Quality of Life in Singapore
The 2016 survey by Mercer ranked Singapore as the #1 city in Asia for “quality of life.” This is a rather vague term encompassing measures as diverse as rational governance, safety, well-developed public services, intercultural tolerance and climate. If you are an entrepreneur thinking of launching your startup in Singapore, these are all important factors to consider, particularly if you plan to relocate to Singapore from overseas. This article provides an overview of the quality of life you can expect in Singapore.
Key takeaways about the quality of life in Singapore
- SAFE, HONEST AND LIBERAL
Singapore is a safe, corruption free, and economically liberal country. The government has invested significant resources in health, education, and infrastructure to make the city-state a very attractive place to live and do business.
EXCELLENT PUBLIC TRANSPORT
While housing is expensive, traveling between the blocks of high-rise flats that make up much of Singapore’s skyline is cheap and easy thanks to the state-of-the-art public transport network.
Visitors to Singapore are surprised by the wealth of different cultural and religious traditions, all tolerated equally; these traditions are expressed in the wide range of food available.
Life can be expensive, but the amenities enjoyed by those who come to Singapore more than make up for it. The country offers a world class experience to residents and visitors.
Rule of law is respected and followed in the country. Due to its colonial history, much of Singapore’s legal system is based on British law. Laws are passed by the government, the democratically-elected executive body that gains its authority from the Constitution.
Having gained independence from Malaysia as recently as 1965, Singapore is a relatively young democracy; in the event that there is no local legal precedent, judges look to British common law as an example to follow. However, in recent years, Singapore has started to create its own jurisprudence, departing from British tradition and emulating best practice from across the world. One example is Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), which draws inspiration from the OECD guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Trans-border Flow of Personal Data and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Privacy Framework.
As a business hub, Singapore has invested significant resources in creating effective bodies to facilitate dispute resolution. Contractual disputes are resolved in the State Courts, which consists of the Small Claims Tribunal, Magistrates’ Courts and District Courts. Disputes involving sums over S$250,000 are resolved by the Supreme Court. In addition to the public courts, Singapore is well-known internationally for its alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. Mediation takes place via organizations like the Primary Dispute Resolution Centre, the Singapore Mediation Centre and the Consumers’ Association of Singapore. Arbitration is comparatively cheap and often faster than dispute resolution by the state. To foster arbitration skills across the economy as a whole, Singapore National University set up the Singapore International Arbitration Academy in 2012.
Singapore politics is dominated by the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has governed the city-state continuously since 1959. The political system overseen by the PAP is an interesting mix of a pro-business, Westminster-style, constitutional democracy and an authoritarian, one-party state.
In a part of the world in which bureaucracies are often corrupt, Singapore is a model of efficiency. Government officials are appointed solely on merit and are paid extremely well to insulate them from temptation for corruption.
In 2015, the Economist’s Intelligence Unit ranked Singapore the second-safest city (after Tokyo) in the world. The US-based World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index 2014 ranked Singapore the second-safest out of 99 countries in a rule of law study. Gun control is incredibly strict, and pornography and drugs are both heavily regulated. Offenders face tough punishments, including heavy fines and even public canings. One advantage of strict punishments is that Singapore is a very safe city to live in. In 2014 the Singapore Police Force released a report stating that the number of criminal cases in Singapore dropped to the lowest level in 30 years. This is perhaps unsurprising in a city in which the use of drugs can be punished with the death penalty.
Public safety comes from the swiftness of the justice system, rather than enormous numbers of policemen on the streets. Even something as simple as petty shoplifting can be punished with time in jail. In general, people feel safe roaming around anytime of the day or night.
Since Singapore gained independence in 1965, successive governments have pursued classically liberal policies which have created an environment favorable to business and promoted economic growth. From 2000 to 2010 alone, Singapore’s GDP almost doubled, growing from S$163 billion to S$304 billion. The 2015 Index of Economic Freedom gave Singapore a score of 89.4, making it the 2nd freest economy worldwide after Hong Kong. More generally, Singapore has consistent budget surpluses, low unemployment and stable, low inflation – conditions that most other countries can only dream of. It is one of the most important financial centres and ports in the world, with many good-quality jobs.
Corporate tax rates in Singapore hover around 18%, compared to 25% in China, 26.5% in Canada and 33.3% in France. There are no dividends or capital gains tax in Singapore. This creates an attractive climate in which entrepreneurs can incorporate and operate and enjoy the rewards on their capital investment without incurring excessive tax burden as in most other countries.
Infrastructure and Public Services
The healthcare system in Singapore revolves around Medisave, a healthcare savings plan that Singaporeans are required to pay into each month. When citizens fall ill, the costs are covered by their Medisave plan in the first instance. A government fund called Medifund covers those who cannot afford Medisave payments. Policies and prices for insurance companies are set by the government; the associated costs are transparent. This system was suggested as a possible model for the United States in a paper published by Harvard University’s School of Public Health in January 2014.
The government is also active in the area of preventative care, with educational programs in place to inform the public about the benefits of exercise, a healthy diet, and a smoke-free lifestyle. Good hygiene is embedded in Singapore’s culture through characteristically strict penalties. In order to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, the National Environment Agency is known for conducting surprise checks for mosquito breeding and imposing heavy fines at breeding sites.
In addition to public healthcare, private healthcare also has a strong presence in the country. The quality of care in private hospitals is world class; the country is visited by thousands of medical tourists every year.
Singapore tops most of the global education rankings published by OECD.
From government policy to the businesses that move to the region, Singapore culture values self-sufficiency, hard work and meritocracy. These values are reflected in Singapore’s education system. Having been sorted into an academic stream appropriate for their ability, students are driven towards high levels of excellence by healthy competition and regularly top international lists evaluating performance.
The public education system in Singapore is overseen by the Ministry of Education, which heavily subsidizes the public schools in the region. Higher education is represented in Singapore via three local universities: the National University of Singapore, Singapore Management University and Nanyang Technological University. There are also international or Foreign System Schools geared towards the children of expats. However, attendance at an international school comes at a hefty price, with annual fees reaching as high as S$30,000.
Singapore’s public transport system is one of the best in the world. Bus services are cheap (S$0.70-2.50 per journey), punctual and efficient. They are complemented by a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system which is similar to the London Underground in size and scope. Additionally, a rail network comprises 100 stations across four main lines. Three more lines will be completed by 2020 to allow the network to transport as many as 4.6 million passengers a day.
The cost-effectiveness of the public transport system stands in sharp contrast to the road network, the private use of which is heavily taxed by the government to avoid smog and excessive congestion. Owning a vehicle in Singapore is extremely expensive. Cars are subjected to registration fees, excise duties, carbon taxes and additional fees based on the type of fuel drivers use.
The city-state boasts an enviable location in central Asia that can be reached from many international airports. Singapore’s main airport is Changi Airport, known for being the home of Singapore Airways. Changi will be opening a new terminal in 2017. The country is also accessible by land from Malaysia.
Housing in Singapore can be divided into three categories: private apartments, landed property and public housing.
Singapore’s expats typically live in high-rise private condominium complexes. Such accommodations are typically designed in a modern, even futuristic style, and come equipped with security and amenities such as swimming pools, recreational areas and car parks. Monthly rent varies between S$3,000 and S$15,000, depending on how centrally the apartment is located, its size, and its proximity to the central business district.
The scarcity of land in Singapore means that renting landed property (terraced houses, semi-detached-houses etc) is extremely expensive. Rental costs for houses like these can reach as high as S$30,000! Foreigners are prohibited from buying landed property, unless they become a permanent resident and gain written permission from the Ministry of Law.
For expats on a budget, public housing is the best option. Since these flats are built by the Housing Development Board, they are known colloquially as HDBs. Much of the local population of Singapore lives in HDBs. They vary in size from two bedrooms up to four bedrooms, and the price is in the range of S$1,500 to S$3,000 per month. While HDBs do not provide access to the luxury amenities provided by more expensive private housing, they are normally part of an estate comprising a shopping center, eateries, and sports facilities.
Singapore is a melting pot of different cultural traditions. The population is roughly 74.1 percent Chinese, 13.4 percent Malay and 9.2 percent Indian – to say nothing of the vast number of expats who live in the city-state. 2.1 million of the 5.5 million people living in Singapore are foreign nationals. Buddhism is the most popular religion (33%), followed by Christianity and Islam. There are four official languages in Singapore: English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. Of these, English is the most important language – the language of business, government and schools.
As a consequence of the cosmopolitan nature of life in Singapore, the intermingling of cultures and faiths is a commonly accepted practice. Intermarriages are also a regular occurrence. Cultural tolerance is a virtue that has explicit government backing. In 1991, a government white paper called Shared Values enshrined racial and religious harmony as one of the five tenets of civilised society. The remarkable lack of cultural bigotry in Singapore makes it easy for foreigners to integrate into local life.
Cuisine in Singapore is primarily a mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Western cultural traditions, reflecting the ethnic diversity of its population. Meals like fish head curry are hybrid dishes that synthesise the best features of these traditions to make something new. The Muslim community does not eat pork and the Hindu population avoids beef, but other than that, multiethnic groups often eat together. Food is viewed as a unifying force that forms a large part of national identity.
Popular ingredients include noodles, rice, chicken, prawns, shrimp and coconut milk. Together with various vegetables, these foods are combined in ingenious ways that are appreciated by local Singaporeans and Westerners alike. In 2011, CNN used their Facebook page to ask readers what the most delicious food in the world was. Four dishes from Singapore made the top 50:
- Hainanese chicken rice – chicken cooked in pork and chicken bone stock, served with oily rice, soy sauce and a spicy chilli dip
- Chilli crab – stir-fried mud crab served with a mild, sweet-and-sour sauce based on tomatoes and chilli
- Laksa – a spicy noodle soup with chicken, prawns or fish
- Roti Prata – a fried pancake served with a vegetable or meat curry
Tropical fruit is available all year round in Singapore and is often served for dessert. Popular choices include lychees and pineapple, as well as more unusual fruit like mangosteen or jackfruit. The most infamous fruit is the durian, which has such a distinctive aroma that it is banned from public transport and elevators! Other famous desserts are a sweet soup called cheng tng and small fruit cakes known as kuih.
Located just north of the Equator, Singapore enjoys a tropical climate that produces hot, humid conditions all year round. Average temperature hovers around 31ºC during the day and 25ºC at night, with slightly warmer periods in April and May and cooler months in December and January. Remarkably, the temperature in Singapore has never been recorded at lower than 19ºC. Humidity ranges between 70 and 100%, with particularly muggy air in the mornings.
Singapore experiences a vast amount of rain every year, which often falls in short, intense bursts accompanied by thunder and lightning. There are two monsoon seasons, the Northeast Monsoon (December-March) and the Southwest Monsoon (May-September); the former brings significantly more rain. Contrary to its name, the Southwest Monsoon actually brings with it a drier climate, although brief storms are frequent in the mornings.
Singapore offers a very good high quality of life. The government has created a safe, clean, efficiently-run place to live, in which business freedoms and the rule of law are respected. The city-state is an ethnic melting point of different nationalities, religions and foods, meaning that it’s easy for visitors to feel at home – no matter where they come from.