Singapore: The Ex-Pat Lifestyle and Tips for Tourists

Updated on August 22, 2018
Glenis Rix profile image

In November 2017, the writer flew from London Heathrow to Singapore to visit family who had been living an ex-pat life there for two years.

Palms and High-Rise in Singapore: A City in a Garden

There are one millions trees in Singapore
There are one millions trees in Singapore | Source

The Flight to Singapore

  • A British Airways A380 Airbus direct flight from London Heathrow to Singapore takes approximately thirteen hours. The return flight takes about one hour longer.
  • The most convenient way to get to the airport, avoiding horrendous traffic, is by train from St. Pancras.
  • Personal space in economy class travel is quite cramped. An Economy Plus seat is a lot more expensive, but I would not hesitate to recommend upgrading to anyone who is willing and able to bear the additional cost. The extra space to recline and stretch out on a fourteen-hour flight makes the journey more tolerable. I was able to doze for much of the overnight flight.

Tips for Passengers Flying to Singapore From a Cool Climate

It can be cold on an aeroplane at 38,000 feet, so it's advisable to wear warm layers of clothing for the flight. But on exiting the air-conditioned airport at Singapore, the temperature may be in the high thirties and humidity will up to eighty-five percent (Singapore is only 89 miles/144km from the Equator). The atmosphere can feel suffocating for anyone flying in from a cool temperate climate and unused to tropical weather.

  • Pack non-crushable loose clothes (viscose and rayon shake out easily) in a carry-on bag. Whilst waiting for your suitcase to appear on the carousel pop into the toilets for a change of outfit and a quick brush up.
  • It is easy to become dehydrated on long-haul flights. Cabin crew distribute water to passengers but not frequently enough for optimum hydration. It's a good idea to take an empty water bottle for the journey. Fill it at the water fountain in the departure lounge before boarding the plane. Drink 250 ml regularly throughout the journey, and once the bottle is empty ask the cabin crew for a refill.

The immigration desks at Terminal 1 Changi Airport
The immigration desks at Terminal 1 Changi Airport | Source

Clearing Immigration at Singapore

  • Immigration clearance at Singapore is quick and efficient.
  • Remember not to take banned items, such as chewing gum, and unprescribed medications into the country.
  • Carry a doctor's letter or a copy of your prescription for prescribed medications. Some prescribed medications will require a license to take them into the country. Check the Singapore government website if in doubt. Singapore rules and regulations are strictly enforced.

Issues to Overcome After a Long-Haul Flight to a Different Climate

Jet Lag: The impact on the natural circadian rhythm of crossing several time zones in a relatively short time, possibly enduring a sleepless night whilst airborne, should not be underestimated. Disorientation, sleeplessness and confusion may last for several days.

To minimise the impact it is advised that travellers:

  • set their watches to the time at their destination upon boarding the plane.
  • try to adjust their pattern of sleep to the new time zone immediately. For example, don't go to sleep until it is night time at the destination.

Acclimatisation: Becoming acclimatised can be a lengthy, uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous process. It is essential to stay hydrated and replace minerals that are lost in excessive perspiration (I acquired a taste for coconut water). Follow the U.S. Army advice that follows.

Extract From the U.S. Army Guidance on Heat Acclimatisation

1. Your thirst mechanism will improve as you become heat acclimatized, but you will still under-drink if relying on thirst sensation.

2. Heat acclimatization will increase your water requirements.

3. Dehydration will negate most benefits of physical fitness and heat acclimatization.

4. You will sweat out more electrolytes when not acclimatized, so add salt to your food, or drink electrolyte solutions during the first week of heat acclimatization.

Travel Within Singapore From Changi Airport

  • After what felt like a lengthy wait at the carousel for my suitcase to appear, I met up with my son in the arrivals lounge. Tired, jetlagged, and thirsty, my senses didn't absorb a lot about my new environment at this point but I recall that we caught a Skytrain for a short trip to the car park.
  • For those who are not being met, taxi-cabs are readily available at the airport (ask for a price in advance). Example: a cab from the airport to Novena—see point E of the map below—a journey of about 30 minutes, costs around S$24 (2017).
  • Alternatively, the MRT and the bus service are quick and efficient, though both can become a little with airport staff crowded at times.

Changi Airport:
Airport Blvd, Changi Airport Singapore (SIN), Singapore

get directions

Consistently voted the best airport in the world

Chimjs, Singapore:
30 Victoria Street, Singapore 187996

get directions

Ion Centre, Orchard Road, Singapore:
2 Orchard Turn, Singapore 238801

get directions

Tourist Information, Orchard Road, Singapore:
216 Orchard Road, orchardgateway@emerald, Singapore 238898

get directions

The Trilight, 7 Newton Road, Singapore:
11 Newton Rd, Singapore 307948

get directions

Luxury apartment complex

Scotts Road, Singapore:
Scotts Rd, Singapore

get directions

Changi MRT station:
70 Airport Boulevard, Singapore 819661

get directions

Diverse Architecture in Singapore

Colonial-style properties on Newton Road, Singapore
Colonial-style properties on Newton Road, Singapore | Source

Singapore: The City in a Green Garden

My immediate impressions during the car journey from the airport were of a modern clean city; many high rise buildings; many, many trees (there are approximately one million trees on the island); much greenery; and few pedestrians. In the air-conditioned car, it was impossible for me to gauge the outside temperature, especially as the sky was overcast, but I was assured that it was hovering around thirty-two degrees. Emerging from the car into the underground car park at the apartment block confirmed this fact—it felt like stepping into a sauna.

Our destination - Newton Road
Our destination - Newton Road | Source

The Botanic Gardens in Singapore

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Singapore's Botanic Gardens Images copyright, G Rix 2017, all rights reserved.In the Children's Garden
Singapore's Botanic Gardens Images copyright, G Rix 2017, all rights reserved.
Singapore's Botanic Gardens Images copyright, G Rix 2017, all rights reserved. | Source
In the Children's Garden
In the Children's Garden | Source

What to Wear in Singapore

Singapore is hot and very, very humid. So, at least until acclimatized, ex-pats and tourists from cooler climates are going to sweat. The best clothing to minimize this problem is loose and made from natural, lightweight, fabrics - cotton, linen, and silk.

Singapore is very westernized and holidaymakers will be happy enough in a tee shirt and shorts for many activities.

If wearing a hat to protect the head from the sun, it's best to find one that is breathable, perhaps with a mesh crown.

When visiting the gardens and parks, experience taught me to keep my feet covered to avoid being bitten by ants.

Personally, I would wear smart casual for shopping trips (be sure to wear comfortable footwear for pounding the pavements and browsing the many shopping centres).

Almost all indoor spaces are air-conditioned and can sometimes feel quite cold. Carry a light jacket or shawl to cover up if you start to feel chilly.

Singapore is primarily a business and commercial centre so many residents dress fairly formally for the office. A top tip for men is to travel to work in a tee shirt and change into a formal shirt on arrival at the office.

Cost of Medium to Long-Term Private Apartments in Singapore

  • It can cost 8000 Singapore dollars per month (£4393 at 1st December 2017 exchange rate) to rent a three bedroom apartment in a block similar to the one in the photographs.
  • The price includes secure underground parking,use of a swimming pool, children's pool, children's play area and children's water park, a tennis court, gym, steam room, outdoor jacuzzi, a community room with bar facilities which is available for private parties.
  • There are many apartments much more luxurious/expensive than this, some a little cheaper.

The Singapore Government has undertaken a programme of building more affordable high-rise apartments for Singapore citizens to rent/buy.

Typical Leisure Amenities in a Private High-Rise Apartment Block in Singapore

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Swimming Pool at Newton Road Apartments Children's water play. Gym in the background.Children's PoolOutdoor Jacuzzi Children's Play Area
Swimming Pool at Newton Road Apartments
Swimming Pool at Newton Road Apartments | Source
Children's water play. Gym in the background.
Children's water play. Gym in the background. | Source
Children's Pool
Children's Pool | Source
Outdoor Jacuzzi
Outdoor Jacuzzi | Source
Children's Play Area
Children's Play Area | Source

The Choice of Different Cuisines in Singapore is Enormous

On my first evening, still jet lagged, I was taken on the MRT to Chijmes (pronunciation chimes), where there is a range of restaurants housed in a former convent. We ate Thai fusion food at Prive, which has the advantage of one of the largest and most inviting alfresco areas in Chijmes.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Chijmes as darkness falls - around 7.15 p.m. every eveningThe choice of different cuisines in Singapore is legendary.
Chijmes as darkness falls - around 7.15 p.m. every evening
Chijmes as darkness falls - around 7.15 p.m. every evening | Source
The choice of different cuisines in Singapore is legendary.
The choice of different cuisines in Singapore is legendary. | Source

With little farming land and limited fishing grounds, Singapore imports over 90% of the food consumed in the country. The food at our local markets mainly comes from overseas. Our local farms produce only a small amount of food that we eat in Singapore:

8% of all the vegetables

8% of all the fish

26% of all the eggs

Relying so heavily on food supplied from overseas means that we face unique challenges in ensuring a steady supply of food for the population of Singapore

— AVA- agri-food and vetinary authority of Singapore

Hawker Food Centres in Singapore

Because imported foodstuffs are expensive, it can prove cheaper to eat out or order in from a restaurant than to buy ingredients and cook at home.The cheapest places to eat are in the Hawker Centres, where placing a packet of tissues on a table secures it for your use whilst you go off to choose from the wide range of cuisines on offer.

Newton Road Food Hawker Centre


Travelling Around Singapore

  • In this super-environmentally-aware country, tourists are discouraged from renting cars.
  • The public transport system is clean, reliable, safe and cheap. Buy a Smartcard at a Ticket Office or a Passenger Service Centre. It can be topped up at a variety of locations—a machine in one of the MRT stations is convenient. The machines take both cash and cards—$10 is the minimum top-up. The card can be used for both rail and road travel.
  • There are many covered walkways on the routes to bus stops and MRT stations. Nevertheless, protect your skin from the sun. It is often overcast in Singapore but even so the heat of the sun is damaging.
  • In public parks wear insect repellant to guard against mosquitoes and other insects. Ants will find their way to ankles that are left uncovered—carry antihistamine and antiseptic cream to relieve the itch!
  • It is forbidden to drink or eat anything on public transport. Fines of $1000 are strictly enforced.
  • Durian fruit is banned from the MRT on account of the dreadful smell
  • Chewing gum is banned in Singapore. Do not bring it into the country. There are heavy penalties.
  • There is a protocol for relinquishing seats to the elderly, disabled, or people with young children—posters and broadcasts in the MRT stations carry reminders. Singaporeans are meticulous in adhering to this protocol, and visitors are expected to be similarly considerate.
  • Taxi cabs are reasonably priced and the drivers speak English. Ask for a price before embarking on the journey.

MRT Is the Preferred Form of Transport for the Majority of People in Singapore

Click thumbnail to view full-size
By Seloloving at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0,
By Seloloving at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0,
By Seloloving at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0,
Map of Singapore MRT and LRT system
Map of Singapore MRT and LRT system | Source

Employing a Maid in Singapore

  • Many modern private apartments have maid's rooms built in at the design stage. The room pictured is windowless and measure approximately 7ft x7ft.
  • Many families employ a live-in maid to help with the children and household chores.
  • The maids are given a rate of pay in accordance with government guidelines. For example, in 2015 the Indonesian Embassy set the rate of pay for domestic helpers at a minimum of $550 dollars per month. Agencies who do not comply with the wage requirements are banned.
  • Those employed in this type of work are reputed to be satisfied with their terms and conditions.

Considerations for westerners when deciding whether or not to employ a maid in Singapore are:

  • The sacrifice of privacy that is entailed.
  • Willingness to ask somebody to live in such a confined space.

Designated maid's room, used by my family to store luggage
Designated maid's room, used by my family to store luggage | Source
The fourth bathroom in the apartment, intended for use by a maid/helper.
The fourth bathroom in the apartment, intended for use by a maid/helper. | Source

Sleepless in Singapore

An eight-hour time difference between London and Singapore and the inevitable jet lag causes sleepless nights. During my first night in the City, I was awake for most of the night, watching the electrical storms out at sea (which I discovered are a nightly occurrence) and listening to the clear, unrelenting, ringing cry of the Noisy Koel Bird.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Looking towards the South China Sea and nightly electrical storms Open plan living areaIn the Wee Small Hours of the Morning Watching the Sun RiseWatching the sun rise in Singapore from a 17th Floor Apartment
Looking towards the South China Sea and nightly electrical storms
Looking towards the South China Sea and nightly electrical storms | Source
Open plan living area
Open plan living area | Source
In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning
In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning | Source
Watching the Sun Rise
Watching the Sun Rise | Source
Watching the sun rise in Singapore from a 17th Floor Apartment
Watching the sun rise in Singapore from a 17th Floor Apartment | Source

Window Shopping on Orchard Road in Singapore

On my first full day, a Saturday, we took the MRT to Orchard Road, a temple to shopping, emerging into daylight at the ION Centre, from where we walked the length of the road, admiring the lavish Christmas decorations and many high-end French couturier shops including Chanel and Dior. Christmas celebrations start early in Singapore—during late October—and carols were being broadcast everywhere we went.

Christmas and Spectacular Christmas Decorations Come Early in Singapore

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Orchard Road on a Saturday morning in November 2017
Orchard Road on a Saturday morning in November 2017
Orchard Road on a Saturday morning in November 2017 | Source

How to Get the Best From a Short Stay in Singapore

There is so much to see in Singapore that it's impossible to fit in everything during a short visit. My family has now been there for two years and still haven't seen all that they would like to see. Many people are in Singapore for a short stop-off en route for other countries, such as Australia. Pre-planning and prioritising what you would like to see ensures that the time available for sightseeing is maximized, and a good guide book is an essential part of the process. The book that I relied on more than others is Top Ten Singapore, part of the Eyewitness Travel Series.Crucially, it includes a detailed map and a map of the MRT underground system—which I used a lot to traverse the city.

Those who are moving to Singapore for an extended period of time will need a more in-depth guide to local laws, customs, culture, education etc.

A reference book similar to the one provided to my son by his employer is Living in Singapore Fourteenth Edition Reference Guide.

The Tourist Information Office on Orchard Road, Singapore

Tourist Information Office in a Colonial-style building on Orchard Road
Tourist Information Office in a Colonial-style building on Orchard Road | Source

Food in Singapore Is Cosmopolitan

Lunch at a Japanese cafe in the ION Shopping Centre on Orchard Road
Lunch at a Japanese cafe in the ION Shopping Centre on Orchard Road | Source

The population density in Singapore is 8155 per Km2


Impressions of Singapore After Twenty-Four Hours

  • Singapore is densely populated, much more heavily populated than London, for example, but it doesn't feel that way. The island measures 693 sq km (268 sq mi) and the population at the 6th December 2017 was 5,877,106 yet the streets in the residential areas are very quiet (presumably because most of the residents are avoiding the heat and humidity in high-rise air-conditioned environments).
  • The MRT is rarely crowded and never to the extent that the London Underground is crowded.
  • The island is very clean
  • Very green
  • Free of litter
  • Total absence of rough-sleepers and beggars
  • First-rate transport system
  • Heat and humidity are difficult to cope with.
  • Orderly multi-cultural society living in harmony and mutual respect
  • Some exceptionally young policemen. (National Service in either the armed forces, the police force or the civil defence force is statutory for Singaporean men and second generation immigrants aged 18-20, though it may be deferred for those undertaking higher education) .
  • Much high rise development
  • Many high-end shops
  • Expensive
  • Very courteous Singaporeans willingly give up seats on the MRT to those in greater need, like me, exhausted at the end of my first day in an amazing city that is beyond imagining.
  • A great experience for ex-pats, but after two years working in a tropical climate my son is now looking forward to coming home.

Health Care In Singapore

Singapore is South East Asia's centre of excellence for healthcare provision. There is a public system, which is heavily discounted for Singaporeans but not for visitors; and there is a private system. Access to services is easy but most visitors will find it expensive and are well-advised to have adequate medical and dental insurance. There are walk-in medical centres in locations throughout the City, some of them in shopping centres.

Questions & Answers

  • How humid is Singapore?

    Relative humidity in Singapore does not vary much from month to month. Daily variation is from more than 90% in the morning just before sunrise and falling to around 60% in the mid-afternoon on days when there is no rain. The mean annual relative humidity is 83.9%. Relative humidity frequently reaches 100% during prolonged periods of rain.

    Source: The Meteorological Service Singapore.

  • How far is Singapore from the Equator?

    Singapore is 142 km/88.26 miles from the Equator.

© 2017 GlenR


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