Landing at Changi Airport and driving into town on the clean, tree-lined expressway, you’ve likely realized that you’re in a very unusual, global city. Just 30 minutes (or less!) from the hyper-efficient air hub are the gleaming business and tourism districts. Welcome to the dynamic, modern, and ever-evolving city-state that you have made the bold step to call home. This is Singapore, where the never-ending growth and change is awesome. Starting some 800 years ago with the Kings and Sultans of Malaya, to Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles’ “British invasion” in 1819, to the modern, independent, business-friendly country, where rule of law and multi-culturalism are blending the past with a dynamic future in this high-tech, sophisticated metropolis.
The Little Red Dot
The “Little Red Dot” or “The Red Dot,” as Singapore is affectionately known, has come a long way since the days of clipper ships, with pirates plotting just out of sight in the nearby Riau Islands. It has been a stopping-off point for travelers and traders over many centuries.
And it has seen some truly spectacular success. If you’re wondering how unique Singapore is, global surveys by banks, think tanks, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) consistently say the same thing: Singapore is the best. It often tops lists for personal safety, where 94% of Singaporeans feel safe walking alone at night, compared with the global average of 68%. It is tops in education, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)'s ranking of school performance across 76 countries. It’s consistently cited as one of the top places for expats to live and work; expats here earn an average salary of S$224,000 (US$162,000). Singapore is a business hub and the most change-ready country. You can find the fastest fixed broadband speed in the world here, as well as 100% broadband connectivity, so you’ll never have any trouble with your Netflix and Chill evenings!
You’re Not in Kansas, Anymore
One downside to Singapore is the cost of living; it consistently ranks as one of the most expensive places in the world. While not vastly different from Manhattan or Central London or Tokyo, the prices here may shock you, especially if you’re from a smaller town or city. You may also lament the high cost of buying food at the grocery store or dining out at a high-end restaurant. Most everything is shipped in or flown in from other countries. After a while, you’ll probably see that you get what you pay for. Today, the nearly six million people who call Singapore home have every modern convenience in a city that is safe, easy to do business in, easy to get in and out of by land, air or sea, and contains many interesting people to meet along the way.
This manicured city-state also has another distinction. With highly educated and successful people driving million dollar-plus luxury cars down perfect streets, past designer shops and global brands, Singapore boasts the highest global percentage of homeowners who are considered millionaires (over 180,000) and 1,000 who are “crazy rich,” holding more than US$50 million. The never-ending flow of money here directly supports a high-end lifestyle for things like restaurants, shopping, leisure activities and schools.
As in any city, there is another side of the story, too. Some 20% of Singaporeans have personal wealth of less than US$10,000, and Singapore has one of the highest household debt levels in Asia. Most ordinary Singaporeans ride the train or bus and eat at inexpensive hawker centers, while old men and women clean restaurant tables, sell tissue packets, or recycle cardboard boxes or empty cans for a few dollars. Due to the Destitute Persons Act, it’s illegal to beg here (a fine of up to S$3,000 or imprisonment for up to two years), so you probably won’t run into people asking for a handout: it’s a city of extreme contradictions.
Driving Change with Vision
The Singapore government has been the driving force for nearly 60 years in developing this impressive landscape and society on the Little Red Dot.
Each year it spends billions of dollars on public works projects, such as roads, tunnels, MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) train lines and other infrastructure. The government, however, is not merely concerned about infrastructure and business growth. There is a “softer” side that looks closely at lifestyle and is realizing that society needs leisure-time pursuits. One example: after decades of hard work and rapid growth, is the “Vision 2030: Live Better Through Sport” project. This lays out dozens of leisure-time recommendations for residents to access sports facilities and programs, toward a more active and physically fit population. But if you’re exercising outside, be ready for the heat and probably a warm tropical shower.
Also, while change does happen at a blistering pace here, there are still quiet places that take you back 100 years or more: the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a World Heritage Site; quaint lanes of Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam; or the stately black and white homes that dot the island. And of course, as we reopen from the global pandemic, Singapore will once again be one of the best regional cities from which to travel around the region for a long weekend or an extended holiday.
Welcome to Singapore! We’re glad you’re here and hope that you enjoy life on the Little Red Dot!