Best Islands to Live On: Singapore

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Why Singapore? Sleek Singapore may not seem like a typical ISLANDS island. Cabanas-and-coconuts it's not. But we chose this island, city and nation because it smoothly interweaves cultures from all over the world to create a cosmopolitan atmosphere that's like visiting dozens of islands at once -- all grooving together to an Asian tropical-chic soundtrack. With sky- scrapers climbing like jungle vines toward the sun, Singapore has also been named by the World Bank Group as the easiest country in the world in which to do business.

Life of an Expat "Singapore is certainly the most modern city in Asia, and in many ways it is probably the most modern, well-run, efficient and workable city I've ever been in," says Al Hornsby, 58. Al's been in a lot of cities -- he's traveled to nearly 40 countries and now alternates living in Singapore and Los Angeles. "I can safely say Singapore is the only other place, besides L.A., where I would choose to live. It's clean; crime is very, very low; and it's extremely family-friendly."

Al got to know Singapore about five years ago when his girlfriend (now wife), Christine Tan, moved to the island for her job with a major hotel-management company. Al stayed with his job and home in Los Angeles but spent every holiday traveling to Singapore to visit Christine. Eventually Al's company allowed him to work every other month from abroad. "A lot of my work is international, anyway," says Al, who is vice president of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors Worldwide. "On the phone, no one has any idea where I'm working."

When in Singapore, Al lives and works in a condo overlooking one of the island's rivers. He loves to spend time by its banks with 1-year old daughter, Juliet. "Christine and I jog with her in her stroller," says Al. "There is a walking path and park. We're right across the river from the city, yet it's like going down to the park in a small town."

Singapore balances that small-town atmosphere with a cosmopolitan scene. Within a short taxi ride, Al can reach hundreds of restaurants offering international cuisine, several performing-arts centers, a sports stadium, dozens of clubs swinging late into the night and a mass of fashion malls. "Over Christmas, the streets look just like New York at rush hour," says Al. "Thousands of people fi ll the sidewalks." For divers like Al, Singapore is not only a global microcosm but a launching point from which to explore the rest of the planet -- both above and under water. "Within a couple hours' plane flight from here, you can be diving the most exotic places in the world -- Bali, Thailand, Sipadan," he says. But Singapore always lures Al back home, perhaps someday for good. "There are lots of people who come here for a job and fi nd a way to stay," says Al.

Facts of Life

  • Climate: Tropical
  • Population of island: 4,588,600
  • Percentage expats: 22 percent
  • House starting price: $300,000
  • Travel from U.S.: Singapore Airlines offers non-stop, 16-hour flights from Los Angeles and New York.
  • Closest hospital: Singapore
  • Price of local beer: $6 for a bottle of Tiger Beer
  • Languages: English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil
  • Ease of immigration: Difficult; in general, you must get a job there first.
  • Ease of buying a home: Difficult
  • Website: visitsingapore.com

Purchasing Paradise * There are restrictions on foreign property owners. That said:

  • $ Three-bedroom apartment close to shopping center: $325,000.
  • $$ Newly renovated three-bedroom condo with use of barbecue pits: $666,225.
  • $$$ Five-bedroom penthouse overlooking skyline: $23.7 million.

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