So, you’re thinking of moving to Singapore, the tiny city state with the giant economy? It’s a great place to work and save money, but what is it really like to live there? Keep reading for information on housing, food, night life, public transport and ideas for what to do on your days off.
Singapore is a city of the past and the future. The fusion of races, religions and social classes means there’s something for everyone. Downtown Singapore is a mix of monster skyscrapers and quaint Chinese shop houses, while the suburbs are home to huge nests of nondescript public housing buildings. Weaving its way between it all is a huge network of parks, gardens and green spaces – you’re always close to the calming influence of the trees. Are you thinking of moving to Singapore but aren’t sure where you want to live…?
Moving to Singapore: Choosing a place to live
This depends massively on how much you’ll be earning and the reasons for your decision to move to Singapore. If you have money to burn then an inner city condo will suit you nicely. They are often pretty fancy and have all the amenities (gyms, pools etc) that you could need. Condos in the centre of town can get pretty expensive but the views, proximity to the city centre and the luxuriousness will make it worth it. My goal in moving to Singapore was to save as much money as I could so I opted to stay out in the suburbs. I lived with a local family in an HDB flat (public housing) in Tampines, a suburb in the east of the city. It was only $600 a month including power and internet. I had a decent sized room and because of my working hours I didn’t see my housemates often. It worked out well for me but this kind of suburban Singapore living might not be for everyone. If you’re thinking of living with locals in an HDB flat, here’s a very important tip: make sure you get a landlord who doesn’t impose too many rules. The first HDB flat I lived in was home to probably the grumpiest woman in Singapore. She basically treated me like a child (I was 28 at the time) imposing rules like “No visitors after 11pm” and “Washing your clothes is only allowed once a week”. She also told me off for closing the fridge too loudly (but maybe I was subconsciously trying to annoy her).I lasted about a month in that place and made sure the next landlords knew that I expected to be treated like an adult.
Further reading: How to Save $3000 ($2400 USD) a Month Teaching English in Singapore
Choosing a suburb to live in is pretty simple – they are all pretty similar. When I return to Singapore I’ll try and find a place in Katong; it’s one of the nicest suburbs and is pretty close to the city centre. There’s a nice “old town” with shop houses and temples and it’s also close to East Coast Park, home to one of the nicest beaches in Singapore. Most of Singapore’s suburbs are pretty much the same; just lots of public housing with lots of little town centres mixed throughout. You never have to walk far to reach places to eat, doctors, banks and supermarkets.
Further reading: Life in a Singapore Suburb: Tampines
Eating in Singapore
For me, one of the best parts about moving to Singapore was the food. Singaporean food is a mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay styles and there is so much variety. The best part though is that the food is really cheap. Hawker centres (food courts) are found all over Singapore and you can eat very well for around $4 (USD $3) per meal. My favourites were the Indian mutton curry (with a mango salad thing), Hokkein noodles, chicken (or pork) rice, and murtabak (roti filled with meat and dipped in curry sauce). If you miss western food you can always eat at one of the many western chains or more upmarket restaurants (hawker centre western food isn’t great though).
Things to do in Singapore
I lived in Singapore for 2 years and didn’t come close to seeing everything it has to offer. There are world class zoos (make sure you visit the night safari), great beaches, exotic walking trails, a theme park, golf courses and lots of historic attractions. Singapore is also home to Gardens by the Bay, probably the coolest set of gardens in the world. If you’re active and can handle the stifling heat you’ll never get bored in Singapore, or do what a lot of locals do and head to the air-conditioned sanctuary of Singapore’s many malls.
Further reading: A Guide to the Best Walks in Singapore, The Best Beaches in Singapore, Gardens by the Bay, Exploring the Historical Districts of Singapore
If you’re moving to Singapore and are considering getting a car then I’d recommend you to rethink you plan (unless your company is paying for it). Cars are expensive and the city is so small (and the public transport is so good) that a car can become a bit of an inconvenience. The metro system (MRT) is a great way to get around and is pretty cheap. You can get most places on the MRT and the buses cover pretty much everywhere else. Peak hour travel on public transport in Singapore can get a bit hectic and overcrowded, so be warned!
Nightlife in Singapore
Singapore has some nice bars and clubs and if you have plenty of money you’ll have some great nights out. It’s definitely expensive to party in Singapore, which is one reason I didn’t go clubbing too often (and the fact that I’m now quite old). There’s a huge expat community in Singapore and it’s easy to meet people, both foreign and local. People love food in Singapore and eating forms a big part of most local nights out. Karaoke is also pretty popular; hopefully you’re a better singer than me though. Alcohol is expensive at bars in Singapore but if you drink at hawker centres you’ll keep the costs down, although you’ll still have to pay an entrance fee at a lot of clubs.
Further reading: Expatsingapore.com – a great resource to find out about what’s on in the city and also a good way to meet fellow expats.
Moving to Singapore is a great idea if you want to live in a cool, multicultural big city in Asia. It has all the western conveniences as well and some people claim this makes it less authentic than cities like Bangkok or Hanoi. That may be the case, but I’d rather travel to those places (it’s cheap and easy from Singapore) and return back to the comfort of a place that is easy to feel at home in (the fact that English is spoken by nearly everyone helps a lot with that).
Are you considering moving to Singapore? Is there anything else you’d like to know? Leave me a comment or send me an email/Facebook message.
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Alfred Moving to Singapore
Thursday 5th of January 2017
Thanks for the wonderful and very informative content about moving to Singapore. I like the part where you can save 3000 a month while teaching English in Singapore. It is nice to know that there are good opportunities waiting in Singapore living.
Friday 1st of April 2016
Hi Jon, Great post. I'm American and have lived in Singapore for 4 years now. Before I got married to a Singaporean, I had to deal with the housing situation, too. It seems like every single person says "no friends over and no cooking." Your best bet is to rent a room from another expat... After doing that, I could finally live unrestricted once more :) Come back to Singapore soon - it's such an incredible place. Take care!
Tuesday 5th of April 2016
Thanks for the comment Lauren -- it's definitely hard to find a good landlord in Singapore! I might move back to Singapore next year, I do miss it.
Wednesday 9th of March 2016
Thank you for the excellent information, a great website.
Could I ask the best way to find a job? I have a BA, TESOL, CELTA and PGCE. I am finding it hard to find jobs online.
Any help would be wonderful.
Best regards Alex
Sunday 13th of March 2016
Hi Alex, just apply online for either My English School, I Can Read of LCentral.
Sunday 13th of December 2015
I am so grateful I came across your post. I will be heading to Singapore in 2 weeks for a Drama teaching position. I have been totally freaking out about the housing situation. Worrying about the expense of finding a Condo and the no cooking rule and the fussy Landlords. But your post has put everything into perspective about living frugally. It is amazing you managed to save $3000 a month! I will am on the same package and hope to do the same! Thank you!
Sunday 13th of December 2015
I was freaking out about it as well before I moved, I was quite surprised to find that housing is actually pretty cheap. Enjoy Singapore, it's a great place to live!
Monday 12th of October 2015
Awesome article. Well, I do plan to move to Singapore next year.. as early as Jan if I can. The article was very helpful and since I am planning to do my TEFL I think your links will come in very handy. I am a passionate traveler like you and manage travel as freq as I can. Thanks again and all the best!
Sunday 13th of December 2015
Thanks Poonam, enjoy living in Singapore!