You’re here, welcome, but don’t wander off to the sun loungers just yet, we have work to do. The first 30 days are perhaps the most crucial in moving to Singapore because if you get the planning right up front you’ll avoid spending time and money unpicking problems later down the line – put in the legwork now then reward yourself with a prime pool spot later.
There are three main providers on the island – SingTel, StarHub and MobileOne – and they also provide cable TV and internet. Presumably for now you just need a phone, and in the short-term you can get a SIM card for your existing mobile from branches of 7-Eleven, Cheers and other convenience stores. If you’re not sure whether your phone is compatible, go to a phone store and ask for help from the desk staff.
Apart from the essentials of making calls and sending text messages, a mobile can help with so much more. Singaporeans have heartily embraced smartphones so there is an app for everything – cabs, weather, cinema, maps – let’s face it, we’re literally lost without them.
Now you’ve got a phone you’ll need a bank account. You can’t register with a local branch until you’re here, so make it your next task. Choose a local (DBS, OCBC, UOB) or foreign (Citibank, HSBC, ANZ, Standard Chartered) bank and make an appointment; sometimes you can do this simply by queuing up on the day.
You need the usual papers – passport and Singapore IC, work permit, proof of address (many people use their employer’s address to begin with). You’ll also need a letter from your employer stating your salary if you want to apply for a credit card. The formalities shouldn’t take that long, and then it’s off to the nearest ATM for you.
There’s an acronym for most things in this town and you’ll soon know all about the NETS (Network for Electronic Transfer System), which is a local alternative to Visa or Mastercard debit card. It’s one of the most widely accepted cards on the island and it can be used in cabs and convenience stores.
It’s worth noting that most ATMs only accept their own bank’s cards so check which bank’s ATMs are most convenient, before you open an account.
However, after getting caught out in one too many tropical storms you might eventually choose to buy or rent a car. But before you head to the nearest showroom, do some groundwork in the curiously legislated business of car ownership in Singapore. Here’s a few simple acronyms to get you started:
LTA (Land Transport Authority) – the government body in charge of all things transport. Cars must be registered with them
VQS (Vehicle Quote System) – a way of controlling the number of vehicles on the roads
COE (Certificate of Entitlement) – with this pass you purchase the right to drive a car. It lasts for ten years and only a few are released each month.
Add on road tax and insurance and it’s clear to see why so many people choose not to drive in Singapore.
Permits and passes
Picking up your identity card (which is also your work permit), is next on the list, and this must be done in person. If you already have a job, your company will have put in a request for your EP (Employment Pass), and once it’s issued you have 14 days to visit the (EPSC) Employment Pass Services Centre down by the river, where you will be fingerprinted and photographed. Every family member will need an IC.
You’ll need your appointment letter and notification letter (both issued by work) plus various documents. It’s a thorough process, but our failsafe guide will see you turning up unruffled and ready. MOM also has a helpful site for detailed information on just what is needed.
Finding a home
Thank goodness for your handy serviced apartment – the buffet breakfast lounge is the ideal place to pull up some property pages and have a browse before work. You’ll probably start off renting, and by the time you get here you may have a general idea of where you want to live and what kind of place you need.
Websites like Property Guru, iProperty and STProperty are reasonably maintained and relatively up to date, and most have area and costing guides. If you register your details with these websites, soon you will have a throng of agents vying for your custom.
A popular way of cutting out the indecision is to use the services of an agent to draw up essential shortlists and get the viewings in place – a good one can save you time, money and a whole lot of heartache.
It will pay off to do some basic homework on how to rent in Singapore, so read up on our basic guide to house hunting or browse the expat forums to get yourself a good property agent. Then you can enjoy the buffet breakfast while they do the legwork.
Groceries & shopping
You will have gathered by now that when you live in Singapore you won’t be scratching out a meager existence on some isolated hill station (unless you choose to). This place is stuffed to the brim with drinking and dining options, but after the first rush of restaurant madness even the hardiest non-cooks will want a few home comforts.
Stocking up on essentials for your serviced apartment kitchen will not be a problem, since branches of several supermarkets are dotted around the city. Cold Storage and Fairprice are the two major ones, but if you’re feeling adventurous (and practical) then visit one of the many wet markets to buy your fruit and veg at a more reasonable price.
European foods are expensive (strawberries, certain cereals) but you can replace those with exotic mangosteens and delicious star fruit for a fraction of the cost. Now all you need is a cookery course and an apron, or opt for a helper!
Give this list to someone with a couple of children in tow and you can double the timings and make everything about three times as tricky – kids put a spin on things that could frazzle the hardiest office manager.
What you need, with an entourage of small folk, is plenty of playtime built-in, preferably of the non-electronic kind and preferably outdoors so they can stretch their legs and get some “fresh air”. Fortunately the clever town-planners on this island have thought of almost everything, and many malls have playgrounds either within or on top so you can do the morning shop then bribe the smalls with half an hour on the monkey bars. The one on the roof of Jurong’s IMM Furniture Mall has a seven-metre tree house and a wet and dry area, while the play area at Vivo has a playzone with water jets and merry-go-rounds.
If you prefer organized indoor playzones then Singapore has several, such as Fidgets, GoGoBambini and KidsAmaze, with its three-storey vertical maze. Plenty of the city museums do children’s days, especially in summer, or drop your kids off at the Smaland play area of Ikea while you look for sofas. And there’s always the zoo, Singapore’s wonderful jungle oasis. You definitely won’t get anything useful done there, but it will be your “best day ever”!
Maids, helpers and nannies
Here’s the thing: you might start off thinking you don’t want any help around the house (at least not full-time, live-in help), and we know because some of us thought that too – now we wonder what we would ever do without ours.
Whether you’re looking for a light clean twice a week or a live-in nanny, there are many ways of getting the help you need. Most people use an agency such as Prestige, and choose to either hire a maid who’s already been working here or someone who has just arrived (rather like yourself) and is preparing for her very first role in Singapore. Whatever option you take is a personal choice but an agent can suggest what’s going to work best for you.
Another way of getting a maid is to accept a transfer helper; someone who is ending their contract with one family and ready to move on to another. The benefits of hiring a maid this way are that you get a thorough reference and your agent can still help you with all the paperwork.
You are responsible for your maid’s living and eating expenses but there are plenty more rules and regulations worth knowing about. See the MOM guidelines and get yourself fully conversant with the business of getting domestic help, as well as tips on training and settling your new helper. You’ll also need a Singpass to complete an online tutorial that’s mandatory and is the first step in the process of hiring a helper.
There are other agencies like Mrs Sparkles that will help you find a cleaner to come round once a week – whatever polishes your tabletop.
Doctors and dentists
Singapore is peppered with surgeries, clinics and hospitals, as medicine is a major industry over here. If your company provides insurance, they may have given you a list of preferred clinics. But registering with a local doctor or dentist is simple because there are plenty to choose from.
You will need ID (passport, IC card) and proof of address. Check out the Ministry of Health website to find your nearest doctor or dentist and work out insurance and payment plans (if you are not already insured).
As for emergencies, your first step is to dial 995 and, as always, be ready to give as many details as possible to the operator. You may not be taken to a hospital of your choice, and you may end up at a public one like KK Women and Children’s Hospital or a private one like Gleneagles, NUS or Mount Elizabeth.
Remember that this is a busy city and ambulance response times vary. If you don’t need on-board treatment such as oxygen, heart compressions or fluids, then it might be faster to call a cab.
Print off our Emergency Response plan and tape it somewhere handy and visible.
You’re THIS close to putting down proper roots, and this town is beginning to feel like home. Just a few more things to sort…
Images: Brian Flanagan, Pinterest, Dr. Mum