When working with colleagues, what does an expat need to keep in mind?
Keith (Singapore): Almost half of the workforce in Singapore is comprised of foreigners and permanent residents. Local Singaporeans are also a diverse group comprising of Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians. Because of this, the expat needs to understand the motivation, communication styles, leadership preferences and cultural differences of each group.
Jeff (Vietnam): In Vietnam, expats need to keep in mind the contradiction between Eastern and Western values and appreciate the deep historical, ancestral, Confucian and Buddhist roots of the Vietnamese –which translates into strong family orientation, strict hierarchies, top-down decision making, respect for authority as well as seniority and age, and the need for balance and harmony. In business, transactions are usually affected by politics, procedures, infrastructure, and personal relationship. While Vietnam is a fast-changing country that is learning the ways of international business, modern Vietnamese are often conflicted between family and career, communism and capitalism. Workers are accustomed to following instructions undefined so if you want feedback, suggestions, self-reliance, collaboration, or innovation, say it, write it and show you mean it.
Rose (Philippines): In the Philippines, personal relations are very important. Business is done on the basis of trust and being comfortable with the person they are doing business with. Although Filipinos speak English and communicating is easy, there are many things communicated through facial expression, tone of voice and behavior. Politeness is key and colleagues will be turned off by aggressive orders or reactions so be mindful of your voice volume. When looking for assistance it must be requested and not ordered. When making requests, keep in mind that a Filipino associate will always be polite and say “yes”; however, many times the answer may really mean “no”. It’s always a good idea to clarify understanding.
Let’s discuss daily living.
Kristen (Singapore): Over one million expats reside in Singapore. This makes for great living as you will quickly have friends that have come from all over the world. Much like other metropolitan cities, housing is smaller and closer together. There is a fantastic public transport system (called MRT) and since the duty on cars is over 100%, you will make great use of it. There are great entertainment options year round undefined the Formula 1 night race is a city wide party, many good concerts with head line performers, art and film festivals, excellent museums, and the list of good restaurants keeps growing. While shopping could be considering a national pastime here in Singapore, prices are quite a bit more than those in the US.
Claudia (Singapore): For Singaporeans and expats alike, living in Singapore is not only clean, safe and organized but also very comfortable and practical. Distances to work are usually no more than one hour by public transport to and from most locations. If necessary, services such as electricians and other contractors are available within a day. However, work life balance is not as good as it is in Europe and the US. Work comes first here and everyone works longer hours, even on holidays. There is lots of traffic.
Jeff (Vietnam): Daily living in Vietnam’s major cities (Saigon and Hanoi) can be a challenge undefined dealing with traffic jams, pollution, and property crimes. But both cities have good options for modern and affordable apartments, comfortable international expat communities, good restaurants and an assortment of sports/entertainment, plus reliable and inexpensive domestic help. Corporate executives and other expats most likely will want to hire a cook as well as car-and-driver. Keep in mind that Vietnam is one of the world’s largest two-wheel cultures, so an expat might want to join the masses and have a motorbike if he wants to get around efficiently; if you’re going to ride in a vehicle with four wheels, you’ll want a driver undefined and a lot of patience.
Rose (Philippines): Manila is the Philippines most modern city and the majority of expats live there. Expect the normal issues that come along with city life – namely, pollution (the air quality may affect those who are sensitive) and traffic (always allot additional travel time). Most expats will employ a local driver who is familiar with the roads. Keep in mind that Filipino drivers are terrible on the roads; they will tailgate and occupy every space they see. For example, a 3-lane road can easily become 4 or 5 lanes. Many areas in Manila are very modern with shopping malls, condominiums and subdivisions with secured areas. Some expats hire household help and you have a choice of live-in or live-out. This usually depends on how big the house is and whether there are young children. The shops offer local and imported goods and there is a store similar to COSTCO called Sand R. We recommend staying away from the wholesale markets as they can be a bit dangerous if you are not vigilant and aware.
What’s the latest on the housing supply and international schools?
Kristen (Singapore): Housing, especially apartment living, is plentiful but expensive. Be prepared to move into a smaller home with limited outdoor space. Condo living can be wonderful as you have an instant community and amenities such as pool, BBQ area, and fitness center. There are international schools for just about every curriculum including American, British, Australian, German, Swiss, Japanese, Indian, etc. Several schools have long wait lists. If you are anticipating a move, and hoping to keep your children on an American curriculum, expect a six month wait list.
Keith (Singapore): In Singapore, various housing options are available from condominiums, landed properties (houses) and public housing (called HDB which stands for Housing Development Board). If you want to live downtown or close to schools, be prepared to pay more. If you are keen to embrace the local cultures and want to live like most locals, then you can rent a HDB. The HDBs are located near MRT stations or public transport and have amenities like food centers, shops, cinemas and libraries close by. A 3 bedroom 1,200 sq. ft. HDB apartment rents for S$3,000 (US$2,500) monthly and prices can go up to S$30,000 (US$25,000) or more for an 8,000 sq. ft. bungalow. Note that Singapore is often ranked one of the most expensive cities in the world. A 400sq ft. 1-bedroom apartment downtown can cost easily S$4,000 (US$3,300) a month, while a 1,200 sq. ft. 2-bedroom apartment downtown can be S$8,000 (US$6,600).
Jeff (Vietnam): After a decade of modernization and construction of high-end residential properties that ended in 2009, Vietnam today is in the midst of a prolonged real estate slump and is a buyer’s market for apartment rentals. The inventory of luxury apartments in particular is strong and relatively inexpensive. There are several very good international schools in the big cities, especially Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), and a school of choice for expats in Hanoi tends to be the school sponsored by the United Nations, it’s one of only two in the world. In Vietnam’s public school system and at the post-secondary level, the options are limited, although acceptable public schools that emphasize English are available for families seeking a rich cultural experience.
Rose (Philippines): In the Philippines, the housing supply is abundant especially with new condominiums. Expats also have several international schools to choose from and most are located in the same area. Examples include the IS (International School) and BSM (British School Manila). However, as soon as you are outside Manila, international school availability becomes scarce. Keep in mind that the system of education in the Philippines is patterned after American Education, so the local private schools are use English as a medium of instruction. The many private Catholic Schools all over the country will accept foreign students and some expats have discovered that this provides an affordable high quality education.
Are there other things expats need to be aware of such as restrictions, security, culture, currency?
Kristen (Singapore): Singapore is incredibly safe and a wonderful place to move, especially for young families. Singapore recognizes four main cultures, Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Western cultures and all are celebrated equally. English is the national language with most Singaporeans speaking at least one more language. We affectionately refer to Singapore as “Asia-lite” and for most Westerners, it is an easy transition to move here. The hardest thing to get used to is the heat and humidity. Thankfully air conditioning is everywhere.
Jeff (Vietnam): Expats need to be aware that Vietnam is just one generation removed from starvation poverty and hundreds of years of war that ultimately led the country to accept a one-party government that provides political stability and values security more than individual liberty. For expats, some practical implications they can expect to confront are: cumbersome bureaucracy, excessive regulations/restrictions, and the expectation of under-the-table payment for public services. On the other hand, as individuals Vietnamese are very pragmatic; so if you want to get something done, deal with the people and trust that they know how to deal with the government.
Rose (Philippines): Filipinos have a silent/unspoken social system similar to a caste system depending on economic means, educational attainment and upbringing. Generally, Filipinos are more passive than assertive and have a tendency to be subservient and very shy. But those who are from higher economic status with high educational attainment will show more assertiveness and confidence in their approach to foreigners. There are many areas in the city that are generally well secured such as near the financial district. However, as with any city it pays to be street smart and vigilant. Consider travelling with locals and, as a general rule, ask about the place prior to going there – especially when going out of the city. Filipinos are Asians but can be very westernized even if he/she has not lived abroad; the influence of media and education has been very strong. It is very easy to get along with Filipinos because they are adaptable and open to other cultures.
Contributed by Charisse Kosova, Director, Intercultural Training and Development at IOR Global Services.