Hello! So I’ve had some time to explore the wondrous country-city that is Singapore, and I’d say I’m pretty well settled now. “Oh, going overseas sounds like an awesome time, I’m going to do it” sums up pretty well my thought process to pursue an exchange. I love the idea of exploring the different cultures around the world, and so, an exchange seemed like the perfect opportunity. This was of course until all the admin details and logistics started to roll at me in a bunch of different directions. But being here for a few weeks already I can tell you that every stressful moment was 100% worth it, and so I thought I’d share some of the things that I found useful to research/keep in mind before departure, to prepare you to hit the ground running.
1. How will you stay connected?
Some people prefer to roam with their phone company back home, while many others decide to get a local SIM card. In the initial frenzy of everyone rushing to buy one, the options can be quite overwhelming – which SIM card do you get? In Singapore, the main service providers are Singtel, Starhub and M1. Personally, I went with a $15 prepaid SIM with Starhub. On top of the $15 credit, it came with 1GB of local data valid for 6 months, 200MB each month for six months and some pretty neat data roaming locations, handy for travelling! Singtel do have some cheaper plans, so see ahead of time which you might prefer.
Money is one of those things that everyone has to deal with, but sometimes can be a bit of an elephant in the room. For me, it was really hard to gauge how much money I would be spending, because I had no idea what price range to expect.
So, my observations so far of Singapore is that a meal, on campus or at Hawker Centres (food courts that are less McDonald’s and more like your Asian Grandmother’s) can range from about S$3 – S$6. If you go into AC restaurants, you can start seeing prices to rise to something similar to New Zealand, a meal that may cost around S$20. Getting from one side of Singapore to another on MRT or bus can cost around S$1.10 – S$2.00 depending on the distance, and a Grab or GOJEK ride (Southeast Asia’s alternatives to Uber) from the NUS campus to Changi Airport can be about S$25. In terms of clothing or food/daily life things from the supermarket, the prices here are pretty similar to that of New Zealand.
And in terms of how to deal with the money logistically, I personally have been making cash withdrawals from the ATM with my VISA debit card. The conversion fee for me hasn’t been too different from the currency exchange bureaus back at home. Another common option is to open up a Singapore bank account. Popular banks are DBS, OCBC and POSB, with easy to find ATMs around campus. Different banks operate differently, but most of them have an early closure fee of around $60 if you close your account within six months. Seeing as cash had worked well for me and my exchange is only a semester long, I decided to stick with the cash. Cash is super common in Singapore, especially around Hawker Centres. I have however noticed a push on cashless payments, with payments being made by scanning QR codes from the stalls through an app which is linked to your bank card – so you never know, I soon might be a bit behind the times!
3. What do people wear with the high temperatures and humidity?
I had wondered, do people just wear the bare minimum in Singapore to deal with the heat? But despite the 35-degree average heat, people dress the same as back home, as if it was 25 degrees. Lots of indoor places (e.g. the mall, MRT station, lecture theatres) have AC, so people do brave it out and wear long jeans and long sleeve shirts when they commute from AC room 1 to AC room 2. On that note, when you’re packing all your favourite summer items, don’t forget to pack a long sleeve because sometimes, the AC rooms can actually get a little chilly.
When we leave the house, many of us are programmed to check that we have our phone, wallet and keys, so leaving for an exchange should be no different. So before you start the adventure, doing a little bit of research beforehand can help ease a lot of the in-the-moment stress due to unpredictable events. Once all the tedious stuff is out of the way, time flies by so fast!