Culture Shock - Singapore


Fraser Clarke

‘Culture Shock’ can be a major factor in preventing expats from getting the most out of their new life overseas. Defined as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes”, it’s something that will have been experienced in some degree by anyone who has previously taken their career to a foreign environment.
In order to try and help you and your family work through the symptoms, we’ve taken a look at the most common factors likely to affect you in each country we work with, and how to combat them. After all, preparation can be the key.
In the fifth article in our exclusive ‘Culture Shock Cures’ series we’ll look at one of the world’s most unique locations. Singapore.


One way in which Singapore is especially unique, is in the language spoken by many of the locals. Singapore’s official language is English, however with large Chinese, Malay and Indian communities living in the country, a Singaporean slang has been developed, that can take some getting used to.

Singlish speakers will often add the word ‘lah’ or ‘mah’ onto a sentence in order to add emphasis to what they have said. These words don’t directly mean anything, but it can be extremely confusing if someone says to you: “The bus stop is up there lah”.

Other words and phrases do having meaning though ‘Wah lu’ (meaning ‘My Gosh’ is commonly used, especially when discussing prices!) whilst you’re also likely to hear ‘Makan’, which is Malay for eat.

Top Tip: Try and learn some key phrases before you move. Many people moving to the country assume that because English is the language they will have no problem with it, and then become surprised when hit by the potential language barrier.


Singapore is a hugely competitive country, and you’ll quickly become accustom to the concept of Kiasuism. The natives’ fear of losing, or missing out on something. This can come as quite a shock at first, with Singaporeans and expats who have lived in the country for a long time appearing opportunistic and aggressive at times, however in such a competitive workplace it will quickly become apparent why.

Top Tip: If you’re looking for a relaxing, slow paced working life then Singapore is absolutely not for you. If you’re looking for a highly motivating, exciting and dynamic working environment however a move could be ideal. Do your research before moving, and be prepared for a totally unique workplace.

Cost of Living

Living in Singapore is expensive. The country is the world’s only island city state, and so land prices are high, almost all types of food have to be imported, and high taxes are in place. This is especially notable on vehicles, with their prices often more than $100,000 more expensive!

There are areas where it is cheaper than major cities like London however, especially eating out. Street and restaurant food in Singapore is almost 70% cheaper than in London, whilst taxis and public transport are the most popular way to get around, and almost 1000% less expensive than they are in London.

Top Tip: Do the maths prior to committing to a move. The salaries may look enough to convince you to sign the contract, but work out how far your money would go before agreeing to anything, to avoid a nasty shock when you arrive.

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