Moving to Singapore from USA: general tips and best/worst

Moving to Singapore from USA was a big deal for me, since the climate is so tropical and it is really far from home! Here are some general tips and my list of best/worst decisions I made when making the move. Hopefully they’ll be helpful for your move if you are planning one! You can find more resources on this page. (Updated 09 November 2016)

If you are instead interested in moving to the USA, check out my other post on that topic. You’ll also find more general tips on my resources page for moving to Singapore.

2013-04-15-toast-min


Peanut butter toast set at Toast Box

General tips

I think you should visit Singapore before you commit to living there. It’s probably very different from what you are used to, especially climate wise. They also differ culturally in that they are somewhat more conservative and like to follow rules to a T. If that isn’t something you’d like, I’d consider not staying too long in Singapore.

It’s generally easy to get by since everyone operates in English. Opening a bank account, for example, takes a short visit to the bank. Getting around is pretty easy to use once you figure out how to use both the buses and trains. Taxis are pretty cheap.

The rent market for apartments is pretty good, and the government tries to keep a handle on it. The one area where you could end up spending a lot of money is if you go out clubbing a lot. Alcohol is pretty darn expensive, other than the cheap beers at the hawker centers.

Moving to Singapore can be a big decision. Make sure you think it through!

Decisions

I took some time to figure out what I would bring and what I would not bring from the States with me. I filled 2 luggages and 1 backpack. I probably didn’t need that much space if I really spent more time to cut down on stuff. I would suggest focusing on the essentials like electronics and high quality clothes. In any case, let’s jump into my lists!

Worst decisions

(Ok, so some of these are not that bad…)

4. No good umbrella

I regret not bringing a good umbrella with me. There are tons of umbrellas for sale or are given away in Singapore, but I went through 2 umbrellas in the first 4 or 5 months living here. The good, sturdy brands are a bit more expensive. If you are arriving during monsoon season, it might be good to have one on hand already. When it does rain, it is usually a downpour, so choose one that has good coverage and can stand up to a lot of water. Or, don’t go outside during rainstorms or use the covered walkways that are everywhere in Singapore!

3. Foldable rolling duffel

This is also on the best decision list for other reasons. This duffel was not a stiff backed kind, because it can be folded into itself to be stored away. It is hard to roll around, especially when heavy! The foldable part about it makes it really unstructured and saggy. It was a pain to move from where I was staying temporarily to where I’m living now.

2. Not enough workout clothes

I could use a few more jerseys, sports bras, and pairs of socks. It isn’t like I’m reusing socks or anything, but I’m going to go through these pairs pretty soon…and good sports socks are expensive in Singapore. I tend to have enough jerseys, but if I play a lot of ultimate or go to the gym often in a single week it gets pretty close. If you work out a lot, plan on having enough sets of clothes for as long as the number of days you will be working out in between laundry loads. This means sports bras and compression shorts especially!

1. Personal care products

I didn’t bring enough LUSH items with me (shampoo, conditioner, etc). They are available here, but at least 40-50% more expensive. Long story short, all your favorite brands will be imported but cost at least 20-40% more!

2013-03-02-laksa-min

Laksa at Queensway Mall

 

Best decisions

Ok, now on to the good stuff!

5. Waterproof stuff sack

My backpacks are not waterproof. When planning for moving to Singapore, where it could rain at any point during the day, I knew I needed new gear. I have one in a small size that is good to keep my cell phone and other small electronics in. It’s just a little extra insurance in case I get stuck in a downpour.

4. Hat or cap

I have a good hat with me that I wear pretty much every day. It is sunny here, and we are close to the equator, so it is good for protecting my face and keeping the sun out of my eyes when the sun is high. I do often break out the umbrella to shield myself from the sun. Though it might look silly, it is effective. It’s also good to have a hat is for playing ultimate or for any other outdoor sports. Even with a hat, playing ultimate for several hours in the sun every week still bakes me alive!

3. Foldable duffel

This is also on the worst decision list (see above). I bought a foldable duffel to bring my things over in. It is large and can fit a lot of things, and now only takes up a little bit of space in the shared closet in my apartment! If you are going to live in a small place with little storage room, consider getting a collapsible luggage like I did!

2. Moisture wicking clothing (especially underwear!)

Moving to Singapore, a tropical nation, made me really rethink my wardrobe. Even a short walk to your nearby bus stop could start the sweating, so having clothes that will wick your sweat off your skin is important if you tend to sweat a lot. I bought moisture wicking underwear and merino wool shirts, and I haven’t had a bad underwear day yet in humid and muggy Singapore. The shirts still get a little damp from sweat sometimes, but I don’t freeze when I go into air conditioned rooms. You don’t want to be sitting in cold sweat when you get into the icy air conditioning in any of the buildings in Singapore.

1. Refurbished 13 inch MacBook Air

Macs and other Apple products are at least 20% more expensive in Singapore (and other parts of Asia) than in the States. The number 1 best decision was when I was deciding what to get to replace my 5 year old laptop. That old thing was my first Mac, and I knew I would go with Apple again but I wasn’t sure in what form. I ultimately decided instead to buy a refurbished 13 inch MacBook Air. Best decision ever! Having a light computer was a HUGE priority for me. And so, I have my 13 inch MacBook Air and I’m super happy! [PS. I asked my sisters for this laptop skin for my birthday!]

2014-08-30-buildings

One of the things I like in SIngapore, watching the thunder clouds roll in

Other info

If you are moving to Singapore, check out my page with general tips and suggestions on moving to Singapore. If you have specific questions, post them in the comments!

Other blog posts:
My budget as a PhD student
Why I’m not living on campus
Women wear what they want to in Singapore

Life in Singapore

Update November 2016
I did enjoy living in Singapore, but mostly because I had a close group of friends from the university. We were all international students. We bonded over having to live in Singapore, in the heat and being too poor to do much.

Most expats in Singapore work in finance, or oil, or something like that. They usually get recruited with very generous expat packages. This means the pay is generally really good, and they can afford to live well and eat well. For me as a student, living in Singapore was manageable but I couldn’t go out every weekend (not that I wanted to), or eat Western food whenever I wanted. To give some perspective, a nice draft beer costs minimum 14 Singapore dollars (SGD), which is about 10 USD. Cheap light beer at the hawker center is about 3 SGD, but this is only for brands like Tiger, Heineken and Carlsberg.

Everything works well in general in Singapore, and you will have access to some of the best healthcare in Asia. It’s very safe, the safest city I’ve ever been in.

Singapore is strange in that they are highly influenced by American and generally Western culture, but they still have a deeply rooted Asian conservatism. Things like hugging are not common. Regarding dating for Singaporeans, being seen holding hands in a photo or in public is often something of significance to others (i.e. people will point it out and comment about it).

The main issues that remain for me are the heat and humidity, and the lack of a feeling of culture and community. It’s hard to crack into the Singaporean culture as an outsider. I will be going back to visit friends, etc, but at most for 2 weeks at a time.

For example, although I played on an ultimate team with over 50 other people who were nearly all Singaporean for about 1.5 years, I don’t feel that I fully integrated into the group. I developed a few friendships, but not as strong as the friendships with my fellow international students. I’ve heard that Singaporeans will make fun of or calling out other Singaporeans for hanging out too much with international people.

These things you may not notice when you first arrive, but will creep up on your radar as time passes. I do find it an interesting place, and I am glad I have lived there. For me, though, living there for a short time was enough.

I’ve also written generally about doing a PhD abroad.

Are you thinking of moving to Singapore? What are your concerns?

Get tips and updates in your inbox

If you found this helpful, sign up to get my monthly newsletter! I’ll send out tips for traveling and living in new countries, as well as share some of my favorite photos that I don’t post anywhere else.

Subscribe to the Chewy Travels mailing list!

* indicates required



I want:


Pin this for later!

SG_bestworst-min

  • Pingback: Tips for moving to the USA from Singapore | Chewy Travels()

  • Pingback: Dear Charmaine…your email was not spelled correctly | Chewy Travels()

  • Hi, saw quite a few links coming from your post. The link appears in “hoping is a real thing” has been moved in case you would like to update it. Cheers!

    http://www.askmelah.com/a-unique-singapore-anti-social-behaviour-choping-with-tissue/

    • Chewy

      Thanks for the update! I’ve changed the link in my post.

  • Larry Johnson

    hi Chewy, I’m curious if, when you moved to Singapore, you had a vehicle shipped? The reasons I ask is because it’s something the wife and I are considering for an extended stay. I know it’s expensive, but I’m more interested in how much of a bureaucratic headache it is to deal with paperwork, customs, etc. If you have any info, I’d love to get your input. So far, all I can find online is information from companies that do the actual moving, like this one https://www.a1autotransport.com/ship-car-to-singapore.php I suppose the U.S. Embassy is probably a good place to ask too. Anyway, I enjoyed the post & thanks for the helpful info!

    Best,

    Larry

    • Hey Larry, I didn’t have a vehicle shipped. I would suggest not doing it if you can avoid it! Do you absolutely need a car? Singapore has really great public transportation and the taxis are also quite affordable.

      If you can, I would try moving here and living without a car for a few months first before committing to having the vehicle shipped. How long of an extended stay do you mean? If it is as extended as it seems to be, then a few months without a car should be manageable to see if it would be worth it. Many people do not drive cars here, but if after trying it out you absolutely can’t manage without a car, I would suggest trying one of the expat online forums to ask for advice on shipping the vehicle.

      Best of luck and let me know how it goes!

  • Mariah

    Hi Chewy, I was wondering what rent is like in Singapore (1 bedroom) and your experiences with finding a place to live?

    • Hey Mariah! Thanks for asking. It really depends on how close to the center of the city you want to live. I found it was really difficult to find 1 bedroom apartments, but if you are willing to share with 1 or 2 other people (2 or 3 bedroom apartments), then the rent can be quite reasonable. If you are living somewhat outside of the center, maybe half an hour or more out by train, you can probably find a shared place for between 700 to 900 per person per month in an HDB flat (government built housing). If you want to go with condos, expect to pay a bit more. Landed properties (houses) might also be a good option if you can find enough people to share with. They often have 3 to 5 bedrooms. The government is also trying to keep rent down, and there are some special regulations about quota and foreigners and suggest looking it up if it is relevant to you.

      I looked at 3 places before deciding on a place. Expect to also have to pay an agent’s fee of half a month’s rent if you are not dealing with the owner directly.

      Thanks for reading! Hope that is helpful and let me know if you have any other questions!

      • Al

        Hi Chewy, You nailed it.. Most of the information are helpful.. It is good to know that looking for 1 bedroom apartment is hard.. Sharing to other people can cut your cost for living or moving to Singapore.

  • Al

    Great experience you share to public about Moving to Singapore. I’m sure that readers will definitely benefit from your writings. I will look for more traveling tips on your blog. Cheers!