Moving to Singapore
English is an official language of Singapore, along with Tamil, Malay and Mandarin, and is also very much the lingua franca for all official, legal and business transactions. On the street, most Singaporeans speak English with varying degrees of fluency.
Singapore is a young country and contains an incredibly diverse range of peoples and cultures - probably one of the highest concentrations of different ethnicities, languages and faiths anywhere on earth - from Christian Chinese to Islamic Malay. As such there’s no one set of recognisable customs or mutually agreed cultural denominator.
This diversity can be thrilling for new arrivals but can also lead to a sense of alienation or isolation so be sure to integrate as much as possible with other expats in the same situation.
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The public transport system in Singapore is good enough that cars aren’t a necessity but you’ll want to make sure that where you choose to live has suitable amenities and, if necessary, access to schools.
The explosion in financial services in Singapore over recent years has meant that there are many opportunities for Brits who’ve cut their teeth in London. Employers will often throw in sweeteners to salaries and bonuses in order to compensate for the upheaval - including transport, school fees, childcare etc - and slightly higher costs of living. So while your stay in Singapore might not be forever, it can certainly be lucrative.
If you're moving to Singapore from anywhere in the world, there are a few things you shoulddo your research on including the property and job markets, neighborhoods, the education system if you have children and shipping your belongings to your new place.
Moving to Singapore from the UK
Singapore, also known as the Lion City, was for many years simply a trading post for the British East India Company. It later became the global centre for rubber exports and, as a vital strategic position, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill described its capture by the Japanese Army in 1942 as "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history". Claimed again by Britain at the end of the war it was not until 1963 that Singapore declared its independence from the old Empire and became part of Malaysia. That union lasted only until 1965 when Singapore again declared independence - this time as a city state and parliamentary republic with sights set firmly on the goal of becoming a ‘First World’ nation.
A city of extremes, Singapore has the world’s highest percentage of millionaires (measured in US dollars), one of the world’s five largest ports, is the world’s biggest oil-rig producer, has the world’s highest trade to GDP ratio and is emerging as a financial centre to rival New York and London.
Moving to Singapore will see you join a large community of expats - 37% of the population are permanent residents or foreign workers while 23% of citizens were born overseas - here to enjoy the abundant economic opportunities and the tropical climate.
Comparing Singapore vs London
When you make the move from London to Singapore you certainly don’t have to take your winter woolies with you. Singapore sees year round average temperatures of 23 to 32 °C. It doesn't so much experience weather as climate - it’s always hot, always humid and rains about 50% of the time with heavier downpours in the monsoon season between November and January.
In terms of pollution, crime and the cost of living, Singapore deals on pretty equal terms with the UK capital but property prices are even more prohibitively expensive than those in London, already some of the highest in the world. Healthcare is of a high standard in Singapore but not free at the point of delivery as it is in the UK. Health insurance is therefore highly recommended.
The cultural diversity in the Lion City means that it outstrips London in terms of the range of food on offer and eating out is cheaper by far.
Art aficionados will find that Singapore can’t match London in that respect but there is a growing performing arts and music scene. A new performing arts centre, Esplanade, opened in the bay in 2002 and hosts concerts by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. There is also an annual Singapore Arts Festival which runs for a whole month and incorporates theatre, dance, music and visual arts.
Property in Singapore
What with the high concentration of millionaires in Singapore there’s plenty of cash around to keep pushing prices up - a trend that’s been going on for quite some years already and which has left the cost of housing in the Republic incredibly high. The government has introduced many measures to try to cool the property market and make homes more affordable - even raising property taxes to 20% for the most expensive homes - but none of them has so far worked.
The price of a three bedroom apartment ranges from around S$600,000 (about £318,000) for a condo in Fernvale, 17km north of the city centre, right up to around S$40,000,000 (around £21.2m) for a freehold apartment in the Hamilton Scotts building with two parking bays (that are actually in your apartment - the elevator brings up your car).
Renting then might seem like a far more sensible option for a foreign worker or new permanent resident and is by far the most popular option with current expats.
The cost of renting in Singapore ranges from S$13,000 (about £7,000) per month for a luxury waterfront apartment, right down to S$2,500 for a government housing flat (or HDB) on the outskirts, and covers the full range in between.
- Family Friendly: Bukit Batok, Clementi, Jurong, Upper Bukit Timah and Tuas to the west are close to the zoo,with some excellent schools and homes with gardens.
- Hip and Trendy: The city, at the south tip of the island, affords easy access to the CBD, nightlife and shopping highlights but it’s also noisy and crowded.
- Upmarket: Serangoon, Bishan, Ang Mo Kio and Thomson are all located in the centre where there are lots of parks and shops but watch out for rush hour!
- Up and Coming: Woodgrove, Woodlands, Sembawang and Seletar to the north offer views of the Malaysian mainland and lots of greenery. Commuting to the CBD from here though can take a long time.
Schools and Education in Singapore
The Ministry of Education in Singapore provides education in English and oversees a system widely regarded as one of the best in the world. Singaporean citizens are educated for free whereas other residents must pay for a state education. In a system which experiences high demand, citizens are given places before expats.
Even if you do manage to get your child into a state school they may have trouble adjusting to the extremely rigorous standards - top schools have been know to exclude underperforming pupils and competitive pressures are high.
Private schooling, such as at the prestigious United World College South East Asia (UWCSEA), often follows an International Baccalaureate program. Fees range from S$22,000 (£11,660) to nearly S$30,000 (£15,800) including board.
The Republic has two main universities - the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University - both of which regularly make it into the Times Higher Education top 100 institutions.