Report from Tomorrow - Vol 9

1USD = S$1.60 (S$1 = 0.63USD)


This topic could probably go on for pages, so rather than be complete, let me try to give you a sense of prices. You already know housing and cars are out of sight and public transportation is a bargain. The cost of other things can vary lots - depending on where you buy it - as anywhere.

I'm hardly qualified to talk about the cost of food. Mary will attest to my complete lack of qualification in this area, but that won't stop me. Eating out varies from a typical "hawker" stand in the street or in a food court, where meal costs S$3 to S$25+ for a western meal at Chilli's (yes, the US chain). The standard MacDonalds, KFC or Burger King meals are S$5-$6. I'm very sure you can spend far more than this without trying, but this is the range we've encountered thus far.

Prices of things at a grocery store (Cold Storage - the name of the store) don't seem so out of line for many things. Western brands are available, as well as Asian versions of the same. Popcorn (a staple at our place) is S$2.80 a kilo. Canned pop is S$0.50 a can in the store and S$1-$1.50 at eating places, stands, vending machines etc. I'll say food in general at the local Cold Storage is more expensive than in Ann Arbor (which was more expensive than in Minnesota), but not buy a huge amount.One exception to this is beef. Australian hamburger costs S$15-20/kilo and steak is lots and lots more expensive. We eat a lot of chicken :-)

There are wide variety of fresh fruit juices to drink at all the food places, usually costing S$0.80-S$1.00 a glass. The variety is pretty amazing, from sugar cane (take a hunk of cane sugar from the field and run it through a ringer), to coconut, kiwi, banana, pineapple etc etc. Just take some fruit, puree it and pour it in a glass of ice water. Some are pretty good, but others sound better than they taste. I'm much less enamored with coconut than I used to be.

There is little support from the government for health care. The policies offered by companies for the people are not very good, I'm told. No dentist insurance. It's mostly privately funded. Having a baby? Better save up. Need dental work, open your checkbook or use your NETS card.

And the cost of Medical care here is astronomical. An ex-pat here paid S$500 to have a check-up and his teeth cleaned. I have to hope this was just cause he had a very expensive dentist who caters to the ex-pat community. How can it cost S$500? Having a baby will run S$10,000 if all goes well. We have friends with small children and they often pay S$100-S$200 for an office visit. We had our 2nd hepatitis shots and that cost S$75 each (3rd to come in 6 months) which we thought was fair enough.

Internet access costs S$25 for 25 hours a week (S$100 for unlimited access). Phones cost S$100 to be installed and then each minute costs S$0.016 (or something like that), less in the evening. So calls are pretty cheap, unless you are connected to the Internet for hours at a time. I've signed up with (local telephone company) and calls to them are free. So the net of all this is that you pay for what you use - which for us is a trivial amount since most phone calls are for Internet access.

Our gas (for cooking) and electricity bills run S$75-100 per month. Of course we don't have a very large heating bill :-)

Long distance phone calls costs S$1/minute to the US and S$3/minute to The Gambia when we call Micah. Collect calls from the US cost S$25/3 minutes, so you should not be surprised when we refuse your call. We've signed up for a "callback" service. We call a number in the US, let it ring once, and hang up. A minute later we get a call from the US with US dial tone. We can then call anyplace in the US for 0.37USD/minute or overseas. We can call Micah for 0.70USD/minute this way.

The cost of clothes seems to be cheaper than in the US. This is pretty hard to measure since we can seldom make direct comparisons. For instance, I bought a dress shirt here of some no-name brand. It's thin (good here, bad at home), but seems to be standing up to wear and wash - cost S$12. I don't think you can buy a tee-shirt in the US for that. Of course I can go to a major shopping area and buy similar shirts for $S50-100. I've also picked up bermuda shorts here (again thin, good) for about S$20.

Shoes are a surprise. With these one can make more direct price comparisons. They are clearly cheaper here than in the US. Name brand shoes (Air Jordans, Nike whateveritis) will cost the same in Sing dollars as in US dollars (e.g. S$100 here, $100USD there). Of course most of them are made right around here.

I bought a pair of sandals for some outdoor activity, so we went looking for Tevas which we found for S$70-80. I settled for some Italian made sandals that have worked out very well - S$30.

Some manufactured goods are amazingly cheap. We decided we needed a stapler, so we went to the local stationary store and I expected to pay at east S$5, but ended up paying S$1.50. Mary just bought a very high quality shopping cart (with wheels) for S$12. I know ONE wheel for this would cost $10USD at home.

Not everything is cheaper, of course. Wine and beer are a real shocker - because of the taxes. A can of ordinary beer at Cold Storage is $S2.30 or so. The 'good' stuff (Guinness for example) is S$5/can. (I have to qualify Guinness as good - I hate the stuff, myself, but given where we are, Guinness is popular here.) Wine prices are a shock too. S$15/bottle for the cheapest to be found. Hard liquor prices range from S$50-200 a bottle (since we don't use any hard liquor, I don't really know what it costs anywhere).

Buying alcohol at a restaurant is at least twice as expensive as from the store - S$5-10 for a bottle of local brew. Wine is similarly priced. I was out last night with some guys and we paid S$14 for a pint of Killian's Red - it was good, though :-)

So, as with any place, prices will vary based on what you buy and where. We can eat for S$6 for two or spend S$50 or more (we've done both). Comparisons are difficult and in the end, not too meaningful. Life costs what it costs.