Moving to Singapore

Moving to Singapore

There is no doubt that Singapore is one of the best places to live. This small island nation consistently tops surveys that rank economic status, transport efficiency, technology, education and quality of living. With its many advantages, it's no wonder that this country remains a favorite among expats. If moving to Singapore is on your radar, then find out what you need to know about this place that will be your next home.

The "Little Red Dot"

Singapore isn't that difficult to find. The country lies at the tip of the Malay Peninsula and has a total land area of only 721 square kilometers. Most world maps show the city-state and its 63 islets as only a little red dot, hence the moniker. Situated just one degree north of the equator, Singapore has a tropical climate and experiences high humidity throughout the year, and heavy monsoon rains from September until February.

The country's history as a former British colony and as part of Malaysia before its independence in 1965 is reflected in its four official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, and Tamil. With English as the primary language of business, government, and schools, day-to-day living is made easier. The languages are also representative of Singapore's citizens and permanent residents consisting of ethnic Chinese, Malays, ethnic Indians and others from across the globe who choose to make Singapore their home. Living in Singapore also means familiarizing yourself with Singlish, the colloquial Singaporean English that's a unique combination of English, Malay, Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Tamil, and other languages.

With such a small land area and a population of 5.6 million, living in Singapore can be quite a squeeze if you're unused to crowds. Despite having a ratio of around 7,800 people living per square kilometer, Singapore boasts one of the highest public safety records in the world, resulting in a very low crime rate. A somewhat famous example is its ban on chewing gum, with offenders paying a steep fine for spitting out chewed gum and leaving it as litter. The Singapore Department of Statistics reports that in 2017, there was an overall crime rate of only 584 per 100,000 of the population. TheEconomist Intelligence Unit's Safe Cities Index for 2017 saw Singapore earn second place just behind Tokyo, first when it comes to personal security, and second in digital security.

Your Employment Pass

Singapore's reputation as a global financial hub and its strategic location in Asia makes it the ideal regional base for many of the world's top companies. Many firms choose to send their key people to Singapore due to its excellent standing in business transparency, low corruption, and technological innovation. Prior to your relocation, one of the most important on your list is to make sure your new work assignment complies with the all the requirements mandated by the Singaporean government.

The Singapore Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is in charge of formulating and implementing its labor policies. Foreign workers, excluding foreign domestic workers, comprise around 72 percent of Singapore's employment sector at the end of 2017, according to the MOM. These include professionals working in finance, information technology, shipping, manufacturing, construction, services and more.

The Ministry of Manpower stipulates that all foreigners who wish to work in Singapore must hold a valid pass or work visa. Both local and foreign companies must comply with this rule. Currently, there are different types of passes for foreign workers. The Employment Pass covers foreign professionals, managers, and executives, and requires candidates to earn an income of at least SGD 3,600 per month along with the proper qualifications. On the other hand, the S Pass caters to mid-level skilled staff who should earn at least SGD 2,200 a month. There's also the EntrePass for foreign entrepreneurs who wish to open a new business in Singapore, and the Personalized Employment Pass for existing Employment Pass holders or overseas foreign professionals who earn higher than the minimum income required of the Employment Pass. A Dependent's Pass is available for spouses and children of eligible Employment Pass and S Pass holders.

The World's Most Expensive City

Singapore's high standing as one of the world's best economies also makes it a very expensive city to live in. In fact, Singapore has retained its position as the world's most expensive city five years straight, based on The Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) Worldwide Cost of Living Survey for 2018. It outranked Paris, Zurich, Oslo, Geneva, and Copenhagen in Europe, as well as Hong Kong and Seoul in Asia, Tel Aviv, and Sydney, which comprise the top 10 cities.

It's no wonder that expats who have lived in Singapore advise that finding the right place to live in the country's tight property market requires careful planning and consideration. With only a small supply of land but a very high population density, housing in Singapore is without a doubt one of the most competitive in the world. Most expatriates upon arrival may choose to live in serviced apartments for the time being while scouting for more affordable and ideal housing in the city.

Do you wish to get a car while living in Singapore? Better think it over carefully before making any decisions. Unlike getting a car in your home country, owning a car and driving in Singapore entails a stringent process due to the city state's small size and limited road space. One of the most important and very expensive requirements in order to get your own vehicle is the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) which gives you the right of vehicle ownership and use of the roads for 10 years. The COE is dependent on Singapore's Vehicle Quota System (VQS), which helps regulate the number of vehicles on the roads to maintain a balanced road network and prevent gridlocks in and around the city. In many instances, the cost of getting a COE is more expensive than the price of the vehicle itself.

A Country of Contrasts

Despite the high costs of accommodation in Singapore, there are a good number of reasons why this country maintains its status as one of the world's most liveable cities over the years. In 2018, the Global Liveability Index released by The Economist Intelligence Unit saw Singapore place 37th overall, and 11th in Asia, after Osaka, Tokyo, and Hong Kong.

The high cost of living in Singapore is balanced by its income tax system. Simply put, if you earn more, you pay more taxes. Tax residents are Singaporean citizens and permanent residents who live in Singapore except for temporary absences. They can also be foreigners who have stayed or worked in Singapore for 183 days or more in the previous year of assessment. Anybody who does not meet these conditions are classified as non-residents.

While tax residents are taxed on a progressive scale ranging from zero to 22 percent from the year of assessment, non-residents are taxed at a flat rate of 15 percent or the resident rates, whichever results in a higher tax amount based on one's employment income. Tax residents can avail of tax relief but non-residents may not. If you're a newly-arrived Singapore expat, chances are you won't need to pay income tax immediately. Get more information about taxes on the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) website at

Singapore is also home to many local and international schools, both public and private, that offer pre-kindergarten up to tertiary and post-graduate education. The country takes pride in its education system that consistently sees Singapore students top international education rankings, most recently in 2016's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which is based on international tests in maths, reading and science.

When it comes to public transport, Singapore's impressive Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) railway system is lauded as one of the best and most efficient in the world. Aside from the MRT stations, there are also trains that connect to Singapore's Changi Airport, light rail trains, public buses, ferries and taxis that connect the rest of the islands seamlessly.

Despite its landscape dotted with gleaming skyscrapers, iconic landmarks, and the high-end shops along Orchard Road, expatriates in Singapore can also savor its reputation as a global food destination. Residents and tourists alike enjoy the many flavors of local cuisine from hawker centers, including the famous Hawker Chan Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodles which holds a coveted Michelin star. Wet markets also provide residents with fresh vegetables, fruit, and seafood, and also serves as a social hub in getting to know their neighbors.

The choice to live and work in Singapore can be an easy one, with all the perks of city living in such a limited space, and the chance to discover what life in one of Asia's best cities has to offer. 


Learn more about Working in Singapore.

Back To Top