I’m perhaps a bit of an anomaly, as I don’t work directly with Singaporeans for the most part, nor do I do much work for Singaporean companies. As an ex-pat, I’m located here because it is advantageous for the global technology services firm I work for to position sufficient people here working on deals across Asia to qualify for very low corporate taxes. As such, I’m working on deals for Japan and Australia with resources from China and India more than anything else. My answer comes from this context.
Working in Singapore is great for an ex-pat.
- The personal income tax is low. Really low. I’m saving thousands annually in taxes. That’s great for countries with non-resident tax approaches like Canada, where ex-pats don’t have to pay the difference of Canadian taxes on top of Singaporean. Not so useful for countries like the US, which insist on their cut regardless of where you are, but at least it’s not like Ireland where you end up paying a lot more. (Note: not a substitute for tax advice.)
- Investments have no capital gains here. I’m saving more taxes there. (Note: not a substitute for tax advice.)
- Singapore really understands transit. I rarely take cabs because the MRT is so efficient, and it’s almost always faster to go long distances by MRT. (If you are addicted to driving yourself, you’ll likely dislike Singapore as car ownership and operation is very expensive and limited).
- Food is extraordinarily good, inexpensive and ubiquitous. It doesn’t matter where you are in Singapore, the local food stalls will be serving better food than many good Asian restaurants in North America at a fraction of the price.
- Travel to and from Singapore is great. It’s a hub for the hemisphere with direct flights to quite enormous numbers of destinations for work and play. Bali, for example, is 2.5 hours flight away. This is important, as you will run out of things to see in Singapore relatively quickly, and without working very hard at it.
- It’s the most efficient place in the world. Administration and bureaucracy is present, but streamlined and very efficient. There isn’t a lot of wasteful process and the processes are clear and quick. (Brazil is the opposite).
- Coffee culture is strong here. There are great independent roasters and coffee chains that serve amazing coffee, and trend toward Australian cafe breakfasts: eggs, avocado, toast, etc.
- My single — or at least single-in-Singapore — acquaintances tell me that it’s pretty amazingly easy to be an ex-pat and have a fulfilling and varied sex life. Singaporean men don’t get good reviews from the local women apparently, and ex-pats do.
- Singapore is about the greenest major city I’ve lived in, and I lived in Vancouver BC for a decade. They have had an official policy of greening the city for decades and there are currently more varieties of trees growing here than in North America.
- The air is clean most of the year. It really sucked during palm oil burning season in Indonesia this year, but that was six weeks of the year, and knowing it’s coming we are more prepared for it. It’s not like Shanghai, Beijing or Mexico City, where the problems are year round.
- No winter. Barely any seasons. Choosing what to wear is really easy.
- Focused on being multi-cultural and moderate. The HDBs must have the same portions of ethnic Chinese, Indian and Malays as the general populace to ensure no ethnic or religious ghettoes emerge.
- Almost anything you want to order over the internet gets here quickly and without duty or administrative hassle. It’s a massive trading hub so there side benefits for expats and locals as a result.
- It’s really clean. Really, really clean. Really, really, really clean. If you see litter anywhere it’s a bit startling. A lot of the washrooms have electronic rating boards to let you vote on cleanliness and they all have attendants constantly cleaning and stocking them.
There are some things that people don’t like as much:
- Hot and humid. I replaced much of my wardrobe as summer Canada is not equivalent to ‘winter’ Singapore. It’s always hot and humid.
- Expensive rents and prohibitions on foreign real estate purchases. It’s good if your company takes care of the rent.
- The Marina Bay Sands casino doesn’t spread Texas Hold’Em. Very much an Asian casino experience, but I was in a minority in North America there too.
- Moderately intrusive censorship. Porn sites are often blocked as an example.
- It’s pretty hard to find anything gritty and urban here. Urban glossy and smooth all the way.
- Local Singaporeans tell me that the pressure to be perfect all of the time is intense. That likely extends to ex-pats who work directly with them.
- People from mainland China do get a bit of discrimination and subtle hostility. There’s been a huge influx and the locals aren’t fond of many of the less polite behaviours of many mainland Chinese.
- There is some evidence that Singapore can be hard on the marriages of expats who come as couples, although I haven’t found that to be true personally. There are apparently some divorce lawyers who have 70% of their business coming from couples divorcing due to what’s known as the Sarong Party Girl (SPG) syndrome.
Singapore is an amazing, modern and vibrant city. It tops most lists for ex-pats most years for a reason.
- A multicultural society that works. OK not perfectly, but it works better than anywhere else I’ve been to or read about. That is huge.
- The variety of amazing things to eat and drink. To me, Singapore is the food capital of the world and I’m a foodie who loves spices. It’s like being a kid at Disneyland.
- The cleanliness, especially not having to see disgusting wads of used chewing gum on the ground wherever you go. So refreshing (even though in 2011 I have noticed quite a bit more litter than I did when I lived here before, in 2003/4).
- Singlish (even though I can’t always understand what the aunties at the hawker stall are asking me). Singlish is a national treasure and should be preserved.
- Strong government support for entrepreneurship, and the ease of starting and operating a company here.
- The safety of being able to walk around anywhere in the country, at any time of day, without fear of being shot or mugged.
- The convenience of shopping and getting around (being able to walk to buy most of the things you need, instead of having to get into the car and load up – and then when you do have to go somewhere, the MRT or buses will get you anywhere).
- Absence of tipping culture.
- The drama of sudden massive downpours with crashing thunder in the afternoon.
- Durians (took me a while, though – definitely an acquired taste).
- Touts in front of restaurants and hawker stalls pestering you to come in (especially at Boat Quay, Newton Circus and Cuppage Rd. I never eat there just because of them, and I tell friends who visit to stay away as well). Also some of the tailors in Lucky Plaza and Arab Street are like that.
- The culture of complaining without offering a solution (heard most often with taxi drivers and the uncles sitting around drinking beer at the hawker centres).
- People cutting you off while you’re walking, or even walking right into you (and then they give you a dirty look as though you did it, or worse, they hiss at you – “TSK”) OR walking very slowly, several people abreast, so that nobody can pass, OR blocking the escalator (most often happens in shopping malls, MRT stations and Orchard Rd).
- Radio DJs with fake American accents. WTF?.
- No napkins (serviettes) given with your food at the hawker centres. You have to bring your own – or at higher end places, you’re charged $2 for those moist ones in a packet, even if you didn’t ask for them.
- Nowhere to plug in your laptop or phone at coffee shops or libraries, and the proprieters have even pasted over the ones that are there.
- Kiasu people.