Homeless in Canada/ A Success in Singapore


by E.J.

I’ve been reading with interest your series on people who left North America for a better life elsewhere. I’m one of them.

In Canada, I graduated with a business degree from University of Toronto, saw guys who proudly wore their Masonic rings with only history degrees get jobs as bond analysts. Other guys who actually grappled with the math behind bond analysis were not even considered.

I knew the score when I saw the PhD candidate who used to mark my term papers putting prices on vitamin bottles at a health food store. He too was neither well connected, nor eligible for affirmative action.

After going through near homelessness two times in the first seven years after graduating, I started a new career as a writer and analyst, first in Taiwan, later Philippines, and finally Singapore, where I permanently settled.

Whereas before I got the ‘overqualified/underexperienced’ canard in Canada, suddenly my skills were in demand.

In Canada, I could send out 500 CVs without a response; in Asia, it rarely took more than a few weeks to an interview. Sometimes, I was even cold called to come in. I heard even more examples of this from British, Danish, Australian and New Zealand friends of mine, some of whom actually endured homelessness before finding prosperity abroad.

Despite being a foreigner in Asia, I never endured the ironic oddity of being well educated, yet wondering how I would pay rent or the bills the way I did in Canada.


My Ex-Pat friends from Britain, Australian, and New Zealand often talk about how we paid more taxes in a few months at home than we do in one of year of living here, yet Singapore somehow finds the money to constantly build new subways, new roads and pick up the garbage every day (in Toronto, they pick it up once a week).

This is also true throughout the region, not just Singapore. How we can pay so much more tax money to Canada and they can’t even afford to build a new subway line every 10 years or find money to keep the libraries open?

Like other expatriates in your articles, I accept that citizens born here get breaks in everything from subsidies to taxes and education costs not available to non-citizens. I do not consider this at all unfair; in fact, I don’t understand why Canada and the US find such a natural concept so hard to swallow.

In Singapore, so long as you work at any job, the system is set up so that everything from your mortgage to retirement funds to major health expenses can be financed out of your mandatory retirement savings, which equal approximately a third of your earnings.

This means that as long as you buy a home within your income band, the entire mortgage payment can be financed out of your retirement fund contribution Рnot your disposable income. Set it up right and after your mortgage payment,  you will still have retirement fund cash to spare for your retirement and healthcare fund, should you get seriously ill.

It also means that if you lose your job tomorrow, provided, you’ve worked steadily, you can finance the monthly mortgage payments for years out of your accumulated retirement savings without ever having to open up your actual wallet.

The entire system is 100% self-financing and makes welfare and social support programs unnecessary. It is by no means a state secret so I have no idea why the west never touches this brilliant scheme, let alone speaks of it.

Crime exists but tends to be petty and low level. In Singapore, a foreigner is much more likely to be quoted an outrageous price for an apartment rental, electronic goods than to be mugged. Last year, a smart-ass, 30 year old Swiss punk was caught defacing a subway train with spray paint. He was given 4 and a half months in jail and caned four times.

And there are benefits to such strictness: When I was sick in Toronto, I would not let my girlfriend go out to the all-night drug store to get me medicine. Here, I’m really not worried about my wife walking out at night.


Socially, my wife and I find ourselves part of a larger network of both locals and expatriates who have lived overseas.

That’s another thing about Singapore: Compared to Canada or the United States, it controls its immigration tightly. Now, here’s the strange part: Canada’s immigration form goes on for something like sixty pages, yet a lot of unskilled people get in, many illegally.

Singapore’s permanent residence application form is only four pages of double-sided paper, yet it is a lot stricter: You can’t even apply unless you are already working here (and therefore, an asset to the economy) have established a viable business here, or considerable wealth to contribute.

Singapore initially only gives you a work visa, not permanent residence. You only can apply for permanent residence after working here for a few years. Unless you are running your own business, the permanent residence application has to be signed by your employer and it is by no means guaranteed you will receive it.

Singapore is not perfect. In the last five years, they let in too many people too quickly, causing real estate prices to more than double in just seven years. Now the government is scrambling to build 3 transit lines and a new highway in ten years (though the traffic and immigration is well under control compared to say, Toronto). They are also making it harder to get permanent residency or a work visa, as they now understand that with its limited land space, Singapore can only hold so many people.

Singapore is not for everyone. If you’re here to be sleazy or have a decadent time on the cheap, you have better options in other parts of Asia. If you have an illegal drug habit, the customs form informs you that you could hang for it in this country, so you have been warned. Personally, I’m attracted to strong law and order but apparently, it is not for everyone.

Peoples’ manners are rougher than in the west. There are social tensions between educated and uneducated, rich and poor. If you tell an average Singaporean about the street beggars or unemployment in the west, he will not believe it: Many do not know how good they have it and still think that the streets are paved with gold in the West.

They have no idea that the average westerner in a condo of 1,000 square feet or less cannot afford to keep a maid the way Singaporeans typically do. But having said that, for us, the good has far outweighed the bad.

I thank my lucky stars for the day I left Canada. Everything from my income level to economic security, to the work opportunities I’ve enjoyed hinged on that¬† fortunate decision to leave Canada.


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