What I Wished Someone Told Me When I First Moved To Singapore

I’ve been living in Singapore for about four years now, and whilst I’m very grateful for my life here and I’ve adapted well, there are some things that I wish people would have told me as a first-time expat! I feel like if I could go back in time and tell myself these tips, my integration would have been a lot easier and smoother.

Co-living Condos Exist!

When I moved to Singapore, I knew no-one. I heavily relied on my work colleagues when it came to hanging out and making friends, which of course was great, but it didn’t help much in terms of expanding my circle of hanging out with many locals. I really wish that someone had told me about Figment or Hamlet properties; that way I would have moved into a co-share apartment with like-minded people and I could have met new friends that way.

I also wish I knew this when I first arrived so it would have made my renting experience a lot better. When I first arrived in Singapore, my employers put me up in a hotel for a week and in that time, I had to find an apartment and move out. If I had known about co-living, this would have been no problem. However, instead my employers only told me about certain rental websites and Facebook groups. I ended up renting from someone who claimed to be a ‘landlord’. I am now fully aware that this was an illegal sub-let, with no proper contract and the experience almost becoming unbearable. My ‘landlord’ installed CCTV without making me aware, would often move my laundry and keep it in his own room, and would constantly act inappropriate towards me, even though he had a wife. Had I have rented somewhere with good agents that were used to short-term rentals for expats, I’m sure I would have had a much better experience.

No Alcohol Past 10:30!

In a bid to minimise public disorder, Singapore doesn’t allow you to purchase alcohol in a shop past 10:30pm. This was even before Covid! I remember madly rushing to 7/11 to buy a final bottle before the time is up! Yes you can still buy alcohol in bars, but if you’re hanging out at home, it’s best to stock up before 10:30!

Join Facebook Groups!

Going back to what I previously said, I wish that I’d have put more effort into making friends outside of work when I arrived. I feel like in the UK, not as man people use Facebook anymore. But here in Singapore, Facebook groups are awesome for meeting new friends and joining groups full of likeminded people. Of course, it’s sometimes hit or miss who you end up meeting, but still it’s a great way to get yourself out there.

Which Hawkers Are Good!

There’s not just Newton Food Centre or Lau Pa Sat! There are so many other good hawker centres across Singapore with delicious food you may never have tried before! Check out my two articles about Hawkers For Expats for some great ideas and cool places that you can check out.

Avoid Over-Priced ‘Expat’ Brands!

Might be a controversial one, but there are so many companies that market themselves purely to expats just so they can jack up the price. I was recommended a few of these places when I first arrived to Singapore and I slowly realised that are a lot more local shops that you can get your hair, nails, alterations, anything done at a local shop that won’t cost you a fortune!

What I Should Have Brought Over from the UK!

There’s a lot of super weird things in Singapore that are expensive for no reason, and if I’d have known, I would have brought it over from home. I found that bedsheets, towels, toiletries and tanning products were super expensive here. All of these things I could have gotten really cheap from back at home and brought over with me. Especially tanning oil, that absolutely pains me to pay what they charge here when I could have gotten it cheaper from Home Bargains.

Hopefully this can help some new expats who come to Singapore with a few helpful tips!

How To Travel On A Shoestring

With travel restrictions opening up and it being easier to travel, you might be overwhelmed with how to kickstart your travel bug again! You may be worried that travel is now incredibly expensive post pandemic, but fear not! I have some travel tips for you so that you can successfully travel on a shoestring.

Of course, all travel planning starts with buying the ticket. You may think this is the most expensive part of the trip, so here are some ways you can save on ticket prices. 

First of all, always check the flights in Incognito mode. Those cookies are going to track all your searches for flights otherwise and jack up the prices. I often find that using price comparison sites such as Sky Scanner, means that I get the cheapest flight possible, even cheaper than booking directly through the airline! One thing I really like about these travel comparison websites, and it’s even possible to do through Google is a price alert. Here, you input your email address, and the website will alert you any time the price goes up or down. This way you can try and get an even cheaper price. Some days of the week tend to be cheaper than others, monitor your alerts and see what works best.

Flying direct can often work out quite a fair bit more expensive than if you have any connecting flights. Whilst connecting flight might be a bit of a pain, they could save you hundreds of dollars off your tickets. If you don’t mind, and are travelling through countries with multiple cities and airports, consider connecting flights to save a bit of cash.

Here’s an idea, if you’re not sure where you want to travel to, but you still want to travel on a budget you can use comparison websites or Google to search for flights, and choose the starting location of Singapore. In the destination you can choose anywhere, and search for price lowest to highest. That way, if you’d like to try something new and exciting, you can make sure that it’s within your budget!

Do take note of travel restrictions, some countries have completely dropped all of their Covid restrictions, such as the UK. Whereas some countries, like Hong Kong or Macau, have still got very strict rules implemented. This may mean further costs for you. If you want to save on swab tests, you can choose a country that has a little bit more lenient restrictions.

Next, I want to talk about preparation. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail! There are some things that you can do that will minimise your spending costs whilst you are on holiday. Of course, the most important thing is to make sure that your passport is still valid. Generally, you can only travel if you have at least six months validity left on your passport. At the moment, after the pandemic, there is quite a backlog on renewing your passport, so make sure to get this sorted quickly! 

When it comes to currency, there are a couple of great hacks that I frequently use whilst travelling, to make sure that I don’t get ripped off with exchange rates. First of all, change your currency in Singapore before you leave on your travels, avoid changing your Singapore dollars in your travel destination country, as this exchange rate will not be favourable to you. Lots of currency exchanges overseas choose their own rights of exchange, and can often take advantage of unsuspecting tourists.

You may have heard people say that if you travel to anywhere in Southeast Asia or South America, you can use US dollars as your spending money. Respectively, you can use euros in any non-EU country in Europe. I would strongly discourage listening to this advice. Yes, it is easier for you to carry one currency, and you can definitely use those currencies abroad, but unless you are going to America or somewhere in the EU, other countries that use these currencies can massively rip you off. Because it is inconvenient for them to hold onto this foreign currency, the exchange rate is normally very much at a disadvantage to you, meaning that you are paying a premium just for the convenience of having one type of currency with you. In my opinion, this is not worth it. For example, when I was in Laos, I only had Thai Baht with me. It was accepted in all shops and restaurants, but when I converted back into dollars, I realised that it was a lot more economical for me if I just changed into Laos Kip instead, I saved a lot more money this way.

If you ever get stuck and have run out of cash whilst in a foreign country, it’s always a good idea to have an international bankcard to hand. Most ATMs abroad will charge you for withdrawing using a foreign bank card, so if you use your DBS card overseas, you could be charged a fortune! I use a Monzo international bankcard, it is linked to my UK bank account, but I can withdraw from any ATM overseas and will not be charged. There are similar companies that you can get a bank card from in Singapore like Revolut or Wise, these cards are so handy to have a new, and work by topping up from your main bank account. I think this is great because if you keep your bank account on these cards quite low, it’s not so risky if you lose them overseas. They also come with very useful apps that you can access with ease, meaning if you lose your card whilst on holiday, you can freeze it without having to visit a bank branch or calling an international hotline. 

Speaking of hot lines, a lot of people will often buy a Sim card in the country that they are visiting, and use that for the duration of their holiday. Instead of doing this, I recommend renting a Wi-Fi box. This little portable device comes with you during your whole trip, and works almost like a little router. You can connect multiple devices to it, so if you are travelling in a group you don’t need to rent more than one! This works out to be a lot more cost-effective than everyone buying their own Sim card. And I don’t know about you, but I feel a nervy taking out my Sim card whilst I’m abroad, it would be just my luck that I would lose it!

Of course, nowadays, we need a lot more extra paperwork then we previously did when travelling. So, from my experience, I would say it’s best to have all these documents, such as your vaccine certificate to be notarised and printed out when you travel. Most airlines will except soft copies on your phone, but I always think it’s best to carry a hard copy in case your phone battery runs out or you have no signal. Generally, you will need your vaccine certificate, boarding passes, proof of travel insurance with Covid coverage, and a passenger locator form for the country you are travelling to. You may also need to print out your proof of swab tests.

My final tip for preparation is a small one, but it can actually save you some money every time you travel. I would recommend bringing with you your own travel blanket, travel towel, and travel pillow. Reason being is that you can find these things very cheap in stores such as Mustafa‘s or even value stores across Singapore. A lot of airlines will charge you for using a blanket or a pillow, especially if you’re travelling on a budget airline like I often do to save money! Some hostels that you stay at might not even provide towels and things like this, so it’s always best to have your own. This means that you don’t have to keep re-purchasing every time you go abroad. 

I want to tell you ways where you can save money during the itinerary of your trip. 

Instead of hotels, hostels are of course a much cheaper option, and come with the added perks of meeting new people whilst you are travelling. If you don’t like the idea of sharing a room with strangers, most hostels will have private rooms available, that are still a lot cheaper than if you were to book a hotel. Something I love about hostels is that you can generally book a lot of trips and excursions through the front desk staff. They often have tie-ups with a lot of travel companies, meaning that your trips out and about maybe a lot cheaper than if you were to go and source for these things yourself. A lot of hostels I have travelled to also put on free events for the people staying there, like parties, quizzes, free drinks at the bar and different kinds of meet up activities. Not only is this a great way to meet like-minded people, but it also means that you can have very fun cheap night out or nights in at the hostel itself! Not only that, you may also meet people at the hostel that you decide to go travelling with further, enhancing your backpacking experience and meaning that you get to meet people from all walks of life. 

Hostels may also be able to organise drivers and transportation for you, but if they don’t, try and find the local version of Grab or Uber and download these apps. This generally works out to be cheaper than hailing a cab, and in some countries is a lot safer as well. For example, when I lived in Vietnam, you could hire a Xe Om, or motorbike taxi from pretty much any corner. However, as soon as they noticed you were a foreigner, they would charge you triple the price of a local, and you may not feel 100% safe. At least with Uber and Grab, the motorbike fares were at a fixed rate and you were certain of your safety.

If you’re going to be travelling to multiple locations in the same country, or even cross country, like Europe, instead of booking flights in between each location, consider getting coaches or trains. These work out to be a lot cheaper and definitely an enriching backpacking experience. I would definitely recommend if you ever get the opportunity to do so, to take an overnight train to your next location. It’s definitely a memorable experience, with beautiful views and the chance to meet and mingle with locals. When I travelled around Myanmar, I got overnight coaches to most of my destinations. Even though the journeys were sometimes 16 hours, it was incredibly cheap, the locals travelling with you were super friendly, and included food. At the time I also thought it was great value for money because it saved me booking a hostel for that night.

Now that things are starting to feel like they used to, I hope this post can inspire you on your next trip. Enjoy travelling on a shoestring! Remember, it’s about the journey, not the final destination.

Is Corporate Insurance Enough?

One of the benefits of being an expat in Singapore is that a lot of the time, your company will provide you with insurance. This, know as Corporate Insurance or a Group Policy is a great relief for many expats- the company will reimburse for any hospital costs, and they don’t have to worry about navigating the somewhat complex insurance/medical landscape of Singapore.

  But is this insurance sufficient for you? Let’s delve further…

Coverage

Whilst company coverage has its strong points, like GP & Specialist reimbursement, sometimes it really lacks in certain areas. Generally, most basic group insurance packages come with quite low hospital coverage. You will also want to check if this covers private as well as government hospitals. Turnaround time at private hospitals tend to be very fast in comparison to government, so it would be good to have that option.

  Personal hospital policies tend to have very high coverage in comparison. Moreover, you can tailor coverage such as death, critical illness and disability, based on your exact needs and budget.

Service

With most group insurance, in order to claim you must either contact your HR or upload your claim to an app and wait for an approval. A lot of the time the insurance agent will not be at your beck and call, as they service every claim in the company, not just yours. And if your company has gone through a broker, it can be even more difficult to make direct contact with your insurance company. Sometimes, if your company has gone for an international insurer, you may be stuck calling an overseas hotline.

  In contrast, if you choose your personal advisor wisely, they will be more than happy to help you with all of these admin chores, from filing claims, to booking appointments, to contacting the insurance company directly on your behalf.

Longevity

This is very dependent on how long you think you will stay in the current company you work for. If you think you’ll stay with one company your whole time in Singapore, then great, you can rely on their coverage. But, what if you want to switch, and the new company doesn’t offer insurance benefits? Or maybe they do, but it isn’t as comprehensive, or they don’t include dependents? You may be in a bit of a tough spot, particularly if you have had pre-existing conditions, or if you’ve claimed in the past. This may rule you out from getting a personal plan.

Bumps In The Road

Building on my last point, there may be a lot of issues you could face, that you wouldn’t from a personal policy. Your company may decide to change provider, in order to minimise costs, which may lead to discrepancies in your coverage, especially if you are already going through a claim or have a surgery planned. With a personal plan, so long as you keep up with your payments, you cannot get excluded from any coverage after purchasing. It’s always best to plan your insurance whilst you’re healthy and able to purchase; so relying on your corporate insurance may mean that you delay this crucial planning.

I always say to my clients that Corporate Insurance is a great base of coverage; it’s a good safety net and it’s a wonderful benefit for your company to provide. However, I always encourage expats to get personal coverage, to ensure that their protection is in their own hands, and not the hands of a company that may switch or drop coverage in the long run.

Tax Relief For Foreigners

It’s tax filing season, and a lot of expats here in Singapore don’t know that they’re eligible to certain tax reliefs. Today I’ll be talking about how you can legally save on your taxes in Singapore. Just a disclaimer, My job isn’t tax planning, I’m a financial consultant, but these are some things that I do and have researched, that you can put into practice. And of course, this is just for Singapore. I know about some tax laws in other countries but I’ll just be talking about Singapore today.

I want to do a quick overview of the tax system in Singapore, tax reliefs available here and a bit of an example of SRS savings. So you may be shocked as to how many expats are in Singapore. It’s actually approximately 1.68 Million. So quite a lot, but 1 in 8 lost their job in 2020. While job security is a worry to most of us, at least Singapore is doing quite well when it comes to dealing with Covid. And unemployment rate is definitely not as high as other countries during this crisis. There are also many affluent citizens and residents here. Tax, whilst low in Singapore, can still take away a large chunk of your salary.

For tax in Singapore, the amount you pay is broken down into various brackets. Singapore is seen as one of the top first world countries for having low tax, it’s somewhat of a tax haven, but you can see that if you are in the higher income bracket, for example $200k and above, your tax for the year is quite substantial.

So, how can we legally minimise the amount of tax we are paying each year?

There are several things that can give you tax relief. This may appeal more to those that plan on staying here long term, or even longer than just a couple of years, as all these reliefs add up in the long run.

The first and easiest tax relief you can get is employment relief. This is automatically calculated into your tax and is capped at $1,000 for below 55. And then it goes up depending on age bracket.

Next is life insurance relief. If you have any insurance policies from an insurance company in Singapore, you are entitled to a relief of maximum $5,000 per tax year, provided the insurance is for yourself, and is not an accident or hospital policy, or a pure investment policy. This relief can be filed at the end of the tax year under e-filing.

If you have anyone here with you on a dependent pass and they’re not working, you can claim for tax relief. You are entitled to claim $2,000 for spouse, $4,000 for child and $9,000 for a parent on a DP.

To me, this is the most effective way to save on taxes. SRS scheme is great because not only does it offer you tax relief, but you can also make use of the money inside and grow that money for a retirement plan. And, what’s great is it’s available to expats, it’s actually more flexible for expats. Singaporeans can put $15,300 into SRS each year and expats can put $35,700. Just note that if you want to put this maximum amount in, you have to go to the bank and declare that you’re a foreigner.

Everything inside this account is eligible for tax relief, which is done automatically. After 10 years, you can make withdrawals from this account penalty free. Before the 10 years, there’s a 5% charge. The great thing about SRS is after these 10 years, anything that you withdraw from the account, only 50% of it is taxable.

So what can we do with the money inside the account? Well, seen as the interest rate in an SRS account is about 0.05%, I would recommend putting it somewhere where it can grow more, so, if you leave Singapore or you decide to retire here, you’ve got a huge lump sum waiting for you. As you can imagine, if you are putting the maximum amount each year into SRS, you can have a very good pot of cash at the end.

How does all of this look in terms of tax savings each year? Let’s take for example, a man on an EP who earns $250,000 a year. Say he claims $900 in tax on expenses. His original amount he should be paying on tax is $29,829.50

But let’s say he utilises all these tax reliefs he is eligible to, he will save about $10,547 per year on tax.

So you can see, this is a very substantial amount. SRS will give him a tax relief alone of $6.8k.

Here’s an example for someone on $100,000 a year. With all these tax reliefs, there a 4 and a half thousand dollar saving. Just on SRS alone that’s $3271 of savings.

Filing your taxes is so easy to do on the IRAS website, and with SRS being automatically calculated into your tax relief, all you really have to do is input your various other relief schemes. I think SRS in particular, is an excellent way for expats to plan for long term goals, such as retirement, whilst minimizing tax.

Health Myths Debunked

  I don’t claim to be a health specialist, nor a doctor, nutritionist, or even one of the healthiest people around. However, due to the nature of my work, and having had a bit of a health scare before, I’ve embarked on a journey of trying to be a healthier person, who eats better, exercises more, and tries to educate herself on these topics. Through my research I’ve found that there is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to health (hello TikTok pretending that lemon water cures all ailments). So, I thought I would debunk a few of these myths.

Myth: You Should Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day

While drinking water is of course in no ways bad, as it helps with hydrating your body, prevents gallstones and is good for your skin, the idea of drinking 8 glasses a day is not scientifically supported. If you think about it logically, we don’t just get water and hydration from drinking plain water. Many fruits, vegetables and of course other drinks provide our bodies with the hydration it needs. So how do we know how much water to drink? Well, every individual is different, so simply drinking water when you feel thirsty is sufficient.

Myth: MSG Causes Cancer

This myth is actually fraught with racist stereotypes. Known as ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’, many people reported feeling sluggish and unwell after eating food that contained MSG, and the public were led to believe that this ingredient was unhealthy, higher in sodium than normal salt, and even contained carcinogens. Research has found that the vast majority of people, even those claiming a sensitivity to MSG, don’t have any reaction when they don’t know they are eating it. Essentially, this myth was created out of people’s fear of ‘exotic food’. In actuality, unlike regular table salt, which is 40% sodium, MSG contains only 12% sodium, and is safe to eat- free from carcinogens.

Myth: Microwaves Zap Nutrients Out of Food

Another myth that has no scientific backing, many people believe that cooking with microwaves is a bad cooking method. While cooking microwavable TV dinners, I agree, has little to no nutritional value, using your microwave to heat up leftovers, or even steaming veggies, does not decrease the nutritional value. In fact, microwave cooking is actually a better way to retain vitamins and minerals as compared to other cooking methods, due to the fact that lesser nutrients are lost from shorter heat exposure, and the minimal amount of liquid needed for microwaving food simply stops nutrients from leaking out.

Myth: Diet Pills Don’t Make You Lose Weight

There are a lot of miracle products on the market. I admit that most don’t work, but unfortunately, many work so well, that they have lasting consequences. These fat burning pills can decrease your appetite, or speed up your metabolism, causing you to lose weight. The problem is that once you stop, all the weight will go back on, or even worse, you can end up heavier than when you started. This leads to a dependency on these products, and can cause nasty side effects, such as rapid heart rate and higher blood pressure. It’s best to just avoid these pills as a whole.

A funny thing to note is even these ‘natural’ pills have horrid side effects. I used to frequently take Sena tablets to help control my weight, but as soon as I stopped taking them, I had constant constipation and abdominal pain, to the point where it was difficult to move comfortably.

Myth: Drinking Through a Straw Stops Food Staining Your Teeth

Regrettably, drinking coffee through a straw doesn’t prevent coffee from staining your teeth. The only thing that will stop staining is not having a prolonged contact with coloured food, rinsing your mouth frequently and not drinking an excessive amount of tea and coffee.

There are so many more myths I stumbled upon, but that’s for another article! What are some health myths you’ve debunked?

The Financial Impact of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

On the 24th February 2022, President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation in eastern Ukraine. Minutes later, missiles began to hit across the country, including its capital, Kyiv. Whilst I am seldom political on this page, I wanted to write on this topic, as there are massive global implications to this war. Already we have seen many world powers speak out against Russia, with sanctions being put in place, causing the Russian Ruble to plummet by 30% against the US Dollar.

  What implications will the war and the sanctions have on our global economy? Let’s take a look at a few.

Geopolitical Shock

As the whole world reacts to the conflict, and with more and more countries supporting Ukraine (the EU in particular), we have seen bans on flight paths to Russia, SWIFT being sanctioned and Russians being unable to access their bank accounts. We have yet to see fully how China will react but it has signalled a willingness to help Russia. If Beijing responds in a malign way, i.e., using this as an opportunity to go into Taiwan, geopolitical tensions are sure to grow further.

  When Russia invaded Ukraine, we saw the markets sharply drop, but it definitely could have been more extreme, and we actually saw markets bounce back trading to above what it was before the conflict started. Last week, the S&P 500 index logged its first correction in nearly two years, meaning it dropped more than 10% from its recent peak; and even though there was uncertainty about what was going to happen next, the US stock market bounced back quickly. Certainly, NATO and the EU’s response has stopped the market from freefalling.

  Do note, when investments start to tank, investors are tempted to sell and cut their losses. Don’t do this- a major reaction like this is more likely to hurt you more in the long run. The stock market is volatile, it is a part of investing…do not panic.

Energy

  Gas is a large commodity for Russia, and many European countries rely on Russia’s energy supply through vital pipelines. Sanctions on Russia may hinder these countries importing gas. We saw a surge in oil prices last Wednesday; Brent crude futures rose by more than $8, touching a peak of $113.02 a barrel, the highest since June 2014, before easing to $111.53, up by $6.56 or 6.3 per cent by 0950 GMT.

Food Supplies

Not only is crude oil affected, edible oil is too; Ukraine is a huge sunflower oil supplier and if the conflict continues, importers will struggle to replace supplies. Not only that, Ukraine and Russia combined account for 30% of the World’s export of wheat and 19% corn (the two countries also account for 80% of sunflower oil exports!). This means that these food supplies could be hindered, cut off and become incredibly expensive. And this is not the only price that has been driven up. Over the past month, inflation in Europe has jumped to 5.8%, and this conflict could send prices even higher.

Auto

This sector is set to be hit hard by the war; semiconductor sales to Russia are now banned, oil prices have gone up and Ukraine is home to many companies that manufacture car parts. Already we have seen Volkswagen have to close one of its plants in Germany, due to the knock-on effect of Ukraine’s part on its supply chain.

Confidence In The Market

Already we have seen how the war has affected many sectors and sent certain stocks plummeting- and this may want investors and individuals in general to become more cautious with their money. Some may react by saving more and spending less, leading to slower economic growth. People’s confidence will vastly depend on how long the invasion goes on for, and businesses that rely of Russia’s supply chain, such as electronics and automobiles, can be gravely affected.

Will There Be A Further Crash?

  For the last six US-involved wars, the stock market rose in the 10 years following the breakout of war. The Gulf War saw the market rise 500% over a 10-year period. If the entire stock market was to crash in every country it would mean that no businesses anywhere made any profit, and I think we can all agree this would mean that humanity was in a pretty dire situation, with larger problems than just the economy. It’s very difficult to predict what will happen next to the stock market, and we only have public knowledge to base our assumptions off of. If your investing horizon is long, the best thing you can do during times of crisis is to hold tight and keep investing as usual. The stock market has historically always bounced back, and you’ll be rewarded for keeping your reactions in check.

Whatever happens, all we can do is wait and see. Support in anyway you can. Check in with anyone affected by the war, and let us all pray this ends soon.

How Homer Simpson Beat Capitalism

  Anyone that knows me, knows that I love The Simpsons; it’s probably my all-time favourite show, I quote it almost on a daily basis and Homer Simpson is probably my most loved character. He means well, he’s hilariously ignorant and he has some of the best dialogue in the show. Not only that, Homer seems to have the most blissful life- where in some episodes, money is a huge worry (Lisa needs braces, Santa’s Little Helper needing surgery, Homer and Bart conning people to pay for Homer’s broken car), this is always resolved by the end of the episode and for the most part, Homer enjoys a great lifestyle full of relaxing, eating and drinking and going on holiday. So how did Homer do it? How did Homer Simpson beat capitalism?

  First, I’d like to discuss the Simpson’s house. 742 Evergreen Terrace is a pretty big home, with 4 bedrooms, a large garden, basement and attic. If you look at Homer’s annual salary (in Season 7 Homer opens the mailbox and complains that his pay is low) of $24,395 ($37,791.72 when adjusted for inflation), this doesn’t seem enough to run a large household with 3 kids on one salary. However, many people believe Springfield to be based on the Springfield in Oregon, where the median household income is $39,756, putting Homer in the lower middle class income bracket. Looking at this makes it a lot more plausible for the Simpsons to be living comfortably in this home. Not only that, like many Americans, Homer has had some help from his family. In Season 4, Episode 10, we find out that Homer had asked his dad, Abe, to give him $15,000 to buy a house. Abe sells his house (which he won on a 50s gameshow) and writes Homer a cheque.  These two factors make it pretty clear how the Simpsons can afford this house.

  Let’s talk about Homer’s job as a safety inspector at the nuclear power plant. We all know Homer hates this job, so surely capitalism has a firm grip over Homer in this sense? I disagree. First of all, Homer doesn’t have a university education; in Season 5, Episode 3 he is forced to go to university as he is unqualified for his job role. But in true Simpson’s fashion, the episode ends almost at a reset, with no degree earned and Homer still working at the power plant. He is able to continue working in a graduate-role, unqualified, where he sleeps most of the time at work, and leaves it up to other things (like a dog or a drinking bird toy) to do his work for him. He is literally being paid to do nothing, taking his salary from the personification of capitalism himself, Mr Burns- Take that! He even takes over from Mr. Burns in one episode, disproving the capitalist idea that the harder you work, the better your salary.

  This leads me onto my next point, Homer’s long resume. Take into consideration how many jobs Homer has had; astronaut, boxer, food critic, mob boss, inventor and missionary to name a few… these jobs have put Homer all over the economic spectrum. But the highest paying jobs all seem to be at the nuclear power plant where he currently works. His current job has funded his passion to be able to do whatever he wanted, with almost little to no experience and qualifications. Most people feel that capitalism has beaten them, as they are unable to pursue their passions, either because they don’t get paid enough, or they don’t have enough time around their 9-5. Not Homer…he follows whatever job he desires.

  Homer’s frivolous spending is also a common theme on the show. He’s bought a tonne of high-ticket items; a pool, a gun, a plough, Snake’s car, a caravan, a Tomaco Farm to name a few. Not only that, his constant blunders have cost the family a staggering estimated $333 billion dollars over the years (especially because of Bart not inheriting Mr Burns’ estate). This kind of bad money management would have sent most into masses of debt, spiralling down towards bankruptcy and an inability to move on. Not Homer Simpson- over the past 33 years, despite all of this, his income, living situations and conditions have pretty much stagnated, not making him worse or better off than he was before.

  If you’re an avid watcher of The Simpsons, like I am, you’ll know that they’ve travelled a lot. Not only have they visited many places in America, they’ve travelled to exotic locations such as Australia, Japan, Morocco, Italy and China. Most of these countries the average American would class as a once-in-a-lifetime trip, not a once-in-a-season trip like the Simpsons see. Since the show debuted in 1989, they’ve travelled to more than two dozen countries and about two dozen U.S. states. Considering that he’s a lower middle-class American, Homer’s travel history is enviable, and he definitely doesn’t let his monotonous 9-5 supress his holiday bug!

  I think the main (and final) point that proves that Homer triumphs in the battle against capitalism is comparing his life to other’s in Springfield. Did you know that Carl Carlson and Lenny Leonard both work in the powerplant and have college educations, but Lenny lives in a completely dilapidated home in comparison to Homer’s big house. Moe and Barney as portrayed as low-lives, with nothing much going for them, often envious of Homer’s life…even though he is an alcoholic just like Barney, but hasn’t frittered all his money away. I think the character that shows this contrast the most is Frank Grimes. Grimes was a colleague and self-proclaimed enemy of Homer. He is infuriated at the fact that Homer has it so good on little-to-no effort, but Frank has to slave away to make ends meet. This frustration leads to his demise (RIP Grimy). He saw Homer’s possessions as satisfying yet undeserved for an incompetent person like him; Homer had a comfortable life, a polite family, an adorable baby, a genius daughter, a beautiful wife, a son who owned a factory (at the time), a dream home, two cars, could afford lobster for dinner, won a Grammy, toured with the Smashing Pumpkins, was friends with Gerald Ford and had even been to space. In comparison, Grimes had to struggle for everything all his life, was working a second job at a foundry, and yet all he had to show for it was his briefcase, his haircut and a one-room apartment wedged between two bowling alleys (the latter of which impressed Homer). He declared Homer a “total fraud” who leeched off hard-working people like himself, being undeservingly rewarded for a lifetime of sloth and ignorance while he himself had few material possessions.

I’m saying you’re what’s wrong with America, Simpson. You coast through life, you do as little as possible, and you leech off of decent, hardworking people like me. Heh, if you lived in any other country in the world, you’d have starved to death long ago. You’re a fraud, a total fraud.

―Frank Grimes

I totally disagree with Frank Grimes Sr…Homer is proof that with the right mentality, we can overcome capitalism. Living life as a communist, socialist or hippy doesn’t beat capitalism, but Homer’s sheer indifference does; he has a wonderful home, family and leisure-life, funded by his less-than enthusiastic career, where he swindles a rich billionaire to pay him to do nothing. Homer is an icon.

Singapore Expat Money Myths

I’ve had a lot of discussion with people in Singapore, expats and locals, and there seems to be a lot of rumours about what foreigners can and can’t do with their money here. Whilst Singapore is one of the most heavily regulated countries, it is still a financial hub for a reason. So I’m here to bust some of the most common money myths…

Myth: Expats are not eligible for tax relief schemes in Singapore

Fact: There are many tax reliefs that foreigners that are living and working in Singapore can claim. Many expats think that, because they are employed by a company, their tax is fixed to their salary bracket. This is a common misconception. First of all, if an expat has their spouse, children and parents living here with them as dependents, they can claim relief on their taxes. You may also be eligible for a tax relief if you have employed a foreign domestic worker. Not only that, you can also claim business expenses and life insurance relief with IRAS. For insurance policies, anything that has a death benefit (under your name for yourself or your spouse), is eligible for a maximum of $5,000 per year. Do note though, that insurance through your company, or hospital insurance is not applicable.

  SRS is also a great way of utilising tax relief. A foreigner can contribute a maximum of $35,700 into a Supplementary Retirement Scheme. This account can be used to invest for retirement, and upon withdrawal only 50% is taxable. Everything inside the account is eligible for tax relief. You bank will automatically inform IRAS.

Myth: Expats can’t buy local insurance plans, so their medical insurance is expensive

Fact: Expats can buy local plans, and they can be approximately 4 times cheaper than international plans. A lot of foreigners don’t know that local hospital plans (known as Integrated Shield Plans) are available for them; the only difference is that locals can use their Medisave account to pay for this, we just have to pay in full. But this often works out to be a lot cheaper than international plans, that cover all countries- the cover is more than sufficient and it is often not necessary to have a plan that covers all countries, as that’s what travel insurance is for.

Myth: Expats can’t buy property in Singapore

Fact: Foreigners can buy condos (all over Singapore) and landed properties (in Sentosa). We can’t buy HDBs or landed (not in Sentosa) and expats have to pay Additional Stamp Buyers Duty of 30%, but it is not impossible for foreigners to get on the property ladder here. Some nationals, such as those from the US, are even exempt from paying Additional Stamp Buyers Duty! Foreigners, contrary to popular belief, can even get a bank loan for this housing.

Myth: It’s difficult for expats to invest in Singapore

Fact: Not only is it easy, it’s extremely beneficial. Because expats don’t have CPF, starting an investment plan here is a great way to make your money go further. Singapore is a financial hub, not just for Singaporeans, but for the whole world! And with it being highly regulated, it means that investing in financial institutions is a robust and less-risky way of handling your money. The Singapore dollar is strong, and your investments here can be managed even if you want to move abroad, including withdrawal.

Myth: Insurance is for Singapore only

Fact: Life insurance can be paid out to expats even if they leave Singapore. This goes for accident, disability and critical illnesses too. Sometimes, our health deteriorates even if we’re no longer in the hospital, affecting our ability to earn an income and support our families. That’s why insurance policies in Singapore are there for you for life, wherever you go.

I hope that has dispelled some major money myths for all the expats out there. Have you experienced any other money myths you found out to be false?

A Crash Course: Durians For Dummies

Chinese New Year is coming up! And one of my favourite things about Chinese New Year is the food- it also coincides with one of the durian seasons throughout the year in Singapore. I think I must be one of the few Ang Mohs I know that LOVE durian…it’s also gotten to the point of almost addiction/obsession; if I pass a durian stall I simply have to buy some. Which, is not ideal…this girl has expensive taste!

  Price point is normally one of the main reasons why people don’t want to try durian; if you buy durian and don’t like it…you’ve wasted your money. So that’s why I decided to do this crash course of durian…my favourite to my least favourite. Disclaimer- I actually love most types of durian!

Black Thorn

I love this type of durian the most for many many reasons. The first being it’s appearance; the flesh looks a lot more appealing than the smaller and paler XO or D24. It’s bright yellow and pretty meaty looking. It has small seeds in comparison to the amount of flesh on the fruit, which is always something I look out for when buying durian. I would say that this durian is a lot ‘fruitier’ that the others- I don’t find the smell too overpowering and it has a very fruity sweet initial taste. The aftertaste is bittersweet, leaving an overall pleasant durian-eating experience. Black Thorn (or Black Gold as I’ve sometimes seen it labelled) is my favourite durian due to its overall pleasant mouthfeel and satisfying taste. To me, it’s the most enjoyable durian experience.

Mao Shan Wang

The Cat Mountain King is the most famous and expensive durian type. It’s price-point is on par with Black Thorn. I really do feel like the expensive durian types are so for very good reason; like Black Gold, MSW has a very good flesh to seed ratio; you definitely get your bang for your buck with the amount of creamy fruit you get. Its texture is amazing- I often thought that a creamy fruit would be gross, but it is so satisfying, and hard to find with any other kind of fruit. MSW can be sweet, bitter, or bittersweet. I tend to like the sweet ones the best.

Wang Zhong Wang

This type is so good that it made it to number 3 in my list even though I’ve only had it ONCE! It is called the ‘King of Kings’, and for good reason. It’s so bright in colour, with a texture that is smooth but still with a tiny bit of bite. It’s also a perfect balance of bitter and sweet. It’s just as expensive as the other two- told you I had expensive taste- and I will definitely be eating more of it in future.

Red Prawn

Cheap and cheerful and does the job. This bright, sweet durian’s flesh is so creamy to the point that it’s sticky. It has that classic durian smell (i.e., it stinks) but the flavour is ideal for me because I like it super sweet. It’s not my first choice but it’s definitely nicer on your wallet and does the job of being a tasty fruit!

D24

I would say that this type is really good for beginners; it’s not as expensive as the A Grade brands, the seeds are very small in comparison to the flesh, and it has that classic bitter-sweet taste. The only reason it’s not higher on my list is because I sometimes find it a bit underwhelming in comparison to MSW or Black Thorn. It’s also not as creamy sometimes as I would like it to be.

XO

I think the main reason XO is my least favourite (but still great!) is that it looks a bit gross- it sometimes looks super pale or almost like it’s gone off, and almost like deflated-watery flesh. This actually is purposeful; XO has a longer fermentation period to give it more of an ‘alcoholic’ aftertaste. Don’t get me wrong, even though it’s bottom of the pile for me, I would still 100% eat it, especially if I’m on a budget.

*New Bonus Never Tried* Green Bamboo

I saw this new ‘brand’ of durian advertised recently at a fruit stall by my place. I was super excited to see it, apparently it is very sweet at first with a slight bitter aftertaste.

Durian is not something I thought I would ever like, mainly because of its smell and notorious reputation. But the main thing I like about durian is that it’s special- it’s an experience and it’s a fun thing to share with friends. I hope this list gives some novices a clue about where to start on their durian journey!

I Travelled During a Pandemic and got Covid

I wanted to write an article about my recent travel experience regardless of the outcome, and I wanted to write it to help those who are going to be travelling during this time, or are even thinking about it. We’re in our third year of the pandemic and I hadn’t seen my family in two years. Regardless of the situation, I was going to take any opportunity I could to go home to see them.

That being said, there’s a few things I wish I knew before flying. Even though I had friends that had flown before me, there were new developments every day with the Omicron variant that definitely kept me on my toes.

Pre-Flight

My main concern was coming back on a VTL (vaccinated travel lane) flight, meaning that when I returned to Singapore there was no need to quarantine. This was paramount as I had face-to-face training booked at work. I was going for two weeks, mainly because I’d already taken a lot of time off for our wedding and staycays, but also because I am a licenced financial services consultant in Singapore- I cannot legally work or give financial advice in other countries and if I was out of SG for too long I would run into tax issues.

VTL flights were CRAZY expensive- one BA flight was about $6,000. I love my family but was not about to pay that. So, I found a cheaper way to fly via Berlin with Scoot, return VTL, pretty cheap. I also booked a pre departure test for the UK, booked a day 2 test for when we got there, completed our passenger locator form and my VTP (vaccinated travel pass). I would recommend printing everything off for a smooth transition, and I even printed off all travel itinerary, insurance and our marriage certificate (he’s a Singaporean so I knew I could come back on a family ties lane if there was another lockdown).

Flight

With all our documents ready and check-in online done it was time to head off. Thank goodness we got to the airport early because, even though we had already checked in, it didn’t matter. We still had to queue and have Scoot check all our documents, which was fine and didn’t take too long, but they seem to have more staff ‘assisting you’ at the automatic booths than for the Covid checks, which seemed counter-productive, and our assistant kept pressing all the wrong buttons, so it would have just been easier to do it ourselves. But once check in was done, everything was easy and the flight to Berlin was pretty smooth.

That’s when the panic started. We only had a two-hour layover in Berlin (which was totally my own doing; we landed at 9am and all other flights to England weren’t until 7pm, and I would rather take my chances than sit in an airport for that long). The issue was that, because it was self-transfer with two different airlines, we had to go through passport control, collect our bags, check them in again, go through security and then immigration a second time before boarding our next flight. This was the most stress I’ve experienced in a long time, and if it weren’t for the kind family in front of us at immigration letting us past, we would have missed our flight. Anyway, we got our connection just in the nick of time and arrived safely in Manchester.

Being At Home

I am not over exaggerating when I say that seeing my mom at Manchester Airport for the first time in two years was like something out of Love Actually. I cried, she cried, and there was a tonne of people in the exact same situation, embracing each other after years of being apart. It was at this moment that I realised that all of this was worth it. It was like time had stood still and nothing had changed being back at home. It was also very special because this was the first time my husband was coming home with me and had met my parents face to face.

Whilst I was home, I met friends, got my booster and went to a club. Although I will say that because of my constant fear of Covid, we were super careful; wore masks EVERYWHERE, constantly hand sanitised, stayed in small groups and sat by ourselves with masks on in the club (lame I know). The UK had become very lax about the situation, with no one really checking vaccination status or wearing a mask. And to some extent I agree with the majority that it does need to be taken as an endemic now, but I had a flight to catch in two weeks.

Omicron Panic

During the trip I had several friends cancel on their plans because they had tested positive and were self-isolating. I was happy to hear, however, that they weren’t taking long to recover and had little to no symptoms. Governments worldwide didn’t see the positive side, however, and with news that Europe was shutting their boarders the panic started to set in. Our flight back to Singapore was again via Berlin and it wasn’t long until EasyJet cancelled our flight from Gatwick.

Then Singapore announced that it was suspending all VTL sales…we had 4 hours to frantically book flights. I found a pretty reasonable booking with Turkish Airlines arriving in Singapore on the 1st January.

Heading Back

We flew back from London and, after a lovely time with family and friends, we got our lateral flows done in Boots somewhere in Piccadilly, did our Health Travel Declaration for Singapore and stayed next to Heathrow Airport.

The gentleman at the Turkish Airlines desk was incredibly helpful and the document check was very smooth. Everything from that point to Istanbul went very well and felt like normal flying times. When we got to Istanbul we had to have our VTL documents checked again, which was fine for us but not for all- there were people being told they had to say in Istanbul Airport, others on the phone to their respective embassies and some being interrogated about their trip to Singapore. I genuinely think this happened because Turkish Airlines doesn’t make it clear on their website that the flight is a VTL- I had to trawl through several websites to confirm and the VTL flight only happens in January once every two weeks. And if you weren’t from Singapore, how would you even know what a VTL is?

Landing

Everything when we arrived in Singapore was smooth- we got our bags quickly, and, although I hadn’t pre-booked my PCR, it was quick and efficient. We got home and awaited our results…the morning came and my husband got a call from MOH saying that he had tested positive on his PCR. This came as quite a shock as we were both negative before we left, my whole family had tested negative and we are now testing negative on ART tests. Hours later I still had not received my results. But eventually they came in and were positive too. We now both have to quarantine for ten days (from result, not from test, so essentially 11 days), which I am pretty upset about. For some context, it came out in the news that those on non-VTL flights will no longer have to do a PCR on arrival, and self-isolate for 7 days. If they test positive on an ART they have to isolate for 72 hours or until they test negative. Please tell me why for VTL it is a 10 day quarantine, regardless of how soon you test negative?

Final Thoughts

All in all I am very happy I went home and nothing will take away that time I spent with friends and family. However, I do feel that the VTL scheme is just a way of making money- ticket prices are insanely high, the number of tests is insurmountable and the PCR upon arrival was $125, which I got the results well after 24hrs instead of 6-12. And on top of that I still have to quarantine longer than if it was non-VTL. The level of extra documentation and stress made flying incredibly nerve-wracking. I used to be a frequent flyer and travel a few times a month- this trip I was incredibly anxious, panicked and it was overall such an unpleasant experience. Also, if I knew I was going to test positive anyway, even after all the many precautions I took, I probably would have cared less and relaxed a bit more.

Here’s to 8 more days stuck inside!