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Interview with Danielle – an American expat living in Singapore

Updated 4 Feb 2010

Danielle Bray arrived in Singapore three years ago from her native New York. Having left her job with a large insurance firm when her partner was transferred here, she immediately fell for the Lion City. Danielle started Expat Insurance, to provide the kind of professional service she was used to in the US. Her business offers a complete portfolio of products for individuals and companies.

For more information on expat life in Singapore, visit the Expat Arrivals guide to Singapore or read more Expat Experiences in Singapore.

About Danielle

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I am originally from Pennsylvania, USA, and my partner is originally from London. We met in New York, where we were both working at the time.

Q: Where are you living now?
A: Singapore

Q: How long have you lived here?
A: My partner arrived in May 2006, and I made the move in Sept 2006.

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: Moved with my partner, no children.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: My partner and I met in NY, and he was transferred with his company to Singapore. In NY, I worked in marketing and communications for a large insurance company. Since arriving in Singapore, I have had a few roles: lady-of-leisure, an office manager for a Swiss Education company, managing an art gallery and in 2009, became an entrepreneur, launching Expat Insurance: Insurance for Expats by Expats.

About Singapore

Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life?
A: The quality of life in Singapore would be hard to beat anywhere else in the world. The city is clean, easy to get around, English-speaking, has a large expat population and the opportunities for serious travelling, whether you like beaches, cold weather and slopes or adventure travel, are endless.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Singapore is a transient place, expats come and go, so forging friendships has to remain a priority regardless of how long you’ve been here. Other than a few odd cravings for American pastimes, the only bit of home I truly miss on a routine basis is family and friends.

Q: Is the city safe?
A: The city is probably one of the safest in the world. 

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?
A: Much depends: singles and young couples LOVE the city as we can immerse ourselves in the restaurants, bars and nightlife as we please. Families typically choose their residential location based on where their kids' schools are: Woodlands, for example, is uber popular amongst Singapore American School families. Convenience in Singapore is easy to come by, wherever you live. East Coast is another popular residential location: bigger houses and a park nearby.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation?
A: This question is budget dependent! Housing in Singapore does not come cheap. If you want to live the city life, flats under $5K are not an easy find. Generally, the standard of accommodation for expats is high. Buildings in Singapore rarely last longer than 10 years before they are torn down and rebuilt. The newer buildings have resort-like facilities, are ultra-modern (think marble, glass and white walls) and are small. If you’re looking for something in the 'burbs, you can get much bigger for much less cash.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Compared to NY, the cost of living is pretty similar. Alcohol is shockingly pricey in Singapore, but as spirits are typically a bystander at any social event in Singapore, we all ignore the exorbitant prices and indulge. Wine, in particular, is outrageously priced. (A trip to Margaret River in WA can amount to serious cost savings once a year on the wine budget!) On the other hand, taxis are surprisingly cheap, and so readily available, a car is never a necessity (except for families with kids, of course)!

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: The majority of time is spent mixing with other expats, as the cost of living dramatically differs with the choice of lifestyle. The office can be a great place to mingle with Singaporeans, and they are always keen to see expats try and taste the flavours of local cuisine at hawker centres, where a bowl of spicy noodles can be had for about $3.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: As Singapore is such a transient place, for the most part, the expat crowds remain open and inviting to newbies. The best thing new arrivals can do is to go out with everyone they meet (so they can meet friends of friends, and friends of those friends). Everyone keeps a very open mind here, and the expat community is a very cosmopolitan mix.

About working in Singapore

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: If you don’t come to Singapore with a job, it’s not so easy to find a job here. If you don’t hold a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree, don’t think Singapore’s shores will be inviting for long on the employment front. Most expats that move here because their partner was transferred (you become known as a trailing spouse, get used to the term: male or female!) find roles through networking or the CRCE: Career Resource Centre for Expatriates, a fantastic resource for expats of all countries.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?
A: Singapore competes with Hong Kong as the financial capital of Asia. The economic climate is bright (even through the recession) and even in the worst of times, expats were still arriving to take on new roles. The region is growing alarmingly fast, so I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: It’s an interesting dynamic in Singapore. Expats hold the majority of management positions within international firms. Regional travel can make business life very colourful, as meetings are conducted in other languages, with a translator on hand at times, to ensure the expats are kept in the loop on what is happening in the meeting they are conducting!

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: Of course, managing a move from wherever you are to Singapore is never an easy task. There are top relocation companies that assist with everything from home country to settling you in Singapore, showing you around and throwing newbies parties for you to mingle with other recently arrived expats. It’s the only way to go!

Family and children in Singapore

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: The usual frets about being new in a new country, surrounded by new people and another culture, and knowing no one. The moment you get out and about to explore your new home and begin meeting people: join clubs, associations and sports teams, you begin to feel settled. I usually ask people to reserve judgement of Singapore for at least the first six months after arrival.

Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: No kids, but from what I hear from others with children, the kids typically settle in at any age much faster than their parents. The safety of Singapore provides a freedom that kids rarely have in their home countries.

Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: Fabulous education and schooling are readily available in Singapore. Though a few years ago, expats had to put their kids on waitlists of over 200 kids long for acceptance to international schools, the schools have expanded and there are more options. All kinds of international education programmes are available: the American system, the British system and IB. They’re all here. The international schools in Singapore provide education that has been awarded accolades across the globe.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: Well, the first thing to do is get yourself a comprehensive medical insurance that covers you worldwide. Medical care is not as pricey as in the US, but the internationally educated doctors and clinics are not cheap. Consultations cost about SGD 80 at the GP and if you have kids, this can amount to serious cash by the end of the year. Most international companies offer group benefit programs for their employees, but typically they offer low limits with high co-insurance or deductibles, and the cost for private hospitals is rarely met by such plans. With the amount of travel expats do when they live in Singapore, an annual travel plan can also assist with extra protection for medical evacuation, repatriation and medical expenses as well as the frequent travel inconveniences you’ll experience with budget airlines…keep in mind, you may live in Singapore where quality healthcare is readily available, but in the majority of SE Asia, where you’ll be travelling, quality healthcare is rare and expensive.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Ask everyone for advice and recommendations, and bring a notebook with you everywhere you go, as people are always ready to offer their take on restaurants, travel destinations, cheap flight deals of the moment and everything else you can think of, that you won’t be able to remember it all. If you’re just off the boat, equip yourself with a subscription to Expat Living. Get out, meet people, wear sunscreen and enjoy tropical living at its best!

~ Interviewed February 2010

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