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
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.
In the central districts near Orchard Road and Newton, rents range (all
figures in Singapore dollars) from a studio for $4,000 a month, to a two-bedroom
condo for $5,000 a month, to a three-bedroom for $6,000 a month. Rentals in
outlying areas are less expensive, but a stand-alone bungalow can rent for as
much as $27,000 a month. “That’s CEO housing,” said Coventry. “The top end for
a good-class bungalow on a minimum of 15,000 square feet of land is $35,000.”
Most people get a two-year lease and where
rent is above $2,500 a month, the
owners pay the housing agent’s commission, not the tenants.
There are, however, no restrictions on buying condos or apartments for
foreigners. “Many expats have bought them, including myself,” said Coventry.
But buyers must put a minimum of 40% down on a second property and pay a higher
stamp fee if the property is sold within four years. “Singapore is a truly
international place where you will meet the locals and learn different ways of
doing business,” said Schmelzer. “Singaporeans are accessible and you can
easily get involved in anything you want to.”
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