I moved to Singapore a few weeks ago! I’m not going to go into great detail about all the why (awesome job! awesome country!) but I promised some people I’d write down all the stuff I had to do in preparation for the move.
Employment Pass (Visa)
I had to submit an updated resume, employment contract including my monthly salary, and certification of my university degree. Fortunately, the legal team for my employer took care of everything beyond this, so I don’t have a lot more to say on the logistics.
I got a time estimate of how many weeks it would take for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to process my application and they were faster than expected. In order to apply for an apartment, I needed to wait for MOM to send me my in-principle approval (IPA) letter. The IPA lists my Foreign Identification Number (FIN) and instructions on how to enter the country and get the official employment pass after landing. With the IPA, I was able to apply for an apartment while still in the US. (This required a lot of document scanning and coordination with my agent, though, so might not be feasible if you don’t have a professional on the ground.)
In order to get an employment pass, you have to sign off on several statements about whether you’ve ever been barred from entry, etc, and whether you are HIV positive. If you’re a US citizen, you simply have to sign a document stating you are not HIV positive. In some other countries, you have to take a medical exam within 2 weeks of landing, or send medical exam results to MOM. I’m not familiar with the non-US process, but that is something to watch out for.
I was fortunate to get to work together with a relocation agency who helped me find an apartment. I asked my local coworkers for suggestions on neighborhood and made a list of what was important to me, what didn’t matter, and what my budget was. My list of requirements included short commute (near public transportation or walking distance), a minimum square footage, in-unit washer/dryer, a fitness center, and a neighborhood with nearby food options and things to do on the weekend.
I used Property Guru and 99.co to get a feel for my apartment options and also received listings from the relocation agency. They scheduled a general tour of Singapore neighborhoods for me where I told the agent my likes/dislikes so that they could get a sense of what listings to suggest for me.
My coworkers strongly pushed me towards a neighborhood that they described as somewhat hipster-ish with lots of cafes and bakeries and things to do. They steered me away from living near the central business district area of Singapore because it would be quiet and empty on the weekends. It was helpful for me to walk around the surrounding neighborhoods on foot at different times of day.
For evaluating my commute, I checked gothere.sg in addition to Google Maps because I found that they had different options. gothere.sg tended to be a bit more creative with the routes it would suggest, but it sometimes suggested walking paths that were impossible or overly optimistic (claiming a 15 minute walk would only take 5 minutes… Euclidean distance in a mapping application is a bit ridiculous). I also found it useful to enter different MRT stations and bus stops as my to/from locations to see what each app would suggest from those routes. Both apps seemed somewhat unreliable in their suggestions, so trying lots of inputs helped me narrow down some realistic commute routes. Google Maps satellite view can also reveal some useful routes that Google Maps won’t suggest. For example, they sometimes aren’t aware of pedestrian bridges that help with crossing large streets, so they’ll suggest strange roundabout routes.
The last thing I’ll say is that walking outside for 15 minutes in San Francisco is significantly different from 15 minutes in Singapore. In one city, you’ll have good weather, poopy sidewalks, and a fear of listening to music while walking. In the other, you’ll be sweaty and dehydrated. I’ve been taking a lot of single stop bus rides (distance-based fares!!!) in Singapore just to take advantage of the air conditioner!
Packing / shipping
I decided to forego shipping and moved with three suitcases and a backpack. I brought clothes, miscellaneous electronics (including an ergonomic keyboard), two laptops, three books, my entire tea collection, and a couple of sentimental items (my tea mugs!!).
I realize my minimalism was only practical due to my support system in the US and being able to afford a furnished apartment in Singapore, so I don’t have much more advice here on what it would have taken to ship larger boxes or furniture to Singapore. Singapore does have stores like IKEA and Muji, so it might be easier to just buy things here if you can afford it.
Within a few days of landing, I got pretty sick. (I even went to a 24/7 urgent care unit but was too embarrassed to tweet about it because I didn’t want to worry anyone! I’m healthy now! And I didn’t get bankrupted by the Singaporean medical system!!!) Because I was sick, I missed an appointment with the gas technician who was charged with enabling gas in my apartment and checking for leaks. I thought this wasn’t a big deal, until I realized that my water heater was gas-powered. Cold showers suck. Don’t miss your appointments.
I went with Starhub for internet out of arbitrary hatred of Singtel. Singtel’s prepaid phone plans are downright awful, so I didn’t want to give them my internet business. The process was pretty straightforward for entering my address in their website and scheduling a 2 hour time slot where someone would come and install a router.
To elaborate on Singtel’s awful prepaid phone plans: they offer a 120 day plan with 3 GB of data, but with time restrictions on when you can use the data. You get 1 GB in general, and then 2 GB that can only be used from midnight to 8AM. Bullshit.
That said, it’s best to get a somewhat longterm prepaid phone plan as soon as you land. Many of the accounts you have to set up require you to have a local phone number. Even setting up my permanent phone plan required a local phone number.
I wanted to keep my US phone number live for a lot of reasons (SMS 2FA…), so I wasn’t sure if I’d end up carrying multiple phones. Luckily, it turns out that Apple just recently released dual SIM support with iOS 12.1. With iPhone XS/XS Max/XR, you can have one regular physical SIM card and one eSIM card and switch between phone plans on the same phone. My primary phone number is now my Singapore phone number, but I get to keep access to my US number on the side. Apple’s dual SIM support is extremely new, so Singapore’s telcos are just barely starting to release support for it right now. In fact, M1 was the first provider to support it, and they released their eSIM feature in December of last year. The M1 employees I talked to seemed a bit wary of my request and warned me that it might not work (with my US iPhone) because they didn’t have a ton of experience with it. Pretty exciting times!
Hong Kong’s iPhone actually supports two physical SIM slots. I considered finding a way to get a Hong Kong iPhone, but was too impatient to wait for a chance to fly over there or have someone bring me one, so I went for the bleeding edge eSIM route.
Honestly I think I’m fucking up pretty badly on the banking side and I’m not sure if I’ve made the wisest choices. My coworkers suggested that I open a bank account with a local bank (e.g., DBS, HSBC, OCBC) and use a service like TransferWise to transfer money back to the US. Maybe I should have listened to them.
I wanted to be able to cheaply and frequently transfer money from Singapore back to my US bank accounts in order to pay my US credit card bills. (I’m still using the Chase Sapphire Reserve card as my main credit card out here because it has no foreign transaction fees.) I also know I will eventually move back to the US, so I figured I needed a bank that would support me closing out my account and transferring money back to the US eventually.
I’m in the middle of figuring out what this will entail with Citibank and I’m not sure yet whether they offer what I have in mind. I think their Global Transfer system will allow me to transfer money between a US Citibank account and a Singapore Citibank account, but I haven’t set it all up and tried it yet.
I still have to pay federal taxes in the US along with regular taxes in Singapore. I can apply a foreign tax credit to my federal taxes in the US. For every day that I work in California, I have to pay taxes in California, so I have to be careful about tracking my days. If I work (not vacation) outside of Singapore for a significant chunk of time (on the order of ~2 months or something?), I can look into whether I can exclude that time from my Singapore taxes. I’m hiring some tax professionals to handle this because it’s overwhelming.
As soon as I realized I was moving, I started writing down all the miscellaneous doctor stuff I wanted to take care of before leaving. Everyone’s list will vary, but mine included a lot of appointments with my dentist/periodontist, gynecologist, therapist, and sleep doctor. Start early with making phone calls and appointments!
I found shopping at Plaza Singapura very convenient! They have the Muji flagship store (includes a cute cafe!), Akemiuchi, Daiso, and Spotlight (a cheap-ish home goods and craft store).
Singapore’s queen bed dimensions are different from the US in that they’re approximately 5 inches shorter in length, so you should carefully measure your bed. Akemiuchi offers Singapore-sized bedsheets. Muji, Spotlight, IKEA, and other non-local stores will offer western bedding sizes. At Spotlight, I asked an employee where to find the shorter sheet sets and he said they didn’t have any. I asked how that was even possible, and he said that many people just tuck their fitted sheets in a little extra. He also suggested that I go to a local HDB shop to find the right sheet sizes, which I think are just the various small shops you find around neighborhood markets. I really hope a Snowe/Parachute clone comes to disrupt the millennial Singaporean bedding industry. I’m losing my mind out here with these low-quality sheets.
I’ll keep updating this post as things come to mind.