Singapore for Dummies – a Starter guide

Getting started in a new city is not always easy, but Singapore makes it just a breeze.
However, if you would like to know more about the place before you come living here, or find new adresses, I will try to help you through this post and others… It is a work in progress, so come back regularly to find new up-to-date information…
I hope you will be Happy in Singapore!

For a consensual birds-eye-view, I invite you to read the popular article: 10 Good and 10 Bad Things about Singapore

Getting around

It’s super easy to get around in Singapore, and guess what, it is really a good thing because it’s too damn hot to walk around in your fancy clothes.
Someone told me recently about the “7-minutes rule”, which is basically telling you that more than 7 minutes walk anywhere outside will have you systematically break out a sweat. I would say 3 minutes, but it depends of your genes I guess.

Now, how to deal with it?

First, find out how to go, don’t just rely blindly on your usual transportation of choice. Although taxi is rather cheap, for instance, taking a cab to go from A to B can be really silly sometimes depending on traffic. Experience will teach you.
As a rookie in the city-state, the best way to go will be shown to you by Go There.sg, which is also, to me, one of the best and efficient singaporean websites. The iOS app is just splendid too.

Keep these simple rules in mind

– if you can, avoid MRT at peak hours and towards city in the morning (8 to 9:30AM), and out of the city in the evening (5.30 to 7.00PM). Unless you like feeling like a sardine in a box.
– don’t bet much on getting a cab in the street on friday and saturday nights from 6PM onwards. You can still get lucky and book one by phone though…
– buses during peak hours will take double the time announced on GoThere / GoogleMap, and you have little chance to score a seat.

  • MRT

The Singapore metro or Mass Rapid Transit, is super clean, fast and cheap. New lines are being built with the objective that you are never further than 400m from a station which is a pretty awesome goal. As a consequence, Singapore always looks like it’s undergoing massive rebuilding, and well, yes, it is.
So, get yourself a 12$ EZ-link card that comes with 7$ credit, stick it in your wallet and tap the gates. It works as a purse that you top-up every now and then. You need to check in and out each ride otherwise you will be charged the maximum fee of 4$ish.  Few people know it or use it, but you can also use your EZ-link card to pay in ComfortDelGro/Citycab taxis, 7-Eleven, Cold Storage, Watsons, and more…

You will not be much disturbed by the passengers, as everyone is basically looking at their smartphones… It can even be a bit scary at times… And since you are most likely going to be checking your phone during commute, I put together this list of the Top 10 Most Useful Mobile Apps for Singapore

 

 

Try to avoid the peak hours though, because the crowd can be really maddening if you are not used to asian human density…
  • Bus

The bus network in Singapore is fairly efficient, but certain lines can be very crowded during peak hours, and the bus might not even stop. However, the hyper connectivity of Singapore means that the bus fleet is constantly tracked. Many mobile application use this data to tell you exactly, when your bus will actually show up at the station (which again, might help you skip a 15 minutes in a crazy heat to a 2-minute one).

Check SBS Transit IRIS mobile application for your device

  • Taxis

    Outside of peak hours and CBD area during the day, you should be able to hail a taxi at anytime, but for extra safety or if you are in a rush, the ComfortDelGro mobile apps for Android and iOS are pretty well made and let you book a taxi in a few taps, without having to speak to an operator. You will get a notification within 2-3 minutes that a taxi is coming within 7-9 minutes, and if your taxi is waiting for you, an angry “uncle” waiting in his car and losing money by the minute will call you from his mobile.

Taxi tips

– Use the location postcode for a quicker booking (in SG, postcode indicate building precisely, not like in Europe where they only indicate an area), and add a comment on the exact place you will be waiting.
– You don’t have to tip drivers…
– Sometimes, taxi drivers ask customers by which way they want to go: this is courtesy from them not ignorance, so don’t be the offended guy thinking he/she does not know how to go.
– Sometimes, taxi drivers don’t know how to go…In this case, be courteous and propose to give them the postcode of your destination for them to key in their satnav (which they rarely use…). Again, don’t be an arrogant customer: there are 1000s of streets on this tiny island, and your “uncle” might be ending its 12th hour driving more or less informed customer, so don’t be an ass and be helpful.
– You might get an automated call when the taxi is nearby. Answer that call otherwise it might be interpreted as a “no show”
– You can always cancel a booking if a free taxi comes your way first, but do not abuse it if the taxi you booked is also nearby…

  • Airport

Changi Airport is si
mply the best airport in the world, for many years. It is comfortable, clean, smooth, well designed, fun and beautiful…

It is conveniently located at the end of the East-West MRT line (green) and the travelling time from CBD to Changi is about 45 minutes.
The iChangi app will let you check your flight time, and if any delay is planned.

Accomodation

One of the most expensive things in Singapore is the floor space. Being a densely populated island that has to gain surface on the sea, and the massive arrival of immigrants in the last decade has made the price skyrocket.

As a consequence, the real estate market is booming, and many websites have flourished to help you find your ideal spot for your budget.

There are a few types of accomodation to choose from:

Condominium

The futuristic “Reflections” condo on Keppel Bay

Usually the choice of affluent singaporeans or expats, the condos are everywhere in Singapore. With one or more tower of private appartements and more or less luxurious facilities such as swimming pools, gym, BBQ pits, tennis, squash courts, small shop. The oldest condos have usually the biggest surface, since new condo developpers are increasingly conscious of the value of space and tend to build smaller units to fit more in a development…
Typical price: S$ 3000 to 6000 for a 3 bedroom flat, including one master bedroom (own toilet), but prices vary widely depending on location, luxury level, age of condo, distance from MRT, etc…
Always visit more than one!

HDB (Housing Development Board)

This is the most common form of housing, where most singaporeans live. Although the buildings themselves might not look so nice from the outside, appartments inside can be very comfy and very spacious for the price, when compared to condominium. They usually do not have leisure facilities (tennis court, swimming pool, …),, but they might sport a nice hawker stall or Fairprice / Shensiong supermarket at their feet which can come in handy…

Walk-up appartment

These ones are quite a rare find, but they can be well worth it. Usually bigger than a shophouse, but smaller than a HDB or condo, walk-ups comprise few units, and because they were build more than a decade ago, the surface is generous for the price. Sometimes, a small swimming pool is also in the building.

This how spacious it can be, below is the picture of what used to be my living room before we were kicked out when the building was put on-block…

 

Shophouse

A rarer housing type, shophouses are legacy buildings, sometimes dating as old as the colonial era itself. It can be quite pricey to live in a shophouse, especially if it has been freshly refurbished.
But hey, they can be pretty stylish…

To get an idea of the offering and price points, here are a few links:
– Condo / HDB / rentals (full units) 
www.propertyguru.com.sg
www.iproperty.com.sg
www.singaporeexpats.com


– Flat sharing:
www.easyroommate.com.sg
www.singapore.expatroommate.com

– Many country Facebook groups have accomodation offers & requests posted by members: for France:
Singafrog
Les Francais de Singapour

Telecom & e-Government

Singapore is a very connected society, and it is super easy to connect..virtually at least… The three telco operators SingTel, Starhub and M1 have shops in all big shopping malls, so you will have no problem finding the right plan for your need and budget. As a tourist, you can get a nifty deal with StarHub’s tourist prepaid SIM card.

If you are living in Singapore you can also register to Wireless@SG that will let you connect to thousands of free Wi-Fi hotspots acros the island…

One really uniquely singaporean service is the AXS station that are like ATM machine through which many public and private services are connected to simplify your administrative redtape, such as paying your electricity and telecom bills, your fines, (…), booking a public BBQ pit… They even have an app now too

www.singtel.com
www.starhub.com
www.m1.com.sg

Work

  • Government information, Visas, etc…

www.mom.gov.sg : Ministry of Manpower

To check how little tax you are going to pay you can also check www.iras.gov.sg
Find out what are the most strategic skills in demand: http://www.mom.gov.sg/skills-training-and-development/skills-in-demand/Pages/skills-in-demand.aspx

  • Web-based search

 

Job portals

Here is a list of the most prominent job websites: 
www.jobsdb.com

www.jobs88.com
www.jobstreet.com
www.monster.com.sg
www.careermosaic.com
www.webexpat.com

 

LinkedIn

First and foremost, you should have a well polished profile on LinkedIn, which is widely used in Singapore. To get noticed, I suggest you do the following: 
– fill completely your education and jobs section, at the very least
– join groups of your interest and participate in the discussion, and/or create your own.
– add your professional skills for your contacts to endorse you. 
– get recommendation praising your past work. 

Once this is done, you can start searching for people in your industry, groups, networks or with your dream job, and try to meet them. 

Do a proper invitation
– let them know why you want to meet them. The generic message “I’d like to add you to my network on LinkedIn” is not good enough. I personally never accept such request unless it comes from an obvious prospect. 
– try to show some value for the other person to meet you- it has to be a win-win situation, ideally. 

If they accept to meet you, then: 

– be professional and courteous, give your full contact details, be concise and quick to answer. 
– accomodate their schedule and preferred meeting location: it’s your request, not theirs, you want to make the meeting as smooth a process as possible.
– if you meet at a coffee shop, bar, or restaurant: invite them! This person is offering some of your time, and going the extra mile to help you, so don’t be a total leecher asking to share the bill, or worse, letting the other person pay…

  • It’s all in the Network 

Singapore has a very dynamic networking scene, especially in the technology
industry, and there are drinks every nights for you to meet people. It is still the best way for you to find a job. 

You can check if there are some meetups for your industry. If not, why not create one yourself! 

If you are looking from abroad, well, you should better consider spending a month here to connect with people and look for opportunities. Most job offers (the best ones) are never published anyway. 
Contact the alumni from your graduate or masters degree schools: Singapore is a cosmopolitan metropolis, and there could be a local chapter of your alumni network. If not, just like for meetups, why not create it yourself. I personally manage the chapter of the ESCE International Business School, and we usually have drinks every quarter.

  • Persevere

Finding a job in Singapore is not very complicated if you have interesting skills and experience. You should be able to score one within 3 months. 

However, scoring THE job you want is another story. Singapore is the most expensive city in the world according to a recent survey, and while this is arguable, it is definitely pricey, so living here while searching can be a financially draining affair if you are obsessed about one specific position or industry. 
You might have to take a first job as a stepping stone, which has several advantages:
– a financial one, obviously
– obtaining your first visa can be long, so better start early… it might ease the process when you have a second job offer…
– turnover is as high as salaries can be in Singapore (which is also why there are many professional in the executive search / HR field), so you will not be discredited if you are looking for a change after only a few months at a position.
 
Good luck!

Food

Singapore is clearly a food nation, and there is enough choice for you to keep wanting more… But where to find the right place to eat by yourself, for a business lunch, or to take a date?
You can check my selection featured in an easy to use Google map on Where to Eat, Shop and Party in Singapore?

Besides the recommendation of your servant, there are of course many website to find more information and book tables:
www.citynomads.com
www.hungrygowhere.com

Singapore is also one of the only country where McDonalds delivers to your home, 24/7, 7 days a week! While I would certainly not recommend a McDelivery for your diet. Hung over sundays could well be one moment of weekness…

A few food tips

– Singaporeans hate queuing in general, so when you see them in line in front of a stall or restaurant, it might very well be worth it.
– Ask your cab driver: they will usually know about the best value-for-money option…
– Just ask the locals: every one loves talking about food and share their best adresses.
– Singapore food stalls are usually safe, and inspection are frequent which leads to a food hygiene ranking from A to C (I believe they shut you down if you score D). I would not eat at a C and/or when no letter is displayed at all…
– Please feedback your troves and comments below this article.

Bars

Opinions diverge widely when it comes to the quality of Singapore nightlife. One thing is for sure: it has enriched a lot over the last decade, with new bars & clubs opening every year. There are of course many spots across the island, so I’ll only mention the wider bar areas…

Arab Street / Kampong Glam: The malay-heritage neighborhood of Kampong Glam near Bugis MRT station is quite seductive with its low-rise colourful shophouses and its laidback vibe. A good place to go smoke Shisha after a filling plate of mee goreng. Go alcohol-free, sip an Ice Limau and chat with your friends watching the world go by. Actually, only a few bars and restaurants (but more and more…) serve alcohol (BluJazz, Piedra Negra, …) and it is nice to find a less wasted crowd.

 

Clarke Quay: CQ is always happening in the weekend. You might not like the all-fake sort of setup, where freshly painted buildings, neon light fountains and a very high noise level converge but chances are, you will still “have” to go there sometimes. It’s worth taking visitors there, for the sake of the experience.

Club Street / Ann Siang Hill: a few hilly streets concentrate nice shophouses with bars & restaurants on their ground floors.

A fairly nice setting, catered to expats mostly, with a high price point… Now, road traffic is prohibited on the weekend nights, making it even more pleasant to wander around. My personal favorites include: Bar 83, Drinks&Co…

Duxton: A dozen of bars line up this hilly street, not far from Club Street, with a similar concept. Try the
delicious tapas from Sabio before heading to a fine-dining restaurant of Bukit Pasoh road.

Dempsey: Dozens of old british military barracks surrounded by singapore’s lush equatorial greenery have been turned into nice upscale restaurants, bars and antique shops these last years. Mostly busy on the weekend, it is famous among affluent family people, because it is nice and quiet, and parking is quite good… Brunch at P.S. cafe is very famous…or tea time at House. Jones the grocer has an amazing deli product selection.

Geylang Road / Sims Avenue: If you want to discover Singapore’s more popular, naugthy and dirtier side, head over to Geylang road where you will find cheap foodcourts, gamers cafe, KTVs bars, live music joins, tropical fruit stalls and…prostitutes.

Robertson Quay: Restaurants are lined up alongside the river pretty much all the way from Boat Quay to Robertson Quay, which is the more quieter side of the quay. Many international restaurants to choose from: japanese ramen, korean BBQ, french fine dining, italian pizzas and delicious squid ink pasta at Bella Pizza  british pubs… Try La Maison du Whisky to sample fine whiskies, spirits and cocktails, or Wine connection for a cheaper value for money food & wine experience.

Clubs

Many place open until 2AM, but few go on until the morning…

The most famous is, without a doubt, Zouk, and it is also one of the oldest going. Every month, internationally famous DJs come spinning at this place, which has even be voted the 5th best club in the world. Although the average crowd is pretty young, probably in the early 20s range, it is definitely worth visiting for older clubbers.

Clubbing at Zouk

Other popular clubs include:

Ku De Ta: On top of Marina Bay Sands, Ku De Ta has a brilliant view.

1-Altitude: The highest alfresco rooftop bar in the world. The 360 view is even more stunning than Ku De Ta’s.

Attica: in Clarke Quay, Attica is quite standard club for newcomers and tourists alike… For the best and the worse…

Kyo: The recently opened club in the CBD area has been getting the clubber’s scene interest rapidly, with various musical styles and a good crowd.

People

Just for the laugh, have a look at how Singaporean and Ang Mo (foreigner in local language…) differ on certain key subjects…

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