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Interview with JH – a British expat living in Singapore

Updated 11 Jul 2012

Having previously lived in Shanghai, China, JH is a seasoned British expat now living in Singapore. Unlike many expats in Singapore, she came to the city during the recession and not for a glamorous corporate role. Here she shares her unique perspective of living and working in Singapore.

Find more information in the Expat Arrivals Singapore country guide or read more expat experiences in Singapore

About JH

Q: Where are you originally from? 
A: England, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire

Q: Where are you living now? 
A: Singapore, Jurong

Q: How long have you lived in Singapore? 
A: 3.5 years

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children? 
A: No

Q: Why did you move; what do you do? 
A: I’m a purchasing and inventory manager for a hydraulics company.

About Singapore

Q: What do you enjoy most about Singapore, how’s the quality of life? 
A: It’s very organised and clean, and the transportation system is cheap and reliable.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home? 
A: No silence, roads are constantly busy, I miss the countryside and quiet roads.

Q: Is Singapore safe?

A: Yes, very safe, but low crime doesn’t mean no crime (Singapore slogan) as there are a lot of nationalities here.

With so many things to be fined for, everyone is in a controlled environment, even the cyclists:

Last night I and others were stopped by a three-policeman pavement block for cycling on the wide pavements home, I received a warning and everyone's ID was taken. Many people cycle along this path to commute daily and in 3.5 years no one has ever said anything about it being an offence and no signs stating this.

The roads around here are crazy in peak times close to industrial areas with no cycle lanes, and if you are on the road, motorists try squeezing you into the kerb. Also, I have seen a few of them run red lights at the Jurong Lake connector pedestrian crossing; this is on the same stretch of road that the warnings were issued to cyclists.

Maybe it's because the car prices are so high that motorists here do openly resent cyclists on the roads (I’ve heard the comments on local radio shows), but in a world where we are trying to save the planet and go green, it seems as if the Singapore government is just looking for another reason to fine low paid workers and the conscientious.

I am saddened that there is yet another Singapore rule to abide by with another reason to be fined.

The worst thing is that being open and honest here can make your life very difficult; free speech can have a price, so you have to be careful.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Singapore? Do you need to own a car, or is public transport sufficient for getting around? What are the different options?
Public transport is very accessible. You can go from one end of Singapore to the other cheaply, buses and MRT are clean, efficient and very well-organised, purchase an easy link card, and you can use it to travel on buses and trains and taxis are cheaper than in the UK.

The cost of a car is extortionate here, five times UK prices because of COE and tax; honestly, there is no need to own one, but locals see it as another must-have status symbol.

I moved close to work and cycle to and from every day (10-min journey).

About living in Singapore

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Singapore as an expat?
A: East Coast is a great area, but in this country, it all depends on your budget (I have to pay as not on expat contract) and where you work, because so many vehicles are on the road, commuting can be hell.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Singapore?
A: I live in a condominium with excellent facilities, including a pool, gym and sauna, so although more expensive than the UK, it has its benefits.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Rent is more expensive, probably comparable to London rates, public transport is very cheap, food is cheaper in the local supermarkets with the upmarket ones selling Waitrose products and sometimes the same items are double the prices so if on a budget, it’s easier to shop around. Utilities are cheaper.

Alcohol is also expensive.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I work in a company that is 98 percent Chinese Singaporeans and a couple of Malay; they are very conservative and do not divulge anything about their personal life, (which is so different to what I’m used to). Manners are also a cultural learning curve; a colleague will not automatically hold a door for you, etc. I personally don’t mix with many expats outside of business associates, as in my time here, I haven’t found many who don’t believe they are something special just because they live here. Also, it’s a very transient community, and the good people you do find tend to move on to other countries or go back home.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Singapore?
A: I made friends by renting my spare room to some French students, and no, I don’t believe it is easy to make friends here (maybe easier to meet people if you have children). People seem to live in their own bubbles. But I have not attended any expat community events, as I’m too down to earth and it all seems a bit too corporate/expensive for my taste.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Singapore?
A: The healthcare is very good, but pills are issued like sweeties and whereas one pill is issued in the UK, you have more here. People are usually signed off for two days and the company insists if you are sick you produce a medical certificate, no self-certification.

About working in Singapore

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit for Singapore?
A: No, as long as your company has the relevant registration with the Ministry of Manpower and is not over their expat quota (30 percent of the workforce), I advise you to send the application online as it could be a difference between five days and five weeks for processing.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in Singapore; is there plenty of work?
A: Yes, there seems to be plenty of work, it is a constantly developing country and encourages foreign talent. But the expat package varies a lot, and the less you burden the company with your expectations, the more secure your position when there is a recession.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: In my experience in Shanghai & Singapore, the culture is to avoid taking responsibility, which leaves a gap for expat managers/leaders to move companies forward. Overtime and always being on call is part of the work ethic. Company dinners have little notification, and personal plans are not expected to take priority.

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move? 
A: No, my company didn’t help either; two suitcases and a completely fresh start by finding a temporary place on, then I found an agent to find me a more long-term arrangement (but the price is high when you start renting, agent fees deposits and advance rent soon mount up), also the utility companies need an upfront deposit.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Singapore is supposed to be the easiest place for Westerners to adjust to, but there is a vast cultural difference, and it can seem a very emotionally cold place.

If renting, get a good agent, and negotiate; often places can be rented for a lot less than advertised. Landlords like renting to expats as they usually keep the place cleaner.

Keep an open mind, cultures vary considerably and remember you’re not at home; you are a guest, and you will need a lot of patience.

~ Interviewed July 2012

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