An American homemaker and mother of two has had to uproot her life twice in the last five years. She moved all the way from her small hometown in the US to reside in Hong Kong and now, Singapore. Through her lens as someone who is environmentally-conscious, health-conscious and culture-loving, Heather dishes the good, the bad and the ugly of relocating to this cosmopolitan metropolis.
From getting scammed by pseudo bus operators to having a go-to local chicken store, Heather shares her honest and interesting account of living in Singapore.
Having just moved to Hong Kong from the US a few years ago, Heather had to uproot her life again last December after finally settling down in Hong Kong. From getting scammed by pseudo bus operators to having a go-to local chicken store, Heather shares her honest and interesting account of living in Singapore.
After living in Singapore for 10 months, she voices the very real frustrations of having to adapt as an expat here. Perhaps her frustrations will resonate with you if you already live here or they might provide you with a realistic view of relocating to Singapore. She also offered some tips, when we sat down with her, on how you can avoid the challenges she faced.
Bear in mind, however, that every expat has experiences that are unique to them. Do keep the tips in mind but remember to still have an open mind when relocating to Singapore.
- Grocery Shopping
- Eating Out
- Making Friends
- General Advice
- Final Thoughts
1. Weather ⛅
Singapore, unlike the US, only has one season throughout the year – summer. It’s always sunny and it occasionally rains. In comparison to Hong Kong, the weather in Singapore is far more stable and calmer and you will not be exposed to the same harsh weather conditions as Hong Kong. This also means you can don warm weather gear all year long.
Use apps like SG Weather to check for weather forecasts, especially if you have children who play sports. The app indicates where lightning strikes are present, and you can determine if it’s safe for your children to play outside.
Although it’s not very sustainable, air-conditioning is an absolute must in homes, particularly at night. A lot of houses in Singapore have ceiling fans too which can be used during the day in an effort to be more environmentally friendly. You should also use a dehumidifier if you have items (e.g. wooden items) you want to protect from humidity.
2. Housing 🏠
There are many things to take into consideration when choosing your house in Singapore.
Your Own Expectations
It can be difficult to find a house which fits your expectations exactly.
Heather’s was a 3-bedroom apartment as well as a separate room and bathroom for her helper. The latter was extremely important to her as she wanted her helper to have her own space and privacy.
Distance to School and Work
When choosing the area of residence, try to pick a home that is equidistant between your husband’s office as well as your children’s school.
If you have children, choosing a school has to be your top priority before making other big decisions like finding housing. If your kids are extremely young, you wouldn’t want them to be on public transport for too long either.
However, as international schools in Singapore don’t inform expats of vacancy immediately and often leave you on a waitlist, it can be tricky trying to choose a home based on unconfirmed information from schools.
In addition, if your husband moves before you and your family and you’re in charge of finding the house, it will be no mean feat trying to search for residency here from overseas.
Another frustration finding housing is that a lot of apartments here have built-in furniture which is perfectly fine if you don’t possess any furniture. But if you do have your own furniture, then be prepared to sell some of your furniture.
If you decide to bring the furniture to Singapore first and sell the ones you don’t need here, you can use Carousell, an app that allows you to buy and sell second-hand goods.
3. Transport 🚇
Trains and buses here are clean, efficient and punctual. However, they are often crowded so prepare yourself to stand the entire ride.
Expat children are not entitled to the same EZ-Link card concessions as children who are either citizens or Permanent Residents and are required to pay full fares. While unfair, it’s the harsh reality of living in Singapore as an expat.
Take public transport as much as possible. It’s environmentally friendly, air-conditioned and sometimes faster than taking a cab.
Cars are a huge investment especially for expats who won’t know where their jobs will take them in five years’ time. If you’re living here for a few years, it’s definitely not worth it to buy a car but if you’re here for at least ten years, then it may be a worthwhile investment.
Private Hire Cars
Heather often uses Grab and Gojek to drop her kids off at their after school activities. Although it’s very convenient, it can get rather expensive, especially during peak hours.
- Use Google Maps to navigate throughout Singapore. It is the most reliable and accurate app. The timings are almost always precise and you can map your route to any place. It lists exactly what form(s) of public transport you have to take to get to your destination.
- Getting an EZ-Link card is straightforward. You just have to go to a kiosk at any train station to purchase a card.
4. Banking 🏦
Banking here can sometimes be very long and arduous to set up so be prepared to face a lot of hurdles. It proved to be incredibly frustrating for Heather as at least one out of ten cheques that she signed would get bounced back because the banks couldn’t recognise her signature. Even GIRO, which is supposed to make payments more convenient, was inefficient and difficult to set up.
5. Grocery Shopping 🍎
Brick and Mortar Supermarkets
You should primarily patronise FairPrice. Save Cold Storage, a considerably more expensive supermarket with a huge mark-up on the same goods, for special occasions or if you need a specific brand or item. Most of the produce in Cold Storage is imported from overseas, so it’s not very eco-friendly to be consuming Cold Storage goods either.
Use RedMart for bulky items (e.g. detergent) that you wouldn’t want you or your helper to have to carry from the supermarket.
Order some scrumptious chicken from this Facebook site! They bring fresh chicken directly to your doorstep, all the way from Malaysia. It’s unfrozen and barely refrigerated.
For certain meat like beef, Heather’s family really enjoy premium quality, so they splurge a little once or twice a month at a speciality store. The cons of importing food is that it’s not environmentally-friendly and the meat is two weeks old by the time it reaches here.
- Your cooking habits will naturally change based on the availability of food items. Not changing may cost you a fortune.
- Of course, if you want to maintain traditions that are important to you at home, you absolutely can. Whether it’s a particular breakfast cereal your family likes or Taco Tuesday, by all means, do your best to preserve it.
6. Eating Out 🍴
Heather doesn’t subscribe to local hawker centres because the food is quite unhealthy and since her family adopts a vegetable-heavy diet, she prefers to eat in for the most part. It’s also much cheaper to cook at home than it is to eat out.
When her family does go out to eat once a week, they opt for relatively affordable restaurants (e.g. Bar Bar Black Sheep) or food courts (e.g. Food Republic). If guests visit, they’re willing to splurge a bit more than they typically would and bring them to high-end bars like One Altitude.
7. Helper 🏃🏻♀️
A concept unique to a few countries like Singapore, helpers are full-time, stay-at-home nannies who help you cook, take care of your kids and clean your house. There is no hard and fast rule for hiring the right helper. You’ll find the right person for your family through trial and error.
You also need to decide if having a helper is for you. There will be compromises involved such as less privacy for your family. If you’re working full time or have young children that are involved in multiple activities and need adults to ferry them around, then a helper might be of great use to you. When hiring a helper, you also need to know what you’re looking for and which aspect of household chores you’ll need more assistance on.
When it comes to raising the children and instilling values, Heather and her husband have strict control in that realm. Having a helper could impact how your children are raised. It is pertinent you teach your children to pick up after themselves so they don’t grow up pampered.
8. Safety 🚦
Singapore is known worldwide for being one of the world’s safest cities and its low crime rate but it’s not without its faults.
Expats, who are often seen as clueless about the local culture, are often the target of scams in Singapore. Heather, unfortunately, fell prey to one. Bus operators occasionally do random EZ-Link checks on buses to see if all the passengers have paid their bus fare. On two occasions, someone under the guise of an operator scammed Heather and others on the bus of money by deducting cash from their EZ-Link cards.
Although you’re an expat, don’t be afraid to ask what people are doing and do voice out your concerns.
9. Culture 👘
Heather was able to understand English-speaking Singaporeans perfectly. The only people she had difficulties communicating with were those who didn’t know English. For instance, her children’s bus uncles and aunties couldn’t speak in English, which proved to be difficult because she couldn’t communicate with them to find out if the bus was delayed.
There is an eclectic mix of festivities in Singapore which will take you on a rich cultural experience. Heather came in at the tail end of Deepavali last year which is one of the most vibrant festivals in Singapore. The government sometimes sends you a pamphlet informing you about Singapore’s diverse population and cultural Do’s and Don’ts such as what to gift a particular race or religion when visiting them.
Singaporeans are very shy and tend to keep to themselves, so if you live amongst locals, don’t expect them to be very forthcoming.
10. Travel 🛫
While Singaporeans enjoy visa-free access to 189 countries, it’s a privilege many other nationalities are not entitled to. There’s an additional step to travelling for expats – visa application. This does, however, depend on your nationality as well as the country you’re intending to travel to.
As an American, Heather could go to Thailand without a visa but she still has to apply for a visa if she wants to go to Cambodia or Vietnam.
With Singapore being right smack in the middle of Southeast Asia, you can reach numerous countries within a few hours’ time. Coupled with cheap flight tickets, travelling to another country has a very low barrier to entry from Singapore.
Heather brings up a very valid concern: the environmental cost of travelling frequently. While it’s exciting exploring a new country and escaping temporarily from the stresses of life, it comes at a huge cost to the environment, a topic that is becoming increasingly relevant today.
11. Making Friends 👭
Heather found friends through multiple areas such as:
- School: Drop your kids off at their after school activities and talk to the other parents there.
- Gym: A common hobby will help to break the ice with new people.
- Facebook Expat Groups: Join groups of your liking so you’ll meet people with shared interests. If you’re moving, then join an expat group specific to the area. People in the group will share moving tips, what moving company they used and will describe differences between the country you’re moving from and the country you’re moving to.
12. Tourism 📸
Some of her personal favourite spots to visit that she’d recommend you to check out are:
- Asian Civilisations Museum
- Little India
- China Town
- Masjid Sultan Mosque
Be prepared to have your eyes opened! Depending on where you’re from, your impression and definition of Asia would be drastically different from what it actually is. These cultural hubbubs will give you a comprehensive view of Asia and its vibrancy.
The only drawback of some of these attractions is that they can only be enjoyed at full price for expats; only locals are permitted free or subsidised entry.
- Airport: has a brand-spanking-new shopping mall, Jewel, which hosts the world’s largest and tallest indoor waterfall
- Art Science Museum
- Night Safari
- Zoo: if you’re an animal lover like Heather, you’ll also be happy to find that our zoo treats animals well
- Sentosa Luge
There are plenty of activities to do here but as most expats will agree, these activities are overpriced and should only be indulged in at most once.
- MacRitchie TreeTop Walk
- Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Although Singapore is hot and it may get difficult to go outdoors, do take some time to visit these popular hiking trails.
13. General Advice on Moving to Singapore 📞
- Take up swimming as a hobby to combat the hot weather
- Expect to spend a lot of money because of the high cost of living
- Embrace and support the local culture
- Try to adapt to local cuisine by changing your cooking habits slightly
- Try some new ingredients. In doing so, you will also expand your palette and you’ll be able to enjoy more cuisines!
- Importing and sourcing ingredients from overseas can be very expensive
- Go to local wet markets instead of shopping at expensive supermarkets like Cold Storage
14. Final Thoughts 💭
Heather’s advice to someone relocating for the first time would be to decide what you’re going to hold onto and cherish that. Hold onto it tight but embrace everything else about the new country. Make sure it’s something that can be reinforced wherever you are. For her, that was celebrating Christmas the same way she celebrated it in the US. It meant having to lug an extra 20 kilograms of Christmas decorations, buying a live Christmas tree and having a traditional Christmas dinner, all of which came at a high price, but it was fine by her because it’s their tradition and she wanted to uphold it. Remember to share your culture back home with your kids so they don’t lose touch with their roots.
In addition, try to find a friend (or an anchor) here before moving to a new country. Preferably someone who is at a similar point in life as you so they can share relevant tips.
And lastly, be prepared for mishaps and learn to laugh about it, else you’ll go crazy!
This article is part of an ongoing project to share relocation narratives. We are collating first-hand accounts of expats’ relocation experiences in the hopes that it will provide you with valuable tips.
You can play your part in this story by sharing a page from your life with us. Reach out to us today
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