Friday 29th January 2010

Adventures of a Tai Tai: Lessons I have learned

Adventures of a Tai Tai: Lessons I have learned

So life is pretty much back to normal here in Singapore. My husband has started his new job and I am fully back into my usual routine. I had a slight case of trailing spouse syndrome (my husband calls me his satellite) at the beginning of the week when my husband started work and left me alone in the city for the first time and suddenly occurred to me that I know no one and have to start all over again, but I am a robust soul and ready for the challenges ahead!

It’s a little too early to go into detail about what I think about Singapore and how life here compares to Hong Kong so, for once, I thought I would put the jokes aside and share with you some of the valuable lessons I have learned from moving country again.

1) Multiply everything on your ‘to do’ list by at least three. No doubt when you are planning a move abroad you will follow a checklist of things to do (there’s a great one here by the way) or draw up your own “to do” list. That’s exactly what we do. However, past experience tells me that as soon as you start one task, you find that it actually involves much more work than you anticipated. My husband, for example, had a task that said “cancel pension.” Straightforward phone call we thought. Not so…

  1. Phone pension company
  2. Fax confirmation that pension is to be cancelled
  3. Phone different area of pension company to discuss refund of payments already made
  4. Fax confirmation of process for refund of payments already made
  5. Write letter confirming bank details for refund of payments already made
  6. Visit local government office to have an official witness you sign a paper that confirms you really are leaving Hong Kong.
  7. Fax signed copy of afore mentioned paper to pension company.
  8. Phone pension company and confirm address for future correspondence.

Be prepared for added tasks that you hadn’t anticipated and start everything early. Sit in a room with a fax machine, telephone, computer and photocopier and get going!

2) Don’t worry if you don’t get absolutely everything on your list done before you go. Moving country can be very stressful and having a huge list of things to do can be quite overwhelming. Right from the start, identify which tasks absolutely have to be done before you go and which of them can be done at a later date, by telephone or internet once you have relocated. My husband and I are still tying up some loose ends in Hong Kong but it’s not really a big deal unless you make it one… don’t sweat the small stuff.

3) Don’t limit the ‘to do’ list to things that you have to do before you leave, have one for when you arrive too. My husband and I had a massive shock when we arrived in Hong Kong. You see, we had meticulously planned our departure from London and felt very smug that we had done everything we needed to do. It didn’t cross our minds that there was also a ton of stuff that we would then need to do when we arrived in Hong Kong… we had only considered all the fun stuff we were going to do. The reality is, however, that everything you have closed or tied up in your old country then needs to be re-opened in your new country. Kinda obvious I know but it seems that my husband and I quite often fail to consider the obvious.

4) Get a local pay as you go mobile phone as soon as you arrive. This makes things ten times easier. We decided that we wanted to get pay monthly contract phones here in Singapore but were not able to do so until we were in possession of our employment passes. We therefore had to wait a week to arrange the contracts for our phone and continued to use our Hong Kong numbers. Not only has this been hugely expensive but it made life really difficult. Real estate agents refused to phone us on these numbers because of the expense and we had to communicate with them by text message and email. We had a real nightmare trying to arrange apartment viewings and in hindsight I wish we had just got a pre-pay phone right from the start.

5) Buy a street directory as soon as you arrive. These are great for several reasons. When you get into taxis and don’t know the pronunciation or location of your destination you can just show the taxi driver where you want to go and therefore have less chance of being ripped off or getting lost. Secondly, it’s great for finding your way around or helping you if you get lost. Thirdly, by reading through it and looking at the location of different landmarks and streets, you really get to know the city and understand where everything is in relation to one another, you may even identify areas to live in that you hadn’t previously considered.

6) Visit areas you are interested in living in before you arrange viewings. When you know you are relocating you will often read as much as you can about popular living areas and will identify a few that you think will suit your needs. Shameless plug: the Expat Info Desk guides all contain a rundown on popular areas and provide a comprehensive insight into what type of facilities and infrastructure you will find there. These are great. However, I recommend that once you have chosen a few potential living areas, you go and visit them and have a look around before you book appointments to view properties there. You can even go one step further and identify which apartment blocks you like the look of within those areas. My husband and I had the East Coast, Holland Village and Bhukit Timal all on our shortlist of potential areas in Singapore to live. However, upon visiting these areas we decided that they were too quiet for us and that we wanted to live in the city centre. The problem for us though was that we only identified this while on viewings and had to endure looking around 8 – 10 apartments that we had no interest whatsoever in renting. It was a total waste of time and very frustrating.

7) Move at least a week before you start work. We didn’t do it when we first moved to Hong Kong but we did do it this time and it really does make a significant difference to your stress levels. All the things on your arrival checklist (see 3) needs to be done, and quite often the bureaucracy associated with some of these tasks entails that they can be time consuming. If you are starting a new job it can be very difficult to get out of the office to visit the bank, view properties or go to immigration to collect paperwork but, by arriving a week early, you can sort this out in advance and focus 100% on your job once you do start work.

Hopefully that’s of help to some of you. I promise that normal sarcastic service will resume in the next blog! :)

Do you have a comment about this article, a further question or even a correction? If so please do let us know.
We may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all comments will be published, please be nice!