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How to adjust to life in Singapore as an expat

When preparing to migrate, big tasks like finding accommodation, sourcing a job and securing a visa can take up a significant amount of time. Often, these challenges can overshadow a crucial step to settling in a new country – observing and adjusting to the cultural differences of your adoptive home. Although Singapore is a multicultural haven for expats, the ‘Asian Tiger’ may still take some getting used to within the first few weeks and months of living there. Here are some of the things you can expect to newly impact your daily life while adjusting to Singapore:

One Season: Summer

Expats who are new to Singapore usually have one thing to say about the weather: It’s always hot. Even if it rains, the raindrops are warm! As a practical solution, taking a bottle of water and a packet of tissues when leaving the house could make all the difference. Sunscreen is a non-negotiable necessity – as it is anywhere else in the world. An extra tip for those who have yet to make the departure: Don’t waste luggage space on bulky woollen jumpers.

girl in Singapore

A Colourful Community

What is most striking about Singapore is its multicultural community. The city-state is a hub for expats who come to give their family a new lifestyle, to progress their careers, or simply to try something different. The country has strong Chinese, Malay and Indian heritage supplemented with the presence of expats from Europe, Australia and America to make up a diverse population. The people in Singapore are also renowned for their welcoming attitude and strong sense of community. Networks such as Expat Living and Meetup offer gatherings and events for people of all backgrounds, origins, ages and interests. Mixing and mingling are integral to life in Singapore, so finding a new ‘chosen family’ shouldn’t be difficult while adjusting to life there.

Pick your Language

The Singaporean population’s mix of cultures and nationalities means that a variety of languages are widely used; Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and English are the most common. When these combine in day-to-day life, they take the form of a dialect called Singlish. Singlish is used for quick and casual exchanges, but it is recommended to revert to formal English in more serious settings, such as the workplace.

Terms of Endearment

While encountering Singlish for the first time, expats may find that they are called some strange names. It’s worth clarifying that if someone is referred to as ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’, it is not meant in jest or offence! These names are used to politely address an elder with friendly respect, and are simply a feature of Singlish that you’ll have to get used to. Locals often refer to their taxi driver in this way.

marina bay sands singapore

Strictly Business

Many migrate to Singapore for career prospects, so settling in seamlessly will be a priority. Although Singlish and nicknames like ‘Auntie’ and ‘Uncle’ are commonplace in day-to-day life, all of these idiosyncrasies vanish in the workplace. Hierarchies are of huge importance, as are formality and politeness. Networking is an integral part of business culture, and the exchange of business cards is commonplace. Handing the card with two hands is a sign of care and respect, and is done upon initial contact. By making an effort to act calmly and courteously in the office, expats can easily attune to the rhythm of Singaporean work life.


Although many come to Singapore in pursuit of generous wages, they soon realise that life there can be very expensive – we wrote all about it in a guide to the city-state’s cost of living. Those who were not prepared for this part of their new life may feel some panic as their bank balance plummets – however, this is nothing a little planning ahead can’t solve. Those looking to refine their budget should start with small changes, like opting for Singaporean options over Western alternatives, where possible. Incorporating a visit to the Singaporean wet markets into your fresh food shopping routine will also benefit your bank account, giving you a flavour for local culture all the while.

Friendly Geckos

Those new to Singapore often do not expect to meet these tiny lizards in their homes! They are more commonly found on lower-floor apartments, hiding in shaded areas. Although they may not mix well with the faint of heart, remembering that they helpfully eat all kinds of insects can be an easy way to get acquainted with these creatures. As eloquently put by one user on the Singapore Expats forum, they are “part and parcel to the expat experience”.

When moving to Singapore, there will be many subtleties to life there which will take some adjusting to. By sitting back, observing and enjoying the little peculiarities of Singaporean life, it will only get easier to put down roots.

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