Singapore

Between 2008 and 2010 I frequently visited Singapore, and between 2011 to 2014 I lived and worked in this multicultural city-state, primarily at the Centre for Quantum Technologies. Here I share some information that might be useful for fellow tourists and expats, focusing on practical information rather than stereotypes along the lines of "Disneyland with the death penalty".

 

  1. Accommodation
  2. Transport
  3. Digital Connectivty
  4. Employment
  5. Getaway Hub
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1. Accommodation

Being one of the most expensive cities in the word, it's not surprising that accommodation tops the list of worries for short-term and long-term visitors alike. Unlike neighboring countries, upscale hotels and quality housing are very expensive in Singapore.

Short-term visitors on a small budget may want to look at Airbnb or couchsurfing. Airbnb has recently become very popular in Singapore, to the extent that the government took notice and is trying to curb its usage. Despite its ambiguous legal status, visitors using Airbnb are very unlikely to get in trouble with the authorities. Locals renting out their subsidized housing are more likely to become the target of the government's ire.

Long-term visitors looking for affordable quality housing could consider finding a flatshare or starting a new one. They are not only perfectly legal, but also very popular among young expats in their 20s and 30s living in Singapore. Many of those flatshares are in condominiums which offer awesome facilities such as swimming pools, gym, BBQ pits, sports facilities and more. A room in a condo flatshare will set you back around S$1000 to S$1500 per month.

 

2. Transport

Unlike accommodation, transport is surprisingly affordable in Singapore, whether it is bus, subway (MRT) or taxi. The only exception is owning and maintaining a car, which is *very* expensive. But thanks to the excellent public transport network and the small geographic size of Singapore, owning a car is luxury rather than necessity.

Getting an EZ-Link card is one the first things to do when arriving in Singapore, even as a short-term visitor. This cash card allows for contactless payments in busses and MRT. Virtually everyone in Singapore is using it, not least because fares are cheaper with it. EZ-Link cards can be bought and topped up at any MRT station. All busses and MRT entry/exit gates are equipped with electronic card readers that automatically deduct the correct amount from your card. When riding the bus, it's important to scan your card both at boarding and alighting. If you forget to scan it when alighting, it will automatically deduct the maximum bus fare from your card, usually resulting in a hefty overcharge.

Some useful Android apps for public transport are the following: GrabTaxi allows you to book a licensed taxi and subsequently provides you with the name, license plate and GPS location of the cabby while you're waiting for your ride. SGbuses provides you with the estimated arrival time of any bus line at any bus stop, thus allowing you to plan your trips more strategically (a word of caution: the displayed times are not always reliable, which is not the app's fault, but rather that of the bus companies).

 

3. Digital Connectivity

The three telecommunications companies in Singapore - M1, StarHub and SingTel - offer comparable tariffs and network coverage. Local prepaid SIM cards can be bought right at the airport, and can be topped up at most ATM machines and convenience stores. Prepaid SIMs do however expire after some time, typically 6 months after the last top-up. It's possible to top up from abroad too, which can be convenient for frequent visitors who don't want to change their mobile number with each trip.

Singapore is covered by an extensive network of free WiFi spots at shopping centres, bus stops, Changi airport, and so on. The network name is Wireless@SG, and the hotspots are operated by the three telecommunications companies. The mandatory registration process can however prove tricky for non-residents, because a Singaporean mobile number and/or Singaporean ID number may be required during the online registration process. An option to register as a visitor is usually available too, but this may not be free.

 

4. Employment

Featuring high quality of life, low crime and one of the lowest tax rates in the world, Singapore is an attractive destination both for employers and employees. White-collar workers receive an Employment Pass (EP) in the shape of a credit card, which functions as their visa and identity document. There exist several sub-categories of EPs, depending on qualifications and annual base income, and which come with small differences in privileges (such as bringing along family members). EPs need to be renewed every 1-2 years and whenever you change your employer. Upon termination of your employment, you need to return your EP to your employer and you will receive an official letter stating the due day by which you must leave Singapore. This official letter also acts as a substitute for the Disembarkation Card, and needs to be presented to the checkpoint authorities at the departure hall when leaving Singapore.

After you have been gainfully employed for at least one year, ideally 2-3 years, you can apply to become a Permanent Resident (PR). This status comes with a wealth of privileges (such as indefinite residency, subsidized health care, lower tax rates) as well as some responsibilities (such as compulsory military service for males, though seldom required from first-generation PRs). After a few years you can apply for citizenship. Singapore does not recognize dual citizenship, so you would have to renounce your previous citizenship.

Due to the large influx of skilled foreign talent over the past decade, requirements for both EP and PR have been stiffened in recent years, and these statuses are not granted as easily anymore. As a rule of thumb, the better your credentials (education, income, employer, volunteer work) and the longer you have been in Singapore, the better your chances are.

 

5. Getaway Hub

South-East Asia is an incredibly exciting travelling destination, both for the culturally-minded and the leisure-minded tourist. A huge advantage of living and working in Singapore is that it lies in the geographical heart of South-East Asia. Is is therefore the perfect getaway hub for brief and inexpensive holidays in nearby countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar. Many Singaporeans, even those on lower incomes, enjoy travelling in the region during weekends on cheap budget airline deals. Singapore itself may not offer as much in terms of tourist activities, but you will certainly appreciate its safety and cleanliness while living there for longer periods!