An Exit Interview with an Expat in Singapore

An expat?s musings of his likes and dislikes of Singapore
This was published in Straits Times. The writer is a Canadian-born copy-editor with The Straits Times. He is moving to Cairo, Egypt, after 15 months in Singapore.
This month marks my last in Singapore, and during the past few weeks I?ve been bombarded with the same question: ?What did you think of the place??

It?s a query that every expat faces in the waning days of his time abroad and, in the case of this country, one that defies a neat answer.

Singapore is a model nation amid a sea of uncertainty. Almost everyone has a home. The country has redefined urban planning. Public transport here is the best in South-east Asia. And the tax rate makes most avowed, Western social democrats blush.

But at the same time, Singapore lacks some of the character of its neighbours. And then there are the fines?

At the risk of sounding self- indulgent, here are the things I will miss, and those I won?t.

Top seven things I will miss

MRT: During my first trip on the system, I saw a public service message that featured a terrorist who blew up a train car, presumably killing everyone on board. While officials might want to consider axing that video from tourist-laden airport trains, it?s hard to argue with anything else MRT-related. Punctual and clean, they almost make standing shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of strangers a pleasure.

Little India: A genuine, vibrant area, it is one of the few places in Singapore that have not lanced all of its warts. It shows just how far a little character can go.

Taxi drivers: They don?t make this list for their driving, but for their honesty. This is one of the few countries in the world – and certainly the only one in Asia, besides Japan – where passengers have even a fighting chance of getting back something they left behind.

Trees: It?s amazing to walk through Toa Payoh, where I have lived for the last year, and stare up at the 15-storey-tall trees that line the town?s main streets. They are an example of forward-thinking urban planning, and a repudiation of the scorched earth policy of many Western developers.

Apartment living: While North American cities battle urban sprawl and all the problems that it entails – especially a reliance on carbon-emitting cars – Singaporeans can sit back and relax. Sure, people don?t have the manses of the West, but the local model of development is infinitely more sustainable.

Precision: There is a lot to be said about things working the way they should. From the police to baggage handlers at Changi Airport, Singapore enjoys an efficiency that is almost unmatched.

A forward-looking Government: Unlike many other places, Singapore?s leaders have a coherent plan for keeping the country competitive in a rapidly changing world. Serious investments in everything, from cancer research to the video-game industry, have the country poised for the future.

Top four things I won?t miss

Chinatown: With its sanitised shophouses and overpriced tourist trinkets, it looks more like a slice of South Florida than China.

Fines: The list of things you cannot do here is voluminous, and the fines that accompany even the smallest transgressions can be harsh. A $500 fine for sipping a Big Gulp on the MRT? Yikes.

ERP and COE: There?s no denying that keeping cars off the road is a good thing. Along with improving traffic flow, ERP and COE have prevented a massive amount of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. But this system of owning cars benefits the wealthy, and is this fair?

The kid gloves: There is a prevailing sense among officials that Singaporeans are not ready for everything from a no-holds-barred Internet to a Western-style democracy. Well-educated and discerning, it seems to me, most are.


Expat Salaries 43% Higher than in UK

 A survey by NatWest International Personal Banking found that higher salaries and a lower cost of living abroad meant many expats are financially better off living overseas than they would be staying put in the UK.
Of the countries surveyed, the United Arab Emirates comes out top with expats earning an average salary of £79,000 a year. Expats working in Italy and France can also expect to earn more than they would in the UK, with the average salaries £76,000 and £73,000 respectively.
In many countries a reduced cost of living means expats are financially better off. Among expats living in Spain, 95% of those surveyed estimate the cost of living is cheaper.
David Isley, head of NatWest International Personal Banking, said: “The wage packets of expats are very encouraging for people who are looking to move abroad. The expat wealth rankings shows that people who are willing to move abroad not only benefit from bigger earnings in countries such as Spain and Italy, but also have the advantage of a lower cost of living.
“This means that people living in places like Spain and Italy are financially better off overall.”
Of the countries surveyed, Singapore came in fifth with an average expat income of £67,000 a year.
See Reuters article here

Strength of Singapore Financial Services Sector

Against the gloomy backdrop of the mortgage crisis and market turmoil, Singapore’s financial industry showed its resilience when Contact Singapore took the action right to the heart of the world’s financial markets – London.
On 5 April 2008, Contact Singapore (Europe) jointly organised Careers@Singapore (Financial Services) at Millennium Gloucester Hotel London where more than 350 finance professionals and students heard from senior representatives from Contact Singapore, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and senior management of Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, Credit Suisse and Citigroup on the latest developments in the financial sector, and had the chance to network with 10 headhunters from leading placements firms with offices in Singapore.  More than 200 Singapore-based job positions (and many more vacancies) in the financial services sector awaited the eager crowd.
And a diverse crowd turned up. Many were professionals working in the City, some with more than 10 years of working experience. Others were postgraduates of top Business schools in Europe, eager to take in lessons outside their classrooms, and of course, seek out job opportunities for their next career move. Even freshmen could be spotted hobnobbing with top honchos from the finance industry paving the way for their first job, perhaps in dynamic Asia.
Questions came fast and furious when the session was opened to the floor. Most tellingly, many were interested as to whether Singapore could weather the current crisis in the U.S., which looks increasingly likely to envelope the world. While most panelists reflected that no one in the global economy is immune, one participant perhaps summed it up best during networking lunch – the fact the financial institutions in Singapore are still steadily recruiting in London and New York (on 17 May) in this period of uncertainty was glowing testimony of how far the finance industry in Singapore has come. Such resilience would only increase the confidence of job seekers that Singapore could yet chart a steady course in the choppy seas ahead.