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Your First Steps in Singapore

Getting Started: Your First Steps in Singapore!


You might wonder about what to expect once you arrive in Singapore, especially if it is your first time that you're in Asia. Many interns choose Singapore as a location for their internship, because they consider it "Asia Light", which in fact describes the city pretty well... Singapore is a blend of different cultures, particularly Chinese, Malaysian and Indian, but as the city developed it became extremely Westernized. You will find most of the things that you're familiar with, most street signs are in English, and most people speak English as well. Considering all that there's no reason to assume any major difficulties upon arrival!

Although generally there won't be any major obstacles in setting up things in Singapore, there are those little things that you might have questions about, so here's a short summary. For anything that hasn't been covered here, you can resort to the Intern Community Network: Just become a member and post your questions on the message board!

Arriving at the airport

Immigrations: Some of you will not have a visa or work permit when you arrive in Singapore, and for some companies it isn't even common to give you a written contract about your internship. So a valid question is how you're supposed to get through immigrations, especially if you stay for a longer period of time. It's easy: for most countries, you just show your passport at immigrations, and you will get a visitor stamp that is valid for 2 to 4 weeks. At this point it doesn't seem to matter what you indicate on your immigration form that you have to fill out. You should be fine if you indicate that you're entering Singapore for leisure. However, on one of the first days of work you should check with the person in charge at your company about how to proceed with immigrations formalities. It is illegal to work in Singapore without a proper permit. Companies seem to have policies that vary widely - most will provide you with a training pass and some even with an employment permit. Check the Ministry of Manpower's website for more information. There are also agencies such as Visa Singapore that will assist you in the process.

Local and international phone calls from the airport: You're likely to make two phone calls upon arrival, so here's some help on how to make them: One will be to mommy and daddy at home. The other one to your landlord, if you already have a place to stay in Singapore. The airport offers you a really nice service: There are "courtesy" phones that offer free local phone calls, and to be quite honest, I forgot where those phones are. Make sure you check in the baggage claims hall, before you get through customs. Ok, so these are the phones that you can use to call your landlord. Once you get through customs, you'll have to ask where you can buy an international calling card that you can use to call your parents. As most of you are likely to be German (one brief look at the intern list reveals that), I recommend getting the Centrin Global Call card for S$10, which at the time of writing was good for 4 hours of phone calls to Germany. If you can't get it, get any other one. The deals won't be as good, but still reasonable. You can always use these cards to call home, even from your own Singaporean phone number, and you'll save quite some money that way.

Getting cash: Credit cards are widely accepted in Singapore, but obviously you'll need some cash, too. For example, you'll have to buy the phone card that I mentioned above, and you'll have to insert one or two dollars into the public phone that you're using, depending on how long you plan to talk. You'll also have to pay the taxi driver or purchase your subway ticket to get away from the airport. One expensive way of getting cash is by purchasing Singapore Dollars back home. Another way is to go to one of the money changers at the airport. Yet another way is to use your credit or Maestro card (which includes most German EC cards) to withdraw money from an ATM. Make sure you do not solely rely on those cards, though, because some of them have this funny habit of not working when you need them most...

Getting away from the airport: Singapore's airport is well-organized and efficient. There's absolutely no problem in finding your way around. Basically you have two options to get into the city: The Singapore MRT (subway trains) can take you to the city for really little money. Check the section on public transport on this website, as well as your travel guide for information on that. I don't know how much it costs and how long it takes, because I never tried. The reason is that I normally arrive at the airport with luggage, so I prefer taxis... Now there are two types of taxis that you can take from the airport: regular ones and the white Mercedes Benz ones. Guess which ones are cheaper, consider your income and base your decision about which one to take on that. Either taxi takes the same route into town and travels at the same speed. From the aiport to the Central Business District you can expect to pay around S$15, and you're unlikely to ever pay more than S$50 for any trip around Singapore, unless you keep going in circles.

Finding a Room

If you like stress and trouble, you may decide not to make arrangements for a room at home, but to take care of that when you arrive in Singapore. Good luck! The easy way is to make those arrangements prior to your arrival, for instance by having a look at the Rooms for Rent section on this website!

Buying essentials

When you first arrive, you'll probably have to get some essentials that you don't want to spend too much time on getting. Therefore some hints for convenient, fast, and reasonably priced shopping:

Go to Suntec City Mall. It is located centrally, north of the Central Business District, and can be reached from City Hall MRT (from there you walk through the airconditioned Citylink Mall all the way to Suntec City. Alternatively, you can take the MRT to Bugis, but then you'll have to walk on the street - not airconditioned...

If you decide to walk through CityLink Mall, you'll pass by a bookstore (city map!), a SingTel store (Internet connection software, cellphones and contracts!) and tons of stores for clothing. With clothes you should wait until you get to Suntec City, though. At Suntec City, look for G2000. This place has cheap business outfits that actually look good and that fit non-Asians, which is a valid concern when it comes to sleeve length etc. G2000 has stuff for both boys and girls. Yes, there are cheaper places around the city, but G2000 just happens to be very convenient for first-time shopping. Shirts and pants for guys start at S$20 and S$35, respectively. I'm sorry but I haven't checked the girls' rates yet...maybe someone can post that on the message board. Watch out for sales, prices will come down quite significantly (actually the prices that I mention ARE sales prices...)

The other place to go at Suntec City is Carrefour, the French grocery store chain. Here you can get everything you can think of. Go here for plug adaptors (you'll probably need one, as Singapore uses British plugs). Here you can also get all kinds of food, toileteries and so on.

Getting your own phone number

When it comes to cell phones (or handphones, as they are called in Singapore...), you are basically left with two choices: SingTel or StarHub. Just go to a phone store in one of the many many malls that Singapore has to offer, and ask for the rates that are ideal for you. Rates on plans are generally much better than those for prepaid cards, but your choice will also depend on how long you plan to stay in Singapore. Two important things: Check whether you have to pay for incoming calls, which is quite common in some Asian countries, and check how much you'll be charged for SMS messages. These messages are likely to be the most important means of communiation in Singapore, so expect to spend quite a lot on them if your rates are bad...with a plan you might get a good deal that gives you a whole stack of them for free!

StarHub currently offers a special prepaid card that gets you phone calls to the USA, Hong Kong, Malaysia and China for the rate of a local phone call!!!

Connecting to the Internet

Ok, this is simple and I'll keep it brief. Both StarHub and SingTel offer free software that lets you use the Internet (with a 56k modem) for the rate of a local phone call. For SingTel's service you need to know your phone bill account number, which is your login password. StarHub doesn't have that - there you need to know your FIN number (on the training pass) or so, as I'm told, and I also hear that people have problems with this service. It seems to be rather tricky to log on.