Some people say Singapore is 1 of the best places to live in the world whilst others are fleeing for greener pastures. Here are the pros and cons of living in Singapore, based on personal experience. (I've in Europe for 11 years, and Asia for over 20.)
Living in any country can be wonderful or terrible, based on your individual preferences and personal situation. As someone who has lived both in and out of Singapore for years, let me give you the inside view about living in this cosmopolitan city!
If you're considering moving to or retiring in Singapore, which has long been a popular destination for expats, it's important to do your research and weigh the pros and cons carefully because moving is a big decision and the cost of living in Singapore is not low.
Note: if you're able to, I would suggest taking a short trip to Singapore to see if the country suits you before moving halfway cross the world. If you decide to do so, here's a 5-day Singapore itinerary for you as well as a list of what to bring to Singapore.
First things first, Singapore can be a great place but NOT if you are not fond of hot weather!
The small country has a tropical climate and is pretty much above 30C/ 86F all year round (except for the Northeast Monsoon Season (December to early March) where, if you're lucky, the temperature might fall to the 20s. (My FAVORITE time to be in Singapore though keep in mind that it will rain even more than usual then!) Honestly, the weather is 1 of the reasons I fled Singapore for Europe! (It's not just hot, it has high humidity!)
If the sweltering heat has not put you off, then do read on!
Note: It's 31C/ 88F as I write this post and that's after 3 days of non-stop rain!
You've probably heard this over and over by now: Singapore is a clean and safe country, with low crime rates and strict laws to ensure public order.
I know this sounds boring but, honesty, it's wonderful to live in a place where a single female doesn't have to worry about going out alone late at night. As a teenager, I would often take the MRT (subway) home alone at 11 at night and I never had to worry that I wouldn't reach home safely.
In addition, a lot of the American expats that I know say they prefer Singapore to the US because they don't have to worry about gun crime here. (It's illegal to own firearms.)
Note: Low crime doesn't mean no crime, so it's always good to be sensible! (This is an actual Singapore slogan!)
Regarding cleanliness, I must say, with Singapore being my home country, it's something I've always taken for granted so never particularly noticed.
However, my German flatmate once remarked to me that the subways in Singapore are so clean, you could eat off the floor! (I invited him to try but, alas, he turned me down.) I guess they really impressed him because he ended up leaving a high-flying banking career in Hong Kong to settle in Singapore after he got married.
Note: it's against the law to litter in public places in Singapore. (You'll get fined- you may have heard of the saying, "Singapore is a FINE city." This is in reference to how you can be fined for anything from parking in the wrong spot to littering!)
Terrific for Families
That brings me to point 2.
Singapore is a wonderful place to live if you have young kids. The country is OBSESSED with increasing the population so it feels like everything in Singapore revolves around children. There are playgrounds in almost every residential enclave and childcare centres/ children enrichment classes everywhere.
Even house prices are influenced by proximity to Primary Schools!
Such is the appeal of Singapore to young families that, after doing my MBA in London, it seems like ALL my classmates with kids are moving to Singapore!
Note: getting a live-in domestic helper is also much more affordable in Singapore than US or the Europe, which is obviously a big plus if you have the very young or very old in your household!
The healthcare system in Singapore is excellent.
There are 2 types of healthcare: private and public/ government. Private healthcare is NOT cheap. Locals have access to heavily subsidised government healthcare in Singapore but it would be best for foreign workers to make sure their jobs include health insurance!
The good thing about the Singapore system is that you always have access to decent healthcare, as long as you have the $$$. This works out well in situations where the cost is not high, but can be astronomical if you need to see a specialist.
Yay for Singapore
For example, when I was in the UK, I had a nasty fall and the wound got infected. I knew that I only needed a dose of antibiotics to get rid of the infection but unfortunately I needed a prescription for the antibiotics. As the UK's NHS system is publicly funded and free (for citizens, permanent residents etc- it is NOT free for tourists), you can have a hard time seeing the doctor (long wait.)
By the time it was my turn to see the doctor (2-3 weeks wait), my wound may have developed gangrene! So I had to pay to see a private doctor and that put me out of pocket by 100 pounds/ 130 USD- all for 2 minutes with the doctor in which he just wrote me a prescription.
And the fee did NOT cover the cost of the medicine!
In Singapore, I would only have had to pay USD$20-30 in this situation, because I would only need to see a GP (General Practitioner.)
Nay for Singapore
A converse example was when I needed to see a specialist.
In UK, I didn't have to pay anything. In Singapore, despite having health insurance (AIA), I wasn't able to claim the cost of seeing the (private) specialist and that set me back by a few grand. The worst is when you have a condition that needs monitoring and need to go back for regular specialist checkups!
Efficient Public Transport
Singapore has an excellent public transportation system, including buses, trains, and taxis, making it easy to get around the city without a car. (The cost of owning a car is definitely a "Con" in Singapore- see below!)
Everything is so efficient that from the moment you touch down at Changi Airport, everything runs like clockwork!
Buses & Trains (MRT or Mass Rapid Transit) are both fast, efficient and cheap. I would say taxis are mid-range: not as cheap as say, Seoul, but definitely more affordable than the US or UK. The only thing to note is that, due to Singapore's weather, taking the bus and train can feel like a punishment when the sun is out in full force. (It makes it hard to arrive at your destination without being all sweaty and icky!)
Note: In recent years, the MRT has had a number of breakdowns, which has lead to a lot of local complains. However, the number of breakdowns is nothing extraordinary compared to any other urban centre. (It's just that breakdowns didn't happen in Singapore before the 2000s, so it was a rude shock for locals.)
1 of the best things about living in Singapore is the many different cultures.
With a mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Western cultures, there is always something new to discover, which can make it fun if you're new to the country. Head down to Chinatown for a relaxing foot massage, to Little India for some good South Asian food or to Kampong Gelam to see the majestic Sultan Mosque.
We also have various public holidays to commemorate all the different racial events, from Chinese New Year to Hai Raya and Vesak Day.
The many different races are reflected in the fact that Singapore has 4 official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese and Tamil. However, most of us, especially the younger generations communicate in English. (I'm Chinese and my Mom can't even speak Mandarin!)
This makes it very easy for foreigners to integrated and get around. It's kind of like "Expat Life 101" or a soft introduction to being an expat in Asia? (I would know as my Father was based in Thailand for over 20 years. Not being able to speak the language made life quite challenging, especially when we needed to deal with the government! My Father actually does speak fluent Thai but, alas, not fluent enough to understand "professional" Thai.)
Note: do keep in mind that though English is the working language in Singapore, there are some Singaporeans, particularly those of the Pioneer Generation (70s and older), that can't speak English.
The cultural diversity is most obvious in Singapore's food. Singapore is a food lover's paradise, with many dishes from different cultures available everywhere.
With a wide range of cuisines available, from hawker centers to Michelin star fine dining restaurants, there is something to suit every taste and budget. Whether you're looking for traditional local dishes like laksa and chicken rice, or international cuisine such as Italian and Japanese, you'll find it all in Singapore.
Do note that as everything is imported, international food can be expensive.
Many locals eat cheaply, spending US$2-3 on a meal in a hawker centres. However, many foreigners complain about the exorbitant prices. All I can say is, if you expect to, say, eat steak and drink wine at every meal in Singapore, I hope you have a high-paying job!
Note: it can actually cost more to cook at home than to eat street food in Singapore!
Great Location for Asian Travel
Singapore is located in the heart of Southeast Asia, making it a great base for exploring the region.
With easy access to neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam etc, you can easily plan weekend getaways or longer trips. And the plane tickets aren't expensive!
A lot of people I know fly to the surrounding islands to dive or surf on the weekends. If you like the water, there are plenty of beaches in Singapore too, since it is an island!
Plenty of International Schools
If you have kids and prefer them to be educated in the way they would have been in your home country, Singapore offers a wide range of international schools from UWC to the Global Indian School.
These schools follow international curriculums, making it easy for expat children to transition to schools in other countries.
However note that the international school fees don't come cheap (but not necessarily more expensive than a good private school in the US or UK.)
Note: there are many good local schools- we get a lot of Asian foreign students in Singapore- but Western expats hardly ever put their kids into local schools in Singapore which is why I'm focusing more on international schools.
Singapore has a super low income tax rate compared to many other countries- as well as double taxation agreements (click through to see which countries)- making it an attractive destination for expats who earn a lot. (They get to keep their $$$ without having to give it to the state.)
The tax system is also simple and easy to understand, and you don't have to worry about hidden fees or charges.
Despite being a bustling city, Singapore also has plenty of green spaces.
I had an American friend who used to teach in Korea and, the 1st time she visited me in Singapore, her 1st comment was how relieved she was to see all the green trees!
From the Botanic Gardens to the Southern Ridges, there are plenty of parks and nature reserves to explore. These green spaces offer a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of city life and are a great place to hike or cycle.
You Won't Be Alone
There's a huge expat community in Singapore so it'll be easy for you to make friends.
Local Singaporeans are warm but not always friendly, if that makes sense.
Warm as in they're very, very kind & always willing to lend a helping hand- definitely much more so than in the other countries I've lived in- but not always friendly in the sense that many have very fixed cliques or social groups that they've been hanging out with all their lives, so it can be hard to integrate (assuming you want to), if you don't have anything in common.
Moreover, Singaporean culture is not as extroverted as American culture, which can make it even harder to break into local groups.
Overall, Singapore has a lot to offer many people but, of course, there are downsides as well, which we'll go into now.
I've already mentioned how terrible I find the Singapore weather: it's hot, humid and can rain a lot. (Not little drizzle like you get in the UK but real thunderstorms where you'll get drenched if caught outside.)
Nonetheless, many of my expat friends LOVE the heat and are outdoors any chance they can get so it's really down to individual preference. (According to them, the humidity is tough on their hair though.)
To beat the heat, you'll see tons of Singaporeans and expats in the many shopping malls to enjoy the free air conditioning! However, a lot of expats complain that the AC in the malls is too cold so, either way, the temperature is a bust!
If you enjoy water and outdoor activities, you may actually find the Singaporean weather a boon.
And with the heat comes all sorts of pests, from ants & mosquitoes to cockroaches! (You can't leave food out the same way you do in cold weather countries.)
In addition, whilst the idea of al fresco dining in the tropics seems nice, it has its own challenges, as this lady who got devoured by sandflies can attest!
The mozzies too are terrible. It's not just the itchiness of getting bitten, but they can also spread serious illness such as dengue fever. And, unfortunately, you can't prevent dengue mosquitoes alone- it's a community effort and you'll need your neighbours to be on board too!
Singapore is a tiny country and its population has increased massively over the last decade or so.
As such, we all live together packed like sardines in a can. This may be in the form of government housing or private apartments such as a high-rise condo (more expensive.) Such close living comes with many challenges: for example, I can hear my neighbour beside me, behind me, above me and even my neighbour from a DIFFERENT housing development!
Note: If you want to live in a landed house, where you'll have more space, I hope you work in finance or tech!
Traditionally, expats lived in landed houses or fancy condos in the city center as expat packages included housing. In recent years, many companies have done away with the housing package and more expats are moving out to the heartlands to stay in public housing (locally called HDB flats, and also where the majority of Singaporeans live.)
High Cost of Cars
Because Singapore is such a small country, we restrict the number of cars on the roads to prevent traffic congestion. (Have you ever been stuck in a jam in Bangkok or Manila? If so, you'll be glad Singapore doesn't have allow so many cars!)
As such, car ownership is taxed exorbitantly, in the form of paying for a certificate of entitlement when you buy a car. To give you an idea of how high prices can go, this article on the cheapest cars in Singapore 2023 lists cars from S$80,000 to S$130,000 i.e. US$60k to US$98k.
Cars are also locally considered a status symbol, so you'll find people dropping the price of a flat on a car here!
Oh, and have I mentioned that you can only keep cars for 10 years in Singapore? (To keep them for longer, you'll need to make special arrangements.)
On top of that, there's the ERP (electronic road pricing) where we have to pay a toll to use certain streets, such as Orchard Road.
As mentioned earlier, the easy public transport system makes it easy to get around without a car, but it's not always the most comfortable method due to the heat!
Note: if you're a cyclist, cycling has become more common in Singapore in the last few years. However, I must say that the roads in Singapore were not built with cycling in mind so you'd be doing yourself and the drivers a huge favour by not cycling on the main roads.
Now personally I'm a fan of the strict laws because it means that I get to live in a safe country.
However, if you're used to a country in which things are more, say, fluid, you may find Singapore's adherence to the strict and narrow stifling. (For example, a lot of people are bemused by the fact that we've banned chewing gum.)
Moreover, if you're a fervent supporter of human rights, you may not see eye to eye with some of the country's rules, such as the use of capital punishment for drug trafficking.
Note: there's also a lot of controversy over the Singapore's stance towards free speech.
When I first went to London for my MBA, I introduced myself to my groupmates by saying "Singapore is the best country in the world." Now, I would like to add a disclaimer "Singapore is terrific, particularly for the very rich!"
The cost of living in Singapore is not cheap. And since most expats understandably want to recreate some form of their previous life (say in the United States or Europe) in Singapore (car, big house, eating Western food), the cost only gets MUCH higher!
All in all, Singapore is a great place with much to offer but whether it'll make sense for you and your lifestyle will depend! If you want to move here and have questions, feel free to leave a comment!