Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Retirement in Canada vs Singapore - A personal experience.

Prior to my retirement, I was rather apprehensive as most stories I have heard about retirement were depressing, i.e. inadequate retirement fund,  raising health care cost, being subjected to the mercy of uncaring nursing homes, lack of companionship, diminishing respect from others, difficulties adjusting to lower standard of living, etc., etc.

As if these were not enough anxieties, in 2002, then PM  Goh Chok Tong labelled us who have immigrated as quitters and losers. We were looked upon as traitors and most Singaporeans hope that we would rot as second-class citizens in foreign lands and not to be welcomed back. It was not the kind of lifestyle anybody would look forward to with enthusiasm.

At 64 years, I was one of the oldest member of the ceremonial dragon boat team for the Winter Olympics Games.
It has been eight years since I have retired. Fortunately, to my pleasant surprise, I discovered that retirement is not as bad as I was lead to believe if a person is prepared to live within his means and be adaptable to prevailing situations. In fact, it is fun and enjoyable. I wished that I had retired earlier and enjoyed more of this carefree quality life style instead of pursuing a meaningless life style of a relentless search for money and status at all cost.  In retrospect it was indeed a  waste of valuable time. Most of us are blinded by greed to understand what is enough is enough. It is an irony to keep pursuing more money than we need instead of enjoying what we already have.

In a materialistic society,  the maxim is to amass millions upon millions of dollars in order to command respect and to achieve quality lifestyle. However from my experience I realized how misguided we are to believe such a self destructive theory.  We have only one life and we must learn to live it right - not only for ourselves but more importantly for our children.

My wife and I are living a meaningful and eco-friendly lifestyle on a frugal budget. We built our own environmental friendly retirement home with a budget of less than the price of a 4-room HDB apartment.  In our mid sixties, we are proud that we live independently and do all our house chores without hired help (no part-time or full time maid) . It is nothing to be ashamed of. We drive, do our laundry, cook our meals, attend to our vegetables, fish and catch crabs, maintain and clean our modest house, do volunteer work at the hospital, regular potluck fellowship with friends/ relatives at our homes, practice tai-chi, dragon boat paddling, drawing and writing, go on vacations, etc.  What else can we wish for?

Mr. Thye Wong, a Colombo Plan Scholar and a personal friend of mine, also immigrated to Canada to enjoy a peaceful and meaningful life.

We managed this quality lifestyle on a monthly budget of between C$1,500 to C$2,000 excluding housing mortgage or car loans that are fully paid. For Canadians who are 65 years or older with little or no income, the Canadian government provides monthly Old Age Pension of about C$530 plus Guarantee Income Supplement of about C$750 per person. A retired couple would get a combined monthly income of C$2,560. In addition, they are given free medical, subsidized transportation ($36 for a one year unlimited ride pass) and free ferry rides. With the government Old Age Pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement most retirees have enough to retire comfortably and with the peace of mind that they would not be bankrupted by serious illnesses, chronic diseases or accidents. Not all Canadians depend on the government pensions as most Canadians have their private retirement insurance, other incomes and companies retirement benefits that provide better alternatives .

Breakdown of my monthly expenses:
1. $400 for grocery (much less if we grow our own vegetable and catch our own fish)
2. $100 for TV and internet cable,
3. $100 to $200 for petrol and maintenance (almost zero if we take public transportation)
4. $70 to $100 for two mobile phones.
5. $102 for medical insurance.
6. $50 for utilities, i.e. gas and electricity (water is free)
7. $200 to $300 for entertainment (occasional movies, restaurant meals, etc)
8. $300 for property tax.
9. $500 to $1,000 budget set aside for miscellaneous and  vacations 
    (there are lots of special last minute budget tours for retirees, i.e. $400 for 7 days Alaska
     cruise, $650 for 7 days Hawaiian or Caribbean tours inclusive of airfare and hotels, etc.)

Total estimated budget for my wife and myself is between $1,500 to $2,500 a month. A retired couple can survive decently with $1,000 or less a month. Life, especially during retirement, should be enjoyed with dignity and fulfillment and not constantly hovering at the poverty line.

Can this kind of budget quality retirement lifestyle be duplicated in Singapore since it is ranked as one of the best place to live on Planet Earth?

Singaporeans could but they would not.

For the rich elite class that constitute about 20% of the population, they have the financial resources to do whatever they want. However, in a materialistic society like Singapore that focus highly on prestige and public image, it will be politically and socially incorrect to be seen growing vegetables in your garden, cooking your meals, doing household chores or washing your own car, etc. Any such actions will be breaking news in the community. Public image will sink to new lows for those who do it.  Instead of getting the required daily exercise doing household chores, the rich prefer to have maids to do the job and then get their exercise in expensive health clubs or with personal trainers. Apparently public image and prestige are more important than practicality and common sense.

For the rich, living in a house not in keeping with their perceived wealth, going on budget vacations or tours or driving inexpensively priced cars is not an option for the sake of preserving their public image. Many Singaporeans are living beyond their means just to keep up with the status conscious society.

Singaporeans are pushed to the edge like zombies in this increasingly mad society. The poor will try to act like middle class, the middle class will try to act like the elite, the elite will try to act like the super elite - the politically powerful inner circle. Many are stressed out working 12 hours or more a day in order to keep pace with their perceived public images. Some hardly having time for their spouses, children, extended families, relatives or friends.

With the government leaders unilaterally drawing obscenely high salaries and bonuses, the society is geared towards an insane materialistic competition. There is no end in sight for these stressful social behavior .

How do you explain wealthy seniors, especially politicians, who should be enjoying their retirement  but instead are appointed board directors to as much as ten or more companies  or special advisers just to preserve their public image with the perception of importance?

Singaporeans are remarkably brand conscious and it is a necessity for them to be seen with designers' bags or branded goods that cost more than the salaries of ordinary citizens so as not to be viewed negatively.  Apparently social status is measured by dollars, not sense.

How do the middle class and the less privilege citizens retire with peace of mind given the kind of materialistic mentality engrained in the society?

The government must have the answers since the country consistently achieves a wide spread of world rankings, i.e. best healthcare, best education system, best law and order, best welfare, best housing, least corrupted country, per capita income of $62,000 ranked 5th in the world vs Canada that ranked 22nd in the world with per capita income of $39,400, etc. These world rankings cover all the necessary conditions to provide every citizen with a decent retirement.

Mr. Kishore Mahbubani , dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policies, claimed that "there are no homeless, destitute or starving people in Singapore. Poverty has been eradicated."
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said,  “Nobody will be left behind.”

MM Lee Kuan Yew said, “You go down New York, Broadway. You will see the beggars, people of the streets…Where are the beggars in Singapore? Show me.”

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s speech in parliament, March 2007:
“That allows me to say with a clear conscience to both the PAP and the Opposition MPs that nobody in Singapore needs to starve, nobody needs to be deprived of healthcare, and nobody needs to be deprived of a roof over his or her head. If someone indeed is so destitute and is starving, we have other means and other safety nets for them. ”
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has claimed that Singapore has achieved Swiss standard of living years ahead of schedule.
With so much assurances, the citizens of Singapore showed confidence in the sitting government by voting in the same party for another term.  These leaders are the highest paid politicians in the world and should have solutions to the retirement issue.  Personally, I am a simple retiree who is very grateful and satisfied with my kampong style retirement even though Canada is far behind Singapore in world rankings.

ESM Goh may mocked at farmers about their lack of understanding about quality lifestyle. With the turmoil in the global financial crisis, it may be those people who live on nature and land be the only human beings left to enjoy quality lifestyle.

I am not embarrassed to work with my hands nor am I ashamed that I was expelled from school and raised by a single parent in the slums of Chinatown in Singapore. Canada has provided me with a level playing field. It would be impossible for me to have a decent retirement if I am not a 'quitter'.

The view from my window looking at the peaceful and serene bay leading to the Pacific Ocean.
I built this house for less than the price of a 4 room HDB. You don't need the obscene salaries of $millions
to be happy and enjoy a meaningful retirement lifestyle.

The End.


  1. i am full of envy. how much is the initial startup cost needed to emigrate to Canada?

  2. Seems fun. Is there a Singaporean community in where u reside in?

    I'm surprised you are able to grow vegetable in Canada's climate.

  3. @Elaine,
    You must be living in a shell to think that nothing could grow in Canada. We do not live in Igloo or dressed like Eskimos. Hahaha!

    Please google and find out about Canada's weather and the kind of vegetable and fruits grown. 10% of the world forest are in Canada.

    We have the best Chinese food and restaurants available.

    Thanks for checking.

  4. Hey Cheong,
    Good to hear you make it in Canada.Read your profile "about me" no offense with your background you're goner here.I should had migrate earlier.Enjoyed your blog.keep it coming.
    Thanks bro.

  5. Hi Mr Cheong, I am also a Singaporean who is also very interested to live, work and retired in Canada. Any tips u can share with me?

  6. For tips regarding emigrating to Canada, please refer to an earlier article I wrote in this blog. I believe it was posted about a month ago. Go check and you should find it.

  7. Am currently an Sg-ian studying in Canada,

    You certainly make many valid points, however there are multiple constraints with regards to managing a small country as opposed to Canada.

    Nonetheless, I agree that more should be done to improve public welfare, working lifestyle as well as retirement options in Singapore.

    Ultimately, I believe it boils down to what an individual wants, someone who measures success through the amount of money he/she earns wouldn't be happy in Canada with the kind of taxes they levy on the citizens.

  8. @Sg-ian,
    It is a misconception that Canadians pay more taxes than Singaporeans. Please read my article in this blog - Income tax - Canada vs Singapore.
    Although SG appears to have a much lower initial income tax but when all the hidden taxes like levy on cars, maids, housing, road tax,are taken into consideration, the Canadians are ahead with more savings.
    An acid tax is when you compared a Canadian and a Singaporean both earning the same salary and with the same standard of living, i.e. with a car, a house, retirement benefits, healthcare, etc. you will come to a conclusion that the Canadian is better off when he retires. However if the Singaporean is prepared to work 15 hours a day vs a Canadian who is only prepared to work 7 hours a day, then money wise, the Singaporean will be ahead.... but at the expense of his health.

  9. If you have not manage/plan properly....
    no retirement in Singapore, after 40 year old, you
    hardly get employment. To work after 50 or 60...
    at McDonald as cleaner or in Kopitiam.... or wait,
    coffeshop (kopitiam)jobs are taken by China
    Foreign Talents. Probably got to go pick some
    used cartons/old drink cans from waste bin.

  10. yeah definitly, maybe I did not make it clear enough in the previous post, I saw an article somewhere else where they compare everything (i.e. insurance, health car, cars, etc) and come to the conclusion that living and working in canada will result in higher disposable income.

    That said, with the higher raw tax rates, it is sometimes a turn off for asians that comes from regions with substantially lower taxes.... in any case I'm side tracking, I only wanted to say you make many valid points but changing Singapore to be more in line with what we have here in canada isn't an easy task and definitely not something we can do so frivolously by sifting through current issues on the surface.

    I'm however disgusted by the recent elections and stuff that has been ongoing overe at Singapore though. I notice even thought you have emigrated for so long, you still keep an eye over sg =D

  11. I've been toying with the the idea of migrating for sometime, with my eyes set on either Australia or Canada.

    I'm just feeling very unsure about their work culture... I fear that I'm simply jumping from one hell to another.

    I doubt my parents will come with me too... I don't think I can leave Singapore but I do want to. :\

  12. Yes indeed,Canada is one of the best place on earth, with cleanest air and so on.

    Good for you, Cheong.

    Thanks for sharing your bliss with all of us who are still in this little red dot : )

  13. @May,
    Emigration is a very important decision in your life. If your parents are not in agreement with you and you cannot leave them, Please don't waste your time trying to emigrate.
    It is like trying to push a car with your parents in it. Instead of helping they are pulling on the brakes to stop you. You will waste time and money. I have seen many such cases.

  14. My wife and I have downsizing for years now. People should practice for retirement, I think. We're so much happier. Being 'wealthy' is about having enough for your needs and wants. The former is surprisingly little if you look at it and the latter is completely under your control. Need less, want more.

  15. Hi,

    Yes. I have the impression that Canada has a chilly climate. haha


    I work in SMRT as a Train Officer (Driver). My last pay rise was in the year 2000. From the 1st day I joined SMRT in 1995 till TODAY the medical benefits for myself and whole family is $350 per yr. From 1995 till today it is still $350 per yr for all outpatient treatments in company approved clinics. Common sense will tell you it is just ridiculous and shameful! I work solid 8.15 hrs per day. If include the 1 hr meal break it is solid 9 over hrs per day! If I am warded in a hospital I will have to pay everything from my CPF. There are many more such shameful issues which are not possible for me to highlight here for fear of getting the sack! You call this Swiss standard of living? My union chief who lost to your yourself - 您的手下败将!is also sitting on the SMRT Board of Directors! How to fight for our basic welfare when he is one of them? We are not asking for the moon or sky. We just want fairness, justice and humane treatment of working conditions and remunerations. Is it too much to ask? Will it cause SMRT to go bankrupt and collapse?If OTC is still around he will surely look into it. Just like your goodself, OTC was Chinese educated ( you are perfectly bi-lingual), he had that empathy. Those strong in Chinese language and culture tend to be 饮水思源!(When one drinks the water, one will think and remember the source) We have full confidence that you will 饮水思源! Wish you all the best in your coming parliament apprearance on 10 Oct which is also the ROC's special day - your birth place - though you are a true son of Singapore. Our 1st generation of cabinet ministers were all born outside Sg except MM but they were truly great leaders whom I respect very much! They gave us a basic home, job and human dignity unlike those present retards raking in millions and millions of hard cash whilst we citizens struggle and work until we drop dead ending with nothing cuz all our CPF go to the 99 yr flat, medical and min sum! Really langgar the tiang!
    Based on the above personal true story, if our GDP were to grow by 14% or 20% or the highest in the world, does it make any difference to my life and salary? Only those in govt service esp top civil servants and ministers will be getting big fat bonuses up till 8 months! Do they not know how are the commoners suffering or do they pretend not to know at all and cont'd with their usual wayang and business as usual? That is one of the simple reasons why throngs and throngs of citizens attended your rally causing so much traffic jams and havoc whereas few except those old folks ferried by buses attended their rally! Such a simple logic and truth and yet they just do not seem to understand. The fact is so obvious. No need PhDs or scholars fr whatever Institute or Uni to study and wayang with abstract theories or explanations! Jiak leow bee really!

    Sent from palmuser's ipad .....


    “If native Singaporeans are falling behind because “the spurs are not stuck into the hide,” that is their problem.”

    - National Geographic in an interview with Lee Kuan Yew on the influx of immigrants (2009)

  17. Hi Cheong

    Great article! You make perfect sense. Unless Singapore leaders begin to re-look at the value system that they are promoting, the country will gradually become a soulless nation where people exist just to make money. Glad I will be moving to Canada in Dec. Hope to catch up with you.

    Thank you for your encouragement on my blog at

  18. Dear Wing, If only all singaporeans have your wisdom and insight, PAP will not be able to treat them as dummies. how to make singaporeans understand that PAP makes a dummy out of their blind faith? From: Liberte

  19. Dear Cheong,

    I used to work in Japan. As a foreigner there, life was good. But I can't say the same for the japanese. I was there for a year. When I returned to Singapore, I started hating this place. I don't know why.

    Many of the things that you wrote on this post resonates with me. Singapore does not know what it means to be a human being. I stopped voting for the government as I was opposed to where they were bringing this country to. Life in Singapore is very stressful. It's like living in a pressure cooker. Competition is intense and I believe has gone a little out of hand to the point it is no longer enjoyable to live in Singapore. Just recently, they took away Borders.

    Something is not right in Singapore. At first, I thought it must be me but many Singaporeans want to migrate and leave Singapore at the first chance of opportunity. One of friends left for Australia and he is happy that he made the change.

    What I hate about Singapore is that the government doesn't care for its citizens. It's policies clearly shows that. Many Singaporeans do not know what is going to hit them in the future. I seriously doubt that even 40% of the people in this country can retire. The government is talkiing about raising retirement age. I don't feel like a citizen in this country. In fact, I feel like a commodity.

    When I look at Canada, Australia and parts of Europe, I sometimes feel helpless living in Singapore. It does not respect work-life balance, husbands barely have any time with their wives as bosses are squuezing them with extra work. One person is doing 2 persons job in Singapore. I am disappointed right now with Singapore and I no like it here no more.

    As such, I am exploring Canada and Japan at present. Please give some advise. I like the life you live. It's more holistic. Please help us make that move or change. What we lack to motivate us is the details.

    Much appreciated.



  20. Yes I understand completely I-did-not-ask-to-be-born-in-Singapore. I work in a company one person doing 3 fulltime persons jobs and have a boss that does not care about the strain it is putting on my physical health and my sanity. He is paid very well, spends little time in the office and is protected by the system. Other people are proud to tell me they work 10 hr long days for many years and look down on others who are not what they think of as "committed" to their jobs. Well one day they will all find out that they have got things very wrong...The only thing is, I have heard of many Singaporeans who have left the country and returned after not being able to adjust to the simple or slower life in Canada.

  21. @I-did-not-ask-to-be-born-in-singapore.
    For most Singaporeans, life sucks and it is surprising not more Singaporeans are emigrating.
    Write to me at my email address.

    @Anonymous who heard many Singaporeans returned after not able to adjust to the simple life in Canada.
    I must say that is nonsense because who does not want a simple life with beautiful nature, free healthcare and welfare? Some spoilt Singaporeans returned because their wives could not survive without maids, cannot find the jobs they want(this is common amongst Singaporeans in the management level - they demand to work only in management jobs), inadequate financial resources, some because of marital problems (having affairs with other Singaporeans' wives whose husbands were back in SG), etc.
    Singaporeans are the most spoilt and have the highest return rate of 10%. They gave up at the first sight of hardship.

  22. Thanks for the write up. Great stuff.

    Singapore is a good place to work, but other countries are a good place to live. In Sg, we are treated more like economic units and all our policies are designed to maximise economic output.
    In essence SG is more of a company rather than a country. So don't expect too much. Earn your living and know your exit plan well. Sg is a difficult place to retire if you did not plan well.

    I had a chance to live several years in other countries, so i know our policies can be extreme.
    They are designed to avoid the 'pitfalls' of developed countries. However, in reality, we have gone too far the other end, becoming extremely stingy and making life very difficult for those caught in no man's land.

    Despite what people say and what our govt thinks of developed countries, they have many positive aspects that counter the negative aspects. It would be foolishly arrogant to think that we have the best system. I am confident the positive aspects of developed countries will help them remain relevant in the future.

    I am quite sure interest in 'living' in other countries will increase tremendously in the next 10 years. Cost of living, working conditions and ever rising cost increases will bring Singaporeans to the point of serious contemplation - is Sg the right place to be in?

    There is one thing Singapore does not have that will be its Achilles heel - it lacks creativity and innovation. Natural Creativity and Innovation is something our government system cannot deliver. Other countries have it as part of their culture, we don't as we are a corporately run business entity.

    Creativity and innovation are the seeds to future success. Countries who fail to recognize this will fall behind, even 'successful' Singapore. Your leadership position can easily be overtaken.

    Why should you call your website "quitters'?
    You should be proud.

    Know your position, Know your exit plan :)

  23. One of the major reasons for emigrating is for our children's future. The Singapore education system is designed for passing examinations and scoring good results with little emphasis on application. Children in Canada are definitely a lot happier and creative.
    Another myth is the "low taxes" of Singapore vs the "high taxes" in Canada. I have written an article, in this blog, on taxation between Singapore and Canada. Based on similar income and lifestyle, the person living in Canada has MORE disposable income than a Singaporean. Without a doubt, Canada tax is lower overall.
    It is good to know your exit plan but don't put it off til it is too late. Look around the country, the infrastructures are coming apart. The leaders are spending their time looking after their own multimillion earnings and private investments and gambling the country's sovereign funds away. Time to go and look around for a safer and happier place to raise your children and family. Contact me if you visit Vancouver and I will show you around.

    1. Dear Wing Lee Cheong, I need some advise from you...Can I have your email ID please. Thank you.

    2. I am in Japan and I cannot use the Japanese keyboard well. I will contact you next week after the 18 April.

    3. Anonymous@April 09, 2012

      My email address is

  24. Hi Wing,

    This is a well written blog entry.

    My eyes have been opened.

  25. Hi Cheong, Does he have to declare and pay taxes to Canadian govement for all his overseas properties (real estate, foreign company, personal income, investment, capital gain, etc)once the peoson immigrate to Canada ?

  26. magnificent points altogether, you just received a new reader.
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  27. Hi Cheong,

    thank you for generous sharing. VNR is always at the back of our mind since graduating from there. Would you agree that it is easier to save with monies earned here?

    1. @August18, 2012 - It all depends on each individual. I have friends who came with few millions and yet failed and returned to Singapore. At the same time I have many friends who succeeded despite all odds. Please read my article on "Emigrating to Canada".

  28. I agree that people would generally be leading happier lives in Canada vs Singapore. However, there is one very big requirement to all this. The immigrant to Canada needs to have a decent JOB first, not those survival jobs. Afterwards, the good life will come. Mind you that decent JOB is very very very hard to find in Canada. Without that JOB, all this good life is just an illusion. Ask the countless immigrants who are struggling and depressed in Canada.

  29. @Anonymous Sept.15, 2012
    Most Singaporeans came to Canada and expect miracle to happen the moment they stepped foot in Canada. They wanted the best area to live, the wanted the best jobs available, the best schools, etc.
    Let us be realistic and practical. Unless you have $millions of dollars with you, it is not going to happen. Like most of us when we immigrated, we started from the beginning. It is not impossible or "very, very, very hard to find" like you said.
    The trouble with most Singaporeans is that they wanted to be able to show-off to their Singaporeans friends or relatives back home that they are successful and not be ashamed of themselves.
    If new immigrants are not choosy and willing to take any decent job available outside of popular areas like Vancouver or Toronto, there is a good chance they will get a job within a short period of time. There are lots of jobs in lesser popular areas but most new immigrants refused to accept.
    If all new immigrants insisted on living in Vancouver or Toronto, it is obvious that there will be shortage of houses and jobs, especially for those without Canadian experience.
    Another factor new immigrants must realized is that foreign degrees like accountants, engineers, and doctors are not recognized. For example, nurses, doctors with Singapore degrees have to retake their exams again.
    Be prepared before you come to Canada and you will be less frustrated and be more optimistic. I am a school drop out and yet able to succeed, so it cannot be too difficult for those with the correct attitude and passion.

    1. I do agree with you, Cheong. I went through path as you have. Life is always great in Canada, if one does can forget where one comes from. Dont make comparison, it is very frustrating. Just try to enjoy the good life and "try" to forget what your fellow singaporean makes in their home country. For sure you can be happier

  30. Hi

    I retired a few years ago in Singapore. I don't get any money from the government even though when I was working I paid taxes and still pay taxes today. Property tax, GST, petrol and vehicle tax etc. PAP didn't plan for retirement of its citizens at all.

    I disagree with part of your article. I don't think Singaporeans live beyond their means. Many elderly collect tin cans and cartons to sell, clean tables and toilets, sweep the estate in order to earn a bit of money to live by. They are not allowed to retire with dignity.

    Retired people like me live on our limited savings. I live frugally. I am one of the few who for now have enough to survive on and enjoy cycling, reading, visiting friends, writing and contributing time to a social enterprise, Function 8 Ltd.

    Wish Singapore has half the heart of Canada!

  31. Very informative article...nice stuff..

  32. One thing's for sure. We have one life here on earth, so it's good that we should enjoy it especially when retiring. Whenever I go to food courts/hawkers/establishments, I feel a bit disheartened seeing old people still working because they need to survive. I'm not surprised why they're so grumpy and have certain attitude when serving customers (not all, of course).

    If the person prefers working even when they're old, then that's fine as long as they love what they are doing. But realistically, how many people would like to work when they're old. They already worked hard when they were young, it's time they should relax and enjoy the remaining days of their lives. Again, we only have one life to live, so it just makes sense that we should enjoy it.

    Anyway, I figured when a person dies, that person won't be bringing his/her worldly wealth, social status, career, etc. with them. So I prefer to make money efficiently while young and enjoy retirement when the time comes. Canada, here I come.

    Wing Lee Cheong, you have a great blog and it's good that you are able to share sensible insights, which help Singaporeans (and others) in deciding to migrate. Keep it up.