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Expat bankers feel stuck in Singapore as Covid ravages home countries

Singapore’s success in handling the pandemic is encouraging expat bankers from the US and Europe to remain based in the city state and enjoy lockdown-free life. But some foreigners are growing frustrated by Singapore’s tight travel restrictions, which make it hard for them to make short-term trips to their home countries. The Republic has suffered only 29 Covid deaths and much of the economy has reopened.

“Many expats have decided to prolong their stints here because the Covid situation is out of control in the US and Europe,” says a Portuguese ECM banker from a global bank in Singapore. “Portugal is one of the hardest-hit countries at the moment. If I go home, I’ll have to not only deal with uncertainty regarding lockdowns – a new lockdown started last week and will last until the end of March – but I’ll also have trouble finding a job because of the local economic recession. I have a few expat friends from other European countries who find themselves in the same situation,” he adds.

What a difference a year makes. Many young single expats left Singapore during the early stages of the pandemic – the country was briefly a global hotspot for the virus in Q1 last year – to be closer to family and to avoid potentially being under lockdown alone, says David Francis, a financial advisor to expats. “Some have come to regret this as it’s proven extremely difficult to return,” he adds.

As part of wide-ranging restrictions on overseas travel, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower will only allow employment pass holders and their dependents to re-enter Singapore if their employers have obtained prior approval from the ministry. This approval, anecdotally at least, can take a long time as Singapore looks to stem the flow of arrivals from Covid-hit countries.

“If you want to or have to leave Singapore for whatever reason, you may not be able to come back in a timely manner,” says a senior British technologist from a US bank. “I have friends who’ve had to miss their parents’ funerals. Others who left then got stuck for months before securing permission to return,” he adds.

Uncertainty about re-entering Singapore is deterring a lot of expats from going home to visit their families, says the Portuguese banker. “I haven’t been home for more than 18 months, which gets more and more tiresome as time passes,” says the banker. “The border restrictions for employment pass holders are creating tension for some expats. Friends who decided to risk a home visit have had to wait two or three months to get an authorisation to enter the country again,” he adds.

While some European expats feel stranded in Singapore, they are enjoying freedom of movement within the island that would be unimaginable in their home countries. Under Phase 3 of Singapore’s reopening plan, which came into force on December 28, social gatherings of up to eight people are allowed. Most shops, services and eateries are open with social distancing measures in place. “Singapore is doing much better than most of the rest of the world in its response to the pandemic,” says the banker.

“I’m not a young person and suffer from chronic asthma, so from a health perspective I’m very fortunate to be out here,” says Francis, who is from Britain. The UK has 1,565 Covid deaths per million people; Singapore has five per million. “The government has rebooted my respect for them due to the way they’ve communicated their Covid messages and dealt with the situation overall,” he adds.

Photo by Rayson Tan on Unsplash

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Email: or Telegram: @simonmortlock. You can also follow me on LinkedIn.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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