We may be required to live all over the world to practice our craft. While this is often exciting and interesting, it can strain our relationships and challenge us emotionally. Below are some resources to make the transition easier.
Travel and Relocation
Know this information BEFORE you hit the American Express window.
Great Advice from People Who Have Been There
From time to time, our members will post on their blogs, or send us emails, about their experiences living in whatever city they are currently working in. While this information is not necessarily the definitive travel and relocation information (and we cannot independently vouch for its accuracy, as it is one person’s own experiences and opinions), it is certainly helpful if you find that you will be working outside of your home town in a foreign place. This is true if you are a stranger in Beijing, Mumbai, Vancouver, London, New York or Hollywood. We encourage our members to submit their material to us for posting on this site.
Here’s a blog entry from VES Member Dayne Cowan, currently working in Beijing:
Here’s some info from VES Member Dayne Cowan on living and working in Singapore:
In general the VFX industry is small, but steadily growing. Dneg and Lucas are the major players, but there are a lot of smaller local companies like Infinite Studios or VHQ who are rapidly developing.
My own example is going to become more typical – those people who have their families and main company based in Singapore, but work around the region (China, India, Korea, Malaysia, etc). A lot of people want a deal in Singapore because of many of the reasons below, and because it is “Asia 101”, very westernised.
Cost of Living
- Singapore is not cheap – it is the “Monaco” of SE Asia. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Over 2 years, we have found the general costs on par with living in London.
- Ex-pat’s used to get offered 2 year deals that included the company paying for rent, bills, school fees, etc, but this is increasingly rare. At the very least, you should try to negotiate the company covering the cost of relocation (removalists, shipping) and possibly flights, but every deal will be different.
- Always a popular topic, and I only bring it up because it can still take people by surprise.. it is constantly hot and very very humid. Singapore is almost right on the equator. You will sweat – a lot. A short walk is like taking a bath. Even with air con in your condo, you will get problems with mould and moisture affecting things like books and computers.
- It goes from bright sun to rain almost every day, with huge thunderstorms in the two wet seasons (and almost every day in between to be honest). It makes for good entertainment.
- It is an outstanding place for those with young families. Almost no crime, incredibly safe for kids, and most attractions (like Sentosa Island) are totally geared towards families.
- On the downside, it is a small place and you will have seen it all in 2 years, if not before. I’d say it is also a little stifling for teenagers.
- No drugs allowed – death penalty, so whatever you do, don’t get ever get involved and that goes for nearly all of SE Asia.
- There are lots of great nature reserves (it has one of the only primary rainforest areas still existing in a major city), and they are full of wildlife – monkeys, hornbills, etc.
- Taxis are cheap – you can cross the whole island for SGD $40, and most fare cost around 10-16. Taxis are hard to find at certain points in the day (4pm, after 10pm).
- There are iPhone/Android apps to help you call and pre-book them. You’ll need it to get one most of the time – everyone uses the app.
- Buses are dirt cheap and quite good, and the subway system (MRT) is cheap and excellent, although the locals would disagree.. it costs me SGD $1.50 to get all the way in to town (that would be a $15 cab fare)
- Cars are prohibitive.. You need to buy a sort of “licence to buy a car” and that costs roughly $100K. After 10 years, the car gets scrapped – they don’t allow old cars on the road. Running costs are also crazy, and to be honest you don’t need one – where would you drive to, apart from Malaysia ?
- General restaurants cost about SGD $50-150 for 2-3 people
- Alcohol is almost prohibitively expensive.. purposefully so, a move by the govt. An average bottle of Californian wine costs about SGD $50. Spirits are even more. Only the local beer (Tiger) is fairly cheap.
- Weekly food shopping costs about SGD $100-200 for a family of 3. If you eat like you do at home in the UK/US (wine, cheese, hams, American branded products) it could cost slightly more.
- If you eat like a local at the food courts and hawker centres, it can cost a lot less (lunch at those costs SGD $3, and is very good). On average, I spend SGD $15 on western style lunches (Subway, etc) whilst my wife always uses the hawker centres and spends about $15 per week!
- There are many local schools, but not many ex-pat kids tend to go to them, as they teach in quite a different style and often many of the classes are taught in Mandarin. Memorisation and learning by rote are common; free thinking is not really encouraged! 😉
- Most ex-pat kids go to the one of the many International schools. The British schools are notoriously difficult to get in to, and many of the international schools have waiting lists. Having said that, a lot of people come and go every 2 years so places open up. Always look in to availability well in advance of moving, not doing this has caught a few of my friends out.
- Cost of schooling is the same as a typical London private school.. around SGD $ 28K
- Quality of the schooling varies from OK to excellent.
- Most people move into a condo, which costs SGD $3K-10K per month in rent. (everything is quoted per month, even salaries)
- 10K gives you a pretty outstanding place, more typical is the 4-6K range for a very good condo with a lot of space, pool, tennis courts, etc.
- All rental contracts are 2 years long, and there are substantial penalties for leaving in the first year, much less so after that.
- Highest bills are for electricity and gas, which can go up if you overuse the air conditioning! Expect SGD $100-500 per month
- Note that you will need several thousand dollars in deposits for both the condo and the bills on arrival.
- Buying is very expensive.. Expect a basic condo to start around SGD $1 million. Note that only Singapore citizens can buy land.
- Foreign salaries range from SGD $8K-$20K per month. Salaries for locals are SGD $2K-$10K per month (worth being aware – although I wouldn’t publicise this)
- This is crazy low in Singapore, one of the big benefits. You pay it once a year (keep money aside from your monthly salary).
- First year is around 3-4% and usually around 6-8% thereafter.
- There is no capital gains tax or inheritance tax
- There are reciprocal tax arrangements with the UK, so you don’t pay double tax, but you may have to with the US. Need to check on that.
- There is no public health cover in Singapore, which is no surprise to guys from the US, but a big shock to those from Australia or the UK!
- A good plan can cost around $12K per year for a family of 3. It costs less if you are PR (see below)
- Most people will come on an “employment pass” (EP), which means the company sponsors you.
- If you want to work for various companies, you will need a “Personal employment pass (PEP), which allows you to change employer, but is a non-renewable visa, good for 3 years. Check the Ministry of Manpower site (MOM) for more specifics: www.mom.gov.sg
- You can apply for Permanent Residency (PR) after 6 months, but it requires a ton of paperwork (including your parent’s work history / CVs!!) and takes 4 month to 2 years to process. It’s a bit like gold once you get it, as the govt are reducing intake.
- Big flashing note – if you do get PR, then your son(s) will have to do 18 months of National Service in the army when they turn 18, and 3 weeks training every year until they turn 40.
Like work permits and visas, the tax laws and tax burdens of each country differ. The VES cannot offer you tax advice, and we urge you to consult with an accountant, but we provide this basic guide to get you started. Keep in mind that in many countries, lower income tax rates are offset by high value added taxes (essentially, a national sales tax).
Some states and foreign countries, as we all know, offer incentives to companies locating work there. Here is a good basic guide to tax incentives.
- Get the US government forms you need to get a passport and start the application process. You can get a passport application at a US post office or download passport application forms.
- Follow the instructions on pages one and two. Print (if you downloaded) and complete page three and print (if you downloaded) and read page four. If printing, note this advice from the government: “The forms…must be printed in black print on white paper. The paper must be 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches, with no holes or perforations, at least medium (20 lb.) weight, and with a matte surface. Thermal paper, dye-sublimation paper, special inkjet paper, and other shiny papers are not acceptable.”
- Gather proof of U.S. citizenship in the form of any one of the following, according to the US Department of State:
- Certified U.S. birth certificate issued by the city, county or state (not a copy – call the government of the state in which you were born to get an official version with a notary’s seal. Know that the birth certificate must list the full name()s of your parent(s). Learn how to get a passport if you don’t have a birth certificate.
- Records of birth abroad
- Naturalization certificate
- Certificate of citizenship
- Be prepared to prove your identity with any one of these:
- Previous US passport (altered or damaged passports are not okay)
- Naturalization certificate
- Certificate of citizenship
- Current, valid:
- Driver’s license
- Government ID: city, state or federal
- Military ID: military and dependents
- Get two photos taken. In photos, wear your normal, everyday clothes (no uniforms) and nothing on your head. If you usually wear glasses or other items that alter your appearance, wear them. Get US passport photos taken at the post office — they’ll know the drill and requirements. If you get passport photos taken elsewhere, read up first on passport photo requirements.
- If you don’t have your Social Security number memorized, write it down and add it to the materials you’ve assembled — you’ll need it at the time of passport application.
- Prepare to pay the application and execution fees; get those dollar amounts online as they change periodically (for example, in February, 2008, passport fees went from $97 to $100; in July 2010, passport fees went to $110 plus $25). For an extra $60 plus overnight fees, you can get a passport fast (more on rush time frames in Step 8). Check with the location where you’ll be applying to find what payment methods are accepted.
- Get a passport! Find the passport office location nearest you (might just be the post office). Provide your departure date and expect to receive your US passport in two weeks to two months. For an additional fee of $60 plus overnight delivery fees, you can rush a US passport application, and youmay even be able to get a US passport on the same day that you apply. Learn more about rushing a US passport application — you don’t have to pay a passport expediting agency.
- Check your application’s status: beginning about a week after you submit your application, you cancheck your application’s status online to see when your passport might arrive — learn more.
- The US passport fee is $110 (plus $25 fee) if you are over 18, and the new US passport is good for ten years.
- The US passport fee is $80 (plus $25 fee) if you are under 16, and the new passport is good for five years.
- Some countries require that your passport be valid for a six month period after you leave that country for return to the US.
- Remember that you need a passport or other WHTI-compliant document to travel back to the US from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda. (Learn what WHTI-compliant means.)
- Leave a copy of your passport at home, and email a copy to yourself with other important travel documents. Learn how and why to email yourself travel documents.
What You Need
- Passport application forms
- Proof of U.S. citizenship
- Proof of your identity
- Two current photographs
- Your social security number
- Applicable fee payment method