Things You Might Not Like About Singapore

The information in this article is based on the opinions expressed by a cross-section of expats living in Singapore and does not necessarily represent or reflect the views of GuideMeSingapore.

Singapore is a wonderful city to live in. It is modern, clean, environmentally friendly, extremely efficient, and is home to very friendly and hard-working people.  However, there are certain aspects of the country that remain unpopular with some expats who live in Singapore.


The first criticism that is often levelled against Singapore is its rule-bound culture. There is a penalty or fine for offences that would be considered harmless in most other countries. This has led to the tongue-in-cheek label of a “fine city” for Singapore. There are posters and signs, such as the one below, at most public places – public transport, parks, office buildings, elevators, shopping malls, libraries, residential apartment complexes – which are prominent and difficult to miss.

Hot and humid weather

If you are relocating from a country where you enjoy the four seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter), then the weather in Singapore is going to take some getting used to. It is hot, humid and sticky most of the time with sudden and unpredictable rain-spells. Temperatures during the day hover around 32 degrees Celsius and the humidity level at around 84%. To address this issue, most public places and public transport in Singapore are air-conditioned; so unless you are outdoors you hardly feel the heat. To find out more about the weather in Singapore, refer toWeather and Climate in Singapore.

Small country

One of the disadvantages of Singapore is that it is a country, state and city all rolled in one. Singapore is unlike most other countries where you would have the option of inter-state or inter-city travel and could explore the region during weekend getaways or holidays. People who re-locate from Australia, Europe, America and other parts of Asia miss having the option of driving down to the nearest town or city for a short break – because there is no other city to drive to! The only option is to drive across the causeway link to Johor Bahru in Malaysia or to explore the nearby islands of Malaysia and Indonesia. This however will require a valid visa and appropriate means of getting there (flights or ferries); hence, such trips will have to be well planned in advance. While this is the view of some expats, some others opine that there are plenty of recreational and entertainment options in Singapore and one really doesn’t find the need to get away from the city.

Decoding Singlish

English is widely spoken in Singapore. However, you will find Singaporeans’ speech peppered with Singlish. Singlish is a portmanteau word made from the conjunction of “Singapore” and “English”. Singlish borrows terms from the Chinese, Malay and Tamil languages. There are certain expressions such as ‘lah’, ‘leh’, ‘ah’, ‘meh’, ‘lor’ used to punctuate sentences. Sentences are often not complete and are closer to phrases in other languages, without prepositions and are spoken quickly with a distinct Singaporean accent. Singaporeans also often use the word “can” in place of “yes”.

It can be frustrating for an expat to understand what is being communicated but it eventually grows on you. The government has launched an aggressive ‘Speak Good English Movement’, strongly discouraging the use of Singlish. It is not used in everyday formal business interactions, presentations, meetings and job interviews, but if the audience is largely comprised of locals, Singlish may be used to build rapport and inject humour. You cannot escape it when you interact with taxi drivers, hawkers and shop keepers. Some of the phrases you will commonly come across are:

  • Can lah – It can be done
  • Cannot lah – It cannot be done

Certain Singlish terms used in everyday speech:

  • Aiyah – term used to express exasperation (e.g. Aiyah! I can not wait anymore)
  • Ang mo – term for Caucasians
  • Makan – food/to eat
  • Rojak – mixed
  • Chope- to reserve something

Materialistic culture

Today, increasing number of brands are making their way to Singapore to woo this seemingly brand conscious nation. Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, Cartier, Mont Blanc and other luxury brands never go out of business here. You will often find long winding queues of eager customers outside their doors. Some foreigners get the feeling that materialism rules the roost. The local materialistic dream is summed up in the 5 C’s – cash, car, condo, credit-card and country club. According to Kanwaljit Soin, a former nominated member of Singapore’s Parliament, “in the quest for material gains, there is a tendency to believe that nothing succeeds like excess.” It is important to emphasize that these stereotypes do not apply to all Singaporeans.

Rising cost of living

It is often assumed that being on an “expat package” naturally means a better standard of living. While this is largely true, the situation is fast changing in Singapore with rising costs of living. While costs have soared, salaries have remained flat. In recent times many expats have considered returning to their home country due to the increased cost of living. Transportation costs have gone up. Fuel costs have increased and rents have risen sharply over the past few years. This along with the strengthening Singapore dollar, is causing some amount of unhappiness in the expat community here. To read more, seeSingapore Cost of Living.

On a final note

After all is said and done, despite these complaints, Singapore is still considered a top destination for expats. Singapore was recently ranked as the Happiest country in Asia in a study reported by ABC News. The city has a lot to offer – security and safety being its unique advantage. The city is clean and green, with fairly acceptable pollution levels. The government has ensured housing for all and encourages its residents to maintain a work-life balance. Residents live harmoniously despite their varied ethnic backgrounds. To find out more about quality of life, see Quality of Life in Singapore.

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