From USA to Singapore: Our relocation experience

Golden Gate San Francisco [left], Gardens by The Bay at Singapore [right]

Back in 2019, we (my wife and I) decided to move east from USA. After a lot of exploration on potential destinations, we decided on trying our luck to move to Singapore. And fortunately, it worked out for us.

This post is primarily intended to provide as much information as possible on our relocation journey – from the tech hub of Bay Area California to warm tropical city of the future, Singapore. In the process, I hope anyone looking to relocate from USA to Singapore would find it informative and useful.

Important things to call out

  1. This is not a job search guide. I will add some details on what resources might be useful, but given that we have very specific skillsets, I wanted to keep this fairly general.
  2. I am Indian, so a number of the perspectives might be very biased. Ignore whatever is not applicable to you :).

The Relocation journey

No relocation is easy. Even ours was not. Especially given that we stayed in USA for 7 long years. Once we decided to relocate, we had to take a number of steps. Here is an enumerated list of things (in no specific order) we needed to take care of so that we have minimal headaches going forward.

Note that this relocation journey involved self-searching for jobs, self-organizing goods relocation and other steps such as opening of bank accounts, apartment hunting, etc. The above might not be applicable to people who are transferred to SG from other locations by the organization in which case a lot of these steps are helped by relocation agencies.

  • Job Search: With online resources, looking for openings in your specific domain of expertise is a breeze. Indeed.com , LinkedIn were our go to options. If you are interested to know some current salary ranges, MyCareersFuture is a good resource.

Please note that job applications on MyCareersFuture is only allowed for Permanent Residents/Citizens and hence you won’t be able to apply via this website. However, you can still get an idea on salaries for jobs in several sectors as it is mandatory for companies to list the openings first on this site to prefer local hiring.

Once you have an offer, the company will usually apply for an Employment Pass (commonly just called, EP) for you. A number of documents will be required for the organization to proceed with the application such as your education documents, passport, etc. If you are bringing in dependants, the company will also apply for a Dependant Pass (commonly called, DP) for your dependants. Assuming your EP gets approved by Ministry of Manpower (yes, called MOM in Singapore), you will be sent a PDF document (called, In principle Approval or IPA [no, not a type of beer] 😜) by your employer which will state the expiry of your IPA. You need to make sure that you enter Singapore by that expiry date.

Please note that your employer might want you to come sooner πŸ˜†.

  • Selling your car: Most likely, if you are in USA, you will have a car (without it, it is also unsurvivable 😦). Hence, before you move you will have to sell it. There are many options to sell your car. I chose an option that seemed to be the simplest. There are companies such as Shift or Carvana . I used Shift and it was seamless. If you want to sell your car via these websites, you only have to perform a few steps:

    1. Click photos of your car.
    2. Enter data about your car: Make, Model, Year of purchase, Miles, etc.

Based on the above information, you will be quoted a price and if you agree, they will come home, inspect and pay for your car on the spot.

Final goodbye to my beloved Mazda 6 (selling to Shift)

Even better, they handle all the necessary paperwork!

People ask me, is it worth it? I would say, yes. Completely. Saves a lot of your time. You can always list it yourself and spend all the energy, but I guess time saved is Money!

  • Phone Number: To be able to retain the US Phone number is a pretty important thing. You will need your phone number to access bank accounts in USA (that you will leave behind). Plus, in the starting days, the number will be helpful for you as you can use an international phone number of your bank account in Singapore. Here is what you need to do:

    Port your number to Google Fi / Google Voice .

    The Google Fi option will basically provide you a Sim card with which you can travel to SG and use it for the first few days before getting a SG phone number. At that point, you can port your number to Google Voice and keep the US number permanently.

    If you decide to use the Google Voice option upfront, you will basically port the number to Google Voice and hence have no phone connection until you use a separate sim.

    Decide based on what’s convenient to you. Make sure you start the process at least 2-3 weeks before you move so that you have enough time to rectify in case something goes wrong.

  • Bank Account: Yes, you can set up a bank account in Singapore while you are in USA. You can even get your debit card shipped to USA (while you are there!). It makes it super easy coz when you land in SG, you will have an account ready to be used. A number of banks allow this facility. I personally chose to use DBS Bank (considered the best bank in Singapore) – specifically, the Multiplier Account . You can transfer some money from your US account to the SG account before you land here. That way, you can start withdrawing cash at the several ATM’s here in Singapore.

    Please note that you will need your IPA (In-principle approval) letter to apply for the bank account. Takes a few days if your documents are in perfect shape.

    DBS debit cards can be only used at DBS/POSB ATM’s in Singapore. But don’t worry, they are present everywhere islandwide. Plus, Singapore is very digital friendly – you can pay using your digital wallet such as Google Pay at most places.

DBS/POSB ATM Network link

These days, you could also opt for a Transferwise account with a multi-currency card .

After you have settled down in SG for a while, you can slowly start moving your cash from US bank account to SG bank account using Transferwise.

Once you have finalized an apartment in SG, you can actually change your addresses in US bank accounts to that in SG. I even got a debit card of US bank account delivered to my SG home address.

  • Moving your goods: We were not intending to move most of our furniture and hence chose to only carry the very essential stuff. We realized that our stuff can be put into a few large boxes. We did enquire a number of moving companies, but finally ended up with something that looked like a good deal for us. We relied on My Baggage that allows weight-based moving of goods.
Moving goods from USA to Singapore

We bought several carton boxes from Home Depot (you all know what it is if you are in USA πŸ˜„). Packed the stuff up, adhered to weight restrictions. A super helpful friend of ours kept our boxes when we left the Bay Area. And once we finalized an apartment in Singapore, the courier (DHL, actually 😌) picked up the boxes from his place and it took around 7-10 days to arrive to Singapore.

If you already know people in SG, it might be easier to just ship your goods to their place before you leave US (given they have space in their apartment) and have them available when you arrive. However, you will still need to move them from your friend’s place in SG to your newly rented home (I guess it might add to your inconvenience a bit πŸ˜“)

The boxes survived the journey (almost)
  • Flights: Book your flights as soon as you have clear idea on when you are moving to SG. Nothing extraordinary about it, just bear with the loooooong journey ✈✈✈✈✈

  • Immigration Clearance: One of the dreaded pieces for me during cross-border travel has always been immigration. Especially when you are actually entering a country with intent of long-term stay. But, in SG, immigration was a breeze. Show the documents to the officer and you are through. Most of the other formalities will be done by your hiring organization such issue of EP, etc. (mentioned below).

    Make sure you have copies of the IPA your hiring company sent you earlier and your passport. That is all you need to show to the immigration officer.

    Once your EP is issued within the next few days, you can use automated clearance to leave and enter Singapore.

Immigration Hall | source: link

Once done, proceed to pick up our luggage and proceed to exit (pick up a tourist sim before leaving if you intend to).

  • Sim Card: Even if you already have a sim (Google Fi, probably), you might still want a local sim (for stable data). Most local long term sim-cards in Singapore will require you to show proof of residency. Therefore, for the first few days, you can opt to get a Tourist Sim Card . You can either pre-order the card before you leave US or just queue and buy it at the airport [in the cash exchange retail outlet]. There are other options available too from other carriers.

You can use this card for travelling on public transportation – trains and buses. Isn’t it cool? πŸ•Ά Remember to top up at 7-Eleven’s or even the machines at the MRT (train) stations.

Get a Tourist Sim Card here
  • Install Grab: Grab is SG’s ride hailing company (it is actually a SuperApp – includes food delivery, payments and other services). Download Grab on your phone (app available both for iOS and Android) before you leave from US (preferable) or just after getting a sim in SG. There are other cab providers (such as Gojek or ComfortDelgro) in SG, too. However, I would suggest Grab for the first time because in Grab, you can select the car type you want.

    Generally, the first time you land, there is a high chance that you will have several large suitcases. Book a large family car (6-seater) and your luggage can be easily fit into those.

  • First few days: We stayed at a hotel (can pick any one based on reviews πŸ˜‰) for the first few days and completed our initial formalities (on EP, etc.) and also started looking for apartments. We also explored around the city, getting a little comfortable with the public transport and of course, learning how to order food at food courts and hawker centres . πŸ˜„

    After you land in SG, your company will issue the EP (based on verifying some information, so it needs to be a physical presence in the company) online. Once this process is done, you will have to set up an appointment at the Employment Pass Services Centre where your documents will be verified by MOM representatives and your photo would also be clicked. Once everything looks okay, you are basically done. You can start work the next day! The physical card (EP) will reach your office within the next few days.

    A big difference from US, no visa interviews (for stamping) needed when you go back to your home country. Your passport data is connected to your EP and you can use priority lanes at the airport to enter SG.

  • Apartment Hunting: Apartment hunting is usually one of the biggest headaches in any new destination. In Singapore, there are two types of apartments usually: HDB and Condos. HDB refers to Housing Development Board – which is the public housing department in SG. 80% of the population reside in HDB’s. Condos are private apartments. In general, you will find a lot less locals in Condos (coz they reside in tall amazing HDB’s). Condos will have amenities such as pools, gym, BBQ pits, etc. If you get a HDB, you will have to opt for some fitness memberships where you will be able to enjoy the pool, for example.

    Singapore has amazing sunny weather β˜€. Perfect for pool relaxing sessions πŸ˜„

    Obviously you could explore both and then decide based on what you feel is right for your situation. Just like other places, prices vary based on location, size of apartment, etc.

    In general, there are two popular websites for apartment hunting: PropertyGuru or 99.co . Once you find out something that you like, you can directly call the agent (in charge of the apartment) and set up a viewing. You can choose between furnished, partially-furnished and unfurnished apartments. All rates are subject to negotiation. As per our experience, furnished apartments are pretty common here in SG.

    You can also hire a tenant agent in case you want to get this apartment searching done for you. A tenant agent can also help on making sure the agreement looks okay and would be willing to negotiate on your behalf. However, this is totally optional as it comes at a premium.

    Usual leases are for 1 or 2 years. A number of resources are available that you can go through before your move to make sure you do not get any unexpected surprises after coming here.

Summary

I have summarized my experience with relocating from USA to Singapore. If you have come this far, thanks for reading. If there is anything specific you would want to know, just comment below and I will reply.

If I might have missed something, do let me know in comments below and I will try to incorporate in the article via a short update.

Goodluck on your move. πŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¬ awaits you! Enjoy the β˜€ and β˜‚, sweat a lot and enjoy the Laksa!

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Siddhartha Banerjee
Ph.D., Applied ML Scientist

My interests include Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning. Also, I love to travel, hike, run, sketch and explore new dishes.