Many expats on localised, perk-free packages
There are expats here who are on localised packages and some forgo perks just to remain in Singapore. SEOW YUN RONG (firstname.lastname@example.org) takes a peek into their lifestyles
Some people assume that Western expats get luxurious perks and lead a glamorous lifestyle here but two of them say the reality can be different.
Ms Elaine Young, 43, left Scotland 12 years ago to be a writer here.
She buys her groceries at NTUC FairPrice and her clothes from Uniqlo, and eats at hawker centres near her Tiong Bahru rental apartment.
Ms Young says: "I wish I could walk into Burberry and buy anything I want but the reality is I wear basic clothes like an average person here."
She did not imagine the cost of living here to be so high.
.PHOTO COURTESY OF ELAINE YOUNG
And she did not know she had the option of renting an HDB flat since property agents serving expats here often recommend private properties.
"Had I known about renting HDB flats then, my husband and I would have done so to save more money," she says.
She and her husband, who is an Asia Pacific sales director with IHS Energy, pay about $6,500 a month for their three-room apartment.
Apart from the haze and high cost of living, Ms Young says: "I've never felt safer and the people here are lovely."
She has made many local and expat friends, and they organise outings and dinners for the weekends.
Ms Young intends to move back to the UK to look after her mother in a few years.
She says: "We love living here but are well aware that we are guests in the country. It's home now but not forever."
Thirty-year-old Dane Jesper Rasmussen, an operations manager in a shipping company, says he usually eats at hawker centres.
He jumped on the opportunity to work in Singapore the moment he saw his company post the opening and has been here for more than two years now.
Mr Rasmussen had another motivation to move here: His girlfriend, whom he met in Denmark, is a Singaporean.
She was stationed in Denmark for three years in the same shipping company.He had never been to Singapore although he travelled around South-east Asia over a few years before his move here.
So, the high cost of living here came as a surprise to him, especially since his experience with South-east Asia mainly involved Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.
Singapore is the world's most expensive city, according to research by the Economist Intelligence Unit this year.
During the first three months alone in Singapore, Mr Rasmussen overspent because he did not know about hawker centres and cheaper supermarkets.
His girlfriend returned from Denmark and took him to hawker centres and food courts, showing him ways to save money.
He says: "It's great to have someone local to show me around. Had it not been for her guidance, I would still be spending a lot of money on the wrong things."
He rents a two-room condominium unit in Farrer Road and pays about $3,400 a month.
Mr Rasmussen says that sometimes it is hard to adjust and make new friends as an expat because people know that he won't be here for long.
"Many have their own groups of friends and sometimes it's hard for them to invest time in a person who will leave."
Both Ms Young and Mr Rasmussen have noticed expats switching to localised packages to secure a job here. They also say that many expats here do not live a life of luxury.
"Like Singaporeans, each individual earns a different amount of money and leads different lifestyles," says Mr Rasmussen who spends his weekends visiting his girlfriend and her family in Woodlands.
I've never felt safer and the people here are lovely.
- Ms Elaine Young from Scotland has been working here for 12 years
Like Singaporeans, each individual earns a different amount of money and leads different lifestyles.
- Mr Jesper Rasmussen, who is working as an operations manager in a shipping company
He prefers to go local
Mr Simon Lints and wife Carolyn live in a flat in Pasir Ris. PHOTO COURTESY OF MR SIMON LINTS
Scottish expat Simon Lints, 51, has been working here for seven years.
But forget the glitzy condo and luxury car.
The director and relationship manager of a private bank pays about $3,000 a month for a five-room HDB flat in Pasir Ris, travels by public transport and lives on hawker centre fare.
When he first got here, he thought that living in Asia would be cheaper than Europe although he had never travelled to Asia.
He says: "I never thought the living expenses would be so costly here. When I go back to the UK on business, I take the opportunity to buy clothes there because it is much cheaper."
Mr Lints says apart from groceries - which cost as much as they do in Scotland - accommodation, clothing and alcohol are more expensive here.
His wife Carolyn runs her own corporate governance and training company here. Mr Lints takes a 50-minute train ride to work at Raffles Quay every day.
He says many of his colleagues who are on expatriate packages with extensive allowances tend to go golfing and live in big condominium apartments or houses.
"Everyone can choose to spend their money differently and make different lifestyle choices.
"Rich expats tend to stick to other rich expats and often miss out on local things like the hawker food and cycling at the park."
Mr Lints adds that only two in 10 of his expatriate friends live in big houses and lead a life of luxury.
But he is satisfied with living in his flat because he can walk to Downtown East for movies, go cycling at Pasir Ris Park and swim at a nearby recreation centre with friends.
He wanted a new experience with his wife since they had never been to Asia. He won't be moving to another country any time soon because he simply loves life here.
Expats who are on localised package do not get perks
Most Western expats no longer receive big income packages.
"Today, a sizeable percentage of the expat community move here on a localised package," says Dr Yvonne McNulty, founder of Expat Research.
Dr McNulty is a scholar-practitioner by training. She is on the associate faculty at SIM University and is co-author of Managing Expatriates: A Return on Investment Approach (Business Expert Press).
She adds that half of the expats here receive localised packages that do not include perks such as extensive allowances, a car and sponsorship of school fees for their children.
"These expats who are here on a localised package don't live in big houses and it isn't easy for expats to rent in the heartlands," she says.
According to the HDB website, the quota for subletting to non-Malaysian foreigners is set at 8 per cent at the neighbourhood level and 11 per cent at the block level.
For expats on a localised package, their accompanying spouses need to find work to supplement the household income.
"Because the quota for foreign employment has been changed, it has become harder for expats and their spouses to find jobs," says Dr McNulty.
International schools are expensive and expats with children also face problems when trying to get their children into local schools.
"The cost of putting them in local schools is about $12,000 a year, so it is still very costly."
Dr McNulty also says that while some may have started on expat packages, they switch to localised packages later to remain in Singapore.
"Firstly, it could be that it is a critical point for their school-going child such as the Primary School Leaving Examinations.
"Or, they do not foresee getting a job back in their home country.
"Or it could be because they find living in Singapore good for the family because it is safe."