22 February 2017

Morwenna Lawson - Expat in Singapore

Morwenna Lawson - Expat in Singapore

We’ve had the chance to talk to Morwenna Lawson, 47, a British expat who has moved to Singapore with her family. Mrs. Lawson who has been living there for almost five years, now works as a writer. 

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: London, England, although I have Cornish heritage.


Q: What made you move out of London?

A: My husband took a job in Singapore.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: Singapore – as above.


Q: How long have you been living in Singapore?

A: Since August 2012, so we are in our fifth year.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: Living with my family – husband and 12-year-old son. At first, our son found it hard (he was seven when we moved) but now he considers it his primary home. We all adore it here.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Yes very much. It was worse at first and has now subsided, but the ache never goes completely. Skype helps and trips home every summer.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: At first I hoped to integrate so I tried to learn about the local history and way of life. Singapore is a lot like London in that it is a melting pot of different cultures – some of which don’t mix naturally but most of which live harmoniously together. People are in general very friendly if a little reserved. I’ve only had a couple of negative experiences, and a few cab drivers have complained about us coming and taking people’s jobs (but you get this in London too). A more appropriate question might be: what do the locals think about us?


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Singapore? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: I ‘moved over’ with a few girls I’d met online, meaning that we bonded on a website before we moved, then met up in Singapore and formed an instant and lasting circle. If you have a school-age child there’s great mileage in making friends there. We also moved into a brand new condo where everyone was also new to Singapore, a readymade club of friends. The rest of my contacts and friends I met through whichever interests I had.


Q: How does the cost of living in Singapore compare to your home?

A: London is expensive so we’re accustomed to paying high prices for things. The cost of living here is high, and eating out, and alcohol of course. It is possible to find affordable clothes (but they might not always fit Western shapes!).

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: Depends on – local ‘kopi’ is around $1.20; a global chain coffee is about $6.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: A hawker meal can be as cheap as $3 for a good plate of food. A mainstream local restaurant that’s inexpensive costs around $25 for two.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: Anything upwards of $100 for two – the sky’s the limit. Once you start looking at hotel brunch buffets you can be paying $400 for your meal for two, especially if it comes with free flow booze.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: A bottle of wine is around $60, although we have found a great bottle shop that does great deals (around $25 or $30). No idea about cigarettes.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Singapore?

A: Your local bank branch here will be a perfectly fine place to open an account, even if it looks small – it will still provide the same service as a major downtown branch. Check on the rules for opening accounts, you might need a work pass first. Even after five years, because I’m not the one with the work pass I don’t have my own, but we do share a joint account.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: Thorough, very serious, not to be hurried. Make sure you supply absolutely everything they ask for at the outset to avoid any delays. I’ve seen visas come through super-fast, and at other times it is painfully slow. There’s plenty of red tape over here.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Singapore is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: Healthcare is hugely varied. Singapore is a centre of excellence for medicine but not everyone can afford it. As with most countries, quality of healthcare varies. There are very good ‘polyclinics’ available for Singapore citizens that are affordable and perfectly usable. There’s a major university hospital as well as ‘expat’ ones and then there are smaller local ones too.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in Singapore? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: We’ve always had health insurance linked to my husband’s work, but the quality and scope of the insurance have depended on the different policies used by whichever company he has worked for (he’s moved jobs since being here). I’d like to say that the essentials should be just as they are at home, but if forced to choose I’d say it’s good to be covered for any regular checks you need – mammograms and such like. X-rays tend not to be covered.


Q: What was most memorable about the packing and moving process to Singapore? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: We used AGS Four Winds, who were very good, especially with information about living in Singapore and sending us checksheets of what we needed to be doing. When we moved internally we used Alliance, who were also very good. The packers especially, both times, were amazing, a helpful army who had us all boxed up in no time.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: Missing home, and being able to proceed with that always in mind.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Singapore?

A: Singapore is a beautiful green city in which you’ll settle fairly easily. It’s hot and humid – things take ages to dry but we always have warm bones (except when we’re in the cinema). Storms blow over quickly, cabs are relatively cheap, food is outstanding, there are loads to do and the travel opportunities around the region are amazing. There is a reason why people called it ‘Asia Lite’, It is a very easy route into Asia, but if you’re coming here thinking it’s all plain sailing, do remember – you’re still in Asia, you might be a long way from home, the culture is different and often frustrating to some, and at times you must respect how things happen locally. Other than that – come on out, it’s beautiful here!


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: Too many to mention. Walk around the reservoirs or by the sea. Cycle up East and West coasts. Enjoy the 360 views from the many rooftop bars. Take a boat to Pulau Ubin or further to Bintan or Batam in Indonesia. Take a cab over the border to Malaysia. Eat noodles for breakfast in a hawker. Try steamboat, laksa, chilli crab, beef rending, steamed pau, ais kachang, bak kwa. Watch a film in the open air at Fort Canning. Hit the beach on Sentosa. Become a tour guide in a museum. There’s just not enough time to do it all.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: Actually we are moving back sometime this year (2017). It has been fun but it’s time to go home for a while so that our son can finish schooling in the UK (although the school here’s at here is amazing). Once you’ve been an expat, though, it’s very hard to grow roots again, and I do wonder if we might be back here one day. We have grown to love it so much.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Get out and explore. Singapore is a small country and the ease of living here gives it a placid veneer, but scratch the surface and you’ll find so much underneath. There’s not enough time to fit it all in. If you’re not working then Meetups are a good way of starting out or rent a condo to get instant friends.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Singapore?

A: I like http://thesmartlocal.com, http://changmoh.com/ and I used to love http://www.singaporetales.co.uk/ until she moved to another country – but she still blogs there, which is lucky!