Unavoidable Admin in Singapore

By Harry Forster, National University of Singapore

In this article, I’m going to let you in on my ‘top tips’ for speeding up the unavoidable Singaporean student admin

1. Sorting Out Your Student Pass

All exchange students require a ‘student pass’ visa that grants them their stay in Singapore – even though it’s not a permanent visa, that notion doesn’t make it any easier to apply for one…

Completing this is probably the MOST important thing you’ll do in your time in Singapore! It’s required for almost everything from purchasing a sim contract to authorising your studies in NUS…

First things first, you have a lot of things to sort out before your ICA appointment such as an array of documents including: physical copies of online payment receipts to passport-size photos.

  • Also make sure you hold on tight to your landing documentation as you’ll need this for your visa!

** note that if you’re a student who’s staying for a year you’ll also need a medical examination which involves a blood test and a chest x-ray. (All of this can be done at the University Health Centre which is only one bus stop away from Utown).

During my medical, I experienced my first instance of the infamous Singaporean brutal honesty– after repeating my blood pressure for the third time (as all the previous readings had indicated that my blood pressure was too high) rather than the doctor saying ‘I’m sure it’ll be fine’, the Singaporean doctor said “ I hope nothing bad happens to you whilst you’re in Singapore!”… then we parted ways. Not quite the reassuring words you want to hear from your doctor!

2. Singaporean Sim

When you first land, I’d advise getting a Starhub sim card (as a temporary pre-sim card). I recommend the Starhub sim because pretty much every exchanger I’ve met has had issues with the Singtel pre-paid sim…

  •  For example, there has been multiple instances where I’ve topped up my sim card with over £10 in credit and it’s been eaten up within 30mins for no legitimate reason!!

Once you’ve got your student pass, then I’d suggest getting a rolling contract with Circles – this was the best offer available that has 20GB, 100mins of calls plus 25 texts per month all for S$18 ≈£10.50 

  • Also, I added unlimited incoming calls for an extra S$2 per month so you can have those long phone calls with your mum at the cost of next to nothing (except they’ll probably have to foot the international fee)!

3. Banking With FRANK

The most hassle free way of getting a Singaporean bank account (and access to a tax haven) is by opening a FRANK bank account with OCBC – opening a local bank is useful if you want to use local services such as Singtel Dash or NETS; these payment services as require a local bank account!

  • The closest OCBC office is located across from the uni accommodation and still resides within the Utown campus (so it’s only a 2 minute walk). 
  • All you have to take is your student pass, your passport and your proof of address (which can be obtained at the Utown management office).  

Talk to FRANK and they’ll sort you out within the hour – no delivery or pick up required!

**Bring your headphones or a friend to help pass the time and you’ll be set up with a local bank account and debit card all within the same hour!

4. Post (Purchase Problems)

When ordering your procrastination purchases online, just note that you need to be at your accommodation to collect ALL your post because (for some bizarre reason) the management office rejects ALL parcels…

**Top tip: state on your order that you need to be contacted for collection, in order to save yourself the stress and hassle of paying the postage fee more times than you need to!

Till next time…

Touchdown in Singapore

By Harry Forster, National University of Singapore

I touchdown in Singapore sleep deprived and baggage-less after taking 2 connections, 3 planes and visiting 4 airports all within the space of 20 hours… not the most ideal way to be starting your year abroad!

Jewel Changi Airport – for those that don’t know it’s the world’s largest indoor waterfall which is surrounded by a tropical forest!

After a lengthy queue at immigration and a long exchange with the lost luggage services, I slowly start to question Changi airport’s reputation for being the best airport in the world…

Then, as I start making my way out of the airport I get a glimpse of what I thought might be the famous Jewel Changi… then I realised I’ve come to the right place!

All in all, I probably spent over 2 hours in this airport! (and could have spent even longer in there)

Step 2: Find Utown

The next obstacle was locating my student accommodation and I had two choices from Changi:

The first option was to grab a taxi that costs about S$30 ≈ £18, and the other alternative was to get the MRT (train) across Singapore that costs less than S$2.

Despite the MRT’s efficiency and affordability (just like in the UK… ha) a 30 minute taxi drive takes nearly 1h 30 by MRT. And because of my hectic arrival experience I decided to opt for a taxi for ease and comfort – this turned out to be a smart decision as the nearest MRT station is a 15 minute bus ride from the accommodation.

*my advice would be to get a Grab (Asian Uber) as it’s much cheaper than your standard airport taxi plus you’ll get your first proper feel of the Singaporean cityscape

Meeting Flatmates & the ‘Welcome Party’

The first people I met and the first friends I made were my flatmates Jaehan and Seung su who are both from Seoul in South Korea (later I met Dongwon who I’m also sharing with and is also from South Korea)… as you can probably guess there’s a lot of Korean students at NUS!

FYI: In Utown everyone shares a 4-bed apartment within one of the two tower blocks. I would highly recommend choosing Utown and a room with air con if you don’t like waking up soaking wet everyday (I’m speaking from personal experience).

Then pretty much straight away everyone went to the Utown residence welcome party. Rather than the typical freshers events in the UK, in Singapore I’ve come to realise that there is clearly some cultural difference over the phrase ‘welcome party’. Here we had a series of talks about the residence including a lot on health and safety – which is important don’t get me wrong, but just wasn’t what I first had in mind.

However, it was a great party in terms of meeting other exchangers and we all bonded over what ‘welcome parties’ we have back at home! From the intel I gathered the UK’s welcome events seem to involve the most alcohol which wasn’t much of a shock to anyone…

Top tip before arriving

I highly recommend getting any medical check-ups and vaccinations back in the UK as a lot of the free services back at home definitely aren’t free over here…

Singapore’s healthcare is super expensive as you’d probably expect. However, speaking from experience it takes you to the point where you actually consider keeping your money rather than your health.

Till next time…