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…
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.
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.
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.
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 the retirement age, you can make withdrawals from this account penalty free. Before that, there’s a 5% charge. The great thing about SRS is after the retirement age, 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 taxrelief 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?
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!
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
A lot of us are headed back for the holidays, myself included. And for many of us, this is the first time we’ve been back in at least a couple of years. So, if you’re struggling to think of what gifts to bring back for your relatives, here are some quintessential Singaporean things you can give them, along with some cool shop ideas of where to get unique Singapore gifts.
Kaya and Pandan
These two flavours are pretty much the first thing I think of when I think of Singapore. Kaya toast was invented during the Straits Settlement Period by Hainanese cooks. This coconut jam is traditionally served on buttered toast, with soft-boiled eggs and coffee. It is the most popular traditional breakfast, and outlets such as Ya Kun Kaya Toast can be found everywhere across the country. So why not pick up a jar of kaya to bring back for your family to try? Let them feel the real taste of Singapore.
Pandan is a fragrant leaf, commonly found in kaya spreads but also in other good, such as cakes and biscuits. These can also be great options as gifts to bring home for the whole family.
There wouldn’t be kaya toast without kopi- a highly caffeinated coffee originating during the British Malaya era, with Hainanese roots. This local coffee normally packs a bigger punch that other coffees, because of the roasting of Robusta beans, as opposed to Arabica. You can purchase bags of roasted kopi beans, which make an excellent gift for any coffee enthusiast. You can also buy coffee bags (like tea bags, but with coffee) of kopi, so no need to bother grinding them etc.
3. Art Faculty
If you’re looking for a shop with great gifts, you can try checking out the Art Faculty. This social enterprise is dedicated to showcasing and honouring the unique talents of artists on the autistic spectrum. You can buy masks, sustainable goods, cute accessories and more, all with a Singaporean twist. I particularly like the cute little pins that look like a bowl of laksa, chicken rice or xiao long bao, and their cushion covers of artist’s depictions of famous places like Smith Street. Check them out at Enabling Village, 20, Lengkok Bahru, or visit www.theartfaculty.sg.
4. Cat Socrates
This cool shop has two outlets- one on Joo Chiat Road and one on Yong Siak Street. Here you can find all manner of quirky or interesting gifts, all to do with Singapore. You can find cook books from all of our various cuisines here such as Peranakan, Asian vegetarian food and even cookbooks based on things you can find at the wet market.
You can also buy various Singaporean-based games, such as The Singaporean Dream, Say What? (in different languages such as Malayu, Hokkien and even Singlish), or my personal favourites are the Singaporean-themed home range. You can purchase Peranakan tile magnets, Singapore trays, tea towels, placemats…you name it!
There is simply a tonne of great gifts ideas here, all with adorable Singapore-inspired motifs!
Naiise.com is a creative online marketplace chock full of unique gift ideas. If you click on the ‘Go Local’ section, you’ll find loads of quirky things that make great Christmas presents. Some cute stuff I stumbled across were; a cushion that looks like a curry puff; a plush otah pencil case, and various t-shirts with Singaporean flora and fauna. I myself have a t-shirt with a durian shaped like Esplanade (because its nickname is The Durian).
Take a look at their site- there is so much stuff on here I simply cannot list it all. A lot make for excellent presents.
I hope this short list gives you enough ideas for lovely, unique and Singaporean Christmas presents. I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year.
I know of a lot of people who are very apprehensive or sceptical when it comes to investing; and a lot of the time this is due to the fact that they feel that it’s really a minefield out there- they are afraid of being scammed or losing all their money in a fake investment. So, what are some red flags to look out for? How can we spot an investment scam? Here are some things to look out for…
To me, this is THE MOST obvious and biggest red flag. Any ethical and licensed professional will tell you that all investments come with some risk. If you’ve read my previous articles, you will know that investments can and should be based on your own risk tolerance, and investment returns are never guaranteed. If an investment promises you guaranteed profits (usually at a high rate of return)…it’s most likely a scam.
Ridiculously High Returns, Usually In Short Periods Of Time
Ah, the second most obvious red flag. If someone tells you that your investment will make you high returns in a short period of time (like 40% a month), and that you have to get in or get out quick- it’s most likely too good to be true. Fixed deposits give returns of say 3%, endowments at about 3-4%, mutual funds can be around the 8% mark, and even stocks can give you average returns of 12%, all of which is on an annual basis. So this just shows how ridiculous and preposterous such returns on a monthly basis can be.
I always let my clients know that investments are long-term commitments, so if you want a ‘get rich quick scheme’, you are more likely to fall into the hands of a Ponzi scheme. What is a Ponzi scheme? This investment fraud model works by a person offering their first investors high returns on their initial investment. Then, they find new investors and give their money to the original investor, making it seem like their investment has legitimately grown. This continues by recruiting new investors to fund the old ones, whilst lining the scammers pocket with the excess. Once the scammer is unable to find new investors, the scam dries up, and the whole thing crashes. This is similar to a Pyramid scheme (more like a web than a pyramid), that promises quick returns. Those who are involved are incredibly vulnerable of losing it all.
They Use Telegram Or WhatsApp
Another, less obvious red flag is if you are given very little information about the investment or company themselves, but you are then added to various ‘investment group chats’, with people from different countries all discussing how the investment is going. Maybe there are members of the group that are hyping up the investment, encouraging those to buy more shares. Chances are they are using a ‘Pump and Dump’ method, whereby an individual drives up the price of an investment by encouraging others to buy, driving the price up. That person then sells, earning loads, and the overall investment crashes, causing everyone else to lose out.
Unwillingness to Explain Investment Strategies or Methods
If someone tells you that they have managed to obtain riches and live a life of luxury due to an investment, but are unwilling to share with you a concrete strategy for how to invest, chances are it’s not real. They may have rented the luxury items they flash, or their lifestyle is not as amazing as it seems. They use buzz words and generic concepts, instead of legitimate financial methods. They may promote high risk trading strategies, such as crypto or forex, without explaining the massive risk these can of investments entail, essentially convincing you to gamble with your money.
They Are Not Licensed
If all else fails, check whether the individual is licensed. In Singapore, financials are heavily regulated. Financial institutions should be regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and we have to have an RNF code that allows us to practice our business. In Singapore, there are very many regulations against foreign investors purchasing investment plans, to prevent money laundering, and professionals are not allowed to solicit advice unless it is in Singapore. Everything is also heavily documented; there is a lot of paperwork that is involved in Singapore investments. So, if someone promises you something quick and simple, with no paperwork and overseas transfer, or is unwilling to share they license code or business info…you guessed it…it’s a scam.
All in all, the age-old phrase, ‘it’s too good to be true’ is definitely the case when it comes to investments. If something is really going to make someone rich, quick, without little to no knowledge or effort, everyone would be doing it and we’d all be loaded, which clearly is not the case. The truth is, in Singapore, we have a very well-off population. And how do they get like this? By trusting professionals and financial institutions with their money, and using financial methods like dollar cost-averaging and holding long-term. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it- be weary of new companies or investments that promise you the world with little to no credentials to back it up.