In 2015, expat networking group InterNations surveyed more than 14,400 expats living in 64 countries and found that expats around the world experience significant stress from the loss of their personal support networks, worry about their future finances, romantic relationships (if single), culture shock and loneliness.
While expats in Singapore enjoy many privileges, we’ve got our fair share of worries and struggles too – life here isn’t as rosy as family and friends back home may think it is.
Often, expats themselves also hide their “issues” for fear of being ostracised: no one wants to be the one to shatter the facade of a “good life”.
The Finder spoke to various expatriates about their concerns. You’re not alone!
Zara*, who was raised in the Middle East, and her American husband have lived in Singapore for eight years and are worried about their retirement savings.
Her husband is doubly taxed – by the U.S. and Singapore – and cannot contribute to a retirement plan in the U.S. while working overseas. Plus, because neither of them Singaporean Permanent Resident, they can’t accumulate funds in a Singapore Central Provident Fund account. The topper? They rent, so they’re not accruing home equity.
Recently, the couple faced a particularly daunting tax issue. “When my husband left his previous job, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) wanted to tax him on the unvested shares that the company had assigned to him upon hiring – even though he didn’t own them anymore!”
NEXT: The solution →
Turns out, in Singapore, gains and profits arising from share options are subject to tax.
Zara and her husband finally reached an agreement between his ex-employer and IRAS, with help from a skilled lawyer.
Be informed about the different laws in Singapore and in your home countries. Always read a job contract carefully before signing it. In addition, The Finder’s in-house tax expert, Steve Douglas, of the Australasian Taxation Service, advises, “If you’re confused about how to manage your Singapore finances with your existing accounts, investments or taxes back home, check on your embassy’s site. Many list suitable legal or accounting services.”
Steve also explains that there are financial benefits to becoming a Permanent Resident: “The main advantage is being able to participate in the Central Provident Fund, but it also helps significantly if you want to buy a property in which to live while in Singapore.” Being a PR reduces the additional stamp duty on property purchases as well. But, Steve warns, “Check with your employer if there would be changes to your salary packaging, if you became ‘local’!”
NEXT: The transient love life of an expat →
Single American millenial Jolene*, relocated to Singapore a year and a half ago and has found dating here to be a challenge.
“Oftentimes, you can become vulnerable with someone only to have them leave shortly after,” she says. “There’s a balance to keeping yourself open to new people but not burning out from ‘goodbyes’.”
Indeed, it is difficult to adjust to a new country and culture with no familial support system in place. So, friends become an expat’s ‘family’ here. But it can be timeconsuming and requires effort.
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There’s a downside of trying too hard. “Don’t do what I did and rush in to every ‘newcomers coffee morning’ or ‘welcome cocktails’ and try to become ‘blood sisters’ from the get go!” recommends Aussie expat Holleigh, co-founder of Urban Remedy, an online wellness community.
“Take your time,” she says. “There are a thousand social opportunities on offer in Singapore. Be yourself – like you were back home – and, naturally, you will attract the energy of those easy friendships you are missing.”
Or, as Jolene says, “The best way to make meaningful connections is to have shared experiences with people regardless of their timeline.”
Dr. Vanessa von Auer, Clinical Director and Clinical Psychologist at VA Psychology Center, also suggests creating separate circles of friends. “Make Singaporean friends, so that you have a stable network and can immerse yourself into Singapore’s multicultural melting pot,” she says.
“Join a regular activity, club or community, too. This way, even if the members change, you still keep a sense of familiarity or stability in your life.”
NEXT: Being a trailing spouse →
Many trailing spouses – majority female – hold advanced degrees or had positions of power in their industries in their home countries, yet are under-employed in Singapore.
Dependents of Employment Pass holders can get a Letter of Consent to work in Singapore if they find a job here, but this is difficult since the Singapore government tightened restrictions on foreigners in the workforce earlier over the past few years.
Add to this: Dependent Pass holders can’t sign up for a mobile phone plan or be on a tenancy agreement (among other legal documents) in their own name.
The resulting “desperate housewife” reputation, or stereotypical “tai-tai” presumption – of being a well-off married woman who doesn’t work – can sting. “As a trailing spouse in Singapore, you can feel like you are your husband’s chattel,” shares Rachael, an expat from the U.K, a senior midwife with 30 years experience back home.
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The loss of financial independence and identity, and the loneliness that accompanies this, can darken the experience of trailing partners in Singapore.
Rachael’s advice to other expat partners: be more organised about paperwork matters – job applications can involve thick questionnaires and in-deptch application forms, requiring certificates, original transcripts, and the like – which Rachael hadn’t brought with her.
Also, have lots of patience, as it can take months, or even years, to find a job. If you’re keen to work for yourself, however, there are ways to start your own business in Singapore. (P.S. Take inspiration from these girlbosses in Singapore!)
NEXT: Unexpected accidents →
When German and American expat Katja’s 5-year-old daughter had a freak accident and severed her Achilles tendon, Katja and her Australian husband took turns tending to their daughter in the hospital for multiple weeks while also caring for a 1-year-old son at home.
Even worse, Katja and her family were having to miss a large reunion in Germany, where she was finally going to see her own father, who is in declining health. “The stress was a lot to handle!” says Katja.
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What did Katja learn from the crisis? “It’s best to have a redundancy built in” – the proverbial plan B, she says.
In this case, Katja was able to have her mother-in-law from Australia come live with them for a bit as their daughter recovered.
She also says having a strong local network was key. Dr. Vanessa recommends that you should always discuss or think ahead about your future, from personal safety concerns (health, finances, etc.) to other crisis situations. “Make sure your family in your home country plus at least two friends in Singapore have emergency contact details for you,” she says.
In addition, know how to prep a “crisis” bag in a pinch, should you have to evacuate your home or even Singapore. The contents: all family members’ passports and other forms of identity, birth or marriage certificates, a globally recognised credit card and some emergency cash. Plus, an idea of where and who to go for help – your embassy, a friend’s home, etc.
NEXT: Money woes →
*names have been changed
By Pooja Makhijani, The Finder/ Updated July 2019
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