We may have char kway teow in Singapore, but we also have sky-high property prices, poor work-life balance and a punishing education system. So, it’s understandable that you might have caught yourself thinking once or twice about leaving Singapore for greener, or at least, less crowded shores.
If so, you’re like the 42% of people in a 2016 online study who said that they would migrate out of Singapore if they could.
While Singaporeans with the right qualifications, perseverance and willingness to learn a new language can successfully migrate to almost anywhere in the world, this article will focus on five Anglophone countries that are very popular with Singaporeans looking for a new home: New Zealand, Australia, Canada, UK, and the US.
The costs of living are higher in these countries, but the annual salaries are also higher.
Generally, you will find the migration process a lot smoother if you have skills in fields that face labour shortage in your destination country. In all 5 countries, there is high demand for skilled labour in medical and engineering fields, as well as accounting, mechanics and child care.
Migrating from Singapore to New Zealand
New Zealand is somewhat similar to Australia in terms of culture and education system, however it generally has the reputation of being even more relaxed. New Zealand’s biggest cities are nowhere near as bustling as Australia’s, and career-wise there tend to be fewer opportunities for growth than in Australia.
Still, it’s proven an increasingly popular place for Singaporean immigrants for whom the whole idea of leaving Singapore is to enjoy a less stressful lifestyle anyway. In 2013, 5,270 residents in New Zealand were born in Singapore, with most living in Auckland.
New Zealand’s education system
The education system is very similar to Australia’s, with the school year beginning in January at all levels from kindergarten to tertiary. This means that at whichever level, your child will not be held back a year.
In general, it is also a lot more relaxed than it is in Singapore. However, parents might want to note that there are more prestigious schools at both secondary and tertiary levels in Australia.
Weather and climate in New Zealand
Like Australia, New Zealand is in the Southern hemisphere, which means summer is at the beginning/end of the year, while winter is in the middle of the year.
In general, weather in New Zealand tends to be very moderate due to its maritime climate, which means it’s almost always pleasant. Of course, it depends on where you live, but as a very general rule you can expect warmer winters and cooler summers than in Australia.
Cost of living in New Zealand
Most of the Singaporean population is clustered in Auckland and its suburbs, so here are some average costs for the city.
As of 27 September 2018, the currency exchange rate is SGD $1 to NZD $1.10, which is almost equivalent.
|Item||Price in Auckland (NZD)|
|Meal at inexpensive restaurant||15.50|
|Toyota Corolla 1.6l 97kW Comfort||29,228|
|Cost of renting an apartment (1 bedroom) in city centre||1,844|
|Cost of renting an apartment (1 bedroom) outside of city centre||1,482|
Average salaries in New Zealand (Auckland)
|Occupation||Average annual salary in Auckland (NZD)|
|High school teacher||62,266|
Personal income tax in New Zealand vs Singapore
For this portion on personal income tax, we will compare the salary of a secondary school teacher in the different countries, not taking into account personal tax reliefs.
It is important to note that even though annual salaries are higher in New Zealand, personal income tax is also higher. A secondary school teacher’s income, income tax and take-home pay in Singapore vs New Zealand potentially look like this:
|Singapore (SGD)||New Zealand (NZD)|
|Personal income tax||550||11,020|
In 2017, if you are a secondary school teacher earning NZD $60,000, you will have to pay personal income tax of up to $11,020. Your effective take-home pay is $48,980. Use nifty tool to calculate New Zealand income tax.
In comparison, in Singapore as a secondary school teacher earning around SGD $40,000, you pay $550 for the first $40,000, and a 7% taxation rate for the next $40,000. That brings your income tax to $550. Your effective take-home pay is $39,450.
Migrating from Singapore to Australia
Australia is super popular with Singaporeans, and it’s easy to see why. It’s the closest English-speaking developed country to Singapore, and while expensive, has a reputation for boasting good work-life balance and a less stressful education system.
The cost of living vis-a-vis salaries is much lower than in Singapore. You can probably live in a spacious house and own a car without paying through your nose here.
What’s more, there are tons of Singaporeans already living in Australia, especially in Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. As of 2016, there are 54,934 Singapore-born people in Australia, so you can live a rather similar lifestyle to home (although we don’t know if that’s missing the point). There are many Singaporean and Malaysian restaurants in the major cities, as well as no shortage of authentic Indian, Vietnamese, Thai and Japanese eateries.
Those who venture out of their comfort zone will find more opportunities for sport, the outdoors and, in major cultural centres like Melbourne and Sydney, the arts than back home.
Australian education system
The benefit of moving to Australia from Singapore is that the school year begins in January for primary, secondary and tertiary levels, which means that Singaporean students can make the transition at whichever level without losing time or being held back.
Secondary school students who move from Singapore to Australia often find that they are way ahead of their peers in math and science. Something to note is that there tends to be better support for children with special needs in mainstream schools in Australia.
Weather and climate in Australia
As many Singaporeans would already know, the Australian seasons are the reverse of the Northern Hemisphere. So get ready for sweltering Christmases. Winters are pretty mild, with the exception of Melbourne.
Cost of living in Australia (Melbourne)
The cost of living can vary tremendously depending on where you live in Australia. Obviously, living in a smaller city like Newcastle will cost you a fraction of what it does to live in, say, Sydney.
The following average costs (as collected by numbeo.com) are for inner-city Melbourne, which has a huge Singaporean community. Note that many of the Singaporeans who have relocated permanently actually live in suburban areas, where costs are significantly lower.
As of 27 September 2018, the currency exchange rate is SGD $1 to AUD $1.01, which means that you can basically think of Aussie dollars as SGD.
|Item||Prices in Melbourne (AUD)|
|Meal at inexpensive restaurant||16.24|
|Toyota Corolla 1.6l 97kW Comfort||23,037|
|Cost of renting an apartment (1 bedroom) in city centre||1,803|
|Cost of renting an apartment (1 bedroom) outside of city centre||1,392|
Average annual salaries for jobs in Australia (Melbourne)
|Occupation||Average annual salary in Melbourne (AUD)|
|High school teacher||63,883|
Personal income tax in Australia vs Singapore
In 2017, if you are a secondary school teacher in Australia earning AUD $63,000 a year, your personal income tax is AUD $3,572 + $8,450 = $12,022. (See calculation rules for Australia’s personal income tax). In Singapore, a secondary school teacher earning SGD $40,000 per year will be taxed $550.
|Secondary School Teacher||Singapore (SGD)||Australia (NZD)|
|Personal income tax||550||12,022|
Migrating from Singapore to Canada
Canada is the US’s less competitive, more relaxed cousin and one key reason people leave Singapore to Canada is to escape the stress.
In 2011, there were about 11,000 Singapore-born people living in Canada. The biggest Singaporean population can be found in Vancouver, followed by Toronto.
Education system in Canada
Apparently, Canada’s education system is pretty damn good. Canadian students were ranked within the top 10 on the PISA test, without the crushing stress and tuition overload that Singaporean students experience.
The school year usually runs from September to June. The typical educational pathway (outside of Quebec) looks something like this:
- Elementary school: Grades 1 to 6
- Intermediate school: Grades 7 to 8
- Secondary school: Grades 9 to 12
When students finish Year 12 at the age of 18, they can usually begin tertiary studies in September of the same year. The typical Canadian university degree takes 3 or 4 years to complete, with some 3 year degrees offering the option of an additional honours year.
Weather and climate in Canada
Canada is huge so climates obviously vary greatly, but in general, you can expect snow in winter in most major cities. Vancouver and Toronto experience relatively mild winters, while Winnipeg and Quebec City have some of the coldest.
Cost of living in Canada (Vancouver)
Here are some cost of living estimates for Vancouver. When you move to Canada from Singapore, you’ll find that the cost of living is actually pretty manageable. You’ll be able to afford a car comfortably, although house rental costs may set you back.
As of 28 September 2018, SGD $1 = CAD $0.95, which is almost equivalent.
|Item||Prices in Vancouver (CAD)|
|Meal at inexpensive restaurant||15|
|Toyota Corolla 1.6l 97kW Comfort||23,688|
|Cost of renting an apartment (1 bedroom) in city centre||1,907|
|Cost of renting an apartment (1 bedroom) outside of city centre||1,456|
Average annual salaries in Canada
|Occupation||Average annual salary (CAD)|
|High school teacher||49,049|
Personal income tax in Canada vs Singapore
For a secondary school teacher earning CAD $49,049 in Canada, the personal income tax in Canada is $7,492 (15% on the first $46,605 and 20.5% on the next $46,603 up to $93,208).
Comparing to a secondary school teacher in Singapore earning SGD $40,000 and taxed $550 per year, these figures mean that you might be bringing back a lower take-home pay if you migrate to Canada – although the annual income seems higher at first glance.
|Secondary School Teacher||Singapore (SGD)||Canada (CAD)|
|Personal income tax||550||7,492|
Read more about how to migrate to Canada.
Migrating from Singapore to the UK
Unlike Australia and New Zealand, which are seen as lifestyle destinations, Singaporeans usually move to the UK for job opportunities.
Most of the Singaporeans working in London tend to be high-flyers. Work culture in London can be quite demanding and the cost of living is very high, but so are salaries and opportunities for advancement.
In 2009, there were 41,000 Singapore-born people in the UK, with the largest population being in London.
Education system in the UK
Singapore’s O level and A levels were modelled after UK’s GCSE and A level, so Singaporean students who move to the UK from Singapore will find it almost identical and very manageable.
The only thing is that the school year begins in September and ends in July next year, so students may lose 9 months during the transition. Like Singapore, students go on to college after A levels, which is typically at age 18. University commences in August/September like Singapore, and bachelor’s degrees are typically completed in 3 years, with honours being awarded based on grades.
Weather and climate in the UK
The UK is generally not known for its good weather, so expect lots of rain, clouds and short summers that aren’t consistently sunny. Winters are cold but not terribly, horribly harsh, at least compared to, uh, Siberia.
Cost of living in the UK
London is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and light years more expensive than any of the UK’s other major cities. Here are some sample costs in UK.
As of 28 September 2018, the currency exchange rate is SGD $1 to GBP $0.56.
|Item||Price (GBP)||Price (SGD)|
|Meal at inexpensive restaurant||15||26.8|
|Toyota Corolla 1.6l 97kW Comfort||21,058||37,655|
|Cost of renting an apartment (1 bedroom) in city centre||1,646||2,944|
|Cost of renting an apartment (1 bedroom) outside of city centre||1,188||2,124|
As you can see, virtually everything (except alcohol and cars) is more expensive than in Singapore.
Average annual salary estimates in London
|Occupation||Average annual salary (GBP)||Average annual salary (SGD)|
|High school teacher||31,205||55,798|
Personal income tax in the UK vs Singapore
|Secondary School Teacher||Singapore (SGD)||London, UK (GBP)|
|Personal income tax||550||3,871|
UK has a personal tax allowance of £11,850. This is the amount you don’t have to pay tax on. From £11,851 to £46,350 the tax rate is 20% but jumps up to 40% for taxable income between £46,351 to £150,000.
For a high school teacher earning £31,205, the taxable income is £19,355, and the income tax payable (20%) is £3,871. See full details on income tax in the UK.
With lower annual incomes and high costs of living (including income tax), you’ll need to be quite a baller with a well-paying job if you want to move to the UK. But don’t forget to calculate your effective take-home pay to see if taking up a job there is worth it as tax rates for higher incomes can be sky-high too.
Migrating from Singapore to the US
Compared to the other countries on this list, it’s not easy to obtain the right to work in the US.
Most Singaporeans who migrate to the US from Singapore either studied at an American university or are sought-after workers in areas like software engineering.
While the US is vast and your experiences will vary wildly depending on where you are, the metropolitan areas with the highest numbers of Singaporeans are New York, LA and San Francisco—which all also happen to be extremely expensive.
Be warned that the US is not known for work-life balance. The average worker gets only about 10 days of annual leave, and considering it would take you 2 or 3 full days to travel from the US to Singapore, that’s peanuts.
Education system in the US
A typical American education starts with 1st to 4th grade at elementary school, 6th to 8th grade at middle school and 9th to 12th grade at high school.
The school year is from September to July, and students typically obtain their high school diploma in July at the age of 18, which enables them to go to college, or university, in Singaporean speak.
Students typically start university at the age of 18 the September after high school graduation. It must be said that universities in the US are some of the world’s most expensive, and the average university student is eyeballs-deep in debt for many, many years after they graduate.
Weather and climate in the US
The US is such a huge country that the weather differs depending on where you go. If you’re moving to New York, be prepared for bitterly cold winters. On the opposite coast, if you’re in California, you can expect to be able to wear shorts all year round.
Cost of living in the US
Again, this varies tremendously depending on where you live. New York is one of the world’s most expensive cities; on the other end of the scale, if you’re moving to Indianapolis or Kansas, you’re going to feel (almost) like a Singaporean shopping in Bangkok.
Below are the cost of living estimates in New York, courtesy of numbeo.com, however remember that it’s important to do your own research based on where you’ve moving to. As of 28 September 2018, the currency exchange rate is USD $1 to SGD $1.367.
|Item||Price (USD)||Price (SGD)|
|Meal at inexpensive restaurant||20||27|
|Toyota Corolla 1.6l 97kW Comfort||20,808||28,444|
|Cost of renting an apartment (1 bedroom) in city centre||3,160||4,319|
|Cost of renting an apartment (1 bedroom) outside of city centre||1,962||2,682|
Average annual salaries in New York (US)
|Occupation||Average annual salary (USD)||Average annual salary (SGD)|
|High school teacher||59,814||81,766|
Personal income tax in the US vs Singapore
The personal income tax rate in the US is 22% for the income bracket between $38,701 to $82,500, with a personal exemption of $4,050. This means that for a secondary school teacher earning an annual income of USD $59,814, the tax payable is USD $13,159 and the take-home pay is USD $50,705.
|Secondary School Teacher||Singapore (SGD)||US (USD)|
|Personal income tax||$550||$13,159 – $4,050 (personal exemption)|
Should you migrate out of Singapore ?
At this point, I can already hear the indignant voices of those who insist that this grass-is-greener syndrome is going to end in tears and that ever-complaining Singaporeans just don’t know how good they’ve got it.
And indeed, there are some clear advantages to living in Singapore—safety, security, food, a public transport system that works most of the time, restaurants, bars and entertainment open till late at night, low taxes and high salaries (but only if you’re working in a lucrative industry like banking).
But sometimes, it’s not just about moving to a “better” place, but one that’s better for you. Maybe you don’t care about Michelin-starred restaurants but hanker after fresh, locally-grown produce. Maybe you’re not looking to hungrily scale the career ladder by spending late nights at work, but just want a job you can clock out of at 5 or 6pm. Maybe you want your kids to enjoy their childhood rather than fight tooth and nail to get perfect scores at the PSLE/O levels/A levels.
In that case, maybe, just maybe, moving elsewhere might be the right choice.
Do you plan to leave Singapore and why? Tell us in the comments!
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