Expat Life in Singapore – The Basics

by Alexandra Sheehan

So you’re moving to Singapore, a mysterious little treasure found at the foot of Malaysia in between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. This tiny country isn’t really famous for much, and it is not often that we hear about it in the news. It is extremely unique, a mixture of Asian, European and Indian. Tradition meets modernity. This constantly bustling city is a tourist hub of attractions and full of a huge and dynamic expat community. Moving to this mysterious little gem requires a bit of preparation so that you can be one of the thousands who transition smoothly into expat life in Singapore. Here are the basic things you should know…A relatively new country, Singapore was under British rule until April 1963. Having only gained its independence about a half century ago, Singapore is a very new country. However, don’t underestimate this small powerhouse. It has a very strong and consistent economy and virtually no issues of conflict.

Because of its British influence, Singapore has adopted many of the Brits’ ways of life. For one thing, all of the outlets are United Kingdom style outlets. This is good to know for those planning on relocation, because you will want to purchase the appropriate converters and adaptors for such. Another very relevant British influence is the driving pattern. In the UK and in Singapore, people drive on the left. Be sure to look right before crossing the street!

Another point that you should consider is that you mustn’t go crazy trying to buy and pack all of your favorite things. Things meaning anything you routinely use or purchase at home and are afraid that Southeast Asia may not have. Unlike its neighbors, Singapore is extremely modern and up-to-date with the latest trends around the world. You will have no problem finding your favorite toothpaste, new shoes for work, a comforter for your bed, and even tampons (and I mention this because these items have yet to make their debut in the rest of the SE Asia region.)

In fact, almost anything you could possibly want to purchase can most likely be found at any one of the countless number of malls which litter every intersection. Expect to spend money. Singapore is largely based on consumerism, and the prices reflect this. The cost of living is very high, but if you will be working, you don’t need to worry, as wages are reflective of cost of living.

Expect the unexpected

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Singapore is not necessarily a vacationer’s tropical oasis. The beaches are not so nice, what with the constant uncomfortable hazy blanket and numerous industrial ships on the horizon. In fact, the humidity is so intolerable that it chases you indoors.

Another shocker for me was the lack of a language barrier. Needless to say, this was a pleasant surprise. Technically, Singapore is a part of Southeast Asia. I was expecting that indecipherable calligraphic writing and sing songy chatter to go along with it. In fact, English is the official language. You may come across a few people who cannot speak English, but this will never pose an inconvenience.

I may have to backtrack here a bit. For those of you who have never heard of “Singlish,” listen up. This unofficial language is extremely difficult to understand with the untrained ear. It is something of mix between very thick Malay and Chinese accents speaking English words. After a while you’ll get used to it. But when the taxi driver from the airport spits out the fare in this tricky language, don’t panic.

You would never want to move somewhere new without having a general idea of what the people are like. There are tons of people in Singapore. The population is about 5 million, and a large chunk of that is made up of expats. Expect lots of crowds. A general rule of thumb is that where there are crowds, there is crime and there is grime. This is not so when it comes to Singapore. Their stringent law enforcement system and strong adherence to order has nearly eliminated those two nuisances completely.

While you will not be sent to jail for chewing gum (as many may have you believe), there are severe caning and death penalties for serious violations, including the possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs. However, such a violation of the law is easy to avoid, and it is not necessary to memorize a copy of all the Singapore laws. Common sense is the easiest way to avoid any serious repercussions.

While life in Singapore may not be what you are used to at home, it certainly isn’t going to be an experience with a huge amount of culture shock. Life is pretty easy here, and you will never get bored of this dynamic city. It is full of conveniences for its visitors and residents alike, and if you ever need an escape, the rest of Southeast Asia is a quick and cheap plane ride away.


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