Tips for Incoming Exchange Students to Singapore!

Are you looking for a country to study in for a year/semester exchange? Wondering how Singapore would be like but the information’s everywhere? Look no further! I’ll try to condense everything that you need to know if you are planning to come here for exchange! (Also, if you’re just travelling, these tips can be applied to you too 🙂 )!

Culture

Singapore is a very very diverse country with a lot of racial groups, cultures, languages being spoken on a daily basis. Yes, officially, our language is English and our national language (because of history) is Malay. If you’re a native English speaker and you’ve never been/are rarely exposed to Asian accents, you will have a hard time understanding/be understood. On a day to day basis, Singaporeans speak Singlish (Singapore + English) where there are loan words from Chinese dialects, Malay and Tamil. We also often use internet slangs but you’ll find it common amongst youths and children/teens.

Don’t let it put you off, because once you try to immerse yourself in the culture, you’ll find yourself speaking Singlish. I’m not a very good Singlish teacher, but what I can say is that a word has so many meanings. Intonation plays a part in how we speak. If anything, it’s something super unique to Singapore so don’t let this “language barrier” discourage you from choosing Singapore.

Food

For those who can eat anything and have no food restrictions, you’re literally in food heaven. You can find almost all food from all cultures around the world if you look hard enough. I can’t guarantee the authentic taste, but there is a cultural presence of many countries in Singapore. (We even have the North Korean embassy in Singapore)

For halal, we have the Halal certification and Muslims can depend on that if you’re really strict. Otherwise, the “No Pork, No Lard” sign can be taken in to your own discretion. You can read more here.

For Kosher/vegetarian/vegan, it’s going to be really tough because Singaporeans really love their meats. Vegetarians have the easiest of the three because there are Buddhists who practice vegetarian diets, and there are vegetarian stalls in hawker centres (but I always find vegetarian dishes to be quite oily… their mock meat really is awesome though!). For Kosher and vegan, it’s gonna be really tough. I’ve seen kosher salt in supermarkets but kosher meat and other ingredients… Same goes for vegan. I am not qualified in this because I… am not educated in this. (sorry!)

Transport

I’ve been told that taxis are cheap and public transportation is cheaper. Unfortunately, trains are getting a little unreliable with the breakdowns. We have Grab and Uber, as well as the normal flag a taxi by the roadside (companies such as ComfortDelgro). I still find that the last option is the most reliable because the taxi drivers are trained and they know their destinations. Plus, you don’t have to deal with surcharges that fluctuate based on demand. Instead, surcharges are applied based on the time you take the cab — midnight surcharge is the most expensive.

To take trains and buses, get an EZ link card. It’s the most cost-saving option and you get transfer discounts. Fares go by distance and the calculation is the most confusing thing. If you use a card (and not by cash), the fares will be marginally cheaper. If you happen to not bring your card and you take a bus, ensure that your fares are paid in coins because bus drivers do not accept notes. Only coins!!!!!!

ATMs/Banks

We have quite a number of banks – DBS/POSB, OCBC, UOB, Maybank, Standard Chartered… etc. Most Singaporeans have at least a POSB/DBS bank account. I have that and an OCBC account. If you’re coming to Nanyang Technological University, we have ATM machines for DBS/POSB and OCBC. There is an OCBC bank – the primary bank for NTU. Most student loans are from OCBC banks (unless students opt for another loan from another bank).

ATMs have almost all the signs like MasterCard, VISA, Cirrus… etc. There are respective charges if you want to withdraw. Check with your home bank. If you’re a student here, you are encouraged to open a bank account. Bring your student ID/passport and head to the bank on campus. Try to avoid lunch hours because everyone goes there…

Accommodation

Most exchange students to NTU stay in one of the 21 halls (more to come) and accommodation fees average 300-500$ a month depending on room type – single & ac, single & non-ac, double & ac, double & non-ac… there’s some with in-room toilet, and whatever. Idk, NTU’s coming up with really luxurious rooms that are soooooo expensive. *rolls eyes* But they have really okay facilities.

If you have a group of friends and more money to spare, you can rent out a whole apartment in a condominium I think? I’ve heard some Scandinavian students do that this semester. Pretty cool, not sure how legal that is so you better check.

Healthcare

All exchange programmes will require you, by default, to purchase a health insurance be it from your home country or by your host university. I’m sure this is a policy enforced by all universities worldwide. For NTU, you can go to the University Health Services and get a marked down price for medication and consultation. However, I’ve heard that the services aren’t thaaaaat good. I go to a private clinic which is still affordable unless I have to get those expensive medication. You can go to a private clinic, but medicine costs will be borne by you (no discounts) and consultation fees may be reimbursed by your insurance. Make sure you have your insurance policy translated to English because most clinics, if not all, operate in English.

Grocery Shopping

Supermarkets – NTUC Fairprice (price isn’t that fair sometimes), Prime Supermarket (this is found on NTU Campus at the North Spine section), Sheng Siong, Cold Storage (for Western ingredients), Marks & Spencers (for more expat stuff), and some private owned butchery like along Bukit Timah/Beauty World.

Wet Markets – found in almost all residential neighbourhoods. Ask a local who lives near campus or take a bus around. Bus stops will serve the markets and you can find cheap stuff there too, compared to buying them at the malls.

Alcohol

For those drunk-loving people, alcohol is a premium. There’s tax on tobacco as well so. I can’t do anything about it. My friends just avoid it and spend their money elsewhere… like food.

Weather

Now this is very, very important. Singapore is an unbelievably humid country. Hot and humid. However, it is not as humid and hot as South Korea in the summer months but it is hot and humid all year round. The days usually get really hot in the afternoon and rains in the evening. Sometimes mornings will be greeted with rain. If it doesn’t rain the whole day (and night), I consider it good weather.

You will find that Singaporeans do not bother wearing nice shoes because it gets really disgusting and your skin will wrinkle a lot when it rains. With a low rate of evaporation cause by the high humidity, it’s hard to dry clothes on these days without having it smell really… yucky. You need a sunny day to dry your clothes and never ever forget to bring your clothes in in case it rains.

Temperatures range from 28-33 degrees Celsius in the day and at night, it hovers around 26-30. Rains all season, and it rains more during monsoon season.

Recycling

Singaporeans hardly recycle. We use plastic a lot. Not many recycling bins around and if there are, they are usually abused. Pretty sad and unfortunate. It’s a little disappointing, but I just had to tell you for those who are big on recycling and being green.

Greenery

Singapore has lots of parks and the best one is probably… MacRitchie. Beautiful. Botanic Gardens is nice too. Near NTU there is an Eco Garden that not many know exist. Absolutely peaceful with blue chested birds flying around. Singapore is really man-made in her greenery, but it’s well preserved.

Malay Archipelago

Singapore was known to be a shipping port and it is rightfully so. For $90 (or less) you can fly to Indonesia and Malaysia. For less than $200, you can go to Thailand, Philippines, Hong Kong, China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam etc etc etc. Very centrally located and if you’re into country-hopping, Singapore’s the right destination.


Alright, so these are the list of things that you must take note if you’re coming to Singapore. I hope this reduces the culture shock that you might have if you’re considering Singapore as your study destination. If you want to know more about any other aspect, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll try to address it.

Love,

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