Quality of Life in Singapore
If one must pay for the quality, Singapore is the right place. Being avowed as the world’s costliest city in 2015, Singapore is the most liveable one at the same time. What does this contradiction mean? The standards of living Singapore promotes are so captivating that people readily pay the highest price for them. Transport, health care, housing, banking, taxes, low level of crime, education, availability of goods, entertainment, and political stability are the criteria countries are usually assessed against. The same criteria are very valuable for expatriates and foreigners looking for a perfect place for a new career leap.
Singapore Quality of Life Rankings
- Singapore is in the top 5 influential cities of the world (according to Forbes magazine, 2014).
- Singapore has the best quality of life among all Asian cities (according to Quality of Living Ranking by Mercer, 2015).
- Singapore has the world’s highest cost of living (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2015).
- Ranked #2 world’s best city from expats’ experience (Expat Experience Report, 2014).
- 8th place for personal safety in the world (Quality of Living Ranking by Mercer, 2011).
What does this city live by? You probably would like to learn it before you take the next step toward emigrating to Singapore. Expatriates and foreign workers, who rush here for a showy life and decent work, usually get them if they sweat a lot. Singapore is famous for its materialistic mindset. Money defines everything here, and the Singaporeans were taught to work very hard from their youth up. All crucial systems (education, healthcare, doing business and so on) are grounded on people’s personal financial responsibility. Everything is designed the way that you survive only if you work hard and make savings using the governmental savings scheme – Central Provident Fund (available only for the locals). That is why Singapore doesn’t fit people who seek peace and philosophical inertia. This country’s pushing ambience either infects you or throws you overboard.
This pressure doesn’t, however, exclude happiness and other spiritual values. Being the happiest nation in Asia (only 5% said they weren’t happy according to ABC News, 2008), the Singaporeans value their families and the community, and, obviously, find their satisfaction in the relationships.
Singapore is a melting pot of neighbouring Asian cultures (Chinese, Malay and Indians are the country’s major ethnic groups) with western spirit (former colony of the UK). Due to these historical factors, English, Malay, Tamil, and Mandarin are widely spoken here which makes adaptation very easy. Eclectic and cosmopolitan society is comfortable for those foreigners who prefer following their own life tempo and values while in the same time total assimilation is hardly possible. The Singapore government strives to balance the foreign-local ratio and achieve harmony in all spheres of life. It sets a stress on consensus, religious/racial harmony, family values and pre-eminence of the community above self. On the other hand, foreigners need time to get used to local strict laws (and probably some disappointing bans) and enforcement, but they will be pleased with low crime rates and security. Living in Singapore, you won’t hear about serial killing, terrorism, or unrests.
Singapore managed to create a highly efficient healthcare system that mainly relies not on the government’s expenditure (Singapore’s yearly expenditure as a percentage of the GDP is only 3.9%), but on the personal savings of the citizens. National healthcare insurance program called Medisave works this way: mandatory monthly deductions (7-9%) from the salary are made by every employed individual and his/her employer, and these funds are accumulated on this individual’s personal account. They can be used for healthcare needs throughout the individual’s working life and, thereafter, for a decent retirement.
Based on the amount of accumulated funds, the patient is able to choose the level of subsidy from the government, but as public health care facilities are neither fully subsidised nor owned by the government, no medical service is provided free of charge in Singapore. This way, the government boosts people’s personal financial responsibility for their health, encourages a healthy lifestyle, and protects the medical facilities from over-use. Lots of the Singaporeans also rely on private health care insurances and so do foreigners working in the country or those arriving for a treatment (medical tourists). Such categories of people usually opt for private clinics.
Singapore has a dense network of inpatient hospitals, outpatient polyclinics, emergency services, and private healthcare facilities embracing all niches of medicine. The government constantly controls licensing, the level of quality, and the cost of services, as well as invests in innovations, safety, hygiene, and state-of-the-art equipment. The government practises exceptionally high standards for the manufacturing of drugs, cleanness, and hygiene. The latter is crucial for the country’s fight with spreading of various respiratory and other diseases that “like” Singapore’s hot and humid climate. It is probably the only country of the world where you can get fined for not flushing the toilet.
Knowledge is of prime value in Singapore since Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles brought British standards of education here at the beginning of the 19th century. Up till now, the government makes titanic efforts to equip its population with valuable skills and knowledge crucial for surviving in today’s highly competitive world. Today, Singapore is the educational flagship of Asia.
Except 3 national universities (famous for their high standards in learning and scientific approach) – Nanyang Technological University, National University of Singapore (ranked #25 in the QS global university rankings, 2012), and Singapore Management University – the country is home to a bunch of world-known institutions like the Graduate Business Schools by the University of Chicago and INSEAD. To cater to the needs of a diverse expat community, Singapore welcomed lots of international schools that follow foreign systems. Singapore has lots of foreign schools (French, Japanese, Indian, Canadian, and so on) that ease adaptation for the smallest expatriates. English is the official language of study in Singapore which is beneficial for foreign students and expatriates.
Studying in Singapore is costlier than in any other Asian educational hub, but still cheaper than in such countries as Australia, the USA, and the UK. This way, Singapore lures lots of international students who pursue highly competitive knowledge for a reasonable price. The price would depend on the course (the scientific one is costlier than the art one) and the university, but in general, yearly tuition fees are around 10k SGD. National institutions may provide financial support for students from low-income families. Both local and international students can apply for the tuition grant in order to decrease educational costs, but keep in mind that such grants oblige foreign students to work for a specific period of time (3 years in average; 6 for medicine students) in SG-based companies/institutions.
Political & Social Landscape
Singapore is a politically stable country famous for its authoritarian management. The enforcement of the law is really intensive here, but this pays back with high security, law-abidance, orderliness and prosperity of the nation. Expats from more liberal countries may feel stifled with the law at first, but will soon appreciate this society’s rationalism and pragmatism. The government takes care of the society’s needs and thinks strategically while making unpopular but wise decisions.
Singapore is ruled by the People’s Action Party (centre-right political position) since 1959, and although the Singaporeans ironically call it “Pay and Pay”, this is the political force that pushed the country to economic prosperity and made the Singapore’s wonder possible. The level of trust to politicians is very high and was reflected in the Global Competitiveness Report made by the World Economic Forum (2011/12).
The country managed to destroy the stereotype of the Third World Region by breaking into the First World with its excellent standards in everything. Within the past decades, SG attracted over 9 thousand multinational corporations and deserved the glory of powerful investment hub in Asia.
The government interferes in business but not in the meaning of kickbacks and other bureaucratic manipulations but rather with effective governance and supportive measures for business. Singapore has the lowest rate of corruption and red tape in Asia. It was avowed as the world’s least corrupt country in the Corruption Perceptions Index (2010) by the Transparency International.
For decades, Singapore has been a global producer and importer of chemical products and electronics. However, global economic trends and demands made Singapore innovate its economy by focusing on research and development, health care, finances, and biomedicine. With its business-friendly policy, effective law, low taxes, high-end infrastructure and open trade practice, Singapore has won loyalty in the investment world and turned into a powerful startup hub. Despite costly labour force and sobering prices on land and property in Singapore, new and new foreign companies mushroom up on its shores.
Singapore has a business-friendly tax policy keeping the corporate tax one of the lowest in the world – 17%. Add to this that a new company (Pte Ltd or Subsidiary) gets lots of tax incentives and rebates during first years of its activity: it can earn its first 100k SGD without paying any taxes, and the next 200k SGD paying only 50% of the corporate tax. Personal income tax here is also one of the lowest in the world, and the rates start from 0% gradually reaching 20% when your income exceeds 320k SGD. Non-residents (spend/work 183 days or less in Singapore) enjoy the flat personal income tax rate of 15%. The GST (VAT) is only 7% in Singapore while such taxes as death, inheritance, dividend or capital gain taxes don’t exist here at all. Businessmen can enjoy their dividends or foreign income tax-free provided that the corporate tax is paid by the company.
There are several reasons why Singapore creates such favourable conditions for foreign business. International companies not only contribute money to the local economy, but also import new technologies, management mastery, valuable knowledge, and talented experts that keep the local workforce motivated and educated.
The World Bank’s annual “Doing Business” survey places Singapore on the top praising it as the “easiest place” to do business. One of the reasons why Singapore so easily became an international business launching pad is the extremely fast company registration procedure that takes only 1 day.
Despite the high level of urbanization, Singapore remains a green and clean place to live thanks to all-out efforts of the government. It is in the constant search for new and effective technologies in urban planning, managing traffic, fighting with pollution, getting clean energy, air, and water. Designed as a “garden city”, Singapore is a fascinating combination of cutting-edge skyscrapers and parks which creates a fresh and “airy” impression. As a highly-populated city, Singapore manages to maintain the environment healthy (which actually is a miracle for an industrial country) due to “reducing”, “reusing”, and “recycling”.
Sometimes, the government makes unpopular decisions such as increasing fees for using personal cars. Making owning a car extremely expensive, the government fights traffic jams and promotes using public transport which is more resource and energy efficient. The government encourages usage of the latest energy-saving technologies in construction and invests in cleansing water (for significant achievement in this niche Singapore got the Stockholm Water Award back in 2007). The air quality in Singapore was recognized “good” in 2010 while other Asian countries with similar industrial and business tempo (like Hong Kong or Shanghai) had much worse indices. You can check the quality of Singaporean air right now using the “Real Time Air Quality Index Visual Map”.
Singapore has relatively cheap, safe, and clean public transport that makes owning a personal car merely a whim. By bus or a rail system (MRT), you can get everywhere in the country during the daytime (work until 12 pm). If you need more flexibility, you can opt for the taxi which is, of course, expensive but anyway less expensive than maintaining an own car. On the other hand, taxi drivers are very honest and never rip off: you pay only the metered fare. The customer satisfaction survey made in 2010 showed that over 92% of respondents were content with the public transport in Singapore.
The government imposes very high registration fees and taxes on car owners, so buying a car would cost you over 60k SGD. What is more, the fuel is expensive and you will have to pay for driving on congested roads in the central business district. If you want to get all benefits of a personal car and save lots of money on registration and taxes, you can lease a car.
Singapore has a premium maritime port and the Changi Airport that was avowed as the planet’s best for several years running not only for its spectacular architecture, garden-like interior, and comprehensive services (it has even a free cinema, a swimming pool, and the 12-meter high slide), but also for its air policy that connects Singapore with over 110 destinations only in Asia Pacific and over 300 airports all across the globe.
Housing in Singapore
The real estate market in Singapore is very diverse and allows you to find an option for any budget – from renting cheap public flats to owning a luxurious private condo or a bungalow. The prices, yes, are remarkably high, but the quality won’t disappoint you. The Singaporeans enjoy much cheaper housing than the inhabitants of, for example, Japan or Hong Kong. The price of housing will largely depend on the area (the closer to the CBD, the higher), a set of available facilities or attractions in the neighbourhood, ease of transportation and whether it is a private unit or a public one.
Condos are preferred by high-paid expatriates and foreigners who are looking for highest standards and proximity to the CBD and schools for their children. Condos are winning options because of the swanky interiors and architecture, a wide assortment of facilities such as swimming pools, gyms, or tennis courts, and, finally, condos are the rare type of property foreigners are allowed to buy. The rent price varies from 15k SGD to 3.5k SGD depending on the location.
The public sector is represented by HDB flats (built by the Housing Development Board) where most of the locals live. They are much cheaper and don’t have “bling” facilities but still are winning options because of proximity to the shopping malls, supermarkets, hawker centres, clinics, and recreational facilities. The rent price varies from 2.2k SGD to 3k SGD. Asian expatriates find such flats very comfortable and reasonable solution.