The quality of life in Singapore is generally considered to be among the most enviable in the world. The country consistently ranks highly in various personal safety, economic freedom, and political stability indices, making it a model for other nations in Asia and beyond.
Singapore’s unorthodox systems for achieving these successes are often confusing for foreigners, particularly those who are unfamiliar with shared Asian values of communitarianism and harmony. What this means is expats moving to Singapore are often bewildered and surprised by things that are normal or self-evident to locals.
Here are some things about living in Singapore that may surprise expats.
1. It’s Probably Bigger Than You Think
Singapore is one of the smallest countries in the world, occasionally being called a microstate or city-state because of its comparatively small size. However, as the 20th smallest country in the world, it is still much bigger than a substantial number of other countries, including such notables as Andorra, Liechtenstein, Barbados, Grenada, San Marino, Monaco, and the Maldives, just to name a few.
With approximately 726 square kilometres (280 square miles) of territory across 63 different islands, it’s not exactly a place you could breeze through in just a couple of days. You could live here all your life and still not have visited all the notable places the country has to offer.
2. There’s Plenty of Nature to Go Around
Visitors to Singapore often expect the country to be one big city. While this is partly true in some ways, given the contiguous nature of most of the country’s inhabited areas, there are plenty of relatively unspoiled locations as well. If you love being in green spaces, Singapore has that covered.
In addition to its numerous publicly accessible parks and gardens, the country is also home to four large (for the country’s size) nature reserves. These are Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Labrador Nature Reserve, and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. In addition to these, there are several smaller protected wildlands scattered across the country as well.
3. There Is a Maximum Height for Buildings in Singapore
Because of the country’s status as an international air transportation hub, skyscrapers in Singapore are relatively short by world standards, with most topping out at just 280 metres. The lower maximum height is intended to prevent buildings from interfering with the country’s heavy round-the-clock air traffic. Exceptions, such as the 290-metre-tall Tanjong Pagar Centre, need special permission to exceed the 280-metre limit.
4. Singapore Is Considered to Be One of the Easiest Places in the World to Do Business
Singapore is consistently ranked as among the easiest places in the world to do business. In 2021, it was just edged out of the top spot by New Zealand. Low corruption, a healthy business ecosystem, and a highly -educated population all contribute to make the country a global business hub, particularly for financial services.
Notably, business incorporation applications can be processed within 15 minutes and, assuming everything is aboveboard, completed in two weeks. This means that if you have a business idea, you can probably make it a reality faster in Singapore than anywhere else in the world.
5. Singapore Takes Public Cleanliness Seriously
Many Westerners are vaguely aware that chewing gum recreationally is banned in Singapore. The ban was enacted to address the problem of chewing gum litter in public spaces.
However, the chewing gum ban is not the only unusual public cleanliness law in Singapore. People who fail to flush public toilets after using them can be fined SGD 150, if caught. Perhaps more surprisingly, police officers have been known to do spot checks on foreigners who just used the bathroom.
6. The Country Is Designed for Pedestrians
If you’re planning to drive in Singapore, you have to be prepared to pay substantially more for the privilege than people from most countries. The government actively discourages the use of private vehicles, as vehicular traffic is considered to be a major impediment to maintaining a high quality of life in Singapore. Registration fees and taxes are notoriously expensive, and even wealthy Singaporeans are not always guaranteed access to a private automobile.
Thankfully, the country’s public transit systems are widely regarded to be among the best in the world. Pedestrian bridges and walkways also criss-cross the country. With its pedestrian-centric urban development, it’s no wonder Singaporeans are consistently rated as the world’s fastest walkers, with an average pace of 6.15 kilometres per hour.
7. Singaporeans Are Wealthy
One out of every six Singaporean households has assets valued at USD 1 million or more. This gives the country the second-highest density of millionaires in Asia, after Hong Kong, and 11th globally.
However, this has to be understood in context, as the cost of living in Singapore is one of the highest in the world as well. Thus, while nice, being a millionaire here won’t mean as much as it does in most parts of the world.
8. Singapore Is a Multiethnic Country
Singapore’s Chinese, Malay, and Indian communities form the core of a wider community that includes people from all over the world. The country’s status as a logistics and innovation hub has made it home to an extremely diverse set of expatriates from almost every country on earth. If you love to experience other cultures, Singapore is probably one of the best places in the world to do just that.
9. The Country Is Hot and Humid
Singapore’s geographic location means that the average temperature is around 31°C in daytime and around 24°C at night, all year round. Additionally, humidity rarely dips below 80%. Unlike many other countries situated near the equator, Singapore’s dry and wet seasons are not especially distinct. This means that the country’s weather is fairly homogenous throughout the year.
If you’re not a fan of hot and humid weather, don’t worry. Most of Singapore’s enclosed public spaces are fully air-conditioned. Air-conditioning is such a central part of Singaporean life that Lee Kwan Yew, modern Singapore’s founding father, attributed it to his country’s success.
10. Most Singaporeans Live in Public Housing
About 86% of Singaporeans live in publicly provided housing—and this includes many of the millionaires mentioned earlier. The close living conditions of multiethnic Singaporeans of different social classes in these flats is often attributed as a key factor in shaping the country’s current identity. The success of Singapore’s public housing efforts has been the inspiration for many similar programmes throughout the world.
These are just some of the most common things that surprise expats who just moved to Singapore. Singaporean society and culture are far more complex than they seem to be on the surface, and it is sometimes very far removed from what is typical in the West or even in other Asian countries. But if you keep an open mind, you just might find that Singapore’s quality of life—and the seemingly strange things its people do to achieve it—are not only appealing but worth emulating, as well.