Tips for moving to the USA from Singapore

Considering moving to USA? Here are some general tips and thoughts.

Since a lot of traffic has come to my blog from searches for moving to USA from Singapore, I thought I’d actually do a post on this topic. For reference, I grew up in New York City, so a lot of what I know is what I’ve experienced there. I don’t know much about the middle of the country except that it is very flat and there is a lot more space with less people. Though I have spent some time on the West Coast, I mostly know New York City and the East Coast. I moved to Singapore from the US in January 2013.

#bleedinghearts street art in Freemans alley in Manhattan New York

#bleedinghearts street art in Freemans alley in Manhattan New York

Some general things

  • Housing is generally going to be cheaper in the US. Yay! Singapore has high land value, and thus everything is expensive. The only places in the US where rent would be about the same or more would be the bigger cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc.
  • Moving to USA, you will probably need to use a car. This is the sad truth about my country. There are only a few cities where public transportation is reliable and functional enough to use daily without going mad. Some of these places are New York (although it is very dirty, it works!), Boston, Seattle, and to name a few. Outside of the major cities, you definitely need to have a car. Even some of these cities are not so convenient without a car because things are so spread out. If need be, you can get a used car pretty affordably and gas is pretty cheap.
  • Related to cars, people don’t usually care that much what you drive, so you can go ahead and get a used car. It isn’t as much of a status symbol as in Singapore (or Asia in general), except for in cities like Miami (I’m guessing) and LA.
  • If you are moving with your spouse, they will not be able to officially work unless they get their own sponsored visa. This is a sucky thing about the immigration laws in the US. They will have to find something to do though like volunteer or study, or else it might get boring (especially if you stuck in the middle of nowhere).
Pasta at Pisticci in New York City

Bowtie pasta at my favorite restaurant, Pisticci, in NYC


  • Food is generally cheap, but the portion sizes are huge. This is good news for the Singaporean because all of the Singaporeans I know have huge appetites. The ice cream might not be as good though, depending on where you live. You will also have to pay a bit more than you would expect to pay at a hawker centre, unless you cook for yourself. You can save a lot of money if you cook on your own. Please remember to tip your servers, though, because that is where they get their salary. A normal tip in New York is 15-18%, but in smaller cities and towns you might be able to get away with slightly lower.
  • However, a lot of the food is unhealthy for you! Like McDonald’s, and Popeye’s which are both in Singapore, many restaurants serve food at that level of unhealthiness. If you are concerned about health, don’t go out to eat too much or be mindful of what you eat and how much. Otherwise, you will gain weight like an American‚Ķnotice all the obese people everywhere. (Overweight people make up 69% of the American population over 20 years old, no joke!)
  • On a related note, if you want to eat good Asian food and do not live in one of the bigger cities, you will have to cook it yourself (or search very very hard!). Most areas might have a Chinese take away place, or Thai restaurant, but usually the food will not be good. It will probably be greasy, MSG filled, and disgusting. If you live on Asian food, learn to cook your favorite dishes before you leave and bring some of your favorite sauces.


  • Drinking age is 21. Sorry! Many clubs will let people 18 and over in. Fancy night clubs won’t exist outside of the cities. You will have to go to the local bar, which may or may not allow smoking indoors depending on the state. Most of these local bars will not play club music…you might even hear something you’ve never heard before (country music). Some states still allow smoking indoors at restaurants and bars, so be prepared to inhale cancer if you live in one of those states.
  • Moving to USA may not be such a large adjustment for a Singporean at first glance, but over time you might find that there are some more subtle cultural differences. Take it as it comes, and ask your local friends if you are confused about anything! It’s not always like it is in the TV shows!
Hidden Pigeon

I see you! One of the many NYC pigeons

Other things to note

  • This one is important! You will probably feel pretty comfortable in New York City and other cities, but be careful and have some common sense! It is not as safe as Singapore. There is still crime and robbery, so be aware of your belongings and don’t walk alone in bad neighborhoods at night. That said, it is a lot safer than it used to be. Just try to be more aware of your surroundings! You definitely should not leave your bag to chope a seat, even in a Starbucks or crowded place. When I was in graduate school, some people had their mobile phones grabbed from their hand (as they were talking!) by people riding by on bicycles. Just be careful, and let it become second nature to be aware of your things and people around you. HOWEVER, IF (big IF) someone were to demand your things from you, just give it to them! It is not worth it to get hurt just for your phone or wallet.
  • Smartphone etiquette is a little different as compared to Singapore. General ubiquity of smartphones is maybe even slightly behind Singapore. It’s not common to see tables of friends with their faces buried in their phones, so try to tone it down a little. Leave your phone in your bag during meals if you can. It is more common to see people doing things on their phones while on public transport, but you won’t see anyone walking and watching video on their phones very often (also this is related to safety). Texting or using the phone to talk while driving is illegal in some areas, so wait til you get there or get a hands-free set.

About what to bring

  • Moving to USA will be easier for your shopping. All your favorite American brands will be cheaper! Also, clothes are cheaper! Especially if you look for sales and buy online! Hooray! Especially, electronics and books will be a lot cheaper, usually at least by 20%! If you need a new computer or camera, I would wait until I got to the States to buy them.
  • This means you don’t really need to bring much in the way of stuff. You can find things when you arrive, but if you have some favorite clothes and things you can bring those. You will probably accumulate stuff while you live in the US anyway, so better not to overpack. If you have favorite Asian sauces and foods, you can try to bring those because depending on where you live you might not find it anywhere. You can find ramen/instant noodles pretty much anywhere, but the selection will be much less.
  • If you like school supplies like I do, I would bring those with me. There aren’t that many interesting pens, pencils, notebooks, and other stationery type things. At least, there is not as much variation as there is in Asia. You’ll find a lot of generic stuff, but nothing that interesting.
Building art (@ the High Line)

Street art near the High Line Park

Final thoughts

Lastly, I apologize if you meet anyone who is ignorant or disrespectful of you and your country, culture, religion, etc. Many people are very liberal and open-minded, but don’t be surprised if you meet very conservative or close-minded people. Life in America is not always as advertised. Generally, Americans tend not to know much about the world outside of their little bubble. That is how when non-Caucasian American wins Miss America, stupid people make racist comments. I’m sorry in advance.

Any burning questions about moving to USA? Please ask them in the comments and I’ll respond the best that I can!