Singapore has been ranked #1 for both quality of life and happiest country in Asia, and that’s because the economic, political, socio-cultural environments – including healthcare, education, and transportation — are all top notch.
When we ask our service providers to weigh in on the challenges expats face when settling in to life in Singapore, there are very few downsides reported. Basically speaking, according to PERC and the anecdotes we hear from our clients and assignees, it is one of the easiest countries to adjust to when relocating from virtually anywhere in the world.
In this blog, we will address the various components of expat life in Singapore, highlighting the pros and cons.
Due to the recent influx of foreign talent in Singapore, housing is no longer as cheap as it used to be. The choice of housing purely depends on budget, location, facilities/amenities, transportation and personal preferences.
Most expats prefer to live in condos, close to their place of work or their children’s schools. According to the destination service provider, Asian Welcome, the cost of housing remains the biggest challenge in terms of meeting employees’ expectation. Staying within housing budget can be achieved by managing expectations and letting assignees know what is realistic. Property websites are a popular tool for point of reference as well as educating assignees on what their money can buy and what to expect.
Supply of houses remains limited for rent but there is a good supply of condos. Prices have declined in the recent two years especially for the very high end properties. For the low to medium range, the percentage of decline is smaller as there is larger demand in this price range. Prices are dependent on locality and popularity of the development. New properties tend to be more popular and hence more demand and less negotiable in terms of rent.
According to Asian Welcome, for companies looking to control costs, cost savings can be achieved by negotiating rentals below the given budget – especially when renegotiating for renewals. Not only does the company save on the reduced rent (against market rate) but also on home finding and removal costs incurred in the event that assignee has to move. Another opportunity to save is securing a fully furnished property to rent instead of shipping household goods from home.
Singapore’s public schools have high standards of teaching and learning, with many of its students winning International competitions. The country has accommodated a growing expat community and set up many International or Foreign System schools. These schools are registered with the Ministry of Education and follow a curriculum identical to those in their home country. Very few will reject the assignment on account of no available places in the school of choice. However, they come with a price: fees per year range from S$12,000 to S$30,000.
Singapore boasts of a highly efficient, hassle-free and affordable public transportation system, which includes taxis, buses and the modern Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) rail system. These modes of transport are safe, clean, air conditioned, and efficient. Bus and rail fares are relatively cheap when compared to other countries. Taxis on the other hand are more expensive, but drivers are courteous, reliable and honest.
In order to curb traffic congestion, Singapore uses an Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system, a fee for driving on certain congested roads and expressways in the central business district. Additionally, owning a car can be extremely expensive in Singapore, costing anywhere between S$60,000-S$100,000, excluding registration, insurance and tax costs. Expats residing in Singapore for a year or more are required to have a Singapore Driving License.
Singapore is renowned for its world-class healthcare. From infrastructure, technological advancements in the health-care industry, to expert doctors and specialists, hospitals and clinics are clean, efficient and safe. In addition to registered pharmacies, pharmaceuticals are easily available in super-markets, shopping centers and departmental stores.
Singapore’s society and lifestyle is multi-cultural with Malays, Chinese, Indians and expats from various countries each maintaining their unique way of life and at the same time living harmoniously. People are amiable and courteous to each other. Singapore does have a vibrant night life and there are several bars and night clubs, but expats say that it is a bit challenging to mingle with locals, beyond friendships made with colleagues. And colleagues meet for drinks and dinner, but rarely entertain in their own homes.
Singapore is also known for its strict law enforcement procedures, and its legal framework has contributed to Singapore’s stability and security. Women can move about freely even late at night, without the fear of being harassed. Expatriates continue to cite safety as one of the most attractive features of living in Singapore.
In a nutshell, most expats find that Singapore is a great place to be for an international assignment. On the downside, assignees should be prepared to encounter:
However, on the upside, assignees can also expect to enjoy:
Special thanks to Asian Welcome, CS Mobility, and www.guidemesingapore.com for their contributions to this post.