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Singapore has a rich history as a key destination for UK expats. As a major global centre, it is a major employment centre for international employers and has developed a reputation as one of the most desired places to live.
Make sure you check out this guide on how to move to Singapore. It dexplains everything you need to know about the international removals process.
It is best to get a quote for your international move to Singapore from the UK. This will help you budget and plan effectively. Get a move quote here.
Singapore is an internationally renowned hotspot for both tourism and expatriate employment, often ranking in the top five most desirable relocation destinations. The world’s only island city state since independence in 1965, Singapore currently has the sixth highest GDP per capita in the world. One degree north of the equator, the island has a hot and humid tropical climate (84% average humidity) with two annual monsoon periods. However, this location makes it an ideal jump-off point for travel to the whole of South East Asia.
The republic has a rich, multi-racial heritage - the population of 5.3 million is composed mainly of ethnic Chinese, Malays and Indians and 43% were born overseas, making it one of the top cities for foreign born inhabitants. With excellent global diplomatic relations and sitting at the choke point of the world’s busiest shipping lane, Singapore stands as a true bridge between East and West both figuratively and literally.
As an ex-British colony with long-standing ties to the United Kingdom, those who move to Singapore from the UK will benefit from English as the main national language, strong connections to UK schools, left-hand driving, a familiar queuing etiquette and a thriving Western expatriate scene in what remains a heavily Anglicised culture. Mandarin is the second most widely spoken language and the country is an excellent place to learn it. ‘Singlish’ – a special mix of English, Mandarin, Hokkien, Malay and Tamil - is also commonly used.
Singapore is famous for its impeccable cleanliness and low crime rate, consistently ranking as one of the least corrupt countries and one of the most business friendly. However, this does come at a cost; the country has many strict laws and regulations that have led to it being dubbed ‘The Fine City’, and the semi-autocratic government does limit some freedoms of speech. On top of this, Singapore racially profiles its inhabitants, enforcing ethic quotes in areas such as housing, in an effort to ensure the representation of its communities. Brits moving to Singapore usually won’t be used to writing their race on application forms for these purposes. Despite these compromises, Singapore expat life is generally very comfortable.
Singapore has a healthy, vibrant and highly competitive employment market. There are strict employment laws for foreigners and arriving on a tourist visa to then hunt for work is not advised. It is also difficult for self-employed expats to qualify for a visa. Rather, you will need an ‘offer in principle’ from an employer before arriving to then secure an employment pass from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for work in Singapore. Local talent is prioritised over foreign, so you must be highly skilled to achieve the average salary needed for a pass and to be seriously considered by employers over locals. The MOM has created an online tool (SAT) to assess your eligibility. You are required to earn at least SGD 3,600 (GBP 1,940) per month to qualify for an Employment Pass, or SGD 2,400 (GBP 1,292) for an S-Pass – the two most common types of visas for expats.
It is therefore strongly advised that you network with individuals in Singapore, for example on LinkedIn, and to contact with some of the recruitment firms in the city who may be able to propose job openings as well as guide you on the visa process once you have secured an offer. They will also be able to help you tailor your CV to the Singapore style and give you the complete picture on the working conditions and employer expectations in-country, such as holiday entitlement and work-life balance, as these differ somewhat from the UK.
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Singapore has some of the highest salaries in the world, with the top paying positions in banking, finance, accounting, technology, healthcare and life sciences. While London’s salaries in some of these sectors, such as banking, can compete with Singapore, this is offset by the republic’s significantly lower taxes and the benefits of expatriate relocation packages – with allowances that often include accommodation and schooling, resulting in a much higher take-home pay.
The extra income is welcome, as Singapore also has one of the highest costs of living in the world. However, it is possible to mitigate this by generally eating at local food outlets and shopping at local supermarkets and market stalls. Public transport prices are also very low, and its use is actively encouraged by the government. As well as putting you more in touch with Singaporean culture, this approach will make living in Singapore a little less expensive.
As a small island city-state, the cost of properties in Singapore can be particularly high. What the island lacks in land area, it makes up for in elevation and Singaporeans and expats alike are used to condominium life and serviced apartments rather than houses. Condos offer flexibility and convenience, as well as pools, gyms and outdoor BBQs. It is important to choose an area of Singapore that will allow easy access to the MRT or bus services to minimise walking in the tropical heat and overall commuting time. One option is to find temporary accommodation to start with, allowing you to recce the island and find the best fit for your personal/family requirements.
Public housing under the Housing and Development Board (HDB) is also an option and 80% of Singapore’s population live in HDB units. Unlike most countries, the public housing is of a relatively high standard, not associated with low incomes and can even include luxury units. However, most high-salaried expats will opt for the private accommodation. In this case it is advisable to hire a reputable agent who can navigate the stringent rules and regulations in place for property rentals to find you the best deal and ensure items such as a ‘diplomatic clause’ (early termination of rental for expats) are included in the agreement.
Singapore is divided into 28 districts. Read our quick guide about the main districts of Singapore where expats and their families like to live.
If you require schooling for kids, the hunt for a school needs to start as soon as your offer of employment is confirmed. Schools in Singapore are generally expensive. Singaporeans place a very strong emphasis on education, with most schools over-subscribed. Schools are either international, private or public. Note that, unlike in England or Wales, a ‘public’ school is government funded, whereas private and international schools are funded by fees. The best private and international schools have long waiting lists and in the case of public and private schools, priority is given to Singaporeans. School fees should certainly be part of a package negotiation at employment offer stage. Many expat packages will fund one child, some may partially fund two, but this varies greatly between employers.
International schools are usually the best option for expats who can afford it. Some schools adopt the British curriculum, and can make it easier for kids to slot back into the UK system upon return. There are also several UK schools operating in Singapore, such as Brighton College and the North London Collegiate School. Many other schools adopt the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum. Children in these schools learn alongside other foreign students living under similar circumstances. Some schools don’t have waiting lists, and these present an option for your children while you wait for an opening at your first-choice school.
While public schools are far more affordable (usually charging a low monthly fee) and lessons are generally conducted in English, Singaporeans are by far the dominant proportion of the students and foreigners may have difficulties adjusting to the very high expectations, pressure and competitiveness instilled in local students from age three. It is common for Singaporean kids to continue learning after school hours with home tuition to gain an advantage and it is not uncommon to see kids poring over books in a McDonalds in the late afternoon instead of playing football with their friends. There can also be an emphasis on rote learning rather than critical thinking. Furthermore, corporal punishment is legal and encouraged by the government for disciplinary purposes with boys.
Singapore has exceptional healthcare standards. Around 20% of primary healthcare facilities are provided by the government, the rest being private. However, all hospitals and clinics offer a mix of subsidized and paid treatments. As a foreign national, you won’t qualify for subsidized treatment, so medial insurance is deemed essential for expatriates, as paying full price is incredibly expensive. Many employer benefits packages will offer some form of medical insurance coverage with a preferred supplier under a group insurance plan – it’s important to check what this will cover. If you need to choose your own plan, there are two main options:
Integrated Shield plans: These plans are issued by local providers to residents for use alongside MediShield Life (the basic national health insurance provision). While expats don’t qualify for Medshield Life, they can still purchase Integrated Shield plans if they have a valid Singapore visa. These lower-budget options mainly cover hospitalisation-related costs (not outpatient visits and procedures, dental costs, etc.). There is usually a cash deduction (5% or more of your hospital bill) when you claim, and the policies do not offer cover outside of Singapore.
International health insurance plans: Some local insurance firms offer international health insurance plans specifically for expats. Unlike the Shield plans, these will usually offer coverage for travel outside of Singapore. Global insurance providers usually offer fully comprehensive insurance plans for individuals, with options to include family members.
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While the cost of living in Singapore may be high, there is no shortage of entertainment and culture in the city, which revolves around food and festivals. Singapore attractions are usually modern and well thought-out, making the city feel cutting edge.
Food is a huge part of Singaporean culture with many people travelling to the country just for the eating. The ethnic mix has created a melting pot of flavours, all of which are best sampled at one of the 107 hawker centres (food courts) throughout the city. Here you will find stalls selling favourites such as Singapore Laksa and Chicken Rice. While the standards at these stalls vary massively (it is street food after all), some of them even have Michelin star ratings, challenging even some of the best restaurants for quality.
Alongside the food are a wide variety of drinks, from a bewildering variety of fruit juices to local teas, coffees and cocktails. Note that alcohol is very expensive, with Singapore ranking highly as one of the most expensive places in the world to buy a beer. While many visitors want to try a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel, this is really a tourist gimmick.
Singapore has a thriving arts and cultural heritage scene with many galleries and museums, from the National Gallery and Singapore Art Museum to local contemporary galleries and the futuristic ArtScience Museum. Great places to visit include shopping malls and shopping districts, the most famous of which is Orchard Road, while the buildings reflect both the colonial past and the ethnic make-up of the city – including elaborate Buddhist and Hindu temples, ornate mosques and churches, to modernist skyscrapers and vine-covered eco-hotels. To sample traditional culture, you can visit the Chinatown street market, the Malay Muslim Kampong Glam or Little India. Other places to visit include the famous Marina Bay Sands, Universal Studios and the resort island of Sentosa with its cable car.
Despite being a bustling economic powerhouse of steel and glass, there are five nature reserves on the island, an excellent zoo that hosts night safaris and the Jurong Bird Park. Wildlife can also be found in and around the very well-kept activity parks, walks and gardens. These parks range from kid-friendly adventure parks to the more serious jungle hikes at Bukit Timah and even some purpose-built mountain bike trails.
Malaysia is just a bridge away and many Singapore inhabitants like to take road trips or a short flight to Malaysia’s tropical beaches, Legoland Malaysia, Genting Highlands or simply to benefit from the much lower prices when shopping.
The fun starts when you arrive at Changi Airport. Consistently voted the world’s best airport, the complex includes a huge variety of shops, an in-airport waterfall and tropical garden and trampoline park, making it a fun destination in itself.
Public transportation in Singapore is efficient and clean and offers access to every corner of the island, via buses, ferries, Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) trains or taxis. The consultancy McKinsey ranked Singapore's transport system as the world's best overall in their Urban Transportation report. Taxis are heavily regulated, and most people use the Grab app to book a ride. To ride on public transport, you need to acquire a NETS prepaid card which acts as cashless payment and is required for public car parks.
Car ownership costs are very high as the city operates a strict scrappage policy and owners must purchase a certificate of entitlement which can be very expensive. On top of that, every car must install an IU (in-vehicle unit) - a prepaid toll device that automatically deducts fares when you drive under the ERP system.
Once you are ready to make the move to Singapore, you will need to find a reputable international removal company. Sterling Lexicon are here to help with every step of the move process, covering international removals, Singapore visa and immigration advice, home finding and school search. Get a move quote.
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