Moving abroad is difficult enough, but relocating with children in tow can come with additional challenges. From housing to schooling, healthcare to culture, there’s a lot to think about before, during and after your international move. Thankfully, Singapore is a great destination for families, just one of the reasons HSBC’s 2019 Expat Explorer survey rated it the second best place in the world for expats to settle.
Deemed to have the best schooling availability and standards of any country on the Expat Explorer list, Singapore also offers a high quality of living, economic and political stability, and excellent opportunities for career progression. If you’re relocating to this colourful, multicultural city with little ones in tow, these top tips for moving to Singapore with kids should help make things as smooth as possible.
Find a Great Family Neighbourhood
The city-state of Singapore may not be huge, but it offers a host of neighbourhoods which have proven popular with expat families of all ages.
Brett Manders, an international airline pilot and author of the book Behind the Flight Deck Door, lived with his wife and 18-month-old daughter in Singapore for more than a year. He recounts his experience: “We lived at The Bayshore and I think there were about 1,000 apartments, plus a kindergarten on-site, which was great.” As a very family-friendly complex, “it was nice knowing that my family felt safe and secure there as I travelled away for work all the time,” he adds.
Holland Village is another popular ‘expat destination’ — though many would argue that the whole of Singapore is a destination for expats nowadays. You won’t find any crazy all-night parties here; think cosy neighbourhood vibes, with restaurants serving Western and European cuisine as well as local favourites.
There are several popular expat clubs in this area, such as the Swiss Club and Tanglin Club. You’re also right next door to nature reserves that border the northern side of the Holland Village district.
Tanjong Pagar in the centre of the city is also popular with expat families, due to its long-standing multicultural community. While accommodation is slightly more expensive here than in Holland Village, it’s a coveted central location.
International or Public Schooling?
English is widely spoken throughout Singapore. It is also the language of instruction for most classes in both public and private schools. So if your children are not yet bilingual, this isn’t anything to worry about.
There are numerous excellent international schools in Singapore. This means your children can be taught in line with current British, American, Australian or other curricula. The International Baccalaureate is also an option. Fees for international schools can be high, however. If you’re moving here through an employer, see if you can get an education allowance as part of your contract.
Singapore’s public education system is known for producing fantastic results, and often ranks as the world’s best. Preschool starts from age three, followed by primary school at around age seven and secondary school at 13 years. Do be aware that school attendance is compulsory from age six. If you wish to homeschool your child, you will need to apply to the authorities for permission.
Expat families who are here only for a couple of years usually choose international schools. This way there isn’t too much disruption to their children’s education. Many others go the other route.
Take Pete and Julia Gilson, who moved to Singapore with their five-year-old daughter, for instance. They decided to enrol her in a local school when she completed kindergarten. According to Julia, “We had heard a lot of good things about public education here, and liked the idea that she would be exposed to diverse cultures and languages. It was one of our best decisions as she is really happy at her school and is doing great in Primary Three now.”
Access to Singaporean Healthcare
Healthcare in Singapore is consistently ranked among the best in the world, both in public and private hospitals. Brett also praises the high quality nature of the healthcare system. “Something happened that required an overnight stay in hospital and both staff and system were excellent.”
Permanent residents and citizens receive subsidised care at public hospitals, which expats with work passes do not qualify for. You’ll likely find that medical costs are the same for you at public hospitals as it is at private ones. As such, most expats choose private hospitals as they may be seen faster.
To access Singapore’s private healthcare facilities and services, many expats take out a global healthcare policy. This can help cover the cost rather than paying a new bill every time a family member needs treatment. It also offers peace of mind that you’ll always have quick and easy access to the country’s top medical facilities.
(See also: When Your Child is in Hospital)
Get Settled in the Local Scene
Dealing with your own potential homesickness is one thing, but supporting younger family members is a challenge in itself. Moving away from familiar faces and places can be difficult no matter what your age. Start enjoying your new surroundings as quickly as possible by exploring and experiencing the local culture.
Brett shares, “Singapore is a great melting pot of cultures. But if you’re coming from a cool climate, the heat and humidity can knock you about the first few days.” He also adds an initial observation: “Seeing other families walk around with hired domestic helpers who carry all the shopping was definitely different.”
Allowing yourself time to get used to cultural differences such as these is vital. Brett continues, “Having a helper is another fantastic benefit of life in Singapore. You must complete an online course by the Ministry of Manpower so you know how to run things properly. Our helper was a godsend and we still stay in touch with her now.”
You’ll also need to try to work in familiar things, whether that’s food, TV shows or family traditions. But to get everyone feeling at home, delve into the cuisine, sightseeing and activities that Singapore has to offer. With your family in tow, of course.
Be the Occasional Tourist
You may be moving here to live and work. But that doesn’t mean you can’t embrace Singapore like a tourist some of the time. In fact, it’s a great opportunity! Explore the Botanic Gardens, visit Gardens by the Bay, take a street food tour and buy fresh produce from the wet markets.
You’ll also find plenty of activities to keep your kids — and yourselves — entertained. One must-visit is the S.E.A Aquarium located on Sentosa Island. Home to more than 100,000 marine animals of over 1,000 species, it’s one of the largest aquariums in the world. Your children are sure to enjoy the vibrant array of exotic fish and marine wildlife here.
Learning to see a new city and country as ‘home’ isn’t something that happens overnight. But Singapore is a culturally diverse, welcoming destination, where it’s easy for expats from all over the world to feel at home. As Julia says with a chuckle, “My girl sometimes brings her friends home from school, and they would give us recommendations on where to go and what to eat!”
Whether your children are five or fifteen, they can be brought up here with world-class education, healthcare and housing, in a safe environment, with great access to green spaces and good food. If you’re planning a family relocation to Singapore, it won’t be long before you discover why people from all over the world speak so highly of this destination.
This article was contributed by Sabrina Bucknole, a professional copywriter from the United Kingdom. When she’s not looking for her next adventure abroad, she spends her time writing about travel, expats and international living.