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Top 10 Tips for Expat Life in Singapore

Updated 24 Oct 2013

Moving to Singapore can be an exciting adventure, and with so many new and interesting things to experience and places to explore, expats are in for a treat. Jasjit Baveja, an Australian expat living in Singapore, shares her insights and top ten tips to making the most of expat life in the “little red dot”.

1. Food 

If you are a foodie, Singapore is heaven on earth. If you are not, I can guarantee you the little red dot will likely make one of you. From cheap hawker centres to Michelin star restaurants, food in Singapore caters for every palette, whether you feel like local roti chennai for breakfast, a burger for lunch or sushi for dinner. 

Tips for enjoying Singaporean cuisine:

  • Local fare – Lau Par Sat, East Coast eateries. Must tries: roti prata, world famous chilli crab, hokkien mee, fish head curry, satay, chicken rice, ice kachang

  • Indian food – Little India. Must tries: dosa, chicken curry, murtabak

  • Mediterranean – Arab Street. Must tries: hummus, mezze platter, moussaka, kebabs and shawarma

2. Singlish

Singlish is literally “Singaporean English”! It’s fun and makes it easier to get by, lah!

Some key words in Singlish:

  • makan - food/meal

  • lah/leh - can/cannot

  • ala mak - to make a statement

3. Culture

Singapore’s base population consists of three main ethnic groups – Chinese, Malay and Indian. However, Singapore is also a melting pot of cultures from around the world. Living here allows you to experience this diversity first hand. There is never a dull moment in Singapore with numerous celebrations throughout the year.

Tips for experiencing Singaporean culture:

  • Eat mooncakes at the mid-autumn festival in Chinatown

  • Experience the lights on Deepawali in Little India

  • Watch the lighting of the candles on Orchard Road for Hannukah

  • The lion dance at Chinese New Year

  • The world famous dazzle of Orchard Road at Christmas

  • Hari raya feasting

  • For the more adventurous experience, the visually spectacular Thaipusam festival

4. Shopping

Shopping is so popular with both the locals and tourists that Singapore has dedicated a whole month of sales. This is called the Great Singapore Sale and happens around May to July. During this time, there are up to 70 percent discounts.

Tips for shopping in Singapore:

  • Orchard Road – with literally thousands of stores along this stretch, you are guaranteed to find anything and everything to suit every taste and budget

  • Bugis – great shopping for both tourists and locals. It is located in a row of shop houses that have been converted to the Bugis Junction complex. In the same area, there is a market across the road, Bugis Street.

  • Chinatown – for all traditional Chinese arts and crafts, jewellery and souvenirs

  • Little India – Indian clothes, handicrafts, jewellery, textiles

  • Haji Lane – textiles and knick knacks

5. The heat, the humidity and the rain

Singapore is renowned for its heat and humidity. Although the monsoon season is from November to January, it can rain at any time.

Tips for surviving the climate:

  • Always carry a water bottle, and drink frequently. It is very easy to become dehydrated in the heat.

  • Wear a hat and sunscreen even when it is cloudy

  • Be sure to get sufficient fresh air to balance the perpetual air conditioning indoors

  • Always carry an umbrella

  • Don’t expect much from your hair or bother to try to keep it tame in the humidity

Not only does Singapore’s heat and humidity affect people, you need to watch out for your food and belongings as well!

Tip: Keep all food in airtight containers, otherwise risk it being contaminated by yucky little insects. If you have room in the fridge, put as much as you can in there to prolong shelf life. If you intend on being away for a while, ensure that your house is aired frequently to avoid mould building up.

6. The hip and happening

Singapore has the A to Z of cool, be it music, arts, clubs, pubs, or shows, you simply can’t miss out.

Tip for experiencing Singaporean nightlife:

  • Explore Ann Siang Hill/Club Street, Duxton Hill, Clarke Quay, Boat Quay and Haji Lane.

7. Travel

One of the best things about living in Singapore is the location. This little island is perfectly placed to allow you to explore Asia, even if time is limited. There is an abundance of airlines, including budget airlines, with most of them offering promotional fares all year round to different destinations. Ensure you book as early as possible for peak holiday periods

Top destinations for travel from Singapore:

  • Chiang Mai in Thailand

  • Redang in Malaysia

  • Halong Bay in Vietnam

  • Boracay in the Phillipines

8. Healthcare

Healthcare in Singapore is of an extremely high quality and very easy to access. Both public and private hospitals cater to every medical need.

Emergency numbers in Singapore:

  • Ambulance and fire – 995

  • Police – 999

  • Non-emergency ambulance – 1777

  • Police hotline – 1800 225 0000

  • Traffic police – 6547 0000

Although Singapore is very safe and clean, in addition to routine vaccinations, hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations are recommended. Also, with such a high number of travellers in the country, flu shots are a good idea.

9. Getting around

Singaporeans are spoilt for choice when it comes to getting around. Cars are available to lease or buy; however, they are by no means a necessity. You can get around with the excellent MRT train system or the efficient buses. Taxis are also generally readily available and don’t usually cost an arm and a leg.

Tips for getting around Singapore:

  • Pre-book a cab if you intend to travel during peak hours, if it’s raining, or during the post-dinner rush

  • If possible, head to the nearest decent hotel where there always seem to be plenty of taxis

  • Get an EZ-link card if you intend to use buses and/or MRTs frequently

  • If you do decide to drive, ensure that you get your foreign driver’s license converted within a year of moving to Singapore

10. Other general tips

A few more tips for making the most of life in Singapore:

  • Tap water is fine to drink

  • You can get fined for jaywalking

  • No food or drink is allowed on public transportation

  • Chewing gum is not allowed in Singapore

  • Strollers must be folded on public buses

  • Consider the “sit and stroll” car seat option for taxi rides with young kids

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