Thursday, 17 October 2013

Migrating to Oz: Top 10 considerations

In the past year, S and I have made a lot of new friends and acquaintances over discussions on migration. I must say I didn't expect the number of Singaporeans who have crept out of the woodwork and approached us, expressing their earnest desire to migrate and asking for advice. Some have posted questions on the technical/administrative details, some want to know why we picked Oz over other possibilities (Canada, US etc), and many others have asked told us about the drawbacks of migration.

Given the sizeable number of migration-related questions we've been posed on the blog, over Facebook and in person), I thought it might be helpful for me to do a post on the top 10 considerations we had when choosing the country to migrate to. Hopefully, it will answer some of the questions you have posted / have in mind and get you started on your own migration journey ;)

1. Language and culture

This point is pretty self-explanatory. Without a doubt, language is one of the most important factors of consideration. Coming from Singapore and with English as our first language, this limits us primarily to all the English-speaking countries, such as US, UK, Oz, Canada etc. Though I am effectively bilingual (华语是我的第二语言), S has quite a strong disdain for the Chinese Language - so that rules out countries like China and Taiwan completely. Besides, as prominent blogger LIFT has pointed out, speaking a particular language by no means leads to embracing the culture the language originated from. We are probably as jiak kentang (literally, to eat potatoes in Malay Language - a Singaporean colloquialism for someone who is westernised) as LIFT..

Taiwan is lovely! But somehow it didn't speak to us. Language is a huge turn-off, even though some Taiwanese speak good English, and the Taiwanese are a wonderful people (unlike the PRCs). - S

2. Support from Family and Friends

Do you have family and close friends living abroad? Given the initial uncertainty associated with adapting to and living in a new country, the importance of emotional support from family and friends cannot be emphasized enough. If you have intentions to migrate in the near future, it will be wise to contact any overseas relatives or close friends as soon as possible. Even before you move, they are an invaluable source of information and advice.

Whether by coincidence or divine intervention, all of our relatives and close friends who live overseas, are currently in Australia, with the majority choosing to work or settle in Melbourne. To make matters much easier, my aunt's family are all Australian citizens and they have settled in Melbourne for more than 30 years - so that gave us the reassurance and impetus to pick Melbourne as a starting point. We don't intend to rely on them, but it's good to know that we have a source of support if required.

3. Weather

Some of you readers may know that hyperthyroidism (a condition that S has) causes heat intolerance. A couple of minutes outside an air-conditioned room (on a typical 95% humidity, 32 degrees afternoon in Singapore) and you will find S looking like he has just consumed a huge bowl of chili. A typical Singaporean will be complaining that he is "hot and sticky" but S will be completely drenched in perspiration. Most outdoor activities not involving water can be unbearable and even simple pleasures such as a walk in the park is denied us because he simply cannot tolerate the weather. It is similar when we travel to Malaysia (except the Highlands), Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. Even so, S reports slight improvement in these countries, perhaps because the humidity is slightly less due to the coastal locations we tend to visit. Therefore, cool weather is very high on our priority. It rules out all the hot and wet Southeast Asian countries as migration destinations.

Looks like paradise? Not quite. Bali was less humid than Singapore overall, but by no means comfortable.. - S

I came to know of a friend's aunt who migrated to US to join her son working there, only to regret her decision soon after because she could not tolerate the cold winter. She gave up after spending less than a month in the US. Although I attribute her failure to migrate as a lack of foresight and preparedness, I suppose those who are used to hot, humid and tropical weather will have difficulty adjusting at first. I don't foresee this being an issue for us though, because we have both experienced winter overseas and we love the 4 seasons. No doubt the temperate countries can have scorching summers as well (Oz has 40+ degree days in summer) but that only happens a few months per year, and almost always in the day only. We are told that people facing the brutal Australian summer get a respite at night, where it usually drops to the mid-20s and comfortable humidity.

4. Work-life Balance

MOE tells teachers like me that my typical work-week will total 42 hours. I'm not sure how many teachers out there agree with this 'official number' but it's plainly not true for the majority of the teachers I know. For many occupations in Singapore, work-life balance is virtually non-existent because of the highly competitive society we live in. I used to work 60 - 70 hour weeks (including weekends) and prolonged exposure to such long, unhealthy hours has really put a toll on my physical health and well-being for those 4 long years. Therefore, countries that offer better semblance of work-life balance (compared to Singapore) will also influence our decision. If you are a true workaholic, then I suppose this consideration does not apply to you. 

5. (Some) Familiarity with Destination Country

It is really crucial to do a (long) recee of the country you are considering to migrate to if you don't want to set yourself up for disaster. To date (for Oz) I have visited Perth, Brisbane, Tasmania and Melbourne. S has traveled in WA from Perth to Albany, and also visited Sydney in addition to the places I've been to. I have also spoken to several ex-Singaporeans and family members who have migrated to Australia, as well as Singaporeans who have worked / studied / lived in Australia before. Having done so much homework and having visited the country four times, the small sense of familiarity gives me some comfort before our big move.

Some may point out that holidays or short trips do not paint a complete picture. While I cannot disagree with this, I would argue the same of most other decisions in life. How do you know you married the correct man/woman? How do you know that buying your current property is the correct decision?

Migration is not entirely different. In fact, it's arguable that it is by no means as significant as the decision to marry a particular person, or to have kids.

At least, emigration is easily reversible, as compared to having children. 

6. Education

If you have kids, this aspect will probably rank more highly in your considerations. Australia offers free / subsidized public education for children of permanent residents so that's something to think about. For a list of other countries offering free primary and secondary education, you can click on this link. To be fair, Singapore also offers many subsidies for education, schools fees are affordable (unless you are in an elite/private school) and there are plenty of bursaries available for families of lower income. 

For those with older kids or those interested in the possibility of furthering your own education, countries such as UK, US, Canada and Oz with world-class universities will probably come to mind. Being a PR in these countries will mean paying domestic instead of international student rates - huge savings there! Personally, I find the option of pursuing a PhD /Masters by research in Australia pretty attractive because citizens/PRs do not need to pay a course fee.

I should probably mention that all of the parents with school-going kids I have spoken to want to migrate primarily because of concerns that their kids are unable to withstand the stressful and grades-driven environment in Singapore. This issue has been discussed to death in the Singapore Conversation -- and I don't believe the situation will change. Call me pessimistic/realistic.

7. Cost of Living to Income ratio

Cost of living is a component so complex that it will require a dedicated blog post in time to come in order to do it justice. For the moment, I will just (simplistically) reiterate some major ballpark figures for a basic comparison between Melbourne and Singapore. 

Average Annual Salary for Secondary School Teacher
S$60,000 (based on personal experience, incl bonuses)
A$66,000 (taken from here)

Housing Prices

3 room flat (2 bedroom)

60 sqm to 80sqm
S$200k to S$400k

99-year lease, or less if you buy resale

Based on HDB website and personal experience

3 bedroom house incl garage
100 to 300sqm
 A$250k to A$400k

No such thing as 99-year lease

Based on for houses in Werribee

Car Prices

New Toyota Corolla Altis

10 year COE

S$130k to S$160k based on sgcarmart

Same car

No such thing as COE

A$24k based on

Average weekly expenditure on food and general

S$300 per pax

A$300 per pax (based on all the people I have spoken to and this link)

Petrol (95) per litre



Yes, I know I have left out many components of other daily expenses... Stay tuned for a more detailed comparison including more price components in the future after we settle down!

Tax is another quagmire which could demand a whole series of posts. We have CPF that is really a sort pension which we will never get to see again, and Australia does have a higher personal income tax and their own version of CPF. For other detailed posts on tax comparisons, check out a post from LIFT, and another from A Singaporean Son. We might kao peh kao bu (literally "cry father cry mother" in Hokkien, or kick up a huge fuss) if we ever make enough to be in the top tier bracket. But I think that's not going to happen anytime soon.

8. Nature / Range of Activities

This consideration is only valid if you love the outdoors. Australia has so much natural beauty to offer - Great Ocean Road, Great Barrier Reef, real wildlife, real mountains to climb and ski on, endless backpacking opportunities, several UNESCO World Heritage Natural and Cultural Sites... just to rattle of some. The same can be said for many other countries, of course.

Pinnacle of Singapore's nature.

Now, let's look at Singapore.... We have... tons of shopping malls, some small nature reserves and parks, almost no diving (Hantu does have nice stuff but near zero visibility), some contrived tourist traps such as MBS, Sentosa, casinos, Universal Studios and our tallest point is Bukit Timah Hill. Much of our landscape is artificial and most places vaguely worth going to are generally overcrowded, which brings me nicely to the next point.

9. Population and Overcrowding

Melbourne: current Population of 4.3 million in land area of 9,990 square kilometres.

Singapore: current Population 5.4 million in land area of 716 square kilometres. Population estimated to exceed 6 million by 2030 with land area not expected to increase significantly to cope with overpopulation.

Enough said...

10. Overall Sustainability

Australia has just had a change of government. In most truly democratic countries, this is an extremely common occurrence which nobody bats an eyelid about. It's not to say that having the same party in power for over 40 years is a completely bad thing. But it does says something when the founding father of Singapore claims that a change of government would cause great political instability in Singapore. Will it? What will happen in 2016 and beyond? Is Singapore's economy like a tower of cards, ready to collapse with political change? There has been so much online speculation but only time will tell. Are you willing to bet your future on the outcome of the next GE if you had a choice?

At this point, haters will probably point out that no one can tell the future and long-term sustainability of any country cannot be guaranteed. That is true in theory. To provide more local context, let me direct you again to above points 4, 7 and 9 and the reality in the Little Red Dot. Singapore's populace is overworked and highly stressed. The environment is highly competitive at all levels and our infrastructure is barely coping due to severe overcrowding (with the population STILL growing). Housing prices are exorbitant due to scarcity of land and the country has neither natural resources nor critical mass. If Melbourne becomes equally stressful and overcrowded in the future, we have numerous other less crowded cities within the same country to consider: Adelaide, Hobart and Perth for example. Where can I move to within Singapore? Tuas? Pulau Ubin? Horsburgh Lighthouse? 

Fellow blogger LIFT has mentioned and explained several times on his blog that migration is a journey fraught with complexities, uncertainties and considerations. It truly is. This post has only scratched the surface.

So there you have it, our top 10 considerations and why Australia came up tops for us. I know of ex-Singaporeans who have applied similar considerations and ended up in other countries such as UK, US, Canada, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and even Africa - so clearly migration destination varies for every individual.

- A


  1. Just to add that Australia PRs are entitled to aged pension from age 67 but there is a waiting period of 10 years, this is on top of your superannuation (similar to CPF) which is entirely your money.

    As a parent, you do not have to fork out a single cent for your child undergrad degree course fee, he/she can apply for an interest free study loan from the Australian govt but to be eligible, they have to be an Australian citizen first and the waiting period has since been increased from 2 to 4 years.

  2. If my better language is Mandarin (use and speak Mandarin most of the time) and English is my second langugage (when people hear me speak English, from my not so fluent speech they can tell I do not speak English most of the time). Do you think I will have a problem in Oz? Thanks

    1. Either practice your English and speak slowly and as clearly as you can, don't rush...


      stick to Chinese-majority suburbs in your city of choice. For Melbourne, notable examples are Box Hill and Doncaster..

      I've met migrants who have become Aussie citizens (shan't mention which countries they are from) and their spoken English is still like shit and bloody thick accent. They seem to have survived well...

      Reckon you'll be just fine!