Singapore is a tiny island city-state in Southeast Asia. Compared with other cities in the region, the vibe is pretty chilled. If you’re imagining lively streets filled with motorbikes and street food sellers, think again! Singapore is clean, modern and safe.
If you're looking for a more chaotic city to call home, check out this lifestyle guide to living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Other amazing Asian cities popular with expats are Taipei, Taiwan and Bangkok, Thailand.
The cultural diversity here is incredible.
There are four official languages - English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Malay is the national language, but English is the most widely spoken. Regardless of background, everyone is united by a love of food. There is an epic food scene here, from hawker centres (think food courts for street food) to high end international restaurants.
Singapore is only 111km from the equator which means it’s hot and humid all year round. The sun rises and sets at the same time every day, which was a big change for me coming from London. Long time residents tell me that lack of seasons can mess with your sense of time but I’ve been here 18 months so I haven’t felt that yet.
1. Is it crazy expensive?
This little country has big a reputation for being expensive, but I don’t think that’s entirely fair.
I have found that some things are very expensive like medical insurance, phone plans, dental work and regional flights. But some stuff is amazingly cheap, like public transport, taxis and local food.
The area you live in will have a big impact on your day to day cost of living as prices can vary a lot across the island.
2. Where should I live?
Singapore can be broken down into four major areas - Central, East, West and North. Most expats I know tend to live in Central or on the East Coast. Schools often have a big impact on people’s decision; if that’s a priority for you then I recommend seeking out a dedicated schools/neighbourhood guide.
- CBD - non-existent commute, quiet at weekends, generally pretty expensive
- Bukit Timah - fancy, lots of green space, very expensive
- River Valley - expat central, condo life, convenient
- Tiong Bahru - old art deco buildings, hipster scene
- Little India/Farrer Park - high energy, emerging hipster scene, more affordable
- Novena - condo life, relatively new area, more affordable
- Joo Chiat/Katong - beautiful old buildings, bit of a hipster scene, too far from the CBD for some, more affordable
- Geylang - red light district, arguably the most interesting area, more affordable
Coming from a relatively cold place meant I was seeking a summer lifestyle and I knew I wanted to live in an old building instead of condo, so living in Joo Chiat was an easy decision for me! I love the laid back village feel and the 12 min taxi to the airport is amazing if you’re a frequent traveller.
Property Guru is the biggest property website so it’s a good place to start to get a feel for what’s available. If you’re looking to share then I recommend checking out the expat facebook pages. if your budget is on the slightly higher side and you’re looking for something unique then we love walkups and Isabel Redrup are the best places to look.
It’s so easy to get around Singapore. The train system is called the “MRT”. It’s brilliant - cheap, frequent and reliable. The buses are great too. We have two ride hailing apps here - Grab and Go Jek.
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3. Is it a fun place to live?
You might have heard that Singapore as described as “boring”. That’s a misconception. There is a lot to do here, but sometimes you need to work a little harder to find it.
Social life here revolves around food.
The bars and restaurants of Tanjong Pagar are great for a more international experience. My favourite spot for local food is Old Airport Road hawker centre in the east or Maxwell Road hawker centre in central. Must try dishes are wanton mee and chicken rice.
For a chilled out day, I love taking a bumboat to Pulau Ubin for a day of walking and exploring. Lazarus Island is also just a short ferry ride away and it has a beautiful beach.
If you're looking for more ideas, check out my top things to do in Singapore.
4. What’s the visa situation?
80% of countries do not require a tourist visa to visit Singapore and you can stay 30 or 90 days depending on your nationality. You can’t rent accommodation on a tourist visa though.
All foreigners must have a work permit to work her and you need to have a job before you can apply for a work permit. There are lots of different options depending on your skills and personal situation. You can check your eligibility for an Employment Pass or S-Pass using the handy online tool.
This blog post has lots of useful information about how to find a job in Singapore.
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5. I hear the laws are very strict?
The rumours are true. You can’t buy chewing gum, there is zero tolerance for drugs and caning is still a thing. Singapore’s media environment is highlight controlled. As a European I often feel at odds with these restrictions.
The upside of the system is personal safety.
You can leave your stuff on a cafe table while you go to the loo, you can keep your phone in your back pocket while walking around busy streets and women can walk anywhere late a night without fear. I never felt “unsafe” while I was living in London but I was vigilant, especially when I was by myself late at night.
The past 18 months in Singapore has changed my definition of what “safe” and “unsafe” feels like.
6. Is there anything you wish you knew when you first moved there?
Singapore is the perfect base for exploring Asia which means people travel a lot. Flight prices are crazy around Singapore public holidays, especially Chinese New Year, so you need to plan early.
Living in 80% humidity means you need to pay attention to a few extra things around the house. Lots of “cupboard” foods won’t survive unless you keep them in the fridge - my spices recently went moldy which was a first for me. Clothes, especially winter clothes in storage, can easily become a bit musty or moldy so best to keep an eye on them.