Choosing to live in Singapore versus other Southeast Asian countries can come at a cost.
The recent Mercer Cost of Living survey pegged Singapore as the world’s eighth most expensive city to live. In Asia, it is the third most expensive city, behind Tokyo and Osaka, and ahead of Hong Kong.
So why do these long-term expats choose to stay on?
The ease of a lifestyle with the option of domestic help, the safety factor, a high level of education and multi-cultural nature seem to be common themes — and weirdly, they all love the weather too.
Read the interviews to five long-term expats to find out more.
1. ‘Singaporeans are … very comfortable with diversity’
Victoria Great was transferred from England to Singapore for work in 2003. Here she met her Portuguese husband and has since given birth to her daughter. By coincidence her two sisters also live here, as well as much of her extended family. A year ago she decided to become a permanent resident.
“Singapore is such a civilized place to live” she says. “It’s a great place for us to manage dual careers with plenty of work opportunities.
“As a working mum, I appreciate that I can have a full-time live-in helper to look after my daughter and support the running of the household. Singapore’s a great place to raise a family: safe, clean, diverse, and with an excellent selection of schools.
“I find most [expatriate] people in Singapore are very friendly because so many have gone through the same experience of transferring for work and not having a strong network of friends or family.
“Singaporeans are generally very comfortable with diversity and have been very welcoming to foreigners. If you ask for directions on the street, they are always obliging.
“My gauge of friendliness is the taxi drivers, I’ve had some interesting conversations with them, as they often strike up a conversation and take an interest in where I come from.”
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2. ‘Singapore is … more relaxed than Korea’
Lee Sujin and her first child came to Singapore from Korea more than three years ago when her husband, Byung Kwon, was transferred. She has since given birth to another child and they want to be here at least another five years.
“Singapore is safer and more relaxed than Korea,” says Lee. “Here in Singapore my children can experience a good education and learn English and Mandarin.
“The work and life balance here is [improved for my husband] compared to Korea. In Singapore, the workload and company culture are totally different [even at the same employer].
“In Korea people get stressed from work a lot since it’s very competitive and hierarchical. There, Byung Kwon used to come home from work around 10:30 p.m., so he had no time for family and himself. He now gets to spend more time with us and enjoys his own hobbies. It’s so nice.
“Most Korean mums even say education in Singapore is much less stressful than in Korea.”
3. ‘We love that Singapore is a safer city than most’
Australian Nicole Beath has been in Singapore more than 10 years and has been a Singaporean permanent resident for nine years. She and her husband have just bought a house and their youngest of three kids was also born here. They plan to stay at least another five years.
“We love that Singapore is a safer city than most” she says.
“Given the strict drug laws, there doesn’t seem to be exposure to drugs in the schools. You read about kids as young as 10 selling drugs at some Sydney schools. This is something we could not see happening here. There is a clear understanding that any child caught with drugs will be expelled and repatriated to their country of origin (a contract is often signed upon enrolling your child in an international school here).
“My 12- and 14-year-old daughters appreciate that they have more freedom here than they would in Sydney. You do hear about abductions and violent crimes occurring more frequently there.
“People often comment that there are so many strict laws in Singapore, but we see the benefits. Here, we are comfortable with our children using public transport in the evenings and staying out with friends in a shopping center even after dark.”
4. ‘My children don’t see any difference between themselves and the local kids‘
Danya Goll and her husband left Australia nine years ago. All three of their children have been born here. They don’t plan to leave Singapore until their eldest is ready to start secondary school in seven years time, if at all.
“I think the standard of education for children is top class and I have been thrilled with my kids’ nursery school,” she says.
“My friends in Sydney only have the choice of day care for kids under three. From 18-months-old my children are learning from a curriculum rather than just being minded. My four-year-old can now do basic reading and writing in both English and Mandarin.
“It is so safe here. Our condo is full of children our kids’ ages so they only have to run out the back door to find someone to play with. Crime in Sydney is much higher. There is no way you would just let your kids run around a suburban street.”
“The great thing is that my children don’t see any difference between themselves and the local kids that they play with.”
5. ‘Singapore is where I feel most at home’
In 1995 Italian Beppe De Vito left London for an assignment in Singapore. Now he is the managing director of three restaurants, is a permanent resident, and is married to a Singaporean and has two sons. He intends to stay in Singapore permanently.
“Singapore is where I feel most at home — my wife and kids are Singaporean and I’ve lived here over 15 years,” he says.
“Everything you might need is always easily accessible; services, creature comforts. [Unlike anywhere else in the world], here I have the assurance of safety for my family.”
“Both my kids will tell you that they’re Singaporeans. They also both hold Singaporean passports.
“Marco, my seven-year-old, speaks Singlish and we didn’t put him in an international school. If we had the intention of moving away from Singapore, we would have enrolled him in an international school. But as Singapore is clearly our home for the long-term we felt it would be better for him to experience Singapore’s school system.
“Eventually my two boys will also have to go through National Service, and it won’t help if they spent their growing up years among expat kids.”
“They’re probably too young to be aware of it, but this is their home and they love being here. Marco, especially, is very proud of Singapore. Whenever we travel, he is always telling people he is Singaporean.
“Even during our trips to visit my family back in Italy, he identifies it as traveling away from Singapore rather than traveling ‘home’ to Italy.”
Expats and non-expats: Agree with any of the above? Love Singapore? Loathe Singapore? Let us know your thoughts on living in Singapore and how it compares to other locations for expats in the comments box below.