Planning To Leave Singapore For Work? Listen To This First [TFC 117]

Planning To Leave Singapore For Work? Listen To This First
[TFC 117]

If given a choice, would you leave Singapore and work in another country? Some of us may find it very daunting while others simply can’t wait to move elsewhere. The logistics of moving to another country is mostly manageable but what about preparing our minds for it? In TFC 117, we offer 3 thought-provoking questions that you should ask yourself before making the big move.

You may think that you are ready, but are you really? Instead of discussing what to bring and where to go, this episode makes you think deeply about the idea of moving to another country. Does living in a new country mean your life will be entirely different? What will you potentially gain and/or lose during this experience? Using the Singaporean context, TFC 117 will help listeners understand more about their current situation and hopefully make the best decision for themselves. 

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podcast Transcript

Reggie: Hey Coconuts! Yes, I know… you know that I’m no longer in Singapore and a lot of you are super excited for me. You have DM-ed (Direct Message) me, talked to me on Telegram and Instagram, what have you. You have asked me all sorts of questions, give me your greetings and I decided that why not I put together some of these common questions because I think those are good questions and I do believe that a lot of us are entertaining this idea that maybe I could live elsewhere for a while. 

With that in mind, there are some common questions, common insecurities and common hurdles that a lot of us will have to jump through before we muscle up the kind of courage to leave Singapore for a while, at least to spend a year or two elsewhere in a slower pace to reimagine life, realign ourselves and come together to know hey maybe, this is the kind of life that I want. So, a lot of questions and a lot of things to share with you. I’m going to focus on three questions to ask yourself before you leap out of Singapore.

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Good morning, everyone! I welcome you to another day with The Financial Coconut. In our podcast, we are debunking financial myths, discovering best financial practices and discussing financial strategies that fits our unique life. You get it, ultimately empowering us to create a life we love while managing our finances well and today, I’m going to spend some time to talk about the three questions you should ask yourself before you leap out of Singapore.

Okay… I know that there’re a lot of things to ask, a lot of things to clarify and a lot of small little things that you guys have asked me. I will work through all the little pointers as we go along in today’s discussion but all arc within the three main questions that I’ve consolidated as a basis to ask ourselves: what do we want, why do we want to leave and in the process of going out there, what do we hope to achieve and how is life going to be out there like? 

I especially recognize the kind of anxiety after staying in the island for a while. For all of you that are stuck in Singapore during this whole pandemic, you’ve not gone out, you’ve not done all the whatever stuff that you want to do, it is hard. It is hard to leave and all. It’s especially hard for a lot of people that do not have friends around them that are more well-traveled and more explorational. There are some people with friends that migrate to Canada, live in the US or study in the UK… some working in China, some of them living in Bangkok and they move around in and out so you find it like, “okay.. I know life can be like that”. 

There are more possibilities and more dynamic choices and you don’t feel alone in this process. That is… I would say, for a lot of the more privileged kids like people that go to a good school, come from good families, scholars and what have you. That is that bunch of people, but in this whole process, I’m sure a lot of people have accumulated some wealth even though they’re from the working class. They’ve got a decent career, accumulated some wealth and now this bunch of people, the newer millennials that have gathered a little bit of money, they start to question the narrative and want to explore out there but don’t really have a lot of friends to model around and all of you start to ask questions so today, I’m going to try my very best to give you some good thoughts. 

I think there are a lot of angles to go about pursuing this question of how to leap out of Singapore, especially where a lot of people… Singaporeans being Singaporeans, they don’t want to have any form of sacrifice. Everything is a plus, you must add, add, add.. Not everything is a plus and it becomes like “what if I lose out on this and I lose out on that”… and they’re like “what do you gain out on the other side?” Those are some questions that we will talk about as we chug along onto today’s topic. 

But before we begin on this topic, I want to challenge a little bit of the narrative in Singapore. Why? I’m going to challenge the nation’s narrative, not in a sense of trying to be a radical but to help us better understand where does Singapore sit in this global order, how are we as a nation actually, and from there, I think we find more comfort in trying to recognize the kind of future that we can live and all that jazz. It may be a little bit uncomfortable for some of you but I’m going to just share this idea that for the longest time, people think that we’re a fishing village; from nothing we become something, right? I think that is false. I think this is important. Give me a little bit more time on this. 

You must understand first… I know we can go back to super long time ago, but let us start with the colonization. You must first understand the motive of colonization. The Portuguese were the first bunch of people that tried to colonize the world and they tried to colonize the world because why? They were struggling in Portugal itself. The Europeans were fighting and all that jazz. They actually lost to the Muslims for a very long period of time. That’s a story for another day, but the Portuguese went out to try to conquer other land so that they can grow because within their own land, they were struggling. 

After that, everyone else followed suit. The central idea is all of them went out not to nation build. They go out of their mainland not to nation build, they go out of their main land to conquer resources, to bring back to their own nation for whatever incentive structure. When they come into this part of the world… the Indonesian or the Malayan archipelago, this part of the world was already the spice hub. It was called the Spice Islands for a long time. In other words, we were trading spices with all around the world. This area was producing a lot of spices and was shipping out to all these different parts of the world already. 

The Arab traders were famous since then and the Chinese actually came in much later as coolies because they were struggling in China mainland. Those are history and history is a little bit interesting because he say, you say, who is right? But you just look at the incentive system. First is colonization: their goal was not to nation build, they came here to monopolize and control certain trade routes to bring back to their own place. In other words, Singapore was already wealthy. Wah… I scared I will get POFMA-ed (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act). You just have to look at some history books, they will talk about it. Read about some of the post-colonial ideas. 

Singapore was already wealthy. We already was a port of the world. For the longest time, we have been a port and this is what is interesting… For the longest time we’ve been a port, people come here to trade, people didn’t stay here. Not a lot of people stayed here. All your Malayan… the traders, they will live in Ipoh, live in Malacca and live in wherever they live in, they come here to trade for one to two weeks, after that they leave and they go back to their hometown. 

This has been like that since forever. Only really after the whole independence situation where we start to segregate ourselves, where we build up customs and freedom of movement was controlled, it became like, “oh, you got to apply for a visa, apply for work permit”, they control a lot of these things in and out. It became like we have more and more native population. The Singapore government… in order to grow itself as an independent nation, tried very hard to bring in all these people and kind of incentivize or force or whatever you want to put it, a lot of Malaysians and people within the region to become natives of Singapore and take on a Singapore identity. 

This is important. Why do I go through two minutes, three minutes of this thing… is to understand the natural order of how life was like in the past before we became a nation. This becomes an important anchor of how you should look at Singapore, how Singapore has and always been a part of the global order. We have always been a port. We shouldn’t romanticize how much more amazing we are and blah, blah, blah. We are just fundamentally a port in the global order. 

Because we are a port in the global order, I do think a lot of us, we should move around and see what’s out there and leverage on our country as a port, as a hub, as a place to commerce, to transact, to do a lot of interesting things rather than a place to live. This is my personal view. You don’t need to take it but i believe that if you are listening all the way until here, you’re kind of thinking “yeah, maybe there’s a different way to live as a Singaporean” and I do think so which is why I’m going to share with you some pointers to help you leap out of Singapore. 

I’m not saying that you definitely need to migrate outwards. Singapore has its own perks and its own problems as with anywhere. I’m not discounting the perks nor the problems but I think for a lot of us that are thinking of living elsewhere for a while to explore life elsewhere, this is a good basis to first understand Singapore as a nation: where are we, where were we, where’s our global order and how can we do better for ourselves and for the nation? 

So understand this part, now I’m going to give you three questions to ask yourself: how to leap out of Singapore or find comfort that you can leap out of Singapore? First question that I think you should ask yourself while planning your leap out of Singapore whether it is for the long term or short term. First question is will you be recreating your life elsewhere? The answer is yes, very likely. I know a lot of times when we are trying to live elsewhere, whether is it Bangkok or whether is it Malaysia or whether is it the UK or Taiwan, wherever you want… the beauty is, we even have options so it’s quite cool that way because our visa strength is there. We can move around, it’s much easier. Our passport strength is there. 

A lot of times when people think of all this, they will romanticize like “life… wow, so much more possibilities out there”. The truth is yes, there are a lot of possibilities out there, maybe more permutation than what you can get or afford in the very expensive land of Singapore, but what is the likelihood? The likelihood is you will revert to your familiarity of life. 

In other words, Singaporeans’ lives… every Singaporean’s life revolve around a small living space: public transport, the public pool, public health facilities, and you know… sounds a bit sad after I name them… Kopitiam (coffeshop) downstairs, the bar at night sometimes. You will very much revert to your way of life. I’m not saying you definitely will but I’m trying to give you comfort in this reality that you are very much going to be creating your life that you are familiar with in this other place. That’s my personal experience and I’ve talked to a lot of people, I know this is a lot of their experience. As much as we will sneak in more stuff… maybe our weekend hangout is no longer just hang(ing) out in Botanic Gardens, we will go climb the mountains. Maybe the hangout with a friend will no longer just be drinks, we’ll make dumplings together. There’re some of these changes, but the general form should be pretty much the same. 

In other words, what should you look at? When you’re costing your life or you’re costing your life in a potential new place, you really don’t need to care about the overall living cost index because a lot of people will search and think “this place very expensive, very expensive, very expensive”. Yeah, all these places are very expensive… or maybe all these places are very cheap, very cheap, very cheap, whatever. 

But that kind of costing index more often than not… A lot of information online, more often than not, are catered to the Westerners, catered to the Europeans and catered to Americans. They have a certain way of life, especially the Americans, they’re very unique. The moment you see them out there, you know “woah, this guy (is an) American”. They have a certain way of life and they have a certain costing structure like eating out at the restaurants, the kind of tax and all those additional things that is very built for their life. Your cost living index and all of that is very much for the Americans.

(You) don’t need to read into those things. Just go to Airbnb and search for apartment pricing, how much would it cost and average out the size of the apartment that you’ll be used to. If now you live with your family or you live in a small rental apartment, you will, more or less, appreciate two times more that size. When I was living in KL (Kuala Lumpur), to be honest, I had a two-bedroom apartment. I had so much space, I don’t know what to do. I had to think, “maybe I should make this space into something else”. That’s why I had the extra room and I leased it out on Airbnb. You will pretty much go for what you’re familiar with and that is a good basis to understand.

That will be costing for your rent. As for food, just look for groceries if you cook a lot. Gym, look for gym prices. What I’m saying is not telling you how to live, but telling you that you just need to recreate your life in another location. It’s very likely that’s the situation and you don’t need to mesmerize over all those kinds of cost index, blah, blah, blah. Just go and search for the exact prices and that will be your costing. If you are planning to live abroad for a while, try a three-month, six-month, one-year situation, then you just cost accordingly. 

You will realize it’s actually not very expensive. Honestly it’s not very expensive. A few thousand dollars to go out and experience a different way of life for an extended period of time in a different location, I think it’s worth it. It does not actually set back your financial plan. So yeah, that’s the first thing you should ask yourself when preparing to leap out of Singapore. Are you going to recreate your life elsewhere? Chances are, you are. Because you are, all the online information are a little bit wonky. That’s my personal experience, I can tell you, because it is targeted at angmoh (westerners), not targeted at you. 

I think that’s the situation for a lot of us, which brings me to question number two and the question is what are you really losing out on? This question is a bit hard and I’ll come back to you after a word from our sponsor. 

This question is complex on a few levels. There are a few things to unpack. First thing is, what is your natural trajectory? Given your life in Singapore, what is your natural trajectory? The narrative is you’re going to work a job, get promoted, move up the career path, buy a house, settle down, blah, blah, blah. I don’t think we should hate it or not. I clearly am not a big fan, you can hear it from my voice. It is what it is and you can choose to play the game, it is not a problem. But it is what it is so what are you really losing out on? That’s a big question mark. 

Some people will say, “oh, you know, what if I get my house later?” Are you even attached now? If you’re attached now, then okay, you will get your house now. But if you are not, what’s stopping you from just going out there and find your partner maybe elsewhere and what have you? If your partner is as adventurous as you, why not just go and live elsewhere for a little bit of time to get to know each other better and figure out what do you really want? I don’t think there’s a lot to lose in terms of like, “oh you know, what if we get a HDB (Housing Development Board) flat later?”. Like really… HDB flat, why are you so excited about it? It’s just a box. Later I get canceled, very stressed… 

Personally, I’m not a big fan of HDB flats but I must say the Punggol living estate is getting nicer. The newer Punggol… near to Coney Island is looking nicer. Tengah is looking nicer also. I like that HDB is doing initiatives to make it nicer but like I said, for the longest time, Singapore has always been a transient port, a hub for business, for commerce and a lot of people live in other parts of the Malayan archipelago and I think that is something that we can all think about as we move along down this path. 

So what are you really losing out on? Back to the question. 17% CPF (Central Provident Fund) contribution because your boss is no longer contributing to your CPF? Is that one of the major concerns that people have when thinking of leaving Singapore for a while? Let me give you some brutal reality. As an employer myself, I never ever see CPF contribution as my part contributing to your salary. I’ve always seen it as this is your salary. This is part of your salary so the 17% CPF contribution from me as an employer is your salary. It’s not my contribution to you. If I factor in the whole thing… if I pay you 5k for all, after all the contribution together, you cost me 5k on my balance sheet and that’s all I care about as an employer and I tell you, that’s what a lot of people care about. A lot of capitalists… A lot of employers’ business manner and it’s not about being like, “oh, so evil”. It’s not, don’t evil-ize anything but it is just the reality when I calculate my finances, that is how I see it. 

While the narrative is “oh you contribute 20% to CPF, your employer contributes 17% to CPF”, I know it’s a bit hard, I know I may get POFMA-ed but I think… It’s really, the whole thing is your contribution. The whole thing is your contribution. The whole thing when I see it as an employer, I just see it as this is your salary. I will not factor it differently, in all honesty, in my view. As an employer… or maybe before that you never take CPF and after that you start to take CPF for whatever reason from me, that means I got to give the 17%. I will not see it as me giving, I’ll see it as me giving you a pay raise. 

This is an honest view as an employer’s point of view. I think that’s something that we need to recognize. When we look at our jobs, how we plan our career and all that, I think this is a reality that a lot of people need to wake up to. Are you really losing out on it or has this always just been a part of your salary? This is something to think about. 

I think that is important and also these days, I think a lot of companies are more open to transfers, sabbatical, reduced roles and all that. As long as your long-term plan is intact then what are you really losing out on? When I tell my friends, my friends ask me “oh, you’re not scared next time your CPF not enough?” I’m like “girl, I have enough money to pay down payment, I don’t need CPF.” 

If I really come back and I want to get a HDB, I have the cash to just pay cash. I don’t really need to be concerned if I have CPF and blah, blah, blah. That thing don’t matter to me and I’m not saying that in a sense of “oh, CPF is evil, blah blah”. No, CPF is a state fund to take care of the people etc. But if I’m not plugged into the system, then I don’t really need to care about how the system affects me as much, right? Of course, nowadays I’m contributing CPF, just saying. Company is paying me money now so I got to contribute CPF. 

Whatever it is, I think what is important is you got to ask yourself, what is your probability of meeting the narrative? If your probability of meeting the Singapore’s narrative is 95% or 100%… I think most people will meet the narrative, most people that are listening to the podcast will readily meet the narrative: getting a job, getting a HDB, settling down. It’s not that difficult if you’re plugged into the system. So if your probability of hitting that is so high then what is your concern about plugging yourself out for a year or two? What are you really losing out on? That is a big question mark that I think a lot of people need to have. 

Of course, I know it may be a little bit of a sacrifice or it feels like a little bit of a sacrifice, which brings me to my third point. Third question you should ask yourself when considering leaving Singapore and staying abroad for a while is what can you bring back? This is the third point, it is extremely important. What can you bring back? I think this is the part that a lot of people don’t talk about. In Singapore, a lot of people talk about “what if I lose this, what if i lose that?” Everything is about “what if it gets worse”, but what about all the upside that you can bring? 

All the people that you will know on your travels, all the interesting stories and ideas you will gather on your travels, all the experts that you meet, all the connections that you will connect. Don’t forget, Singapore is a port, Singapore is a trading hub, Singapore is a tax-free zone or super low tax environment. Why do capitalists like to go to Singapore? Because we are a port, because we’ve low tax, because we’ve got no capital gains tax, we’ve got free visa, free travel… a lot of places, so why aren’t you using it? 

If you’re in Singapore, nobody cares about all these things about you because everybody has equal access to low tax, no capital gains (tax). Everybody has equal access. But when you’re out there, you are key to this whole access. If you didn’t realize, if you are a Singaporean and you go out there and you talk to all these Russian people… that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m talking to all these Russian people around, the Turks, because I’m in this part of the world. They talk to me and they’re very interested because I am a citizen of one of the largest ports in the world, low tax environment, no capital gains tax. I can readily start a business just with a click of a button, I scan my SingPass (Singapore Personal Access), I can register and we can fly. I can move around very readily, they want me to go Russia? Okay, let’s go. You want to go Africa? Okay, let’s go. I don’t need to apply for a visa, I can move. 

Whether you do business in the end, that’s a different question. But at the core, I want to open up your mind to ask ourselves what can we bring back? We can bring back all these experts, all these connections, all these friendships, all these resources and leverage on what we as an individual, as a citizen of this nation… what do we have? I think that’s the part that a lot of people, they don’t recognize. You talk to a Singaporean and you have equal access to all these things but nobody use it because we don’t need it in our own country. But the moment we go out, we become amazing. We become very unique and people want to talk to us and we become valuable.

That is the reality that I face. That’s the reality that I experienced. Tons of people ask me to go to Africa and say “hey, join me in Africa, let’s do something here, blah, blah, blah” and I’m like “It’s okay, I’m very busy already with what I do”. But it’s about the doors, it’s about the opportunity and if you’re in… Let’s say you are an artist, you are in a career of design, you go to all these other places, it opens up your mind and you get to connect with the local community. If you’re in finance, you get to come here and go to Moscow and ask “hey, how is finance really done in this place” or you can go to Switzerland and see what’s going on. If I go to Thailand, I see how is finance done here. 

There are a lot of things that you can bring out of and I will say safely that most of the people that you meet will be of a higher social class. The people that have a “lower social class”, it’s very hard for you to meet them unless you take serious initiative to hang out with them, spend time with them and you go on a trip focused on that. Like it or not, I know it’s a sensitive topic to talk about social class, but like it or not, it’s broadly going to be beneficial for you to be out there to see what’s out there in the world. What can you bring back? Ask yourself that. 

I think these are three great questions to start with when planning your potential leap out of Singapore, planning your trip to get out of Singapore, or to overcome the pressure of “what if I lose out on certain things” blah, blah, blah. The truth is, you will lose out on certain things, but what are all the other stuff that can come along with? 

I’m going to sum up today with this three questions for you. Number one is, will you be recreating your life elsewhere? Chances are, you will. In other words, it is actually not that expensive to live a Singaporean life in another country. No matter how “expensive” the country is, it tends to not be as expensive to live a Singaporean life which is: public transport, cook at home, small place, gym, swim, go to the bar, kopitiam. It’s not that difficult really. 

Number two is, what are you really losing out on? I reiterate that your probability of meeting the Singapore narrative is 95% or even 99%. The Singapore government tries very hard to make sure you are part of the narrative and the system is built in such a way that it ensures very high chances of you becoming part of the narrative and “succeeding” in the narrative. If your probability of propensity is so high, then what are you really losing out on? You’re not and you can readily come back in and latch yourself back into the system. 

Your 17% CPF contribution, I know this is a little bit like a question mark, but to me, it’s really… it’s part of your pay, it’s not employer’s contribution. I think that’s important and of course, recognizing that these days a lot of companies are more open. You can ask for transfer, sabbatical, reduced roles and all that. You can actually keep your income and all that even on the go or even out there living elsewhere. 

Question number three is what can you bring back? Look at the upside. Of course, I’m doing a little bit of a dream building. What can you bring back? It is hard to measure. It’s very easy to measure what you will lose and it is for very hard to measure what you can potentially gain which is why growth stocks and even crypto it’s like a little bit of… it requires a bit of imagination and all that. 

So what can you really bring back? The experiences, the local networks that you will meet and that kind of opportunities that may open up. At the core, you will bring back a different purview of the world, you will expand your world view. I think that is important, beautiful, exciting and it’s going to make your life richer. It’s going to bring up your value really, in my view. Even if you… when you come back to Singapore or even if you don’t. 

With that, I hope you’ll find more comfort in potentially exploring to stay out of Singapore for a while. I know if you have families and all, then your concerns are even more complicated. But I’m speaking to the millennials that are listening in, you know, 25… most of us, these are all demographics. For a lot of us, if you’re young, a little bit crazy, a little bit wild and want to go out there to explore the world hey, why not? I hope these three questions help you and hope you learnt something useful today. See ya.

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I think there are many ways to tackle this, right? I could have tell you that, “oh, you know, you must plan your finances, make sure you meet how many, how many months of all these things, make sure your financial plan in Singapore is” blah, blah, blah. Those things everybody knows and you’ve heard it time and time again. I think nobody really cares about that when they’re thinking of trying to leave Singapore or leap out of Singapore. The concern is really the kind of loss aversion. People are afraid. What if I lose out and what can I really get out there?

I will say when you’re young, you should go out there. I really think so. As we grow older, we will be less abled to move around physically. It’s true. I don’t know if you guys feel so. I feel so… There was a period of time I felt so insecure because I felt like I was aging. I felt like my body took longer to heal and all of that.

I really think as we grow older, we will naturally stay at a place for longer, we will cement down longer and all the things that you want to explore and do, you try to do it young, so go out there. Eventually, you will find a place to settle down. If after you try a few locations, maybe in Portugal, maybe in Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan… maybe not Taiwan. Taiwan is a bit stressed these days… what have you, New Zealand, Australia. 

Ultimately, if you decide that Singapore is your place then okay, Singapore can be your place. There’s no one size fits all. Singapore has its perks, has its amazingness. The transport system is amazing, the public pools are amazing and I do miss the library. Chicken rice, all of that… I can cook that so it’s not as big of a problem. 

Last advice for all of you if you’re planning to travel or you’re planning to live abroad, try to learn to cook some of the things that you like to eat in Singapore or at least buy those instant stuff. It will help you from time to time to rekindle memories. Food is very powerful in the whole emotional, nostalgia kind of way of life. These are some of the pointers that I think you should check out and we’ll see you next week. Take care guys.

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