Sometimes it’s the simplest of things that can make the difference when you move abroad. Here are just few hints and tips on things to make adapting to your new life in Singapore that bit easier.

Out and about

Tipping—no one tips. Well, almost no-one. There is a sign at the airport apparently that says Singapore is a non-tipping country. Certainly in restaurants, hotels, salons and so on, it is not expected that you tip, as a service charge is always added to your bill. However, some people do give a couple of dollars to people such as the petrol station attendant who fill your car up or the lady who does your nails, but this is a personal choice.

If someone refers to an ‘Uncle’ they don’t actually mean a blood relative—or any kind of relative. In Singapore, Uncle is a term of respect for an elderly gentleman. And Aunty is the female equivalent. A bit like the British use of ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’.  For ‘younger’ women, they use the term ‘Sis’.

At the hawker centre

Don’t be embarrassed to ask what’s what. They can be intimidating places but do offer great, cheap food. Some, like Makunsutra at Esplanade, have handy little explanations above each stall. This is quite a good way to learn about the various types of hawker food. Have a wander round, decide what you think you may like and go for it. Be brave, it’s so cheap it really doesn’t hurt if you get it wrong.

Once you’ve got your food, take a seat wherever there’s space — not forgetting to grab some chopsticks and a couple of small bowls/plates. If you’re lucky an Uncle will come over and ask what drink you want and bring it to you. If not, there’s always a drinks stall not far away.

And remember—take cash with you!


If you are going to be getting cabs, download one of the many apps that are available to help you book a cab. A few worth looking out for are: Grab Taxi, Comfort Cabs and Uber (for some more useful Singapore apps click here). You can’t just stand anywhere on the street and stick your hand out as there are certain rules the cab drivers have to adhere to. If you haven’t got an app, you can get a cab from one of the many cab ranks. There are plenty around—outside shopping centres, near markets, hotels, even large condos. Don’t panic if the line seems ridiculously long, there are A LOT of cabs in Singapore and lines tend to move quickly.

Don’t assume the cab driver will know the way to your destination. It’s always a good idea to have an idea of what way you want to go. Use Google maps or something similar if necessary. If you really don’t know, ask the cab Uncle to take you the quickest way.

If a cab stops, don’t assume you’ll get a ride. If a cab is on a shift change they will only take you if you are going their way. It may helpfully say on the top of the cab where it’s heading.

If it’s pouring with rain be prepared to wait a while for a cab and if you see one coming with the hallowed green light, stick your hand out and wave like your life depends on it.

Public transport

The public transport in Singapore is clean, efficient and easy to navigate. You can download a number of apps to your smart phone that will help you get from one place to another. The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system is the train network that works like clockwork and is air conditioned and has wifi! The buses are plentiful, cheap and air conditioned so are also a good option.

If you’re going to be using the public transport system it’s worth getting an EZ Link card. These are available at most MRT stations, 7-Eleven stores and other places. Initially, you have to pay around $12; some of this is kept as the card payment, the rest is then credit to use on trains, buses, some cabs and even food and drink and leisure outlets. A very handy piece of plastic to have. Keep it topped up though


Get yourself a PAssion Card. This is membership of the People’s Association and with it you will get exclusive offers and privileges on a range of courses, activites and programmes.  For example, discount on Chingay Parade tickets, money off eateries and so on. You will be asked if you’re a PAssion Card member in a number of places. Look on the local community centre website and sign up. It costs around $12.

If you are travelling on a Dependent’s Pass or an Employment Pass, make sure you carry it round with you as you will need it a lot. It’s not just for the obvious things, like opening a bank account or getting a TV package. When buying any kind of ticket, entering a play centre or visiting a doctor, you will be asked for it. You need it more often than not, so keep it with you. It’ll save you a lot of hassle.

A small tip but one that’s worth knowing is to make an effort with your appearance when you go to have your DP/EP pass photograph taken. It’s likely that you’ll turn up at the Ministry of Manpower (or the MOM) probably having just arrived in Singapore. Feeling a bit low, more than likely a bit frazzled and definitely a bit confused. All of those feelings will show on your tired, haggard, unwashed face! Take my word for it, brush your hair, slap on a bit of makeup and look confident. It will be worth it because that pass is going to be the one thing you see almost every day whilst living in Singapore.

Joanne Jeyes writes more about being an expat in Singapore in her blog Five Go Mad In Singers.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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