similar Hyundai Matrix models in the £3,000 price range. So that’s four times cheaper than what I paid for one in Singapore. A depressing figure which makes me wish even more I wasn’t so obsessed with currency conversions.
Sadly it’s a similar scenario the same across the board. You’ll end up paying treble and quadruple UK prices for cars in Singapore be they new or second hand, European or Asian. My trusted, and reliable, Hyundai is now too small for my growing family so it’s time for an upgrade. This is likely to be a very expensive upgrade. I never would have considered the South Korean brand of Hyundai had I still been in the UK, but they are very popular and trusted in these parts. So I’m looking for another Hyundai to upgrade to. I really can’t afford anything else to be honest.
I did have had my eye on a Hyundai Sante Fe ( a chunky but hardly flashy SUV) until I saw the price of one brand new – a whopping S$196,000 (£98,000) give or take a few pennies. For this, you could drive away with any number of premium cars in the UK such as a Porsche 911, Aston Martin Vantage and any Mercedes Benz or BMW you could care to choose. Clearly I’d be mad to pick an average SUV in Singapore to a high-end sports car in the UK but I’m not in the position to make that choice. I’m forced to pay Singapore prices while I choose to live here so I have to take it on the chin. While I won’t be paying close to £100,000 for a car, I am still preparing myself for a significant investment in my next car. But while I suffer these massively hiked prices, I do at least get to enjoy driving on well-maintained, safe and not-so-crowded roads in predominantly good weather, qualities not always possible back home.
But only for 10 years, as this is how long a certificate lasts. That’s right. After a decade, you have to buy another certificate and go through the painful, and expensive, process all over again. I did have one idea to buy a huge camper van or motor home so we could kill two birds with one stone – drive and live in the car to save on rent. Some people have tried it with yachts too but sadly the government doesn’t allow this. I don’t think my wife would allow it either, even if I could guarantee to get her to work on time every day.
by Justin Harper.
Justin is a freelance journalist based in Singapore. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his website at www.justinharpermedia.com.
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