Having been an expat now for three-and-a-half years, I keep asking myself when I will stop converting things back into British pounds. The realistic answer is probably never. The exchange rate for sterling in some countries makes it very easy to make a quick conversion – for example in Singapore, one pound equals two dollars. So all you need to do is divide the price in half to get your pound equivalent. If you are a tourist I can see the benefit of doing this. But when you are an expat, who earns their salary in Singapore dollars, there will never actually be any “’conversion’’ taking place. But that doesn’t stop me doing it in my head anyway. It would be better if I lived in Hong Kong as it takes much more mental arithmetic to divide prices by 12.
A classic example of this currency conversion obsession happens when I look at the price of cars in Singapore, which are among the most expensive in the world, a deliberate tactic by the government to restrict the number of vehicles on the road. Basically you buy the car, then you have to buy a piece of paper (known as a Certificate of Entitlement) to allow you to drive it on the road. This certificate can cost as much as the car itself.
Begrudgingly, when forced by my wife to buy a car two years ago I bought the cheapest one I could find which was a Hyundai Matrix, lovingly built in 2007. But even this humble mode of transport cost me an incredible S$24,000 (£12,000 via a simple conversion in my head). A quick look on the UK website Exchange and Mart reveals a few similar Hyundai Matrix models in the £3,000 price range. So that’s four times cheaper than what I paid for one in Singapore. A depressing figure which makes me wish even more I wasn’t so obsessed with currency conversions...