Singapore has long been thought of as a paradise for monied expats. Paying almost zero income tax, partying in a playground for the rich and jetting off to Bali or Phuket over the weekend is one reason it’s been voted one of the most liveable cities in Asia for expats…
… But is it really? We know better than to believe all those meaningless “Singapore is #1” rankings. Here are three big reasons expats thinking of making Singapore their next stop might want to reconsider.
It’s getting more expensive
It seems Singaporeans aren’t the only ones complaining about things being expensive here. Thanks to a strengthening dollar and the rising cost of living, it seems even foreigners with cushy jobs are feeling the pinch. (Heck, even Chinese tourists are feeling the pinch.)
Singapore was ranked the world’s fourth most expensive city for expats according to a survey last year, behind only Caracas, New York and Zurich.
Foreigners don’t have access to cheaper HDB housing, and if they’re not on cushy expat packages with paid-for housing (and the reality is that 83% of non-Singaporean finance professionals in Singapore have never been on one of those cushy expat packages), things start looking a lot more expensive for them.
That’s why many fairly well-paid finance professionals in their 20s and 30s end up having to rent a tiny room in a condo that’s shared amongst four people.
And expat families who pay for sky high international school fees are under even more pressure, as annual fees per student can be as high as $30,000 to $40,000… ouch!
Jean-Baptiste, a French engineer in his 20s says, “The cost of living is definitely a pain. The cost of living is so high it’s a problem, because on a normal salary you get f—ed. You can’t just think about having another beer because it’s so expensive. Each time you go to a club you have to pay like $50.”
“For flats it’s a pain because you can’t afford to live in the city centre unless you don’t mind sacrificing a lot of space, and most of my friends have to share with many room-mates.”
Having since left Singapore, he says, “The cost of living would definitely deter me from coming back. One nice thing is the easy availability of facilities and convenience, but it comes at a price.”
2016 is not a good year for many employees in Singapore.
Everyone is bracing themselves for a tough year, and some of the biggest employers here have been introducing manpower cuts or pulling out of the country altogether.
Standard Chartered announced late last year their plans to cut 15,000 jobs worldwide by 2018—that’s almost 18% of the entire workforce.
Yahoo Singapore has also started laying off people amidst reports that Yahoo plans to cut no less than 10% of its global workforce.
And then there are the fears that businesses will pull out of Singapore altogether, like Rakuten just did.
With bad news befalling some of Singapore’s highest profile companies and the Republic’s falling attractiveness as a location for the expansion of international firms, expats might be a little more wary about heading to Singapore this year.
Tony, a Vietnamese national working for a start-up here has this to say, “I was working in London before this, and it’s worse there. I’ve changed jobs twice in two years here, so finding a job isn’t a problem.”
“But whether you get to keep your job is another question. There’s a lot of churn here, so if your industry is affected you should keep a lookout for new jobs and network well just in case.”
Part of the reason Singapore has done so well as an expat destination compared to other major Asian cities is the relative lack of air pollution, compared to smoggier places like Beijing, Shanghai and Bangkok.
But thanks to the fact that the haze situation was particularly bad in 2013 to 2015, all that might change.
Let’s face it, last year’s haze was terrible. It’s already had a negative effect on GDP and tourist arrivals.
And if the problem becomes a yearly one (which it does seem to be doing), expats might realise that our air quality isn’t really that much of an upgrade over other polluted Asian cities.
In fact, health risks and air pollution have been cited as a key reason Singapore’s ranking as a top expat destination might slide in the near future.
The prospect of spending a few months each year holed up indoors and relying on an air purifier to survive isn’t exactly appealing.
One of Singapore’s biggest benefits over Hong Kong has been the better air quality, but thanks to the haze situation more expats might start picking the latter instead—it’s already viewed as more vibrant and more exciting than Singapore, so our haze problems might just send more expats that way.
For Natalie, an English expat, the haze has been a source of great consternation that has seen her longing for the fresh air back home and made her resolve to leave within a year or two.
“Yes, the haze can drive away people who have just settled in Singapore,” she says. “Singapore’s skyline was hardly visible and there was smog everywhere. Last year, the air smelt of burning fire and left a strange taste in the mouth. People drove with their lights on and it was difficult to see the lines on the road. Walking without a mask was impossible. Singaporeans speak of a haze season and I dread the return of the haze.”
Do you think Singapore is a desirable location for expats? Tell us in the comments!