Moving abroad can feel like falling into the Catch-22 mechanism where every incremental step forwards relies on something unattainable.
Take my case, for example. I arrived in Singapore with an IPA (that’s an In Principle Approval letter). That’s enough to get you in to work, with an understanding that you’ll obtain the Employment Pass (EP) soon after from the Orwellian-sounding Ministry of Manpower (or MoM as it’s well known).
To get your EP, you need a health check. After a gruelling 5hrs spent queuing in an Argos style ticket system, I finally had my X-Ray, blood sample for an HIV test and quick consultation with the doctor.
Next on our list was having working phones with data. Easy enough, we thought. Just pop into a phone shop and buy a SIM card. Wrong. For a SIM, you need your passport and IPA letter, neither of which we had on us.
Take 2: we went to SingTel again and this time were able to purchase two monthly bundles of data. But, the helpful man at the store could not also sell us credit. So, we had to make a trip to 7-11 to buy top-ups in order to send and receive calls and texts from our local friends which seemed a little ridiculous.
Our next priority was finding somewhere to live. After some online hunting and viewings on my days off, Tom and I put in an offer for an apartment. The agent and landlords wanted to see my EP, which I explained was still pending. Tom was still job hunting, so we avoided the conversation slightly by saying we were happy for the tenancy agreement to be drawn up in my name, along with the utility bills. So far, still manageable.
Paying the 3 months deposit was a little more cumbersome. Lloyds Bank’s website crashed for 48hrs which was convenient. Then, using our UK online banking, we hit a rather big hurdle as for any new payee the bank requires verification by calling your registered number. This was my UK mobile number, so I switched sims and waited for the call. Only it never rang. I’d ended my contract and had no credit to receive an international call. Luckily, Tom was able to sort it using his so it meant a quick transfer between us. The landlord withheld the keys until payment was received a few days later, just in time for us to move out on my day off from our AirBnB. Phew.
So we’ve now moved into our new place, and as my pay day is coming up, I need to open a bank account. I failed the first attempt as the bank said they needed my tenancy agreement, even though the website said otherwise. Some of my colleagues were rejected on the grounds that they didn’t have their EP’s yet. Luckily, DBS allowed me to open an account with my IPA, and I also had to supply my tenancy agreement, passport and my National Insurance number from back home. That was a big relief.
Then comes the exceptionally tricky part.
To get a phone contract, you must have an EP or pay a huge S$500-800 deposit. This isn’t something I can do before being paid. To get wifi in the flat, you need an EP too. So that means no catching up on Sherlock or Skyping those back home.
So where is my EP? MoM have not sent my card out yet, despite me sending everything across weeks ago. Chinese New Year means longer delays, and I suspect there may be a larger influx of expats at the start of the year due to employment cycles.
It’s been a fun first month despite all the kerfuffle of ‘officially’ setting in. Coming back to Singapore is like coming home – it’s familiar after living here in 2013 and we have lots of friends to visit. We’ve also made new expat acquaintances and enjoyed calling at our old haunts as well as exploring new places and trying new dishes at the hawker centres.
For now, all we can do is wait. And try not to come across a Sherlock spoiler!