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Top Ten Tips For Settling Into Life In Singapore

Moving to Singapore can be a challenging experience if you haven't prepared properly. Friend of Experts for Expats and Singaporean resident, Lisa Pickering, has provided us with her top 10 tips for settling into life in Singapore.

Last updated 27 November 2023 at 16:46

Singapore is a fantastic country to live in and hugely popular with expats due to its fantastic food, vibrant culture, cleanliness, great healthcare, strict laws (and therefore safety), efficient transport system and high standard of living.

It’s consistently voted one of the top expat destinations, being easy to settle into due to its small size – it’s a city as well as a country, situated on the southern tip of Malaysia, with amazing opportunities for travel throughout Asia and beyond.

As one of the wealthiest countries in the world and a major trade and finance centre, it’s also one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in as the cost of living has risen dramatically in recent years, with rental prices in some areas doubling and food costing a great deal compared to neighbouring countries.

However there are always ways round problems so here are our top-10 tips for settling into life in Singapore:

Research, research and more research

It’s very difficult to gain employment here without an EP (Employment Pass) which grants you a work visa so make sure you get a secure job offer first. Banking and finance are the biggest sectors here but almost all jobs are full time only (Singaporeans with PR status – permanent residents – are given priority for part time work) so if you have a ‘trailing spouse’ who will be on a DP (Dependant’s Pass) they need to also think about how their life will change. Then negotiate a decent salary which will cover all your costs. Draw up a budget, for example: for rent, school fees, healthcare, food, transport, bills and anything else not covered by your employment package to ensure you can afford the premium cost of living.

Paperwork and Visa preparation

Get your paperwork in order. Once you arrive, you’ll be expected to have your EP as a visa then will be required to register with the Ministry of Manpower to obtain your residency ID card and submit your fingerprints.

You then need to register with Singpass, get a local bank account (in order to be able to rent), and buy a local SIM card for your phone. Be sure to bring the originals of your qualification documents, birth certificate, marriage certificate etc. And bring cash for hawkers (food stalls) and smaller shops as cards aren’t always accepted.

Hawkers are an excellent way round the expense of food shopping here as they’re ridiculously cheap and on most street corners, selling high quality local cuisine.

Accommodation and where to live

The easiest way to do this is to either stay in a hotel initially or to rent a serviced apartment to tide you over while you find something more permanent. A property agent is a must as they will organise viewings and liaise with landlords as well as helping you negotiate the tricky details of contracts and photograph any defects meticulously in order to avoid hefty fines when you move out! Be warned that not all tenants are allowed to cook and not all places have ovens or baths!

Three months’ rent is generally required upfront along with a deposit to protect the landlord from repairs. Rent has gone through the roof in recent years especially near the city centre, for exampel Orchard Road and Marina Bay, but if you’re prepared to live further out it is cheaper. Expect at least 5000SGD a month for a three-bedroom apartment in a quieter area.

Healthcare and education

Take out health insurance if it’s not included in your package.

This is a must as healthcare is paid for in Singapore, there is no state funded health service.

Early application for school places is also advised. There are local schools and international schools but competition for places is fierce (usually through the form of an entrance exam) and fees are very expensive.

Enjoy the touristy things early

Do all the touristy things when you first arrive. Although it’s cliché, when you’re bogged down in paperwork and the boring technicalities of settling in, taking a trip to see some of Singapore’s famous sights helps remind you why you made the move!

Gardens by the bay, the iconic Merlion, Raffles Hotel, the Singapore Flier and Marina Bay Sands hotel are all top of the list but those who like nature and a bit of downtime will also like the Botanic Gardens and nature parks/hikes, plus there’s Little India and Chinatown to explore for some foodie treats!

Networking and social life

Throw yourself into socialising/networking. Life can get lonely until you make connections in any new place so join the multitude of Facebook expat forums, say yes to the invites out by the class Mums, be a member of the Whatsapp groups, arrange playdates and nights out, join societies that you’re interested in hobby-wise. Also think about volunteering if you’re on a DP – if you treat the career break as a sabbatical it can be a chance to explore careers you’ve never thought about or just feel part of the local culture/community which makes it all fell more like home.

Take time to understand the local culture

Get to know the locals. With a population of around 5 million (including over a million expats) there are a mixture of cultures in Singapore - the main being Chinese, Malay and Indian. This means all religious festivals are celebrated throughout the year including Chinese New Year, Diwali, Christmas, Mid Autumn Festival. Read up on these and go to local events.

Chat to the taxi drivers and the security guards on your condo – they’re a great source of information and inspiration! Although the main language is English, which makes chatting to locals easier, some people also speak Malay and Mandarin – make an effort to learn some basics. Singlish is also a thing over here – a mixture of English and Singaporean!

Take advantage of living in the heart of Asia

There are many quirky things to love about Singapore. The abundance of religious festivals means there are public holidays very frequently so it’s important to also take the opportunity to travel outside of Singapore.

Malaysia can be accessed by car or train, Bali is a short flight away and then there’s Thailand, Jakarta and a wealth of other Asian delights to explore. Booking things to look forward to such as holidays or even a new sport you want to try locally will lift your spirits when homesickness hits.

Be prepared for the weather

Humidity is high over here, so be prepared to sweat and don’t let it concern you as it’s completely normal. The temperature is typically 30 degrees all year round with lots of rainfall so always carry an umbrella and be prepared by getting to know your way around eg on public transport.

Taxis are notoriously hard to get when it rains, but buses and the MRT are pretty frequent and efficient. If you want a car, you first need a certificate to own one which costs over 100,000 dollars. You then need to buy the car itself and to convert your licence to a Singaporean one. For this reason, most people take public transport as it’s much cheaper!

Get professional assistance from a helper

Consider hiring a helper – there are plenty of opportunities for help including drivers, school buses, helpers/nannies, cleaners, and dog walkers. Helpers/maids typically cost around 1000SGD a month but they live in with you and you must provide them with healthcare, flights home etc. Shopping online is also a must  - most people get their food shopping delivered to save carting bags home in the heat, plus most other things can be bought online from Lazada or Amazon.

Overall, there are many pros to living in Singapore as opposed to cons as long as you have a good salary and negotiate a quality package with your employer.

Do your research beforehand, throw yourself into life once you’re here and you’ll soon settle into the Lion City!

About the author

Lisa is a Mum of two, music therapist, overthinker and ex primary school teacher. Hailing from the UK, Lisa worked in Qatar and Abu Dhabi as a teacher in her late 20s but having kids took her and her family back to the UK where she retrained in music therapy. Lisa started writing her blog in the run-up to her relocation to Singapore, hoping to document her travels as a family and help someone else along the way who might be having the same mad panic or might need some travel tips. You can read about her adventures here: