Expat view on living in Singapore

Exactly two years ago Saturday Ben and I arrived in Singapore to start our overseas adventure. Matt had been here for several weeks and I waited to make the trip until our shipment had made it across the Pacific and been unpacked, which turned out to be the best decision because it didn’t feel so foreign to move when I got to spend the first night in my own bed. Never mind that I had to take a cold first shower because I didn’t know you had to turn on the hot water switch outside the bathroom, because I learned all those things with time.

Overall, I still think it has been a great move for us as a family. I can’t think of any time in our lives that we could use domestic help more than with two little boys underfoot and I’ve been able to stay home and raise them myself. It is such a blessing to see all the firsts and experience the wonder of babies turning into little boys. We have all gotten to travel more than we ever expected (and still hope to do lots more) and expose both kids to new cultures and languages. Whether they retain anything or not, they should both be able to speak Mandarin much better as adults having heard it frequently as children while they can still distinguish intonations that older ears can’t hear. We get to spend our weekends exploring, playing, or relaxing as a family because there is little yard work or housework requiring our attention. We have made friends from all corners of the world, eaten (and become addicted) to food I’d never even heard of before, and learned the geography and history of the Southeast Asian region that seems largely ignored in the US.

Here are some of our favorite things about Singapore (in no particular order): 

  • -  Great transportation – taxis 24 hours a day, buses, subways…it’s easy to get around. Unless it’s raining. 
  • -  ERP (electronic road pricing) in every single car. Many popular roads are toll roads at certain hours of the day but there are no toll booths, only tall gantries over the road that charges your card without slowing down traffic. The drawback is that you have to have a cash card with funds inserted into the reader or you get a ticket, meaning you have to remember to take the card out and go to a 7-11 to add money before you park or drive through a gantry. Let’s just say I’ve gotten a few tickets. 
  • -  Smart parking garages! The parking is also paid by the ERP so you never have to wait in line to get out or dig around for cash. Most garages also have signs indicating how many open spots are on each level and even red or green lights over each space so you can look down an aisle and see if anything is available. 
  • -  No weather forecast. It’s like Groundhog Day…every day you look out the window and know it will be hot, sunny, and might rain. No guessing, no seasonal wardrobes, no bundling kids up to go outside. 
  • -  Grocery delivery. Free! Daily! 
  • -  Fresh seafood everywhere. Mostly shellfish, which I love. 
  • -  Full-service gas stations. Asians are NOT do it yourself people. In cases like this, it’s really nice. Other times, not so much (read below) 
  • -  Beautiful, lush greenery everywhere. I’ve always compared Singapore to Manhattan mixed with Honolulu. Think big, densely populated city with huge trees and beautiful landscaping (minus the beaches and mountains, unfortunately).
  • -  Fantastic restaurants. There are more than we could possibly visit here but we love to explore and find interesting new places. Very few are chains so they’re all unique and many are outdoors. I am thrilled about a Chili’s that is opening soon, though, so I still love my good ole American chains! 
  • -  Hawker stands. The Singapore version of fast food without the drive-thru. You can get a great meal for $3 US dollars. I had no idea how much I loved noodles and how many varieties exist.
  • -  Full-time domestic help. It’s very well regulated here so the maids have a nice life and a large community to gather with on their days off. 
  • -  Skype! Every expat lives for the webcam calls back home. 
  • -  The expatriate community. Singapore encourages workers from other countries to bring their expertise here so there is a huge community of expats from all over the world. It doesn’t feel so far away from home when you can still celebrate your own holidays with fellow Americans.


  • But everything has its downside:  
  • -  Our families and friends are 10,000 miles away. That’s not a weekend trip and it’s very expensive. We have to compress all our time together into a few short weeks at the end of the year. 
  • -  There is a 13 or 14 hour time difference between Houston and Singapore. 
  • -  We only have one car so I’ve had to adjust to life with 2 kids and public transportation most of the time. 
  •  -  Singaporeans are NOT do-it-yourselfers. There is no Home Depot or Lowe’s here where you can find all kinds of hardware or yard equipment. You have to call a contractor or handyman who knows which tiny store carries what you need and then pay him to do it. That’s the complete opposite of a Texan! And no one has pickup trucks so you have to call another handyman to move your big items. Singaporeans also don’t like to fix things, just patch them up. Really irritating when I look at all the leaks in this house. Things are made of brick and concrete here so it’s a little more complicated to look inside the walls compared to sheetrock. 
  • -  Mailboxes are one way. You have to go look for outgoing mail at a drop box somewhere other than where you receive your mail. 
  • -  There are no outlets in the bathrooms here and very few in the rest of the house. Do locals not like to plug things in? 
  • -  Drivers are terrible. Not angry and crazy like Houston drivers, but pretty ignorant and dangerous here. And taxis will stop on a dime on any street so drivers have to be much more alert. 
  • -  Groceries and alcohol are very expensive. It still hurts to pay 2 or 3 times what we’d pay back home for the same things, but we’ve found local alternatives to several of our favorites and we consider ourselves lucky that we can find our favorite orange juice and cereal most of the time. 
  • -  There is construction EVERYWHERE. It’s noisy. It blocks roads. It’s 24 hours a day. But thank goodness we no longer live on the edge of a high-rise condo under construction! I have enjoyed the quiet in this house every day.

Overall, we love Singapore and have had a great two years here. The time has really flown by, mostly thanks to our wonderful friends here who have shared in our lives and our children’s lives. We have met some unforgettable people and thank goodness many of them will also be returning to the Houston area eventually so we’ll get to stay in touch down the road. This marks our original halfway point in our overseas adventure and we look forward to what the next few years have in store for our little family!