Singaporeans are always complaining about life in Singapore. Comments like “this is the gahmen we vote for,” and “not happy then migrate lor” have been commonplace on online forums and can be found on pretty much any post related to Singapore.
Even a recent post that mapped out the key financial stages for Singaporeans have managed to rouse the ire of some Redditors, who alluded their dissatisfaction of Singapore’s governance through proclaiming their wish to leave for greener pastures.
Migrating seems to be the ultimate solution to every bit of law or policy that Singaporeans are pissed with. And it’s human nature—the grass is greener on the other side. But is it really?
One country that comes up every time someone talks about wanting to migrate is Australia. Many of us think that life is better Down Under, and we envy those who get to enjoy the slower pace of life there. This is based upon the sheer number of times we have heard stories of people migrating, of those who want to migrate to Australia, or those who wish for an opportunity to relocate there just to have a different life experience.
So What’s Life Really Like In Australia?
Awhile back, I spoke to 33-year-old Jasmin, who shifted to Perth in 2002 to pursue her dream of becoming a vet. After spending five years there, she decided to make the switch to permanent residency.
“Life in Perth is pretty slow paced and relaxed compared to Singapore. The people here are more interested in enjoying life in the present than slogging away or planning for the future.”
Meanwhile, Singaporeans are perpetually stressed out about working hard for a better future. The need to push ourselves now while we can has been so indoctrinated in us that you’d find many Singaporeans chasing career milestones up until retirement.
Don’t get me wrong. The desire to strive for excellence is great and it is a respectable trait in Singaporeans to have such pride and ownership in our work. But our work culture has also come to a point where most people find it hard to switch off after work hours. Likewise, we find it hard to accept slow or late responses at work, especially when it comes to work that we deem “urgent”.
Even if our work demands our attention at midnight or when we are on vacation, we would still do our best to squeeze out time to attend to it. I’d like to believe many of us do it out of personal accountability but any honest man will also tell you that they fear losing their jobs otherwise.
Such is the work culture difference between Singapore and a place like Australia.
For another Singaporean, Lydia*, it is this culture difference that she has come to love ever since she relocated to Sydney more than a year ago. She got jaded by the hectic lifestyle in Singapore and had decided to shift in search of personal growth opportunities.
“I managed to get a job in a fintech company and it’s so unlike what I had expected. It’s all about a life outside of work, and if someone needs to get you, they have to wait till it’s tomorrow. Nothing is that urgent and your time or life outside of work is respected.”
The change in pace and the shift to a culture that places more focus on a healthy work-life balance gave Lydia more time to her other pursuits in life, like more personal time with friends and family as well as more time for leisure—exactly what many Singaporeans wish they have.
Although, Lydia acknowledged that she was lucky, as everybody’s experience will differ based on the industry practices, company culture, and the dynamics within a company. Where she is at, she also enjoys perks like flexible working hours, going on sick leave without an official MC, and free coffee at every team meeting.
These perks are only possible as employees respect the integrity based system it is run on. It only takes one bad sheep to abuse and destroy such a system, and if you think about it in Singapore’s context, this will probably not be possible here. Remember when we used to have Ofo, Obike, and Mobike?
Despite the welcome change in work-life balance and employee welfare, finding a job wasn’t that easy for Lydia initially. Her attempts to find work in her area of expertise came to nothing as her Working Holiday Visa restricted her from staying in the same company for more than 6 months. Most of the jobs she had came here in search of required someone with a longer commitment.
“Initially, part of me expected to get a job pretty easily, even if it means I had to do odd jobs here and there. I thought like Singapore, it’ll be easy for me to get a retail or F&B job for example, but it wasn’t that easy.”
To get a retail job, she had to submit a video of her speaking and presenting herself. She’d also need an RSA certification if she wanted to work in F&B.
Fortunately, settling in wasn’t an issue because her partner was already living there and had sorted out the nitty-gritty of moving, like finding accommodation, sorting out the lease, and setting up the utilities.
Nonetheless, the pressure of living independently and solely off her savings, began to build up. “The cost of living in Sydney is really high, and I saw how quickly my money was depleting about 2 months in. I started to put a lot of stress on myself to find a job and somehow no one was getting back to me.”
Lydia later chalked up even more expenses when she had to be sent to the hospital primarily due to her stress and anxiety.
“I was broke and in a country with no medical benefits or subsidies for me.”
“Being jobless and living under your parents roof was stressful but being jobless and having to worry about rent is a heart attack waiting to happen.”
She only managed to secure her current job five months after she relocated. Ultimately, she admitted that it was a job that she settled for as there were bills to pay.
Singaporean filmmaker Tim* echoed Lydia’s sentiments on the work landscape in Australia.
The 28-year-old spent 5 years in Sydney, where he pursued his interest in film in a university there. While studying, he also took up several work projects and jobs. In the media and film industry he is in, he explained that while Australia has more opportunities for him, the overall work landscape there is pretty similar to Singapore’s. It is as highly competitive there as fresh graduates and experienced locals and foreigners are always rising up and competing for the same jobs.
“I think it is important to manage [your own] expectations, know what you want to do, work hard on your craft, and to be open to change if it comes.”
Daily Life Differences
Day-to-day conveniences and living expenses are other aspects that one needs to consider before making the shift.
If there’s one thing all of us are right about, it’s the short operational hours of shops there. Most of the shops there shut by 6pm and some buses end service at early evenings.
Born and bred in Singapore where we gripe about shops closing at 9.30pm, I wondered how these Singaporeans aren’t bored there. How do you ‘survive’ when ‘everything’ is closed by the time you end work?
“Usually the shopping malls close early but in Sydney the clubs, karaoke joints and movie theatres still open till late,” said Tim.
As for Lydia, it took her awhile to get used to the largely outdoor lifestyle compared to what most of us are inclined to do in Singapore: “People [in Australia] tend to go to the beach, surf, drive up the coast, go on road trips, camping, hikes, and go to the markets. That’s what my partner and I do besides all the housework. New South Wales is massive and we never stop being tourists if money permits.”
The early closure of shops also means that many food places shut early. But Tim assured that “there are definitely food you can get at supper hours but your selection is really limited. McDonald’s are open 24 hours and that’s about it. There is no Al-Ameen to save you from a grumbling stomach at 2am.”
Eating out in Australia is also expensive compared to Singapore. This is undoubtedly one of the best parts of living in Singapore—the abundance of food options and how you can easily get a complete meal from as cheap as $3.
What Kind Of Life Do You Want?
With all that said, we have to acknowledge that life isn’t perfect. No matter where we go, there is bound to be problems of some sort, and it is important that we consider every facet of our life and habits before we go on a great migration. There are also plenty of helpful guides online to walk us through specific areas like taxes and cost of living.
Another tip from Tim is to know what we want.
“I guess Australia is good for anyone who wants to try a different lifestyle and explore a different country. If you pick Sydney, be prepared to work hard and be ready to compete with the best.”
There’s no rights or wrongs to migrating and only you would know if life would be better for you elsewhere. It is still a big decision to make, having to leave your entire life behind to set up a new one in a foreign land. At the end of the day, it boils down to where you want to call home.
For me, as biased as it is for someone who has only ever resided in Singapore, and for all the imperfections in our policies and infrastructure, home is Singapore.
Also read: The Hopes And Fears Of 20-Somethings.
(Header Image Credit: Zoe Holling on Unsplash)