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)
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!
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!
(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!
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!]
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!
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?
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