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.