It’s not the ‘Far East’!
Singapore as a city state is just on 5.4 million people. It’s a diverse multicultural place which over the past 50 years has grown and developed into a sophisticated first-world nation with a business-friendly tax regime and burgeoning financial services, retail, energy, shipping and technology sectors. Many multi-national companies choose to locate their Asia regional hubs here, and local Singaporean heavyweights are increasingly taking their place as regional – if not global – corporate champions.
Living close to the equator comes with its challenges, as it’s hot, steamy and humid all year round. The temperature is usually 30-35C every day. It may get down to 24C during the December – January period, which provides a brief respite from the heat, but then strangely enough for us ‘locals’ that feels cold!
So if you are amongst the lucky ‘foreign talent’ who have been granted the difficult-to-get EP (Singapore employment pass), come prepared for an experience that is unique and be ready to embrace this island city state.
Some important tips to help you get by:
- Everyone speaks English, and they speak, read and write it very well
- Singapore is officially one nation and three cultures – Malay, Chinese, and Indian
- Food and shopping is the national pastime: the locals love the air conditioned shopping malls that dot the state, and with that comes food, the second national pastime. You will quite often be asked, “have you taken your breakfast? Or lunch?” This is a polite way to open up a conversation.
- Speaking of food, when you do pop out for lunch do go to a local hawker market, there are hundreds of them all over the island serving cheap local food. Try some Hainese chicken rice, char kway teow or even some roti paratha with a side of curry sauce – at $3-4 you’ll be going back for more.
- Going back to the weather it really is hot and humid. The humidity is something that is difficult to get used to, and you become accustomed to living in air conditioning all year round. At work you’ll need a pashmina or a cardigan to cover up as the AC can be chilly. Gentlemen are known to have a sweater hanging on the back of their chairs, and business is generally conducted without a jacket and tie.
Within the gleaming modern high-rise central business district around Raffles Place, perhaps the equivalent to the City of London, you will find that a five-minute walk will take you to a little corner known as Club Street which backs onto the streets of Chinatown. This compact area is home to trendy bars and restaurants and patrons spill out onto the streets – which are closed over the weekend – at night, adding to the sociable buzz.
If you know where to look, cultural heritage sites are all over the island: there is Serangoon Road, which leads you into Little India, where you will find Indian shophouses selling wares from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The scent of tuberose and jasmine is always in the air and people walk by wearing their national garb with pride – and yes, even to work: you’re likely to encounter a sari alongside the Chanel in a client meeting.
Tucked in behind Little India is Arab Street, where a gold mosque takes pride of place amongst the shophouses selling exotic clothes and products, and fascinating trinkets.
Singapore is the ideal point for travel within Asia: not only is Changi Airport modern and extremely efficient, but it is a hub for numerous short flights to Indonesia (Bali is a popular weekend destination), Malaysia, Thailand (Bangkok for a city break or Phuket for the beaches), Vietnam, Burma and Cambodia. Slightly further afield, Hong Kong, China and Vietnam are reachable several times a day. However, Asia is large, so plan on a good eight hours to reach Sydney or Tokyo.
The many attractions of moving to Singapore for a change of career are obvious and exciting. At VMA we see a steady flow of inquiries from good talent from Europe, India and Australia looking to find roles here – and competition for top positions is getting tougher. Add to this, stringent visa requirements arriving in August, and we anticipate some challenges for individuals without local experience and contacts. Asian languages are increasingly sought-after, particularly Mandarin, by companies looking to penetrate China’s attractive markets. For prospective job-seekers, it’s best to do as much research as you can before arriving on Singapore’s shores, to smooth the way into employment with as much efficiency as possible.
By the way we never refer to Singapore as the ‘Far East’; that’s so last century!
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