Singapore is a great place to live and I detailed why I love living in Singapore in a previous post. However, there is always two sides to the story and I can’t have a post singing Singapore’s praises without providing the other perspective. While life is mostly quite great, there are a few things I don’t like about Singapore. I wouldn’t consider these extreme issues by any means but they are just observations I’ve made while living here.
This post will be an ongoing and changing post. As I spend more time in this city, I’m sure new things will come up that I dislike. As well, things that I previously disliked might change to something I like in the future. That’s what being an expat is all about!
Singapore is a bit of a boring place
Singapore is a bit of a boring place. There, I said it. While Singapore is a super clean, safe, green, and a wonderful place to earn money, there isn’t much going on outside of that. I know many expats and locals alike that would echo my sentiment.
Life in Singapore can be quite dull on the weekends without the typical vibrant scenes you have in other big cities I’ve lived in. My first few months were very active as there was always new areas and new food to discover. After living here for almost a year, I’ve found that there isn’t as much else to do. In addition, it seems like spontaneity is not a thing in Singapore. People plan meeting up weeks in advance. Others might prefer this but it is just a strange concept to me.
Unlike my beloved wine markets in Frankfurt, Germany, there are few places to go and have a drink on a Saturday afternoon. Sure the beach bars in Sentosa are around, but you aren’t always keen to take a 20 minute Grab ride to spend hundreds of dollars for a big afternoon out. The drinking culture here is also quite muted and people just don’t go out as much. This is actually good for me in my older age but something my younger self would have hated. Singapore is also a city state so there is nowhere to go outside of the city to get some nature. While there are very nice parks within the city, you are still firmly in a city.
Life is focused around work and mentality is all about money
Amassing wealth and accumulating money are the core fundamental principals of the country. People are obsessed with money and material possessions to the point where it’s just annoying and unbearable. As with other Asian cultures, showing off is a sign of how far you’ve come. Of course, I fully appreciate how important money is and I wouldn’t be in the position I am in with being financially independent without caring for money. However, I know what amount is enough and that there is more to life than simply the accumulation of money.
Singapore is a very successful country and its short history is in a league of its own. People in Singapore greatly appreciate what they have and how they got there. Most importantly, they don’t want that to change or slip away. People in Singapore are extremely focused on their work and careers which is a testament to the culture and work ethic that they had to have to survive being a new nation. Let’s not forget the cost of living in Singapore is outrageous so it’s only fitting that obsessing over finances are par for the course.
Lack of neighborhoods and general character
Singapore is a beautiful city in its own unique way. Much of the city center and few surrounding areas are home to heritage neighborhoods that feature traditional colonial architecture which are absolutely stunning. However, outside of these areas, there really isn’t much going on as far as neighborhoods and vibes go.
Almost all of Singapore’s neighborhoods consist of large HDB apartment blocks, a hawker center, and if you’re lucky, a mall. Don’t expect vibrant neighborhoods like those you’d find in New York or London. Singapore was designed to house a lot of people in a small space and thinking about how to make a neighborhood hipster and trendy was not on their minds.
If you want to find an apartment in Singapore with a vibey neighborhood, I would recommend either Tanjong Pagar, or the area of Joo Chiat in the East.
Income inequality between nationalities
As with my time living in South Africa, Singapore also has noticeably income inequality that is on full display. While it’s nowhere near to the level of place like South Africa, Singapore has a unique income disparity between its own people and the foreign workers it imports for labor.
Starting with Singaporeans themselves, the income disparity is quite extreme which is a result of the tenacious capitalist society the founding fathers wanted to build. Any time you have extreme capitalism on display, income inequality is an inevitable result. Singaporeans as a whole have become extremely well off but this is distorted by the extremely rich and the rest. However, compared to other rich countries like the USA, the poor people in Singapore have much better benefits and Government support in the form of forced savings accounts (CFP), Government housing (HDB), health insurance, and cheap costs of food.
The more obvious source of division in Singapore is between the locals / skilled foreign workers, and the not skilled workers. Singapore is this tiny bubble of extreme wealth in the middle of SE Asia surrounded by countries with much lower GDP per capita. Because it’s a highly industrialized nation, they rely on importing cheap foreign labor to do all the manual labor. Construction workers from Bangladesh and Pakistan, and domestic helpers from the Philippines all flood into Singapore to work. The construction workers in particular have a rough living condition being shuttled back and forth between their dorm style camps in the back of trucks to their work sites.
However, it’s not all bad. Construction workers get paid over $1,000 a month with their housing included which is probably 2-3x what they would get paid back in their home countries. The working conditions here, while not great, is worlds better than places like Qatar.
Expat Turnover in Singapore is extremely high
Singapore is a transient place. While there’s a high concentration of expats, people come and go like the wind. I’ve come to expect this moving around all my life but Singapore is even more than other places I’ve lived in. While I think life in Singapore is quite easy, foreigners not from Asia find that ultimately it’s just not their long term destination. I can’t fault them for that as a combination of things like weather, culture, career opportunities can make anyone change their life situations. Not to mention it’s almost impossible to obtain a PR in Singapore if you’re not of Chinese ancestry.
This won’t be an issue the first year or two you live in Singapore as you’re just getting to know everything but over time, I think everyone gets expat fatigue in Singapore with their close friends consistently moving elsewhere.
Things that other people dislike about Singapore but I like (or don’t care about)
It turns out, there are not that many things I dislike about Singapore. I think as a whole, I’m generally very receptive to living in new places and as a human being, I always choose to see the good side in things as much as I can. I leave the cynicism at the door and approach things with an open but excited mind. Therefore, there are many things that others might really dislike but these are things that I don’t mind (or even like).
Singapore Weather is too hot
The weather is probably one of the things people dislike the most. Expats and locals. Singapore is hot here round with only a rainy and dry season. You can expect temperatures above 30 for most of the year and humidity to be high. You’re living in the equator after all and are in the tropics.
I absolutely love the weather. I love warm weather and warm places. Sure I can’t wear much besides shorts and tank top but that’s my type of outfit anyway. It’s easy to put on, doesn’t cost any money, and I can sweat in peace. I much prefer warm weather places to cold weather so Singapore is perfect for me. Do I miss the seasons? Not really. Sure I would love to go skiing in the Dolomites of Italy once in awhile but 99% don’t go for more than a week a year anyway. The rest of the time I would just be dreading life in a rainy, gloomy, cold, and dark atmosphere.
Cost of driving a car
Driving a car in Singapore is expensive. Like stupidly expensive. Probably the most expensive in the world in fact.
Car prices are 2-3x what they are in the rest of the world because every car carries a huge tax of 200-300% depending on the type of car. In addition to the crazy car costs, every person must purchase a COE (Certificate of Entitlement) which is simply a license to own a car. This is not a drivers license. A COE in Q2 2023 is $130k SGD for 10 years. This went up to $145k SGD a month later. This means you’re paying an additional $1k a month for the privilege of driving a car. All in all, you can expect to pay at least $2.5k SGD a month for driving a simple and basic car.
The thing is, this is an absolute complete waste of money. YOU DO NOT NEED A CAR IN SINGAPORE. This city is not big and the public transportation thoroughly connects the city and is cheap. If you really need to get somewhere fast, a Grab or taxi will do the job and they are much cheaper in comparison to other expensive cities like New York or London. In fact, for the price of owning a basic car, I could take a Grab to the Airport and back TWICE every single day of the month and still pay less than owning a car.
It simply is stupid and unnecessary to own a car in Singapore. Anyone complaining about the cost of owning a car in Singapore is just not good with their money and won’t be retiring early anytime soon. Nevertheless, it’s a completely pointless luxury to have in Singapore and that’s why I don’t even include it in my cost of living for Singapore analysis.
Lack of democracy and freedoms
One of the things Westerners love to talk about with Singapore is how it functions as a dictatorship, controlled by one party, the PAP (People’s Action Party). Singapore is in fact, a democracy with multiple political parties. Yes, one party has controlled power since Singapore gained independence in the 1960s.
Does that make Singapore a dictatorship? Absolutely not. It just seems that way because there is no opposition party that has even come close to contesting the PAP’s influence. The PAP, led by Lee Kuan Yew, took Singapore from literally nothing to one of the richest countries in the world today. At the time of independence, they were a nation of uneducated and poor blue collar workers that was kicked out of Malaysia, left to fend for themselves. Singapore also had multiple racial groups with no economic future. in these situations, I firmly believe you need to have a strongman figure that knows what they’re doing with the good intention of the public at heart. Lee Kuan Yew was that person and he helped foster Singapore’s meteoric rise to become one of the richest countries in the world in just a half century.
People who say that Singapore is a dictatorship just simply don’t understand life outside of their own privileged world. Just because one party has become so successful in raising the living standards of its people doesn’t mean there is no democracy. Sure the media here is a bit biased in favor of the ruling party and there are many examples of people speaking out against the Government that have lost their jobs but the majority don’t care because they know their country has become extremely successful and living conditions improved during the reign of the PAP. Results matter in the end.
Never have I felt scared or nervous to say something about Singaporean politics, or to voice my opinion about something that I read. There is nothing oppressive in Singapore that you wouldn’t find in other developed countries in the world.
In return, I live in one of the cleanest and safest places in the world. Sure there are cameras everywhere but I can leave my phone on a table at a hawker center and know it will always be there when I come back. There’s many “democratic” countries where I Would never contemplate this!
Overcrowding in Singapore
Singapore is a nation of 5.7m people packed into a space of 214 square kilometers. That gives Singapore a population density of around 8000 people per square kilometer. As a country, that is one of the highest in the world and as you can expect, there are a lot of people everywhere. However, I always viewed Singapore as a city, and that’s actually not that high compared to many other places. It’s actually lower than New York City, and definitely lower than Hong Kong.
While many people complain about the overcrowding, I really don’t find it that bad. The MRT system (mass transit) is mostly enjoyable and its rush hour crowds are milder than those in other big cities. In fact, I found that the crowds in New York City are much larger and more packed in together than in Singapore.
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