Living in: Singapore
Singapore is a multicultural, multi-ethnic island-state that attracts international workers from companies around the world. At the tip of the Malay peninsula, it is a lush island punctuated by some of the most modern architecture in Asia. Living here means being exposed to a mix of cuisines and cultures, hearing languages from Mandarin to Malay to Tamil, and having access to all of Southeast Asia.
What is it known for?
The image of white-suited colonials sipping Singapore Slings on the Raffles Hotel veranda have long been subsumed by Singapore’s reputation as a corruption-free (and chewing-gum-free) economic powerhouse. The People’s Action Party, in power since 1963, has engineered civil society, as well as the political and economic structures, but the payoff is a clean, well-ordered, financially robust place to live.
The island is a melting pot of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other Asian cultures that are expressed deliciously in the foods sold at the open-air hawker centres. There is great shopping along Orchard Road and the city’s skyline is a towering expression of its outward-looking economy.
Some of the most important structures are the city’s merlions – fish-body, lion-head statues that are the city’s mascots. The government has also poured money into developing Marina Bay with new hotels, theatres and a floating, multi-use stadium with a 30,000-person capacity. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel has an instantly iconic infinity pool that sits atop the ship-shaped roof on the 55th floor; perfect for a vertigo-inducing swim. Sentosa Island, across from the Central Business District, is home to resorts and beaches, attracting volleyball players and sun-seekers on their day off.
Where do you want to live?
Singapore is split into 28 districts, and traditionally expats have clustered in central areas on the east coast and near downtown. Although these areas are still very popular, in the past few years people moving to Singapore have ranged farther afield as employers paying for housing becomes the exception rather than the rule. “What used to be concentrated expats lands have expanded,” said Cary Schmelzer, an American who has lived in Singapore for more than 15 years. “People live all over now.”
With the efficient Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), no town is remote. The government has pushed foreign schools, like the American School, to the north of the island, so some families have gravitated there. However, certain districts are still the most desirable for their proximity to shopping, restaurants and the Central Business District. According to Carole Ann Coventry, director of Coventry & Seah estate agency, the central districts of 9, 10 and 11, from Orchard Road to Bukit Timah Road, are sought after, as is district 15 on the East Coast and the high-end condos near the Central Business District.
Almost any trip from Singapore, except to the resorts on Sentosa Island, means an international flight. But Changi International Airport is one of the best in the world and the most efficient. “If you leave your house 90 minutes before your flight, you will be at your gate with 45 minutes to spare,” said Schmelzer. “There is no stress.”
Favourite getaways are the southern Thailand islands and Phuket, only a 90-minute flight. Bali, where many expats own a second home, is three hours away. All Asian destinations, from Hong Kong to Luang Prabang — even the Maldives — are easily accessible. Flights to Shanghai and Mumbai are both about five hours. In winter, ski trips to Hokkaido island in Japan are popular, and the flight is under eight hours.
Many expats rent in Singapore, as there are restrictions on foreign ownership of a stand-alone property that has yardage or acreage. “You must be a permanent resident and have approval from the government to buy,” explained Coventry. “In my experience, it seems as if it has become harder to become a permanent resident,” said Schmelzer, who is one himself. Whereas the process used to take very little time, now the application and screening process can take up to a year, with no guarantee of getting residency. One of the benefits of becoming a permanent resident is that you can send your children to the excellent local schools for a very low fee; the foreign schools charge thousands of dollars in yearly tuition.