“Singapore ah?” – What expats really think of life in the little red dot

Want to know what it’s really like to live in Singapore? Four expats spill the tea on what it’s really like to live in the sunny island-state.

By SGN | 17 Jun 2020

As a well-connected international hub, Singapore has been a preferred choice for expats hailing from all corners of the world. In 2019, Singapore had ranked 2nd in the top countries to live and work in, in a survey done by over 18,000 expats.

We speak with Monique Fillion from the Philippines, Sebastian Muller from Germany, James Gwyther from the United Kingdom, and Katsuto Akimichi from Japan, on their roaring experience on life in the Lion City.

Finding friendship and connection through diversity

Singapore is home to a mix of people hailing in from different cultures and countries. As a true-blue international hub, the diversity that Singapore boasts makes it easy for foreign friends to adapt to.

“Everyone gets along, there is a lot of mutual respect and people enjoy living here,” says Sebastian, who originally came from Germany and has been living in Singapore since 2015. Before his move to Singapore, Sebastian had spent five years in Shanghai, where he grew to love the flavours and cultural influences of the east. “Contrary to my time in Shanghai, it is much easier to also live a Western lifestyle [in Singapore]. It’s all in the balance and adapting was no problem.”

The friendliness of locals was also one for the books. “I’m a big fan of the taxi uncles. On my first trip to Singapore, the taxi uncle immediately became my guide and came up with great restaurant recommendations,” he recalls. “When they find out I’m from Germany, they often have some opinion to share about football or politics. One uncle shared with me about his trip to my hometown of Dresden he took back in 1981 before the Berlin wall came down. Always a fun ride!”

The diversity of different cultures coupled with the large expat community meant that many locals understood and are willing to help foreigners to adapt. Making the move from another part of Asia, Monique too shared a similar experience with Singaporeans – in particular, her friendly neighbours. “My elderly neighbours barely speak English, but they always greet me and ask if I have makan (eat) already,” she recounts.

The safe alley for exploring cultures

Singapore is relatively safe country, with much to be explored in its nooks and alleyways. (Picture Credit: Klook)

Despite having only been in Singapore since 2019, Monique has found her hangout spots in the nooks of cafes and bookstores. “The staff at my local café knows me by name now and prepares my usual order as soon as I step in!” she says. For Monique, exploring the city freely was especially encouraging by the fact that Singapore is one of the safest countries in the world – a fact that many foreigners may have a misconception towards.

“People often seem to think that Singapore is stringent and regulated,” Sebastian says. While he agrees the city has a “healthy amount of order”, he has never felt overburdened in any sense. “Everything in Singapore works very smoothly. Going with the local flow will not cause any issues or undue burden.”

Realising leisure and business in a vibrant city

Sebastian, who runs a digital service company, finds that Singapore offers an excellent balance of a “fast-paced business environment with greenery and leisure options”. He had worked on building a client base in Singapore since 2014 and eventually set up a local office for his company when he made the move.

James, who works for a brand experience agency, shares that working with Singaporeans was all about getting used to the local culture and language. “As an expat, I think you will always have to integrate into the local community but if you have passion for working with others and are open to new working cultures and language, then it’ll make it enjoyable along the way,” he said. “I work with a lot of Singaporeans, so most days in the office, there’s some local phrases or words that I say and get wrong but makes me and everyone laugh.”

The Singapore food culture also served as a gateway for James to “explore other parts of Asia and gain new experiences”. In fact, he recommends for other expats and foreign friends to indulge in durian for a proper welcome into Singapore.

James in line for a Michelin Guide fried kway teow fix at a local hawker centre. (Picture Credit: James Gwyther)

Exploring the local food scene is one way to get adjusted to Singapore. Akimichi, who runs two hair salons in Singapore, shares that having an open mind to experience the local food culture while having Japanese options available, had helped him integrate better into the community. “Have an open mind, immerse in the culture, enjoy the streets, and you may find many interesting things around you,” he says.

The place where summer never ends

All year round outdoors fun at Singapore’s East Coast Park. (Picture Credit: National Parks Board)

For foreign friends coming in from countries that experience the four seasons or a completely different climate, Singapore’s all year summer-like weather may be quite the experience. Akimichi enjoys the Singapore weather and often strolls along the streets to enjoy the breeze. East Coast Park is a favourite hangout spot for him, seeing that the Singapore climate makes the beach perfect for any time of the year.

The TreeTop Walk (pictured) is a highlight of several long hiking routes MacRitchie Reservoir is home to. (Picture Credits: National Parks Board)

As summer never ends in Singapore, Sebastian gets to experience more outdoor activities with the family. “As the weekend is family time, we often enjoy the pool or take a hike at MacRitchie Reservoir,” Sebastian says. He recommends for foreign friends to plan for enough time to get accustomed to the weather, should they come from a different climate, to fully enjoy what Singapore has to offer.

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