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A week in the life of an expat in Singapore

Updated 20 Nov 2012

Singapore, a little island off the tip of Malaysia, has quickly grown to one of the world’s most prosperous countries; and expats from all over the globe have relocated to pinch their very own little piece of the pie in this terminally hot, rainforest climate. Though the city-state claims a mere five million people, and is well-known for its impeccable infrastructure, there is still much to acclimate to before expat life in Singapore becomes routine.

A week in the life of an expat in Singapore


9.30am – Finding big, little kid’s clothes

I’m calling for a taxi now to come in 20 minutes' time. Sometimes in Singapore, like when it’s raining (which is often), it just takes a while to get a cab. I’m heading into the infamous Orchard shopping area, which is traditionally more expensive, but also the easiest place to find bigger clothes for my American children. My kids have not become chubby here, it’s just that the clothes in Singapore are made for the smaller statures of the locals, and not for the broad shoulders and chests my kids have. I’ve learned to buy a size or two larger than what I purchased in the US.  

12.30pm – A dying art, and a delicious lunch

There is nothing like a delicious lunch after a quick shopping spree, not to mention a bit of entertainment while you wait. I’ve chosen to fill my belly at one of the best places in Singapore for noodles, Lan Zhou La Mian. This is a small food shop where they actually spin the noodles by hand, fresh for every order! I’ve heard it’s a dying art, and not many people do it any more. Food is a top priority for most Singaporeans; they take eating very seriously.


9.45am – Singapore’s outstanding education

It’s time for parent-teacher conferences at my children’s private international school. This is a goal setting conference, which means my student will be attending too. I do love how the schools here seem to include the kids’ input a lot more in the education structure. We’re very involved in the school, perhaps because it’s a private, international school, but I think that no matter what type of school we chose in Singapore, we knew we would be getting a great education for our kids. Singapore has a world-class reputation for its education, and the Chinese culture it’s largely influenced by makes education a priority. 

1pm – Science is fun

Since the kids had conferences today, they also got the day off of school. This happens every few months. We have invited some friends to go to the Science Centre. I try to do something fun and kid-friendly on these days, and in Singapore there are so many things to explore that can also help a growing mind to think. The Science Centre doesn’t disappoint, and I think we only did about half of the exhibits. 

5pm – Expat-friendly dining

We decided to pick up my husband and oldest son on our way home from the Science Centre. We only have one car while we are here, as it’s not only incredibly expensive, but also a tedious process to get a car. The good news is that the top-rated public transportation here makes it easy to get around the island, so even with quite a few family members, there’s no real need for a second vehicle. 

We decide to go to Chijmes for a nice dinner out. Chijmes use to be a Catholic convent, but is now a bunch of restaurants and bars, mostly catering to the expat crowd. It’s a beautiful place, and I love that, like in most venues here, we can sit outside while eating and enjoy the breeze.


12pm – Washa, washa, washa

Everyone is home today! We sat around this morning catching up on homework and housework. Laundry here is my biggest pet peeve. Washing just one load can take up to three hours, and then you have to factor in another two hours for drying, if you don’t hang out the wash. Most people do hang their wash outside in the sunshine, but our laundry room gets no sun. 

3pm – Poolside living

We have finished all of our housework and are enjoying the pool in our living complex. This is one of the amenities that I never get enough of. Pools are practically a standard in any apartment complex here, and some are very lovely. 


12.30pm – A melting-pot nation

I’m taking my daughter to a farewell party for a friend of mine moving back to Australia. One thing that intrigues me about Singapore is how many different nationalities can co-exist well together in this little city-state; they’ll likely be at least people of five different nationalities at the party. 


8am – Grocery day 

After I get the kids to the bus and off to school, I head to the grocery store. Here, the stores are small and always make me feel a bit like a bull in a china shop – navigating a cart through the aisles is a bit claustrophobic.  

I remember to take a dollar coin so I can use a cart at the store. 

Most grocery stores in Singapore do offer a delivery service for a minimum order. You can either order it all online, or go into the store and purchase your items and they will package it up and deliver it for you. Most times it is delivered the next day and you may need to take your perishable items with you.

I usually hit a few different stores when doing the food shopping. The different grocery stores here have different selections. There are times where one store may be out of a particular product while the other store may have it. This regularly happens with Dr Pepper and other typical Western expat goods. 

11am – Wet markets

I love the sights and sounds of a wet market, a cavernous hall of sorts where traders peddle everything under the sun. Not to mention, wet markets are somewhat easier to shop at than grocery stores because they have all your fruits, veggies and meats under one roof. The stall owners love return customers, and will guide you to the best items to satisfy you. When I buy fish here, they will cut it up however I want at no extra charge. Everything seems cheaper at the wet markets too, which also makes it easy on my pocketbook! 

The minute you are close to the market you can feel the energy and hear people making deals with the stall owners. You can smell the fish, the meats, the overripe fruits with a little bit of sweat all mixed together. The floor is simply concrete covered with stall after stall. People are everywhere – it’s a crowded place – but everyone seems to be having fun, including me. These sights and sounds were not normal for me at first, but I have come to find I love this hustle and bustle. 

12.30pm – Room for romance

My husband and I try to find one day a week to do a nice lunch together. Moving to Singapore has been stressful for us, so finding time to re-connect is a must. We have never been at a loss of what to do; Singapore has plenty of romantic spots. This week our “date” ends up on Monday. We go to a local sushi place, where I am still finding food I love. I grew up in Nebraska, so sushi is still a new concept to me. We also stop at a Kopi, or coffee shop, for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. 


10.30am – Thaipusam

I’m meeting a few friends in Little India to witness Thaipusam. This only comes around once a year, and is observed by the Hindus. Many of the participants will pierce their skin with large needles to wear a very ornate shrine called a Kavadi. They then carry it miles away to a temple in order to show their gratitude to one of their gods. This is beautiful with all the smells and colours. It’s a family event and the men wearing the Kavadis are very proud to be doing it. Singapore is known for one of the best places to see Thaipusam, and I am lucky enough to see it today. The sights and sounds here in Little India today really make it come alive. 

5pm – Cheap eats at a hawker centre

My husband and I stop at a hawker stand by his work to pick up dinner. Hawker centres, which are like food courts but better, are found everywhere in Singapore. This is where the locals eat for really cheap. Many locals don’t have ovens, so this is a cheap way to eat and socialise. 


9.40am – Mail-order meat

Contractors get buzzed in to do some work on a leak we have. I’ll be home all day, so I have our meat deliveries coming today too. Most of the meat at the stores is expensive, so I get mine delivered. This not only makes it cheaper but also fresher. I know that my meat has not been frozen a few times. I call the day before and it gets delivered the next afternoon. Sometimes they are on time and sometimes not, but for their prices I’m not going to complain. 

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