Stuck in Singapore during a pandemic

Imagine being stranded on a small island thousands of kilometres away from your friends and family, with no means of escape in sight. No, this is not the plot to Tom Hank’s Cast Away. Instead, this is a real scenario that many foreigners in Singapore are stuck in due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are all dealing with our own struggles with isolation and not being able to engage in our favourite social activities. But let’s not forget about the people who travelled far from their homeland to Singapore, only to be stuck here for the past year – some even longer.

To gain a better understanding of the struggles they face, we interviewed four millennials to find out how they’ve been coping since the pandemic started. They also share some ways in which they’ve learnt to adapt and stay connected with their loved ones.

1. “I spent every day worrying about what I would do if I got retrenched”

cmlink - shijia
Image credit: Shijia

Shijia first moved to Singapore from China in 2013 to further her studies. She came here alone, but would fly back twice a year pre-Covid to visit her family and celebrate festivals such as Chinese New Year. However, the last time she saw her family was September 2019, almost half a year before the travel ban started.

As Shijia is on an employment pass, her situation is made more difficult as there are restrictions preventing her from flying back to her family – even in cases of emergency.

Working as a Digital Imaging Artist for a fashion brand in Singapore, she is often filled with doubts like, “If I need to travel back home, would my company terminate my employment and force me to leave Singapore?”

cmlink - chinaImage credit: Shijia

With no news on when the travel ban would be lifted, Shijia was constantly worried that she would not be able to find a new job should her employment pass expire in the near future. “I was basically worrying every day if I’m going to lose my job, or be the next one to get retrenched.” 

FYI, those who are holding employment passes and are let go of by their company only have one month to stay in Singapore before they have to leave the country.

Thankfully, she was able to get her PR status approved earlier this year. This was a huge relief as this status allows her to travel back to China after the pandemic situation stabilises, as compared to holding an employment pass, where her travel plans would have to be subjected to approval of the Ministry Of Manpower (MOM).

2. “The death of my close friend’s parent was a wake-up call”

cmlink - malaysiaImage credit: Amanda

Wanting to experience life in a big city, Amanda moved from her hometown in Malaysia to Singapore with her sister in 2018, eventually finding work at an online news portal. “Everything in Singapore was quite different. Public transport was efficient and I enjoyed being in a community where everyone spoke English by default”, Amanda recalls.

When news of the Covid-19 started to spread, Amanda was not as worried because she thought the pandemic wouldn’t last as long as it did. However, when the situation did not get any better, she started to feel homesick and missed the freedom she had back home in Malaysia. 

cmlink - amandaImage credit: Amanda

She was also nervous about her family, especially her parents as they belong to the vulnerable age group. Amanda said, “My dad has high blood pressure and hypertension. So I was worried but at the same time, I know that my parents are responsible and health-conscious.”

Through frequent video calls with her parents, Amanda was reassured that they are able to take care of themselves. Initially FaceTiming her parents once or twice a week, she eventually became busier with work, and the frequency of her calls decreased as a result.

It was not until earlier this year when her close friend’s father passed away that she got a wake-up call. “It made me realise that I haven’t been proactive in calling my parents. I make it a point to call them at least once a week now”.

3. “My family told me not to fly back home in January 2020”

cmlink - hong kongImage credit: Julia

Hailing from Hong Kong, Julia had been travelling frequently to Singapore for leisure for years on end. She eventually decided to settle down on our little island in 2019 and start a family here. 

“I was actually kind of sad to leave Hong Kong to settle down in Singapore, because my network of friends and colleagues are in Hong Kong and I only had my fiancé in Singapore back then,” said Julia.

As time went on, she managed to build a network of close friends in Singapore and was able to assimilate well into local culture. She even found work as a fund manager in a finance organisation. When she first caught wind of news of the pandemic, Julia was concerned but knew that her family back in Hong Kong would be alright.

Drawing from the 2003 SARS outbreak, she said, “I was worried but I guess everyone in my family would take care of themselves.” She added, “We had the SARS experience so we were very cautious and, proactively, everyone of us started wearing masks in public before the WHO (World Health Organisation) encouraged people to wear masks.”

cmlink - birthday partyJulia and her family threw her son a birthday party in Hong Kong back in September 2018
Image credit: Julia

While she misses celebrating special occasions such as birthdays with her family, her family advises her to stay put in Singapore and stay safe in order to overcome the pandemic so that everyone can meet up again in the not-so-distant future. 

4. “I had some close relatives back home who contracted Covid-19”

cmlink - indonesiaImage credit: Rose

As someone who was used to travelling back to Indonesia once every three months, this has been the longest period since Rose has seen her family back in her home country. Rose came to Singapore to study in 2015, and eventually found work as a Senior Finance Executive at a local SME. 

While not impossible for Rose to fly back to Indonesia, the process is complicated and tedious as she’s on a Work Pass. “Another consideration is that the cases in Indonesia are quite bad, so if I go back there it’s quite risky and I might not be able to come back to Singapore”, she added.

Having close relatives back home who caught Covid-19 worries her the most, so she makes sure to contact her family in Indonesia almost every day via video call. She also checks in on her friends sometimes to make sure they are okay. 

cmlink - roseImage credit: Rose

Looking towards the future, Rose expressed that everyone should do their part to stay safe. “I wish that they can stay at home more and [not] take this pandemic lightly. We just need some time, be patient, and just do our best [in the meantime] so that we can meet and have fun again.”

Keep in touch with your loved ones overseas with CMLink

cmlink - facetime

While online teleconference applications such as Skype or Zoom are handy, a stable data connection is a must in order to have seamless video calls on the go. However, not everyone has flawless Internet connection at home, and sometimes it can be hard to enjoy a smooth call with your loved ones while struggling with spotty Wi-Fi.

cmlink - sim card

CMLink is a no-contract postpaid SIM card that you can use across three different countries, namely Singapore, Mainland China, and Hong Kong. This means that you would be able to use the same SIM card and Internet data across all three countries, without having to pay additional data roaming charges. 

Depending on the plan purchased, you can also enjoy up to 500 call minutes from Singapore to these countries: China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the USA. 

cmlink - international calls

No longer will you need to worry about texting your friends and family to tell them that you’ve changed your number when you’re overseas, or fussing around with multiple SIM cards.

CMLink allows you to bind your Mainland China and Hong Kong number to your Singapore CMLink number. If you don’t already have one, you can also apply for numbers from these destinations via CMLink. Voice calls and SMSes will also be automatically forwarded to this number. 

For those doing business with overseas clients, this also helps to lighten your pockets and keep chats and documents organised as there’s no need to carry more than one phone for each international number.

Not to mention that should someone from China/Hong Kong call you on your China/Hong Kong number, it will be charged as a local instead of international call for them, while you get to save completely as the incoming call will be free of charge.

cmlink - sign up

The process of signing up is fuss-free as well. Simply go to the CM Link website and choose the mobile plan best suited to your needs, before making payment. The SIM card will then be delivered to your doorstep. All you need to do next is place the SIM card in your phone, and enter the verification code on CMLink’s website. 

CMLink will also be having a special 9.9 promo from from 8th – 13th September 2021 where you can save big on your mobile plans:

  • Get 50GB for $19.90 per month up to six months (U.P. 30GB for $20 per month)
  • Get 80GB for $29.90 per month up to six months (U.P. 60GB for $30 per month)

Find out more about CMLink’s SIM card here

This post was brought to you by CMLink.
Cover image adapted from (clockwise from top-left): Amanda, Julia, Rose, Shijia
Photography by Doreen Fan.

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