5 things I wished I knew before I married a foreigner

My marriage isn't particularly extraordinary, at least to me.

Like other couples, we have our good days and bad, complete with the occasional petty quarrels — though never over who controls the TV remote.

But perhaps the one thing that makes us slightly more unique than the average Singaporean couple though is our ethnicity and nationality — I'm Singaporean-Chinese and he's Thai, born and bred.

But then again, in present-day Singapore, that might not be particularly unusual. According to 2017 statistics, about one in three citizen marriages in Singapore are transnational.

Sure, dating a foreigner sounds exotic and exciting, but settling down is a whole other story.

Marriage is hard work on many levels — but toss in language and cultural differences, and you'll have your work cut out.

Here are some things to be aware of before taking the plunge:

1. Communication issues

When both of you don't have a common mother tongue, communication issues are bound to surface. At times hilarious, but oftentimes frustrating.

A truncated "I want to go Clarke Quay", instead of "I want to go to the side of the mall that faces Clarke Quay" recently led to a series of phone calls that got angrier by the minute between me and my husband, before a five-minute stand-off when we finally met. Yes, after five years of marriage, it still happens.

One thing that helps for us though, is finding a communication channel that works. He writes better than he speaks, and by taking the time to read, I have more time to process what he's trying to say. In this way, we realised early on that texting is a happy medium for us instead of, say, a phone call.

Of course, the key here is to have loads of patience and understanding with each other.

For us, it's choosing the right words to express what you truly mean (him), and to learn to listen better (me), instead of jumping to conclusions. And hopefully, with time, it gets easier.

2. Relocation

Who is the one to make the big move and where do you settle down? It is a big question couples who are getting married will have to answer — unless long-distance marriages are your cup of tea.

The bigger sacrifice, of course, is on the part of whoever is doing the transplanting. But it's not always the case that the partner with the higher earning potential stays put. Figure out whatever works for you at that particular point in time.

For my husband and I, Singapore was the chosen location because of better employment opportunities, and also because I have a stronger familial support system and social network here than he does in Bangkok, where he was based.

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A running joke I make (which is far from the truth, of course), is that my husband is the 'tai-tai' ('Thai-Thai', geddit?) between us.

He holds a job here in F&B currently, which is a complete change from his previous desk-bound position as a sub-editor for a Thai magazine. Although realistically, his options are limited as far as employment options go. But it works for now.

For the person that stays in situ, be prepared to be your partner's tour-guide, tutor, interpreter and cheerleader, all rolled into one, especially if his/her English language skill is limited.

Warning: it can get tiring.

Before my husband found a regular full-time job, I helped him to find leisure activities on event platforms like Meetup that he could participate in to combat isolation and loneliness. Local Thai community groups on Facebook also help him to stay connected.

3. Getting married

Getting married to a foreigner is... an exercise in patience. And an entry point to a new sport known as extreme form-filling.

Get familiar with terms like LLE, LTVP, PMLA, LOC, etc, and be ready to fill more forms than you've ever had to in your life.

Here's a list of the terms and what they mean.

SC Singapore Citizen
NC Non - Citizen
ICA Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore
LTVP Long Term Visitor’s Pass
PMLA Pre-Marriage Long-Term Visit Pass (LTVP) Assessment
LLE Letter of LTVP Eligibility
e-VPAA electronic-Visit Pass (Long-Term) Assessment & Application
MSF Ministry of Social and Family Development
MOM Ministry of Manpower
LOC Letter of Consent
HDB Housing & Development Board
PR Permanent Resident

To briefly run you through the process: 

If you do have a smidgen of a thought about getting married, it is advised that your partner applies for a Pre-Marriage Long-Term Visit Pass Assessment (PMLA), "for greater clarity on whether the intended non-resident spouse may qualify for long-term stay in Singapore", according to the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) website.

Processing the PMLA (which costs $30) will take up to four weeks. If successful, the applicant will receive a Letter of LTVP Eligibility (LLE), which will be valid for a year. 

According to the ICA website, applying for the PMLA will speed up the LTVP application process after marriage. It may take up to six weeks to process your LTVP application with a PMLA done prior, compared to six months without.

For the LTVP application, documents will have to be submitted — many, many documents.

This includes the official forms that both parties have to fill in. And if your partner's English language skills are limited, no prizes for guessing who would have to pull double duty.

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Supporting paperwork will also have to be handed in, along with translated transcripts of educational certificates if those are not in English. This can be done by certified translators. Otherwise, you may be able to approach the embassy for help. 

After that, the wait begins, and an interview with ICA would also be scheduled to request or verify the documents.

Once the LTVP is approved, you'll have to make payment of $60 for its issue and congrats, you'll be able to stay in Singapore for up to a year or more.

Let this be a litmus test for marriage-preparedness — if these tedious processes don't deter you from proceeding, you're probably ready.

4. Work & Travel

Post-marriage, if your partner is seeking employment, the employer will have to apply for a Letter of Consent (LOC), for which no foreign worker levy or quota will be required.

When it comes to holidaying overseas, breathe a sigh of relief if your partner holds a passport that is as powerful as Singapore's.

If not, poor you will have to struggle through forms once again, this time for tourist visa applications. Wanting to go on a Europe tour? For Thais, it means applying for the Schengen visa for European countries, and a separate visa if one would like to visit the UK.

Hoping to explore the whole of Ireland? Sorry, you'll have to apply for a tourist visa for the Republic of Ireland in the south as well as the UK visa for Northern Ireland.

That's not including the substantial visa fees (upwards of $100 for each, depending on the length of stay) that you'd have to fork out.

5. Buying a BTO flat

Ah, the quintessential step to being formally coupled in Singapore. 

But what many may not know is that if you are applying for a new HDB flat for the first time as a citizen and a permanent resident (PR), there will be an additional $10,000 levied on the purchase price of your unit.

The premium, however, will be refunded to your Central Provident Fund (CPF) Ordinary Account as a "citizen top up" when the PR in your family obtains citizenship, or if you have a child who's a citizen.

Thankfully, I applied for my flat when I already had a child who's a Singaporean citizen, and after my husband had successfully gotten his permanent residency. My child served as the second citizen within the family nucleus, hence the levy wasn't imposed. 

Worth it?

Despite the aforementioned inconveniences, I'm sure these small hurdles won't stop you if you've already found The One, but it's always wise to go into a marriage with eyes wide open.

On my part, I have to say there are no regrets (and hopefully my husband, too). And one big plus point — travelling to your partner's home country is almost always stress-free when it comes to planning your holiday and knowing the best places to hit up. 

Whenever my husband and I travel to Thailand, it's nice that the tables are turned so he's the guide instead. Also, I get to explore the country like a true insider, discovering and experiencing things I probably wouldn't have as a regular tourist.

Having another home away from home? Score.


This article has been edited for clarity.