Personal Security Tips While Traveling Abroad

~ Posted on Saturday, February 11, 2017 at 9:39 AM ~

My brother in-law travels often and every now and then will be sharing his experiences good and bad. In this article, I'll be sharing his personal security tips while traveling abroad. He has given his blessings for me to copy his tips and share his article out, I'm only touching up a wee bit of typo and using freestock pictures, otherwise I'm crediting this article to his name.

Let's read and learn together, shall we?

Take just enough cash for the day spending

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In Spain, we pre-researched that we might need EUR30 per day per person for lunch, refreshment, dinner, shopping & admission fees. So I took 3 notes of 10 EUR, and separated them into 2-3 pockets (pants, shirt) and only 1 credit card. No wallet, No handbag, No carrybag, No belt punch. I only have a compact knapsack to store water, snacks, a woollen jumper, mobile phone, and medicine. The rest of the holiday cash and passports are in the hotel room safe or hotel main safety box.

Watch for people watching you – scan your surroundings

Generally, in developed countries, the locals do not have a habit of staring or looking at you, it is impolite – even if you are dressed outrageously. Whenever we are descending into a train station or bus station, we scan the surroundings – to see who is looking at us.

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In Barcelona (we pre-learned) how to recognise professional pick pockets – they are usually the ones looking at other people and their belongings; they don’t seemed to be waiting for trains or looking at the train notice board, and they ain’t reading anything – not even their mobile phone (this is a dead give-away). We saw a few – and we avoided them. In Barcelona, a pickpocket if caught is not charged unless you can prove that they stole more than EUR 300.

What if the hotel is budget type and storing in room doesn’t feel safe

We put all cash, cards and passports into a thick envelop, close it, doing these inside our room before going down to the counter. And at the counter, we store it into the hotel counter safety box - each box usually have a dual-key system. We do not give our things to the person on the counter to keep it into the box – we do it together in our presence.

What if the hotel is so budget that even the room safety box or counter safety box looks iffy

First, not worth to stay in such a hotel. Secondly, paying slightly more is for some measure of security. But in the event you don’t have choices, and you must take your valuables out with you on your body, make sure the (example of) 30 EUR (3 notes in 3 pockets); the rest, tightly packed into the deepest section of your knapsack firmly against your body.

Knapsack, Knapsack, Knapsack – just 1

Knapsack, Knapsack, Knapsack – and hug it in your front

Buy a very inconspicous uncomplicated boring but firm knapsack, with 2-3 deep sections preferably with inner zip. And always all the time, especially in crowded areas, specifically: airports, train stations, taxi & bus stations, lifts, elevators, street markets, inside trains & buses – HUG your knapsack in the FRONT of your body.

Honeymooning couples are usually bodily glued to each other everywhere they go, with knapsacks behind them, and bags all over the place – they are a thief and pickpocket heaven on earth. We do not carry more than 1 bag per body (maybe, max max 2 – 1 roller suitecase, 1 knapsack – for long holidays.)

If you’re carrying a knapsack, handbag, iPad, shopping bags, camera bag, waist pouch, pants wallet – you stand out like a "Come-Rob-Me-Please" beacon begging them. Robbing just you would help meet the thieves’ daily quota, or even weekly.

Do NOT count on numbers

Just because you are surrounded by family members, friends, colleagues, male members of the travelling entourage – Number is NOT safety. Do not count on others to watch your valuables. In 2 separate incidences, a male colleague was in the check-out queue of a 5 star hotel with other male colleagues, and the cctv later picked up a well-suit bespectabled bearded man casually walked up along him and lifted his notebook bag – with all the whole week site reports in there (!). A neighbour lost her notebook in a spanking new airport which she had transited so many times, this time surrounded by her family members.

Number is not safety.

It is like a stalking tiger deciding which gazelle it wants to pounce upon out of the many grazing gazelles mistaking security in numbers.

Jewelleries, Handbags, Wallets, Watches, Necklaces

Whenever I’m the group leader, I conditioned that all members must leave all burdensome & valuables things at home – we don’t need them to impress people or travelling companions to the places we’re heading. Specifically : branded handbags (or all handbags in general), all jewelleries (from every bodyparts except those already nailed onto the body) with exception of one’s wedding ring (of which the wife would be very unhappy not to see it on her husband’s finger) – on the otherhand, tai tai should abandon their 36 carats diamond ring at home – and no need to bring along to impress. You'll always end up paying more to the very people you’re trying to impress.

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Try driving a Mercedes to the durian seller – you’ll be charged more. And men, expensive watches – leave it at home. Needless to say, necklace is so easy to grab. I once was waiting at a traffic light, on a bright sunny day, I saw something shiny flew across my windscreen ... it's so surreal like slow-mo movie... it fell on the road kerb, the owner a toughie ganster looking type picked up his thick gleaming gold chain ..and started to chase the 2 motorcycled snatch thieves.

Things You Can Leave at Home

Driving licence (unless you will be renting a car) and National Identity Card. Your passport** and visa are the only document you’ll need – for entry at Customs, hotel, car rental, etc. Pants wallet especially those bulging with cards and cash makes pick pocketers glee with joy and praising their patron god. So, I seldom use or keep valuables in a pant-wallet.

**before the trip, we photocopy all our passports, and credit cards .. and leave the photocopy inside our hotel safe in case anyone loses their passport or card - and we hv this copy to refer or make report.

Remember, when travelling in groups – especially if everyone are close friends or family members : if one member exposed themselves to be robbed and pickpocketed, or lose their travelling document or money – it clouds the entire holiday mood for everyone (remember my own Brussels-London trip?) So, in taking precautions and freeing ourselves from being robbed – we are actually preserving the happy mood of travelling together.

Go light, go easy, go safe.

Tips To Refinancing Home Loans In Singapore

~ Posted on Tuesday, February 7, 2017 at 6:58 AM ~

Almost everyone in Singapore will need a mortgage loan to purchase a house. If you choose to buy a private property, you can only get a bank loan but if you buy a Housing and Development Board (HDB) property, you can choose between a HDB loan and bank loan.

Bank loans are structured in such a way that if you fail to refinance regularly, you will miss lots of cost savings and end up spending much more on your housing loan installment but most banks will not reveal this to you. Refinancing your home loan is a great way to refresh your finances to better suit your current lifestyle.

How bank loans work

 Each bank loan package has a spread applied to the interest rate. For example, if it is a SIBOR package, it will have something like sibor+0.8%. After several years, often 2-3 years, the spread increases to even 1.2 percent which is a significant amount on your regular loan installment. Unfortunately, most people do not realize that the rate they are paying currently is just temporary and any increase will make them pay additional hundreds or even thousands more dollars per month.

Advantages of refinancing

The major advantage of refinancing regardless of home equity is lowering the interest rate. Often, as people make advancement in their careers and continues to earn more money, they are able to pay their bills on time which in turn increases their credit score. The increased credit score comes with the ability to obtain loans at relatively low interest rates. A lower interest rate on home loan can have a significant effect on your monthly payments potentially helping you save hundreds of dollars every year.

Ignorance is the major risk of refinancing. Though refinancing can help you to make massive savings, without the basic knowledge, it can actually hurt you by increasing your interest rates instead of lowering them. Below are some tips on refinancing home loans in Singapore that will help you get the best deal at the most affordable price.

The best time to refinance

You should not wait until you notice an increase in your loan installment which happens after an increase in net interest rate spread to refinance. You can refinance even six months before the expiry of your lock in. This is because the minimum notice period for refinancing is three months which means if you wait until the lock in expires, you will be stuck with a high interest rate and increased monthly instalments for at least three months which will cost you thousands of dollars.

In most cases, it is best to refinance with the original lender though it is not a requirement. But for a bank, it is easier to keep a customer than acquire a new want, therefore, they will be willing to offer a better price for borrowers looking to refinance. So, you have a better chance of obtaining a better rate with your original lender.

The different variable rates to choose from

Home loan packages have both variable and fixed rates. The variable rates have different options to choose from which can be quite confusing. The three main types of variable rates include:
· Sibor/ SOR rate
· Bank’s board rate
· Fixed deposit mortgage rate

As mentioned above, home loans have a net interest rate spread. For the variable rates, it is attached to each of the above types. Therefore, it can either be sibor +0.8%, board rate+0.8% or fixed deposit mortgage rate+o.8%.

SIBOR and SOR rates are determined by the Association of Banks in Singapore and are published on financial mediums such as Bloomberg, Reuters and The Business Times. All banks follow the same sibor/sor rate but every financial crisis causes the rate to fluctuate quite badly. For example in 1987, sibor/sor rate was at 8 per cent, in 1998, it reduced to 7 per cent and further reduced to 4 per cent in 2007.

Of all the three types of variable rates, the Bank board is the most not transparent. The bank can change it anytime it pleases then inform you abruptly on the increase in the monthly instalments. There is no way to confirm this rate.

The fixed deposit mortgage rate is relatively new compared to sibor/sor rate or the bank board rate. Most people maybe led to think that this is fixed rate but it not. However, it is less volatile compared to sibor and bank board rate.

Fixed deposit mortgage rate is attached to the fixed deposit rate and is quite transparent as it is published on the website of the particular bank.

Fixed interest rates on home loans only last for a short period

If you choose a home loan with a fixed interest rate, you should know that the rate is not fixed forever. Refinancing regularly is the only way you are going to get a fixed interest rate for a longer term. Most fixed rates will only last for the first 3 years with a few extending to five years. After that, they are automatically converted to variable rates. Therefore, it is better to refinance regularly in order to get a fixed interest rate again.

HDB loan vs. Bank loan

The main reason why most people prefer HDB loans first is the down payment. Banks have an LTV (Loan to Value) ratio of 80% while HDB has a LTV of 90%. This means that if you are looking to buy a flat valued at $600,000, HDB will lend you up to 540,000 while the bank can only lend you $480,000.

However, HDB loan have a higher interest rate of 2.6 per cent which has not changed for a long time hence convenience if you are looking for more stability. The interest rate of bank loans on the other hand is determined by the bank spread as well as the index.

In most cases, the index used is SIBOR (Singapore Interbank Offered Rate). In rare cases, the bank can use SOR (Swap Offer Rate) which fluctuates depending on the strength of the dollar. You can also get an offer to use bank board rate in which the bank the decided what the rate will be.

Typically, the interest rate on bank’s home loan has been about 1.7-1.9% since 2008 meaning that people with private properties have paid lower rates than HDB borrowers for close to nine years. A lower interest rate translates to lower monthly instalments.

For this reason, you may want to switch from HDB loan to bank loan which is possible but you cannot switch back from a bank loan to a HDB loan.

Switching from HD loan to Bank loan is especially advisable if you are left with about 5-10 years to clear your loan as you do not have to worry much about the fluctuating interest rate since the loan will end soon.

The cost of refinancing your home loan

Refinancing is not free but the cost varies depending on individual circumstances. For example, if your loan amount if high, the bank can give cash subsidies or rebates to cover part of the fee. Some of the common refinance cost include:
· Application fees
This is the fee you are charged to when applying for the new home loan.

· Valuation fees
A valuation fee is charged by the new lender to cover the cost of valuing the property that you offering as security.

· Legal fees
You can also get charged an attorney fee for conducting the closing for lender.

· Land registration fees
These fee is charged to remove the existing mortgage from the previous lender and register the new mortgage to the new lender.

· Discharge fees
This is an administration fee paid to the current lender to clear the existing loan as well as prepare the existing documents.

· Ongoing fees
Some lenders may charge an ongoing fee which ranges from $0 -$750 per annum.

· Title insurance fee
Title insurance is intended to guard against any errors or problems with the transfer with title.

· Break fees
If you refinance your home loan during a fixed rate period, you will be hit with a contract break fee which compensates the current lender for any loss of profits due to your decision to break the contract. Break fee may or may not be charged depending on the existing interest rate movements.

In most cases subsidies and cash rebates can cover the refinancing cost leaving you to pay only a few hundred dollars. All the fee can also be paid by CPF if you have enough money in your ordinary account.

Planning A 2-Day Trip In Johor Bahru

~ Posted on Monday, December 19, 2016 at 12:38 AM ~

Nothing feels better than planning for a trip to a new place that promises all sorts of fun and experiences. However, in this haze, it is easy to overlook some crucial factors in your planning. Moreover, without a clue about where to visit, where to stay and the best means to get there, your trip can turn chaotic even before its commencement.

We are pretty much familiar with the offerings from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur that are the cities that are deemed more exciting but little did we know Johor Bahru is basically a hidden gem that one should not miss. This lovely city brings together a touch of both modern and traditional urban jungles. That said, often when you travel to Singapore, you should take some moment and explore Johor Bahru that will guarantee you a memorable memory with your loved ones.

First stop: Legoland

You can start your journey with the direct express bus from Singapore to Legoland where you can easily book your ticket from http://www.easybook.com/en-sg/bus/booking/singapore-to-legoland/. The first of its kind in Asia, the theme park has more than 70 hands-on rides, slides, shows and attractions.

It has a wonderful kids water theme park specially designed to allow kids have unlimited and unforgettable fun. It’s also home to the famous LEGO City and LEGO Kingdom. Besides that, the other attractions include Miniland, Land of Adventure, Joker Soaker, LEGO wave pool and many more.

Second stop: Johor Bahru Old Chinese Temple

Probably the oldest temple in Johor Bahru, this old Chinese temple dates back to the 19th century and was established as a way of honoring 5 deities that held much significance to Chinese society. Its peculiarity is unmistakable with its characteristic red and white colors.

There are 3 beautifully designed prayer halls in the temple and on top of that, you will find a small museum in the temple premises. On display are idols of various gods, photos of the temple and many temple antiques.

Third stop: Jalan Wong Ah Fook

Named after one of the founder of Johor Bahru, this is one of the busiest main streets in Johor Bahru. Your food-hunting quest will never get better when there are plentiful of shops, cafes, restaurants and food stalls lining along the street. One must visit Hiap Joo Bakery and Biscuit factory to try on their banana cakes.

The short walk from the City Square will expose you to amazing delicacies, desserts and local recipes all at a pocket-friendly price. Don’t get hungry on your expedition, pass through Jalan Wong Ah Fook and have a food moment to remember.

Fourth stop: Istana Besar

Istana Besar aka Grand Palace is the royal residence of the King of Johor. The palace is a fine amalgamation of Anglo-Malay architecture with a dome roof colored blue and overlooking the skyline. The palace also houses the Royal Abu Bakar Museum. On display are royal heirloom, rare artefacts and records of the history of the state's royal family.

Fifth stop: Angry Birds Theme Park

As the name suggests, Angry Birds Theme Park has a lot of interesting games and zones designed around the popular game Angry Birds. The park has taken into consideration that not every person may be amused by the theme and as such has put in place other activities and attractions around the park such as restaurants and bars.

Sixth stop: City Square and JBCC Mall

Johor Bahru is expanding rapidly and what comes with the expansion are the numerous shopping areas for all types of products. City Square and the new JBCC Mall have always been the shopping heaven for Singaporean shoppers with the search of bargains and great food. Walking in to City Square from the Johor Custom, you can find the best nyonya kuih stall. The variety of the kuih will get you hyped and excited with the abundance of delicious food you are getting in the trip.

 

A 2-day visit to Johor Bahru can feel like a few minutes, which is why it is proper to have a good idea of exactly where to travel and how to get there. With these guidelines, you can be sure to have a smooth and wonderful 2-day trip experience.