21 Things to Know Before Moving to Singapore
Moving to Singapore will provide you with lots of new exciting opportunities – incredible scenery, clean streets, safe neighbourhoods, excellent healthcare, and a huge expat community.
This multicultural city has a lot to offer expats.
But before you start packing your bags, make sure to check out our list of things to know about Singapore – whether it’s just to learn more or to hype you up before your move.
Singapore's giant Supertrees illuminated in a deep-purple glow
1. ‘Singlish’ is very common
English-speaking expats shouldn’t have any problems getting around Singapore. As one of the nation's main languages, Singapore's government insists that everyone in the country should speak English.
It's the language most used in schools, at work, and in government, and has even evolved into a new language: ‘Singlish’. This all started off with the British colonisation of Singapore, which began in 1819. Over time more than 150 years of influence from Mandarin, Hokkien, Malay, and Tamil morphed English into the new language of Singlish.
2. Prepare for the humidity
Since the island lies just above the equator, Singapore’s climate is about as tropical as it gets. Here, you can expect 30°C weather all year round – that’s right, 12 months a year of soaking in the sun.
Thankfully, most homes come with air-con, which will provide you with a welcome break from the heat during peak summer.
3. You’ll need a job before you move
Singapore has very strict visa and employment laws, which regulate who can and can’t work in the country.
Basically, this means most people will need to secure a job – or an ‘offer in principle’ – before moving to Singapore. Once this is confirmed, you can get an employment pass from the Ministry of Manpower.
4. Healthcare is top-notch
You can look forward to excellent medical care in Singapore, thanks to its universal healthcare system, which is funded by the government and the public.
There are three parts of the country’s healthcare system, known as the three Ms: MediSave, MediShield Life, and MediFund. MediFund is for citizens only, while MediSave and MediShield Life are open to permanent residents, or the spouse, child, or parent of a permanent resident.
Unlike the NHS, this system comes at a cost. Singaporean authorities subsidise medical services and oblige the public to pay a monthly amount into what amounts to a healthcare savings account, which they can then use to buy these discounted services.
5. Everything is spotless
As soon as you step off the plane, one of the first things you’ll notice about Singapore is how clean everything is.
This city’s cleanliness goes way back to the 1980s, when Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, banned things like chewing gum and fined people who didn’t flush public toilets.
To this day, there are still harsh fines and punishments handed out to anyone who litters. First-time offenders who throw small items, like cigarette butts or candy wrappers, are fined SGD $300 (£162).
6. Get used to using public transport
Just like everything else in Singapore, the public transport is in pristine condition – it's cheap and efficient too. Even a 20-minute delay can make national news.
Due to its small size, the city-state has invested heavily in its public transport infrastructure and is currently in the middle of extending the MRT (Singapore’s version of London’s Tube).
On top of this, buying a car in Singapore can be a little trickier than you might be used to. Firstly, it’s not as cheap as other countries – and if you can afford it, you’ll also have to pay the government for a Certificate of Entitlement (COE), which is almost the same cost as the car itself!
7. Singapore isn’t cheap…
One thing you’ll notice when visiting Singapore is how much more expensive everything is compared with other areas in Asia – and the rest of the world, for that matter.
To put this into context, the average cost of living in Singapore is 13% more expensive than in the UK.
As a result, Singapore's millionaire density (percentage of total population who are millionaires) is the second-highest in Asia, at 5.5%.
8. …But it can be affordable – if you know where to look
Yes, Singapore can be bougie, but it doesn’t have to be. If you can live without high-end dinners and hotels with fancy infinity pools, then you’ll find that Singapore can be pretty affordable.
When it comes to getting around, use public transport rather than splashing out on a car. Not only are the buses, taxis, and the MRT all very affordable, but they’re also very efficient.
On top of this, you can also shop at local food outlets – although cheap, the quality of food at most of these food stalls are excellent.
9. Look for a short-term lease before you move
Like many things in Singapore, the price of property is particularly steep, with the average house costing SGD $1,183,375 (£639,676). This can make the first few months a little more stressful for expats, and can also make it even harder to find the right place for them.
Many expats sidestep this issue by looking for temporary accommodation in Singapore for the first few weeks or months. This way, people can scope out different areas and figure out what will work best for them, and give them a better chance of swerving sky-high prices.
10. Beware of the fines
Singapore is famous for its harsh fines and punishments, so make sure to be on your best behaviour. Before you set foot on Singaporean soil, it’s worth familiarising yourself with some basic laws.
Although there are some reasonable rules out there – for example, it’s against the law to eat or drink on the MRT, litter, jaywalk, or spit – some are a little more on the strict side.
Want to feed the pigeons? Not unless you’d like to receive a fine. Thinking about importing chewing gum? Absolutely no chance.
The bustling city-state of Singapore, lit up at dusk
11. It’s nicknamed The Garden City
Despite being a very built-up city, there’s plenty of greenery in Singapore, which is why it’s nicknamed The Garden City.
The island’s enthusiasm for nature goes back to 1963, when its founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, set out a vision for Singapore to have a clean and green environment. A series of tree-planting campaigns were launched and continue to this day – with up to 2,000 trees being planted around the city each year. In 2014 alone, roughly 38,000 new trees were added to the city.
12. Coffee shops aren’t what you’re used to
In most places around the world, coffee shops have one main purpose: to serve cups of coffee to customers.
In Singapore, however, they work a little differently. Here, coffee shops are practically the same as the city’s food courts. As well as serving up coffee, you can also expect these sites to house between 8-15 food and drink stalls. Usually located outside of shopping malls, these coffee shops are extremely popular with locals and tourists alike.
Some of the best coffee shops include Heap Seng Leong, Tong Ah Eating House, and YY Kafei Dian.
13. Forget about tipping
You won’t need to set aside money for tipping in Singapore. Whilst hospitality staff are well looked after, they typically don’t get tipped because a 10% service charge and 7% Goods and Services Tax is already accounted for in the bills.
Of course, if you’re feeling generous, tip away! But it’s less common than in other countries.
14. You can live a low-tax life
One of the main upsides to living in Singapore is the relatively low-income tax rates.
Tax residents (people staying in the country for over 183 days per year) are taxed at progressive rates – ranging from 0%-22% – whereas non-residents are taxed at the flat rate of 15%.
On top of this, the standard tax rate on goods and services is currently 7%, which is much lower than the UK’s VAT of 20%.
The colourful street of Buffalo Road in Little India, Singapore
15. Singapore is a safe city
Singapore was ranked as the fourth safest country in a World's Safest Countries study, trailing behind Iceland, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.
Again, residents have the city’s strict laws to thank for this level of safety. Punishments for lawbreakers can be harsh in Singapore – you can receive corporal punishment (such as caning), imprisonment, and even death.
Singapore is, however, more dangerous for some people than others. It’s officially illegal to be gay in Singapore. It’s also illegal to protest without a permit, which might further suppress vulnerable groups.
16. Singapore is a very multicultural city
Expats will be pleased to know that there are lots of foreigners living in Singapore. In 2020, the Singapore expat population stood at 1.64 million – almost 29% of the nation's population.
Having other foreigners around can not only help expats adjust to their new home abroad, but it can also welcome them to new and exciting cultures.
17. Reserve your seat with packets of tissues
Want to have a meal at one of Singapore’s coffee shops or food halls? Make sure to look out for one of the city-state’s quirkiest traditions: placing packets of tissues on tables.
For locals, this means the table has been reserved – or ‘choped’ – so make sure not to claim seats with tissues on, or risk upsetting your new neighbours.
18. Keep to the left on escalators
As a way to reduce congestion in the city, and allow people in a rush to pass, people stand on the left side of the escalator.
If you’re moving to Singapore from London, it might take a few times to remember to stand on the left, not the right. Thankfully, this unspoken rule is not a law, so you won’t get in trouble if you forget to do it – you might just get some frowning faces.
19. Alcohol is off the table after 10.30pm
In 2013, the Little India Riot happened in Singapore. A bus fatally hit a pedestrian, and angry mobs of passersby (who witnesses claimed were drunk) began to attack the bus involved, as well as emergency vehicles that had by then arrived at the location.
This led the Singapore government to issue the Liquor Control Act – a statute that bans the sale of alcohol between 10.30pm and 7am at supermarkets, convenience stores, and petrol stations.
Some places, such as Geylang and Little India, are considered to be problem areas, so they have even harsher restrictions.
To avoid getting a fine, make sure either stick to drinking at home during these times, or drink at the bars during permitted hours.
20. There’s a lot of wildlife
Singapore might be the third-most densely populated country in the world, but it’s also home to some beautiful creatures.
The Raffles’ banded langur – a small endangered monkey – is only found in Singapore’s Central Catchment Nature Reserve and in Johor, Malaysia. You can also find two species of endangered sea turtles around the Southern Islands of Singapore. There have even been sightings of crocodiles lurking in the Singapore and Kallang Rivers.
Wildlife lovers will also be drawn to Singapore's semi-manmade Supertrees. These 18 towering structures range from 25 metres to 50 metres high – each with its own personality from the specific plants, environmental function, and the way they are lit at night.
21. Weekend getaways are unmatched
Despite all of these interesting things, you might want to escape Singapore for a weekend away every now and then. Thankfully, Singapore’s location means you have some of the world’s breathtaking locations just a stone’s throw away.
Bali, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia are all practically around the corner, which means it’s never been easier to see every nook and cranny of Asia.
There you have it – 21 things you need to know about Singapore before packing your bags.
Feeling excited to start your life in The Garden City? You might want to suss out a few more things first. To get a better idea of what you need to get organised, check out our articles below: