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What I Wish Someone Had Told Me (About Living in Singapore)

Whether you’ve only just arrived or you’ve been living in Singapore for years, with such a dynamic and constantly changing city, it can be hard to keep up! Being “in the know” can feel like an impossible task with new places opening and old places closing faster than you can find your way there.

But there are a few things that I wish someone had told me about living in Singapore and still more things I’m learning daily.  Like the time I was desperately trying to find the 960 SMRT bus on my IRIS bus app (which – I now know – does not list SMRT buses).

Other things that are helpful to know:

  • You need to swipe your bus card when you get on AND when you get off. (The fare is calculated accordingly. If you don’t swipe, you’ll be charged the fare for the length of the entire route.
  • Taxi drivers generally ask you which way you want them travel to your destination. It’s nice to have a look at a map before leaving so you have a general idea if you’re heading in the right direction because…
  • Street naming is confusing. There can be more than one road with VERY similar names (like Amber Road and Amber Gardens). In fact, you can have two roads with the SAME name! (Like Amber Road which runs both parallel AND perpendicular to Mountbatten Road (which similarly branches off into different roads – named the same).
  • Cold Storage is more expensive than other grocery stores. I did my first, bulkiest shopping here. I learned this lesson quickly but hopefully might save you a few (hundred) dollars.
  • While Singapore is great for families, it may be difficult if you have early risers. A walk through Little India can be pretty desolate at 9 am. It can also be difficult to eat dinner before 6. You (and the kids) will adjust.
  • Always have napkins and/or tissues on hand.
  • Taxi drivers are not big fans of big bills. It might be worth letting the driver know ahead of time if you aren’t going far and don’t have small bills.
  • There are some places where you think it would be easy to grab a taxi and in fact, you cannot (easily). On Orchard Road, for example, you have to find a taxi stand (usually behind the malls or hotels).
  • Geckos are our friends. If you aren’t used to living in a tropical climate, these speedy reptiles can scare you silly, making you shriek like you’re being attacked by a dinosaur (not that I’ve done this). Actually, they are quite harmless and even helpful as they eat nearly every insect and creepy crawler including mozzies, spiders and cockroaches. Handy roommates, indeed.
  • Many things are expensive – like alcohol, clothing, alcohol and alcohol – but bargains can be found! You can find some very cool, unique, and cheap costume jewelry in small street shops. Buy fresh, local vegetables at wet markets and explore Mustafa Center! (Just not on a weekend)
  • If you ever find yourself thinking, “where can I buy…” stop running around. Nine times out of 10, the answer is Mustafa Center.
  • If you’re heading out for a boozy night beware: the alcohol plus the humidity can make you tipsier than you’re used to!
  • Hydrate. Always. Keep a bottle of water with you at all times.
  • Singapore does not cool down. Ever. Just because it’s raining, doesn’t mean the temperature will dip accordingly.
  • Western clothing sizes and Asian sizes are not universal. Finding larger sizes (in clothes and shoes) may be difficult. Stock up abroad or try buying online. Many stores ship internationally (and not as expensive as you might think).
  • If you’re allergy prone, you might find the air conditioning aggravates your allergies.
  • Read manicure and pedicure menus very carefully. A simple nod will be seen as an affirmative, that yes, in fact, you DO want that extra $100 exfoliation scrub.  
  • Business cards and money are handed over using two hands. This is a sign of respect and ideally, you will pause to read and acknowledge the person’s name and title.
  • Use money changers instead of banks to exchange currencies.
  • The terms “aunty” and “uncle” are used often when addressing elders. It is considered polite and respectful. You might use it to address your local hawker owner, a taxi driver or even a shop assistant. (And don’t be surprised to hear someone younger use it to refer to you!)
  • Follow the rules on escalators, at the MRT stops, and boarding buses. Essentially, stand to left and walk to the right. Always let passengers off trains and buses before you try to get on. Stand to the left of the doors, so those leaving can walk straight out.

I’m sure there is more you could add…like us on Facebook and add your advice! And most importantly, get out and start exploring and learn for yourself all that this vibrant city has to offer!

Ready to download some apps to make your life in Singapore easier? Read of list of must haves!


By Kathleen Siddell, The Finder

photo: 123rf.com

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