Have you set your sights on Singapore ever since watching Crazy Rich Asians? Who could blame you! Contrary to the movie’s portrayal, you don’t have to be “crazy rich” to do it. So go ahead and make your move. Relocating to Singapore is possible on any budget. After reading our guide, you’ll see why.
The job market
With its futuristic architecture, an unemployment rate of about 3% and cutting-edge financial innovation, Singapore seems like the stuff of dreams. This sovereign city-state became independent in 1965 and has since earned the moniker of “the Switzerland of Asia”. While its lack of natural resources might well have spelled financial disaster, it ultimately gained a great reputation for its high-income economy. It is now one of the world’s busiest container ports too. At the forefront of technology and other advanced industries, Singapore is an island known for its wealth and state-of-the-art infrastructure. And it is intent on keeping that reputation. When Singapore celebrated 50 years of independence in 2015, the government decided to invest S$19 billion (£11 billion) in public transport, civil engineering projects and new technologies so as to continue improving the daily lives of the residents. As a result, web developers and engineers, regardless of their fields of expertise, have little trouble finding work. The same applies to sustainable development and green energy experts because Singapore set itself a major challenge at the start of 2020: self-sufficiency in water, as well as energy.
Those with an entrepreneurial spirit or commercial flair will be pleased to hear that the World Bank considers Singapore to be one of the easiest places in the world to do business. That’s thanks to its low taxes, simple, effective legal system and lack of corruption. In other words, coming up with that genius idea may be all it takes. Maybe that is why James Dyson, the British billionaire who invented his bagless vacuum cleaner, has moved to the city-state as he explores developing electric cars.
Jean, a startup founder who has been working in Singapore for three months, said, “Singapore has a lot of startups because it’s a commercial, maritime and technological hub for Asia. There are also opportunities there for the taking because Singaporeans prefer to work for large corporations, which is considered to be more socially prestigious.”
There’s even more good news. You don’t have to start learning Mandarin or Malay to find a job or build a social life since English is widely used. You can also count on a community of British nationals who have settled in Singapore, with more than 30,000 there and the presence of more than 1,000 British companies.
Sectors that are recruiting
- Digital sectors, especially in the fields of big data and cyber security: a web engineer earns on average S$108,000 per year (about £61,000)
- Finance: the average annual salary of a trader is S$130,000 (£73,000)
- The petrochemical industry: “Since the rise in oil prices, engineers who are specialists in this field are in high demand,” said Maxime Vanderhaeghe, co-founder of CityTalent, a Singapore-based recruitment agency, in the French newspaper Le Petit Journal.
- Education: a teacher earns an average of S$72,000 a year (£40,000). English is the official language of education, but if you want to work in a public school you must be approved by the Singaporean Ministry of Education. While the demand is not as high as in other Asian countries, teaching English is an option.
- Tourism: In 2018, Singapore welcomed about 17 million tourists, an increase of 6% year-on-year. The sector has been on the rise, which means that opportunities are available, especially for those who are multilingual.
However, some professions, such as those in medicine, are strictly reserved for Singaporeans.
Expect to work up to 45 hours a week, with work days lasting up to nine hours. In terms of time off, you’ll be entitled to 14 days’ annual leave, plus 10 days for public holidays. If one of the public holidays falls on a Sunday, you’ll get the Monday off as well. Startup founder Jean said that in practice employees often get more than that. “Most companies give you three or four weeks off,” she said. Be aware that if you earn a salary of more than S$4,500 a month (about £2,600), working conditions are determined jointly by both parties, in other words, you and your employer. This law is enforced strictly, especially when it comes to negotiating your contract. This may indeed be an opportunity to ask for more paid holiday, discuss the terms of maternity or paternity leave or even negotiate timelines and other issues of notice in case of dismissal or resignation.
The best bits
- The city offers a genuine mix of cultures with Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and Western immigrants and expats. Unsurprisingly, Singapore has four official languages: Mandarin, English, Malay and Tamil.
- Singapore has been found to be one of the world’s three safest cities, along with Tokyo and Osaka. Léa spent a year studying in Singapore as part of an exchange through her business school. It’s nothing like other urban centres, she said. “If you forget your belongings in a taxi, they’ll call you to come and pick them up.”
- Welcome to the future: this is where driverless taxis were first put on the road.
- For many years, Singapore took first place in HSBC’s ranking of the best countries to be an expat, being deposed only in 2019 by Switzerland. However, being second best in this ranking is no small matter.
- As Jean said, “Everything is incredibly efficient. Public transport is fast, reliable and in plentiful supply, while anything you do online for administration purposes is totally safe.”Singapore - the city engineered for humans!
- Wages are good: in 2018, the median monthly salary was about S$4,400 (£2,420), which adds up to about £29,000 per year. That’s about the same as the median salary for a full-time employee in the UK. In Singapore, however, it is common for companies to pay at least one month’s extra salary as a bonus at the end of the year.
- The sun (almost!) always shines: Singapore’s average year-round temperature is 30°C.
The worst bits
- In September and October, when Sumatra’s palm oil tree farmers burn forest to make room for their crops, the city-state is covered in a haze, which affects not only one’s quality of life but also [health]. “After that wave of pollution washed over me, I was sick for a month,” said Leah.
- While living costs after accommodation are, on average, just about 11% higher than in England, Singapore has been named as one of the world’s most expensive cities for five years.
- Might there be a baby on the horizon? Sign up for good maternity cover the moment you arrive and take out health insurance,as it can be 12 months before you are eligible for cover.
- Due to its diminutive size, Singapore has unfairly gained a reputation for being dull. As Jean said, “Because it’s a small country with five million people, you quickly feel like you’re going around in circles.”
- It’s certainly hot, but it’s also incredibly muggy: humidity levels can exceed 90% in November and December — and it rarely drops below 60% the rest of the year. As Léa said, “When I saw people jogging in Singapore, I didn’t know how they did it! I regularly went to cool off in one of the many shopping malls that were around.”
- Play by the rules. Otherwise, you may be denounced by a member of the public. Sometimes all it takes is one person sending a text message and/or photo to the police about you, or being spotted on Singapore’s numerous and well-maintained CCTV cameras. Léa said, “It’s true that this whole Big Brother culture can sometimes feel oppressive.” The city is extremely safe, but this safety comes at a price.
- Strange but true: selling chewing gum is forbidden. If you are caught chewing gum, you’ll be immediately fined about £870. So, this ban should be taken seriously! Even if you want to use nicotine gum, you must be prepared to show a prescription.
- Singapore is not the most progressive when it comes to social issues. There is no law against discrimination towards the LGBT community and the death penalty is still in force.
Who’ll love it
Singapore is a foodie’s paradise: the rich multicultural mix means a visit to any district in the city can turn into a gastronomic adventure. It’s perfect for takeaway fans who find it hard to choose between Indian, Filipino, Malaysian and Thai food. It’s worth checking out the restaurants of Chinatown or the many Middle Eastern food establishments. As Léa said, “It’s very cheap, which is rare for Singapore, and tastes amazing! On the other hand, it’s not great for vegetarians or vegans.”
Are you more of a tech addict? The good news is that Singapore lives up to its reputation with futuristic architecture and a host of innovation events.
Even if you’re looking for tranquillity and green spaces, Singapore is the city for you. It is called the “garden city” thanks to its large number of urban green spaces. Furthermore, the government has a strong anti-car policy that appears to be paying off. In fact, getting your licence can cost up to S$37,000, the exact amount being based on the engine capacity of your vehicle. In practical terms, this means that Singapore is less polluted than other Asian cities. Léa said, “The sky is always clear in Singapore, which is not the case in Shanghai and Hong Kong, both of which I visited during my exchange.”
Singapore is also perfect for travel and exploration addicts. Its strategic geographical position makes it possible to spend your weekend in Bali or Thailand, which are dream escapes for most Brits.
As previously mentioned, Singapore is an expensive city where monthly rents reach an average of S$5,294 (about £3,000) for a studio in the city centre. That said, buildings often have a swimming pool and a gym. Still too expensive? Try looking at more affordable flatshares. You can expect to pay between S$1,800 (£1,025) and S$2,600 (£1,500) in expatriate neighbourhoods.
If you have expatriate status, meaning that you are able to remain for a fixed period only, you won’t be able to access the Singaporean health system. You will have to take out private insurance for the duration of your stay. If you apply for permanent resident status, you will benefit from Singapore’s health insurance system, MediSave. Each month, between 6% and 9% of your salary will be deducted and deposited into a special “Medical Saving Account” so that your health expenses are self-financed. Your contribution rate increases with age, and you will be reimbursed for unused amounts. You can also top up your insurance with MediShield, an enhanced health plan that pays for expensive healthcare issues such as serious illnesses, certain surgery and so on.
Singapore’s public transportation network is one of the nation’s many points of pride. As soon as you arrive, invest in the purchase of a CEPAS card (EZ-Link) for S$12 (£7). You must make sure to top it up as needed, and the amount debited is based on the number of kilometres you have travelled. The average cost of a one-way trip is about S$2.40 (£1.40), except when travelling to and from the airport, which is more expensive.
Internet and mobile phones
Expect to pay at least S$40 (£22) per month for your mobile plan, bearing in mind that there are no unlimited call and SMS plans in Singapore. When it comes to the internet and TV, you’ll be paying anywhere between S$40 and S$60 per month (£22 and £35 respectively).
As a foreign national, you will need a visa to work in Singapore, but not for tourism, business or social visits of up to 90 days. Singapore offers a range of work visas and which one is best for you will depend on your circumstances and level of skill. For example, the Employment Pass is for qualified foreign professionals, managers and executives who earn a minimum monthly salary of S$3,600 (£2,041) a month. For higher earners, there’s also the Personalised Employment Pass. If, on the other hand, you are attracted to Singapore for its innovative spirit, then the EntrePass could be what you need. According to the Ministry of Manpower, “This work pass is intended for serial entrepreneurs, high-calibre innovators or experienced investors that want to operate a business in Singapore.” Whichever visa you choose, make sure to do your homework first. While it’s great to have such a range of visas, it can be confusing for those who are not used to the system.
Now that you know a little more about what it takes to make your Singapore dream come true, we hope you can see that it’s not as difficult as it might seem!
Translated by Andrea Schwam
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