The cost of living in Singapore

The cost of living in Singapore

11th October, 2013 Living Abroad , Financial

Singapore, officially called the Republic of Singapore and the world’s only island city state, sits at the southern end of the Malay Peninsula. Made up of 63 different islands, it declared independence from the United Kingdom 1963. Since then it has enjoyed a dramatic increase in wealth, and today is one of the four powerful, successful so-called ‘Asian Tigers’. 

Try the Wiki Travel guide to Singapore

The Wiki Travel Guide to Singapore is an excellent resource for would-be expats. It includes everything you could possibly need to know about life in the city, in some detail, such as descriptions of the various districts, what they’re like, what they contain and who lives there.

There’s insight into the city’s addressing system, the average climate and all about travelling in, out and around the city by car, air, bus, train, taxi cab, boat, trishaw and bicycle. Plus shopping, local Malay and Indian, Peranakan and Nonya cuisine, how to stay safe, the law and the legal ins and outs of working in the city.

The Numbeo cost of living index

The Numbeo website is an excellent resource comparing the average prices of a huge range of services and goods, from transport and utilities to food, drink, rent, property prices, healthcare, crime, quality of life, travel and more.

Accommodation costs in Singapore

As you’d expect, like any major city, the price of housing in Singapore depends on your proximity to the city centre, the type of property, surroundings and, if it’s furnished, the furniture.

Most expats tend to live in private condos or flats, most of which have swimming pools, tennis and children’s playgrounds on site as well as secured access, fellow expats nearby and low costs compared to renting somewhere on its own piece of land.

Prime areas include Orchard, Bukit Timah, Tanglin and River Valley, with high end rental prices anywhere from S$8,300-S$13,000 a month for a three bedroom condo. The suburbs are cheaper. Places like Bedok, Changi, Pasir Ris, Tampines, Ang Mo Kio, Woodlands and Punggol offer monthly rent ranging from S$3,300 to S$5,000.

Private apartments don’t tend to have the same facilities as condos, and they are often in much older buildings. A three bedroom private apartment in an expensive area costs from S$5,000-S$7,000, but it’s less expensive in the suburbs.

The cheapest of all is government housing called ‘HDB flats’, which is where most local people live in. They are usually close to the everyday facilities you need, like banks, schools, markets, transport and healthcare. But they don’t often include luxuries like swimming pools. A three bed HDB, for example, costs from S$2,200 to S$2,700 a month.

If you want to rent a luxurious bungalow with spacious gardens it can cost as much as S$35,000 a month, although private terraced houses and semi-detached homes cost less.

The price of food in Singapore

You can eat relatively cheaply in Singapore but, like anywhere else, it’s up to you how much you spend. Cooking your own food is the cheapest, and eating out in food courts is great value for money. If you eat at home an average food bill comes in at S$200 each a month. If you eat out all the time, the sky’s the limit.

The city’s famous food courts and hawker centres offer delicious meals for as little as 4-6 dollars. Western fast food costs more, and the average price for a basic restaurant meal is S$20 – S$40 each.

Public transport prices in Singapore

Singapore is rightfully proud of its excellent public transport system, which is cheap and extensive. A one way bus journey comes in at less than S$2. Taxis are also excellent, happy to take you short distances and charging very little compared to Western cab fares. You can either hail a cab on the road or phone in and book your ride in advance for a small extra cost.

In contrast, car ownership in Singapore is not cheap because the government taxes private cars heavily in an effort to cut pollution and congestion. If you want to buy a car in Singapore you need a COE certificate, which involves bidding against other potential car owners for a limited number of COEs. High demand means getting hold of a COE is an expensive business, often costing as much as S$60,000 plus 7% tax, S$140 registration fee, a percentage of the car’s value plus 20% excise duty. Then there’s motor insurance, road tax and petrol. As you can imagine, most expats use public transport!

Healthcare costs in Singapore

The city’s healthcare system in legendary, ranked the best in Asia and sixth best in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000. But it is expensive, and because health insurance benefits are not usually provided by Singapore’s employers, a good medical insurance policy is a must.

Utilities costs

You can expect to pay as little as S$200 a month for gas, water and electricity or as much as S$600, depending on how much or little you use air conditioning.

Mobile phones cost between S$35 and S$100 a month and broadband around S$50 a month.

Cable TV should set you back about S$28 for basic channels and as much as S$80 for all-singing, all-dancing viewing, and you might be asked to pay a S$250 deposit for connection.

Education costs

You can send your children to either a government-run or private school. Government schools are also called ‘local public schools’, while private schools are called ‘international schools’. Either way, standards are high. Local schools are really good value, in contrast with international schooling which can cost S$3,000 a month and more.

What taxes will you pay in Singapore?

Singapore has one of the lowest income taxes in the world, a system that makes the city an extremely popular destination for expats.

Put simply, you only pay tax on income earned in Singapore itself, with overseas income mostly untaxed with a few exceptions. If you’re a citizen, a permanent resident or a foreigner who’s lived or worked in Singapore for at least 183 days of the tax year, tax rates begin at nil with a maximum of 20%. If you’re an expat who has lived or worked in the city for less than 183 days in the current tax year, a 15% flat rate of tax applies. And there isn’t any capital gains, wealth tax, estate duty or dividend tax.

The ECA International shop

If you’d like to explore the fine detail, the ECA membership website is dedicated to developing solutions for assigning staff abroad. As such their site provides all the information individuals need to prepare for living and working in a new country, including in-depth Country Guides for 117 countries and territories, looking at vital things like travel restrictions, passports and visas, work permits, what your partner and dependents need to do, residence permits, registration, relocation, shipping, banking and a great deal more.

Do you live in Singapore?

If you live in Singapore, what would be your best cost of living tip for would-be expats? You can leave a comment below, or connect with us on Twitter @now_health or on the Now Health Facebook page so we can share them with our readers.

Alison Massey

Group Marketing Director

Now Health International

Alison Massey is a 15-year digital marketing veteran, who has spent the last seven years using social media to help expats and soon to be expats find out what to expect from a life overseas. An expat living in Hong Kong herself, Alison is the Group Marketing Director of Now Health, the award-winning international health insurance provider.

Contact Alison Massey

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