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Expat Stories: What You Need to Know About Moving to Singapore

The next installment in the Expat Interview Series! I’ve reached out to expats in different countries to hear why people might choose to move abroad, and how they do it. If you want to know more about moving to a particular country this is the place. If you’re interested in taking part or want to see a certain place featured let me know!

I’ve been to Singapore twice and both times I thought it was somewhere I could see myself returning to and living for a little while. I feel like you’d get to know the city and some amazing spots, plus take advantage of travelling all around Asia from there! Luckily, Marianne from Mum on the Move agreed to share her experience of living in Singapore so we can all find out a bit more about what it’s really like! 

Tell us about yourself

I’m Marianne and I’m a British Expat currently living in Sydney with my family, including two kids aged 5 and 7. We moved to Sydney just a month ago and before that, we lived in Singapore and Hong Kong for 11 years.

I was born in Vanuatu and grew up in Papua New Guinea, and have also lived in England, Spain, Portugal, Costa Rica and Scotland – so I have been moving around all my life.

What made you decide to move to Singapore?

We chose to move to Singapore after visiting there on vacation. We had a stopover on our way back from Borneo and just fell in love with it. We had had a very active trip to Borneo and so when we got to Singapore we just chilled out and instead of doing all the main attractions, we just took our time to wander around and we got a real feel for life there.

I remember seeing all these expats enjoying the outdoor lifestyle and having alfresco after-work drinks by the river… and we knew we wanted to be part of it! We were living in Scotland at the time, but as I had grown up an expat in a warm climate, this made me realise how much I missed it.

As soon as we got back to Scotland we worked out how to make it happen. Within a year my husband had a job lined up and we moved to Singapore!

Expat Interview: Moving to Singapore

Tell me about the cost of living in Singapore

Singapore is an expensive place to live so you need to be making a good salary to enjoy the good life here. The good news is that salaries tend to be high and tax is low.

Housing costs have come down a lot since we first moved there but still, our last apartment cost more than $6,000 USD per month. This was a nice 4-bedroom apartment in the middle of the city with facilities such as swimming pool, gym and playground so you can definitely choose to live a lot cheaper. But a lot of expats choose to live in this style of accommodation.

Alcohol is highly taxed in Singapore so you will spend around $10 USD on a beer and you can forget buying a drinkable bottle of wine in a supermarket for less than $20 USD. You can counteract this by eating in local hawker centres, where you can get amazing food for very little and using public transport, which is very cheap.

Expat Interview: Moving to Singapore

How did you find the job seeking process or how did you make a living in Singapore?

We were lucky as my husband managed to get a job transfer internally with the bank he was working for. I gave up my business in the UK and started working as a freelance writer when we moved to Singapore.

A lot of expats move to Singapore to work in banking/finance or the oil industry. Other expat friends there work as lawyers, doctors or teachers at one of the international schools.

As a non-Singaporean you need a valid work permit to be resident here, and if you lose your job you only have 4 weeks to find another one or leave the country! (you could exit and re-enter on a tourist visa temporarily). Usually, you will be sponsored by your company for your visa. Some expats choose to become permanent residents to give them more stability.

Expat Interview: Moving to Singapore

What’s the social scene like? How easy is it to make friends?

The expat life in Singapore is incredibly social and it is very easy to make friends. The expat community is very transient, with people leaving and arriving all the time. Everyone can remember what it is like being the new person in town and so everyone is always very welcoming.

Most families have live-in domestic helpers, and so even if you have young kids your social life can continue almost as normal, as you have a live-in babysitter! This means that people have very active social lives, with after-work drinks, mid-week dinners etc all commonplace.

Expat Interview: Moving to Singapore

What’s the best thing about living in Singapore?

For me, the best thing about living in Singapore is the weather and outdoor lifestyle. The weather is hot and humid all year round, and although you get big tropical downpours, you also get a lot of sunshine. Because expats often live in condos with swimming pools, it’s a bit of a resort lifestyle. It takes a bit of getting used to because all weekend you feel like you are on vacation! The food is also amazing.

Singapore is super easy if you have kids, there is so much to do with kids in Singapore and you also have help at home, which makes a huge difference to your quality of life.

What’s the hardest thing about living in Singapore?

The hardest thing about living in Singapore is the transient nature of the expat community. While it is great to constantly be able to make new friends, this also means that you are always having to say goodbye to old ones. If you are a long-termer, this can be hard after a while – both for you and your kids.

Expat Interview: Moving to Singapore

How is your new home different from your old one?

We are now living in Sydney and I feel like I have left the ‘expat bubble’ and returned to ‘normal’ life. This has advantages – such as a house with a garden, being able to go on road trips at the weekend, and a more stable lifestyle for the kids, I sure miss my live-in babysitter and mid-week cocktails with the girls!

If we had just one day in Singapore what should we not miss?

Wandering around Chinatown and Little India, eating in a hawker centre, evening drinks in Boat Quay or at one of Singapore’s fabulous roof bars.

When you think of your expat home, what comes to mind?

People often dismiss Singapore as ‘boring’ or ‘sterile’. If you compare it to other crazier Asian cities, then yes it is definitely more westernised, and clean and efficiently run. But you know what this means? It is an AMAZING place to live! It is stunningly beautiful, with amazing architecture, plenty of greenery, fabulous food, good public transport, efficient infrastructure… it may not be as exciting a cultural experience for a tourist, but it is a fabulous environment for its residents.

Expat Interview: Moving to Singapore

Can you share your best local/insider tip about where you live?

Singapore is the ‘gateway to Southeast Asia’ – and there are loads of cheap airlines that can connect you to most places in Southeast Asia within a couple of hours flight. Most expats spend their first year traveling like crazy and this is a real bonus of living here.

If you could give one piece of advice to people looking to live in Singapore, what would it be?

Do it! Our 7 years in Singapore were awesome. I would move back in a heartbeat.

You can read more about Marianne and her family’s adventures on her blog, Mum on the Move, or follow along on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter

Looking for more stories about expat life and moving abroad? Check out the expat interviews section!

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