Singapore is certainly one of the most expensive cities in Asia, and being almost on the equator it’s also hot and humid every day of the year. But this city also has many interesting things going for it that make it among the most popular in the world among expats.
Its reputation for being a “law and order” country that has banned chewing gum tends to give off an inaccurate message. Being mostly free of pollution and crime are the benefits, but it’s not like there are police on every corner ready to smash heads. Singapore is a pleasant and laid-back city for the most part, and here are some things is does especially well.
1 – Singapore is exotic and very modern at the same time
For those of us from the West, one of the main draws of moving to an Asian city is that it feels very exotic. In other words, the look and the way of life in the city feels quite different from what we are used to, hopefully in some good ways. Singapore certainly feels less exotic than Mumbai or Phnom Penh, but it still maintains an edge with its food culture and architecture in different areas.
There’s of course Chinatown and the Indian neighborhoods along with the Malay influences through most of the rest. The hawker centers are the easiest places to realize that you are in the heart of Asia. All of this, along with one of the best and most modern infrastructures in the world, including drinkable tap water, fast internet, and electricity that is always on.
2 – Singapore is a good walking city that also has great public transport
When you are moving from Europe or Australia or North America to Asia you might not immediately realize that your days of casually walking around are over. As I’ve discussed before, Singapore is the only good walking city in Asia (at least outside of Japan) because the planners have been careful. Anywhere else in Asia and the sidewalks are covered in motorbikes or merchandise if they exist at all, so pedestrians end up walking at the edge of traffic, which gets old quickly.
So not only is Singapore a place where you can walk for transportation or exercise, you can also take one of the world’s best subway systems that is also quite cheap as well. The island is planned so very few people have to walk too far to a stop, including those who live out in the residential suburban areas. Taxis are plentiful and reasonably priced as well, which you wouldn’t expect in such a rich and modern city.
3 – Some things in Singapore are still quite cheap
It’s true that Singapore is among the most expensive cities in Asia (outside of Japan anyway) but it’s not like Tokyo or Zurich or London in the sense that every little thing feels overpriced. As mentioned, the metro system and taxis are quite cheap compared to those other rich cities, but more famously it’s the food options that can keep your budget low.
The hawker centers serve excellent and filling meals for as low as US$2 or US$3 for those on tighter budgets. And of course you can spend US$5 or US$6 on a meal and get dishes that literally cost 3 or 4 times as much in restaurants nearby. Even beer is relatively cheap at only around US$4 for a big bottle of Tiger compared to double or triple that in a bar or restaurant. The point is, you can live cheaply in Singapore without having to eat ramen noodles at home every day.
4 – You can get pretty much anything you might want
Asia is filled with huge cities, and most of them have relatively small populations of expats. For that reason, some things like peanut butter or even non-soft cheese are difficult or impossible to find. There are dozens of perhaps better examples, but the point is that in many other cities you’ll have to do without some of your favorite things for weeks or months at a time.
In Singapore you can get almost anything you can dream of. From the latest Apple gadgets to international films to decent Mexican food to a wide selection of fine wines, you don’t have to look too hard to find them in Singapore. It’s debatable whether people might be better off skipping some things while living abroad, but at least here you have a choice.
5 – Singapore is an ideal transit hub for the region and the world
We’ve discussed the merits of living in or near a major hub for international flights, and you don’t get much more major than Singapore. It has the world’s best airport according to countless surveys, which is also right on the main metro line so getting there is fast, cheap, and easy.
Better still, Singapore is the base of Tiger Airways as well as Singapore Airlines, and a hub for many more. So you can get a cheap nonstop flight to almost anywhere in Asia, and even flights to North America and Europe are competitively priced. Only Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur can compete, or Hong Kong for the longer flights, so it’s the best of all worlds.