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Interview with Leo – a British expat living in Singapore

Updated 7 Aug 2012

Leo Reuter, originally from the UK, moved to Singapore 24 years ago to build a career in the banking sector. Having experienced life in Buenos Aires, Madrid and Barcelona, he considers himself a seasoned expat.

For more information on expat life in Singapore, visit the Expat Arrivals Singapore Country Guide.

About Leo

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born and raised in England. After graduation, I joined The Bank of London & South America (now Lloyds TSB) and following initial training in London, I was posted to Buenos Aires in Argentina, where I lived for four years. I then moved to Spain with the bank and spent seven years in Madrid and three years in Barcelona.

Q: Where are you living now?
A: I am now living in Singapore, close to Orchard Road.

Q: How long have you lived in Singapore?
A: Almost 24 years

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children? 
A: I arrived as a single man, although my two children from an earlier marriage visited regularly during the school holidays.

Q: Why did you move? What do you do? 
A: I was transferred to Singapore in the days when you still moved or transferred at the discretion of your employer. My appointment was that of the General Manager for South East Asia for Lloyds Bank and Managing Director of the merchant bank. I remained in the employment of the bank for three years before parting company. In 1992, I joined an executive search practice as the Managing Director. This company later became the Singapore office for Stanton Chase International. In 2003, I opted for semi-retirement, but within a matter of months, I was coerced by my wife to help out in her fashion design and manufacturing company which is called Dollartex Pte Ltd. For the past nine years, I’ve been responsible for the financial management of the business, as well as overseeing operational and quality issues at our factory in southern China.

About Singapore

Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city? How’s the quality of life in Singapore?
A: Compared to most cities where I’ve lived, Singapore is remarkably clean and safe. The quality of life is what you make it, as the city caters to all tastes and price levels.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: I left home too long ago to give an accurate comment, although I enjoy visiting London where my two sons both live and work. I do miss the theatre, ballet and the West End shows.

Q: Is Singapore safe? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: As explained earlier, Singapore is safe when compared to most cities. However it’s important to follow the laws of the country and to remember that molestation is taken very seriously here. Even a friendly touch to almost any part of the body can be misinterpreted and can easily result in a court appearance and the dire consequences that may follow.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Singapore? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: The public transport system in Singapore is truly first-class and improving year by year. My only gripe is with the taxis, which despite state-of-the-art communication systems are frequently not available when it’s raining or prior to the change in shift. 

Cars are not a necessity in Singapore and, as widely reported, are very expensive. The public transport system runs almost 24/7 and is clean and efficient.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Singapore?
A: The general standard of healthcare in Singapore is excellent, although by no means cheap. There is a wide choice of government & private hospitals, polyclinics and specialist medical centres. Private medical insurance cover for the whole family is highly recommended for new arrivals.

About living in Singapore

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Singapore as an expat?
A: If you are single and will be working in the Central Business District (CBD), there are plenty of apartments in and around the area itself or close to Orchard Road. For single people with less money to spend on accommodation, the East Coast is a popular choice, particularly if you will be flying frequently in and out of the country.

For expats with families, the choice is often dictated by the schools the children will attend. Over the years, many of the ‘foreign’ schools (American, Canadian & Australian for example) have relocated to almost all four corners of the island with the result that many families have moved with the schools. However, for those families where bussing or travelling to school is not an issue, Districts 9, 10 & 11 remain the preferred choices, but that said, today, you will find foreigners living in all parts of the island state.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in the city?
A: The standard of housing in Singapore is good, but it is becoming increasingly more expensive. Given that land is at a premium in Singapore, the vast majority of expats live in condominiums or apartments for which rentals are usually readily available to suit most incomes.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Singapore is not a cheap city, and unless housing and a car are provided by your employer will take up a sizeable portion of your disposable income. School fees have also escalated in recent years, as has healthcare. Eating out can be cheap or very expensive depending upon individual choices, and frequenting popular watering holes can also make a hole in your pocket if you are not careful.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: Most locals are friendly and well-educated. It must be remembered that the country has come a long way in a very short period of time, and therefore not everyone has been able to keep pace with the constant change.

I’m fortunate to be married to a local who in turn has lived many years overseas as an expat. Our friends, therefore, come from all walks of life.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: I encountered no major problems getting out and making new friends. I was active on the sporting scene when I first arrived in Singapore and made many friends through sport.

About working in Singapore

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: No, but the position has changed noticeably in the last six months or so. It is no longer guaranteed that employment passes will be granted, even assuming that the applicant is suitably qualified and educated. For those seeking permanent resident status, the door at present is virtually closed, save for a number of exceptional cases.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?
A: Depending upon the sector in which you wish to work, there are still job opportunities to be had in Singapore. However, it is best to identify prospective employers before leaving home if you’re not being transferred by your present company, as they will be in a far better position to advise on job prospects and opportunities for their particular sector.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: From my experience, not a great deal. The working hours are pretty similar to most big cities, and most of the workforce will be game for a drink after work on a Friday.

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: No, as I was considered a seasoned expat when I transferred to Singapore, I didn't require the assistance of a relocation specialist.

Family and children

Q: What are the schools like in Singapore? Any particular suggestions?
A: As I’ve highlighted earlier, private schooling is not cheap in Singapore, and depending upon your nationality there could well be a waiting list for your school of choice. Some of the local schools which may be more affordable do offer places to expat kids, but entry is not always guaranteed as this is often subject to balloting. You have to remember that Singaporeans followed by Permanent Residents will have priority over expat children.

There are also differences in the curriculum and for many the Singaporean education system is often described as frenetic or intense. Very young children are subject to intense pressure to compete, and there is often little time left for other activities.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals to Singapore?
A: Make the most of your time in this vibrant city. Remember, however, that you are a guest in your host country, and you should follow the laws of the country even if you are not necessarily in full agreement. Crossing the line can result in very harsh penalties. Strict censorship laws remain in force and getting involved in local politics is not advisable.

~ Interviewed in August 2012

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