Published June 23, 2007

Singapore scores with expats on quality of life

They're willing to bear the relatively higher cost of living


(SINGAPORE) A cappuccino now costs 20 per cent more than it did last year, an increase that has helped make Singapore the fifth most expensive city in Asia-Pacific, but it may be a small price to pay for the quality of life here.

In a recent Cost of Living report by Mercer Human Resource Consulting (MHRC), Singapore moved up one position to rank as the fifth most expensive city in Asia - after Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Osaka.

However, in a separate study by Mercer on the quality of life, Singapore had the highest score in Asia, and ranked eighth in the Asia-Pacific region.

The findings of one study do not necessarily outweigh those of the other, but Ajit Nambiar, business leader (Singapore and regional) of information product solutions, MHRC, says: 'There does appear to be some corelation.'

He did, however, also point out that a low-cost-of-living city could have a relatively high quality of living.

A correlation would be useful for foreign businesses which need to weigh the pros and cons of locating here.

Terry O'Connor, president of the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC), said the chamber has 'experienced the occasional case where the increase in the cost of living has expedited decisions to relocate, but not caused them'.

Mercer's Cost of Living study is based on nearly 200 products which represent spending patterns segmented into 10 broad categories, including household supplies, utilities and transport. Its quality of living report provides values for qualitative perceptions to establish an 'objective assessment of the quality of living throughout the world'. It looks at factors including political and social environment, economic environment, and schools and education.

So despite rising costs here, it is heartening to know that BCC members 'generally value Singapore's infrastructure, security and quality of schooling', according to Mr O'Connor.

'Most of the companies are globally or regionally active and the excellent connections to and from Singapore are compelling reasons for locating here,' he said.

Competition between global cities in attracting talent has become increasingly intense.

Monocle magazine, started by Tyler Brule, an International Herald Tribune columnist and founder of Wallpaper magazine, has just ranked Singapore 17th in its list of Top 20 most liveable cities in the world.

Mr Brule explained that 'this is not a survey about the world's most fun cities or centres where you can make the most cash - it's about a combination of all of the things that make life in the city better, and who's doing it best'.

The top five cities under his definition were Munich, Copenhagen, Zurich, Tokyo and Vienna.

Darcy Roehling is an American who has lived in Asia for 15 years, having moved from Hong Kong to Beijing to Singapore. Currently director at Ogilvy pHuel, she says that the increasing cost of living is a concern.

To mitigate housing costs, she has decided to buy a home here instead and settle down with her husband and two young children. 'The quality of life here is exceptional,' she says emphatically.

Ms Roehling does not live the life of a mem sahib. 'If we spent all our time eating in Holland Village, then yes, the cost of living would be quite high. But we don't,' she says.

Instead, Ms Roehling commutes between Yio Chu Kang (which is close to her two children's school) and the city by MRT or taxi. 'I think $25 for a taxi to town is OK,' she says. She also forgoes Starbucks for the neighbourhood kopi tiam. 'We have scaled back a lot,' she adds.

Ms Roehling believes that 'lights that work', and 'playgrounds in every neighbourhood', are enough to keep foreign talent like herself here.

Will it be enough to make up the projected population of 6.5 million? Perhaps.

New Zealander Owen Irving also seems happy enough here to be prepared to bear the rising cost of living in Singapore. Mr Irving, an executive with Cable and Wireless, relocated to Singapore four years ago after working in London for about six years. 'I really loved London at first but had enough after a while,' he said.

London is ranked by Mercer as the second most expensive city in the world in terms of cost of living, while Singapore ranks 14th. More telling perhaps is that Singapore scores higher than London in terms of quality of living, ranking 34th rather than 39th.

Having come to terms with the cost of owning a vehicle and high taxi fares, Mr Irving was understandably unhappy that the rent for his condo in the East Coast went up 40 per cent. But still, he resolved to stay. Like Ms Roehling, he too has decided to buy a property here.