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Quality of life is often used as a shorthand for measuring how good one feels about one’s life. There are formal procedures for calculating this measure that includes factors such as economic, social, physical, political and spiritual well-being. Singapore may be the smallest country in Southeast Asia but it has emerged as one of the best places to live in Asia with a very high quality of life measurement.
The following factors play a key role in determining the quality of life in a given country:
Singapore is known for its stable political climate. Despite being considered centralised and authoritarian, the political culture is pragmatic, rational and based on the rule of law. The highest goal of the government is the survival and prosperity of this small nation. This often means, having to make unpopular but hard and wise decisions in the interest of the nation. The government believes in being pro-active and thinking for the future.
According to Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore has been able to attract some 9000 multi-national companies, because it offers First World conditions in a Third World region. Good governance is having a good system that will ensure the country survives, so that citizens have secure lives.
Singapore boasts a competitive, corruption-free, open business environment. The Port of Singapore is one of the busiest in the world as the country focuses on electronics and chemical exports to richer industrialised nations. However, over the years, Singapore has diversified its economy and today it has become a research and development (R&D) hub, bio-medical hub, banking and finance centre and in recent times the health-care destination of Asia. Today, Singapore is a knowledge-based economy and attracts multinational investments. Its open trade policies, social stability, world-class infrastructure and international communication links, are some of the reasons why foreign investors flock its shores. This is despite the fact that land and labour costs have risen sharply and employers have to pay a sizable portion of their employees’ salary to their Central Provident Fund.
The World Economic Forum positions Singapore’s economy as one of the most open in the world. The country is also known for its low tax regime. In Singapore, personal income tax rates start from 0% and capped at 22% for residents while non-residents are taxed between 15% and 22%. The corporate income tax rate in Singapore is approximately 8.5% for profits up to S$300,000 and a flat 17% above S$300,000. The GST or VAT rate is at 7%. Furthermore, there is no dividend tax, no estate duty, and no capital gains tax.
Related link: Economy in Singapore
According to a report by financial advisory firm, Ernst & Young and the Japan External Trade Organisation, Singapore was found to be one of Asia’s best investment destinations for foreign firms. It has benefited from these firms, as they bring in capital, technology, management know-how and access to international export markets. Singapore has also realised the need to enhance its manpower and encourages top foreign talent to re-locate here. Hence the labour force is highly educated, competent and skilled.
Related link: Doing Business in Singapore
Singapore’s social and ethnic fabric is a unique blend of cultures and people – Malays, Chinese, Indians and expats from various countries. Singapore’s lifestyle is multi-cultural with each of these ethnic communities maintaining their unique way of life and at the same time living harmoniously. Singapore’s society is cosmopolitan due to the influx of foreigners in recent times. People are amiable and courteous to each other. High emphasis is placed on communal and racial harmony. The Singapore government has laid down five basic ‘Shared Vales’ to develop a distinct Singapore identity – nation before community and society above self; family as the basic unit of society; community support and respect for the individual; consensus not conflict; racial and religious harmony.
Related link: People of Singapore
Singapore has been ranked first in Asia and eighth globally in Mercer’s personal safely ranking. Ensuring security and personal safety for expats and their families has made Singapore a popular destination for international relocation. Expatriates continue to cite safety as one of the most attractive features of living in Singapore.
Singapore’s population enjoys one of the highest levels of health and nutrition in Asia. The country is also renowned for its world-class health infrastructure, technological advancements in the healthcare industry, expert doctors and specialists. The healthcare environment is clean, efficient and safe. Singapore has adopted a public-private partnership in healthcare financing. Central to this system is the ‘Medisave’, where every working resident has to make a mandatory monthly contribution to the Medisave portion of his Central Provident Fund account. This can then be used for payment of medical expenses. The government on its part provides good, affordable health-care and subsidised medical services to the needy, at public hospitals and clinics. Apart from registered pharmacies, pharmaceuticals are easily available in super-markets, shopping centres and departmental stores. Drugs are safe for consumption and have a high standard of quality. All medical practitioners are registered with relevant bodies.
Related link: Healthcare in Singapore
Singapore promotes a clean and green environment. It encourages a healthy lifestyle and diet and cleanliness and hygiene are imbibed in its system. The National Environment Agency conducts regular checks all over the island for instances of mosquito breeding and imposes heavy fines at breeding sites. Steps like these have played a vital role in trying to contain the spread of diseases like chikungunya and dengue. According to the World Health Organization 2010 ranking on the World's 100 Best Health Systems, Singapore was ranked 6th out of 100 countries.
Singapore places great emphasis on education. The education system arms individuals with the necessary skills and knowledge to survive in a globally competitive environment. Singapore’s public schools have high standards of teaching and learning, with many of its students winning International competitions. Apart from the 3 internationally renowned local Universities – National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University – Singapore houses several internationally renowned world-class institutions like INSEAD, University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and United World College to name a few. The country has taken cognizance of a growing expat community and set up many International Schools and Foreign System Schools (FSS). These schools are registered with the Ministry of Education and follow a curriculum identical to those in their home country. The fees per year range from S$12,000 to S$48,000.
Singapore is acutely aware of the need to have clean water, clean energy, clean air, managing traffic congestion, water conservation, reliable energy supply and good urban planning. Over the past few years, the government has focused efforts on building Singapore as a ‘Garden City’ (addition of greenery and create a garden effect), with good urban planning and pollution control as key considerations. Today the city is clean and green and relatively free of traffic congestion. Residents have access to well planned parks and nature reserves. The nation’s clean water bodies provide reliable water supply and opportunities for sports and recreation.
According to the National Environment Agency, Singapore enjoys better air quality than many cities in Asia and its Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) has remained in the 'Good' and 'Moderate' range for much of 2017. In recognition of the progress and achievement that Singapore has made in integrated water resources management, the national water agency, Public Utilities Board, was awarded the prestigious Stockholm Industry Water Award in 2007. Singapore also has bans placed on smoking in public places.
Singapore boasts of a highly efficient, hassle-free and affordable public transportation system, which includes taxis, buses and the Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) rail system. These modes of transport are air-conditioned and operate from 5:30 am until 12 mid-night and link the entire city. They are safe, clean and efficient. Bus and rail fares are affordable, costing anything between S$0.70 to S$2.50 per trip. Taxis are plentiful and relatively cheap compared to the Western world. Taxis are reliable and drivers do not fleece customers or demand even a cent more than the metered fare.
In order to curb traffic congestion, the government has introduced a Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system. This means that you have to pay a minimum fee when you use certain congested roads and expressways in the CBD. Owning a car can be extremely expensive in Singapore, costing anywhere between S$100,000-S$200,000, excluding registration, insurance and tax costs. Leasing a vehicle is a cheaper alternative.
Dining and shopping are the two most popular activities in Singapore. Most expatriates feel the lack of adequate recreational options and resort to exploring nearby places in Malaysia (Langkawi, Tioman, Genting etc.) and Indonesia (Bintan, Batam, Bali etc.) over the weekend. Singapore does have a vibrant night life and there are several bars and night clubs that are frequented by patrons. The cinema is another option that rates high on popularity. There are art festivals, plays, music concerts, cultural performances etc., but these options are seasonal and could be expensive.
Due to Singapore's geographical location, it is generally free from the danger of natural disasters. However, the weather can be humid all year round, and wet towards the last few months of the calendar year.
Singapore’s retail sector experiences brisk trading conditions practically all year round. With an increase in disposable income, housing boom and aggressive retail promotion, people spend on luxury items, automotive and household items like furniture and other consumer durables. Hence, every retailer is setting up shop in Singapore. Both fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) such as packaged food, cosmetics, toiletries, household products, etc., and luxury brands are easily available. Many consumer durables have become basic necessities in Singapore.
Hypermarts and supermarkets have several outlets that dot the island. Most of these supermarkets offer promotions and discounts and also stock basic Mexican, Australian and Indian products. This apart, there are convenient stores like 7-Eleven and small local grocery shops near the housing estates. You wold also find specialty supermarkets like Medi-ya (Japanese supermarket), Tanglin Market Place (American products), Tierney’s (Scandinavian, Swiss and German products) and Mustafa (Indian products). Heat-and-serve meals, semi prepared food, frozen food, western-type convenience foods are gaining popularity. Low fat foods, diet beverages, yogurt, fruits and other health foods are also becoming popular. Since Singapore imports every possible item from every corner of the globe, the choice is wide and prices are competitive.
Housing in Singapore falls under two main categories – public HDB flats (built by the Housing Development Board) and private condominiums/landed property. The choice of housing purely depends on budget, location, facilities/amenities, transportation and personal preferences.
Many expats prefer to live in condominiums and often choose to live near their workplace or their children’s schools. Condominiums are mid to high rise buildings with stylish exteriors and interiors, 24 hours security, swimming pool, gym, tennis courts, BBQ pits and covered car parks. The rental of a three-bedroom condo close to the CBD can cost anywhere between S$7,000 and S$15,000, while rental of units located outside the CBD can cost between S$3,300 to S$5,000. HDB flats, where 90% of Singaporeans live, are a less expensive option. However, they do not come with the luxury amenities like swimming pools or gyms. They are however, often located near shopping malls, food courts/restaurants/hawker centres, a library, supermarkets, clinics and sports/recreational facilities. Expats from India, China and Malaysia often find HDB flats a viable and convenient option.
Related link: Housing in Singapore
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