Singapore Expat Guide

Living and Working in Singapore as an Expat in 2020

Are you thinking of moving to Singapore? This city-state in Southeast Asia continues to be a choice destination for expats because of its high standard of living, efficient public transportation system, cleanliness, and safety. Find out what you need to know with this guide to living in Singapore.


Life in Singapore

Singapore is a sovereign island nation located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. It declared independence from Malaysia and became the Republic of Singapore on August 9, 1965. Its tropical and humid climate makes it feel like summer all year round, with temperatures ranging from 22 degrees Celsius to 35 degrees. Monsoon rains are typical from September to January.

Singapore is proud of its multiracial and multicultural population, with the majority being ethnic Chinese, Malays, and ethnic Indians. As of June 2017, 70 per cent of its 5.47 million residents are Singaporean citizens and permanent residents, and 1.6 million are non-permanent residents. Its four official languages – English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, and Tamil – reflect the country's reputation as a melting pot. English is the primary language of government and business and is the medium of instruction in both local schools and international schools.

High Quality

Despite its limited land, Singapore ranks high when it comes to the economy, business climate, technology, and education. The country is second to Switzerland in economic standing, and ahead of the United States, Netherlands, Germany, Norway, and Taiwan. Singapore also takes the top spot for transparency, ease of doing business, lack of bureaucracy and best global innovation.

Thanks to its thriving economy, residents enjoy high-quality health care, education, personal safety, and housing standards. The Mercer 2018 Quality of Living Survey shows Singapore in first place for Asia, followed by Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei, and Kuala Lumpur.

Singapore's healthcare network includes a total of 17 hospitals currently comprising nine public and eight private hospitals. There are eight national speciality centres for cancer, cardiac, eyes, skin, neuroscience, and dental care. Several private hospitals accept international visitors, with many neighbouring countries availing of Singapore's excellent reputation for medical care.

Public Transport in Singapore

Singapore is proud of its efficient public transportation system. Voted as the world's best airport six years in a row, Changi Airport serves as the nation's gateway to the world, and the crown jewel of Singapore's world-class transport network. This includes the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) which covers most of Singapore, the Light Rapid Transit and monorail systems. Other options include ferries, public buses, and taxis.

Due to limited road space, driving in Singapore can seem like a luxury, and there are many rules and regulations needed to own a car. If you're an expat in Singapore with an Employment Pass, Dependant Pass, Student Pass or Work Permit, you need to convert your foreign driver's license to a Singapore driver's license to be able to drive.                                                             

Pros and Cons

Moving to Singapore means living and working in an expensive city. The country is the fourth most expensive city in the world according to Mercer's 2018 Annual Cost of Living Survey after Hong Kong and Tokyo. You also have to contend with a population of 5.6 million squeezed into only 721 square kilometres, a ratio of 7,796 persons per square kilometre.

Housing usually takes up the biggest chunk of expenses of living in Singapore especially for addresses located downtown which is in high demand. Transportation, healthcare, education, and child care can also contribute to increased costs. Expatriates are usually advised to set up a bank account in Singapore prior to relocation in order to make financial transactions easier. Many international banks have branches in Singapore, making it easier to open savings, checking and even multi-currency accounts, especially if you wish to keep a certain amount of your home country's currency on standby.

For recreation, there are many shopping malls that carry familiar international brands. Dining options include Michelin-starred hawker stalls to top-dollar restaurants headed by internationally-renowned chefs. Families can enjoy green spaces, beaches, hiking trails, skate facilities and theme parks for enjoyment. Many budget airlines also fly out from Singapore, making it easy to plan a weekend getaway to elsewhere in Asia.

Singapore's economic status, cleanliness, and multicultural environment allow its residents to enjoy a safe and enriched high standard of living that offers the best of Asian and Western lifestyles. 

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. 

Working in Singapore

There are many reasons why Singapore continues to be a top draw for foreigners. Working in Singapore as an expat provides a newfound career challenge for both fresh university graduates and career executives, while also offering a unique cultural and lifestyle experience. As an added bonus, its location in the Asia-Pacific region allows expatriates the chance to explore the rest of Asia's wonders via Singapore's Changi Airport, consistently hailed as the world's best airport. Why does Singapore continue to be the expats' favorite in global liveability surveys? Here's your chance to find out about working in Singapore and living a different kind of island life.

The Expat Life in Singapore

In HSBC’s 2018 annual expat survey, the country once again topped the charts, based on the replies from over 27,000 expats from 159 countries. Despite tough competition from other Asian countries such as Hong Kong and Japan, Singapore remains a favorite for expatriates.

Based on the survey, 60 percent of expat parents in Singapore find that their children's health and well-being are better here than in their home country. Of the 500 Singapore expats polled, 59 percent of those who moved to the Lion City say that their present incomes now allow them to save for their retirement, while 45 percent mention that their currents earnings enable them to buy a property.

According to the 2017-2018 Global Competitiveness Index from the World Economic Forum, Singapore ranks third overall out of 137 countries on the list, with Hong Kong in sixth and Japan in ninth place as the only other Asian countries. The country takes second in terms of superior transport infrastructure and for its efficient labor market, with its financial sector described as "well-developed, stable and trustworthy," making it third in that category. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) likewise agrees that Singapore remains to be the world's most investor-friendly location for 2018 in its Business Environment Rankings.

Based on the Singapore Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) figures, there were 1.21 million foreigners working in the country in December 2017. Combined with citizens and permanent residents (excluding foreign domestic workers), the Singapore working population now stands at 3.7 million out of a total population of 5.6 million.

It goes without saying that finding employment in Singapore is highly competitive. Due to its topnotch reputation especially in finance, commerce and information technology, many multinational companies and foreign talents are attracted by the prospect of job opportunities in Singapore, a better quality of life for families, better income, and a change of lifestyle and scenery.

Finding Work in Singapore

If you're thinking of doing a little job hunting in Singapore, be prepared to have some stiff competition. The MOM reports that in December 2017, over 786,000 foreigners were working in the services sector, while 333,000 and 243,000 more were employed in construction and manufacturing, respectively.

Finance draws the highest share of foreign talent in Singapore, many coming from the United States, Australia, the UK, and Europe to find a job. Many of the world's top financial institutions chose to maintain a robust presence in Asia, and select Singapore as its base of operations.

Information technology experts are also in high demand, as Singapore continues to rank high in technological innovation. The tourism and hospitality industry in Singapore also attracts its fair share due to the country's stellar reputation as a prime sightseeing destination and the award-winning Singapore Changi Airport serving as the country's doorstep to the world. Singapore also boasts one of the busiest shipping industries in the world.

The Ministry of Manpower's website offers an online Self-Assessment Tool (SAT) to help employers check whether their foreign applicant meets the criteria to obtain the proper work pass. Many Singapore expats who have used the tool mention that the SAT is indeed accurate.

Should the SAT results indicate that the candidate is not eligible, employers are advised not to forward the Employment Pass application to the MOM. However, if the SAT does say the candidate qualifies for a work pass, chances are, a majority of the applications may be approved. It goes without saying that since the SAT is only an online tool, it cannot take into account the poor records of an applicant or a company's dubious profile.

Securing a Work Pass

Before you pack your bags, make sure you have a job offer and an employment pass waiting for you. As mandated by the Singapore Ministry of Manpower, any foreigner who wishes to work in Singapore must have a valid Employment Pass. Local and foreign firms in Singapore are required to comply with this rule, and anyone bent on finding work has to meet specific conditions to get the proper work permit.

There are different types of passes for foreign workers, including professionals and the skilled and semi-skilled, all of which are subject to certain criteria, and may or may not require an employer or employment agency to file the application. According to the latest guidelines from the MOM, foreigners who wish to avail of the Employment Pass are also evaluated based on the social and economic impact they would have on Singapore and its citizens.

Which Pass Do You Need?

The most common pass for foreign professionals is the Employment Pass (EP) that caters mostly to highly skilled professionals, managers and executives, and requires candidates to earn a fixed minimum income of SGD 3,600 per month. The pass is valid for up to two years for first-time candidates and valid up to three years upon renewal. Those who employ EP holders can choose whether to provide medical insurance for them or not. In this case, it's ideal to have an international health insurance plan in place prior to your relocation. Employment Pass holders also have the privilege of bringing certain family members to join them in Singapore. If you're moving to Singapore with an Employment Pass, your spouse and any children under 21 years old can join you using a Dependents' Pass provided your income is at least SGD 6,000 per month.

Those with more experience, higher incomes and seniority may be eligible for the Personalised Employment Pass (PEP) which is valid for three years but non-renewable and has its own criteria for income and eligibility. These include having a last drawn fixed monthly salary from overseas of at least SGD 18,000. Employment Pass holders who have a fixed monthly income of at least SGD 12,000 may choose to apply for the PEP instead.

There are certain restrictions for eligibility when it comes to the PEP. EP holders under the sponsorship scheme are not eligible nor are freelancers or foreigners who work on a freelance basis. Those who do not qualify include journalists, editors, sub-editors and producers, and anyone who serves as a sole proprietor, partner or director who is also a shareholder in a company registered under the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) of Singapore. ACRA serves to regulate the business entities, public accountants and corporate service providers in Singapore.

In Singapore, it only takes two and a half days to start a business, making it second place in the world for ease of doing business in 2018, according to a World Bank report. The country also ranks among the top 10 globally for protecting minority investors, ease of paying taxes and enforcing contracts. The business-friendly environment makes it very attractive for any foreign entrepreneurs, innovators or investors who wish to start and operate new businesses in Singapore.

Those who wish to do so can apply for the EntrePass, which is valid for one year at first and allows you to leave and re-enter Singapore easily. While it requires no minimum income, the EntrePass includes more stringent requirements, including for those who wish to avail of the Dependent's Pass for their families. Foremost of these is that the business must be a private limited company registered with ACRA and the required funding. If the company is already registered, it must not be more than six months from the date of application.

Those who wish to avail of an EntrePass must submit several documents including a business plan in English that includes the applicant's profile in terms of professional experience, track record in growing startups, any awards or recognitions given by credible organizations or prominent national body, academic qualifications, etc. The business plan should also include the business idea, the products or services offered, an accompanying market analysis and any supporting documents such as certifications, licensing agreements and endorsements. The last section should feature the implementation plan including financial projections and a profile of the management team.

Please note that there are certain businesses not eligible for an EntrePass. These include coffee shops, hawker centers, and food courts, and bars, nightclubs and karaoke lounges in the food and entertainment sectors. Others that are also considered inadmissible are foot reflexology and massage clinics, Traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, herbal dispensing businesses, geomancy, and employment agencies.

Passes for Skilled and Semi-Skilled Workers

Data on foreign workers provided by the Ministry of Manpower shows that at the end of 2017, there were 187,700 Employment Pass holders, 184,400 S-Pass holders, and 965,200 holding Work Permits, including foreign domestic workers and workers in the construction industry.

Mid-level skilled employees regardless of nationality may apply for the S-Pass, which requires a lower minimum income of at least SGD 2,200 a month, and less stringent criteria on skills and academic requirements. The S-Pass is valid for up to two years but if the pass holder switches jobs, he has to apply for a new pass. Employers of S-Pass holders are required to provide them medical insurance. Just like with Employment Pass holders, those who hold an S-Pass and wish to avail of a Dependent's Pass for their family members must earn at least SGD 6,000 for them to qualify.

However, note that this type of work pass is determined by quotas imposed by the Singaporean government that requires companies to hire a certain number of local staff before its foreign employees' work passes can be approved. The MOM also evaluates the hiring companies and its foreign candidates based on salaries offered, relevant work experience and academic qualification of the applicants. Currently, the Singapore government is encouraging the hiring of more locals and providing them with more training opportunities and roles within the companies, thus creating a healthier ratio that gives Singapore residents a better chance at long-term employment.

Meanwhile, foreign workers in the construction, manufacturing, processing, marine or services sectors require a Work Permit (WP). The issuance of Work Permits are conditional on quotas for the abovementioned industries, and employers are required to pay a monthly levy and provide medical insurance for each worker. Work Permits are valid up to two years, depending on the worker's passport validity, security bond and employment period. There is no minimum salary required for those who wish to avail of the WP, but they can't avail of the Dependent's Pass for their family.

All employees working in Singapore under a contract service are covered by Singapore's Employment Act which stipulates the basic terms and conditions for employees at work. This includes full-time, part-time, temporary and contract workers. Similarly, foreign employees who hold an Employment Pass, S-Pass or Work Permits are also covered by the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act that outlines the employer's responsibilities and obligations for employing foreign workers. 

Passes for Foreign Trainees and Students

There are also work passes available for foreign professionals who need to undergo practical training at their company offices in Singapore, for students aged 18 up to 25 who want to combine work and holidays in Singapore, and foreign trainees who are considered semi-skilled.

The Training Employment Pass is aimed at foreign trainees or foreign students who wish to undergo training in Singapore for professional, managerial, executive or specialist positions. The Pass is valid up to three months, non-renewable and does not allow for family members to join the candidate in Singapore.

Foreign undergraduate or graduate students aged 18 to 25 who want experience a working holiday in Singapore can apply for the Work Holiday Pass under the Work Holiday Programme of the Singapore Ministry of Manpower. Undergraduates should be a resident and full-time student of the university for at least three months prior to applying for the pass. Those who have graduated should have been a resident and full-time university students. Eligible students must come from universities located in and recognized by the governments of Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland, the United Kingdom or the United States. There are only 2,000 slots available for the Work Holiday Pass, which is valid for six months and is non-renewable.

On the other hand, students aged 18 to 30 with Australian citizenship may avail of the Work Holiday Pass under the Work and Holiday Visa Programme. Candidates must have a university degree or at least have completed the equivalent of two years of full-time undergraduate study at a university. While this particular Work Holiday Pass is valid for 12 months, the Work Holiday and Visa Programme only offers 500 places at any one time.

Getting a Dependent's Pass for Your Family

For most expatriates, relocating with their family only makes sense, especially for those with young children. After all, many expats who chose to stay in Singapore cite its clean and safe surroundings, efficient public transportation and educational systems.

Those holding an Employment Pass or S-Pass are eligible to bring certain family members when they move to Singapore by applying for a Dependent's Pass. The Dependent's Pass is for the foreign worker's legally married spouse or unmarried children under 21 years old, with the EP or S-Pass holder's employer or appointed employment agent applying on their behalf. The Dependent's Pass is valid for up to two years and tied to the duration of the employee's work pass.

Qualified Dependent's Pass holders are allowed to work in Singapore. For those whose spouses hold an Employment Pass, EntrePass or Personalised Employment Pass, they may get a Letter of Consent to Work in Singapore if they find a job there. For the dependents of S-Pass holders, they are required to apply for a Work Permit S-Pass or Employment Pass instead and should meet all the criteria required for these passes. Once they get an Employment Pass or S-Pass, they are required to cancel their Dependent's Pass. S-Pass dependents who avail themselves of a Work Permit should know that their Work Permit's duration is contingent to the validity of the original S-Pass holder's.

Expats possessing an eligible Employment Pass or S-Pass who wish to have their common-law spouse, step-child or handicapped child join them in Singapore may wish to apply for the Long Term Visit Pass (LTVP). They may also bring their parents on the same pass as long as their monthly income is over SGD 12,000.

Just like the Dependent's Pass, the original EP or S-Pass holder's employer or an appointed employment agent must apply for the LTVP on their behalf. The LTVP is subject to the duration of the main work pass, valid up to two years and can be renewed six months before expiry. For more information about Singapore's work passes and permits for foreigners, please visit

Your Wages and Income Tax

Singapore's status as one of the most stable and progressive economies in the world also creates a high standard of living for its residents. Property prices and rents in Singapore are one of the highest in the world, and international schools command high fees. Needless to say, your income should be able to keep up with the cost of living in Singapore.

A quick way to find out the median monthly gross salary for your career level or job position, the Ministry of Manpower's Occupational Wage Search page offers a useful tool that reveals the gross monthly income for specific occupations and also offer salary comparisons for similar positions. The resulting amount includes overtime pay, commissions, and allowances.

Do you need to pay income tax if you're an expat working in Singapore? Yes, you do. Income taxes in Singapore are filed annually every April 15. Unlike in other countries, employers don't withhold the taxes from employees' salaries. The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) provides a very helpful guide on tax information for foreigners which explains the criteria of tax residency and the appropriate tax rates.

According to the IRAS, a tax resident is a Singaporean citizen or permanent resident who lives in Singapore except for temporary absences; and any foreigner who has lived and worked in Singapore for 183 days or more in the previous year of assessment. Those who do not fall under these conditions are considered non-residents.

Tax residents are taxed on a progressive scale ranging from zero to 22 percent from the Year of Assessment and may avail of tax relief. 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, and are not eligible for tax relief.

Aside from salaries and bonuses, other employment benefits such as housing and stock options also comprise one's taxable employment income. However, any income derived outside Singapore, Singapore dividends, and bank interests are considered tax-exempt. Get more information about taxes on the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) website at

A Social Safety Net: The Central Provident Fund

The Central Provident Fund (CPF) is Singapore's social security system and covers only Singapore citizens and permanent residents. The CPF was established to help working Singaporean citizens and permanent residents save for retirement and provides assistance for healthcare, home ownership, family protection, and asset enhancement.

Expats can start making monthly contributions to their CPF when they become Singapore Permanent Residents (SPR). For the first two years, CPF contributions by both employees and employers can be done at reduced rates to help employees adjust to the lower take-home pay. Eligible members can withdraw their CPF savings if they leave Singapore permanently and have no intention of returning for re-employment or residence, or are permanently incapacitated.

CPF monthly contributions go into several accounts designed for various purposes including housing, medical and retirement needs. These include the Ordinary Account (OA) designed for housing, insurance, investment and education, and the Special Account (SA) for old age and investments in retirement-related financial products. The MediSave Account (MA) is geared towards health insurance and hospitalization expenses while the Retirement Account (RA) is created automatically on one's 55th birthday. For more information about the CPF, visit

Cost of Living in Singapore

Singapore is one of the most liveable cities in the world, consistently landing the top spots in global rankings year after year for offering a better quality of life for its residents. The idea of moving to Singapore and living on this island nation and experiencing its unique way of life can prove quite alluring. Before you accept the assignment and contact the movers, think about the cost of living in Singapore as an expat first. What are the most and least expensive essentials you need to splurge or save on before you move to Singapore?

Life in Singapore: An Expensive City

Annual surveys done by Mercer, The Economist and HSBC, among others, always show Singapore in the top five spots when it comes to cost of living. In Mercer's Cost of Living Survey for 2018, four cities out of the five most expensive cities in the world are in Asia, with Hong Kong first on the list, followed by Tokyo in second, Singapore in fourth, while Seoul, Shanghai, and Beijing occupy the fifth, seventh and ninth spots, respectively.

Singapore's robust and competitive economy makes it one of the richest countries in the world. A leader in technological innovation, infrastructure, financing, education, it's also known for its zero-tolerance to corruption. This attracts a high number of investors, students, foreign workers, and their families.

The Singapore Government website agrees that living in Singapore can be quite costly for expats. It explains in detail through infographics how the prices of basic goods and services in Singapore compare against those mentioned in the surveys. The website also points out that the Singapore dollar has appreciated against the United States dollar through the years, and as such, currency fluctuations do affect expatriates who get their income in foreign currencies. Use the handy Cost of Living calculator on the Contact Singapore website to find out how much a working adult will need for housing, transportation, health insurance and medical care, food, clothing, childcare, and schooling.

Living in Singapore can also prove to be quite a shock when it comes to space as the entire country (the main island of Pulau Jurong and 63 islets) is only 721 square kilometers. With a current population of 5.6 million people, that means around 7,800 people living per square kilometer. Thus, factoring in the cost of housing should be the first on your list. If your relocation package includes housing and transport/car allowances, as well as education and childcare, the issue of accommodation costs may not be as worrisome.

Even if you don't have any housing allowances, it's better to look into various residential options and make a thorough comparison to find what is most suitable for your needs.

Prepared to Pay? Houses, Condominiums, and Apartments

With only so much land, Singapore is dotted with skyscrapers like many other highly populated cities. The cost of housing in Singapore depends on a lot of factors like the location of the property and its proximity to the city. Would you prefer to live within or nearer downtown, or is it acceptable to commute and take public transport to work? Other things to consider are the age of the buildings and its fittings such as plumbing and electricals, availability of recreational facilities like a pool or gym, and space you need to accommodate your family and furnishings.

Space commands a premium price tag in Singapore. A four-bedroom bungalow in a landed property (garden included) can cost north of SGD 25,000 per month. Prime locations, especially those closest to the business district or with open spaces can rent as much as SGD 18,000 a month, while terraced and semi-detached houses may go for around SGD 9,000 to SGD 15,000 monthly.

For more modestly-sized options, there are condominiums which are popular among expatriate families since these offer additional amenities like a swimming pool or clubhouse, a children's playground, and even a gym. The average monthly rent can go anywhere from SGD 7,000 to as high as SGD 15,000 especially those nearer the city center. Those that are within a short walking distance of public transportation like bus stops or an MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) station will have an advantage but will certainly cost more.

By comparison, executive condominiums offer lower monthly fees while possessing similar facilities as private condominiums. An executive condominium or EC is similar to a condo unit in many ways except that an EC is subsidized by the government and thus bound by certain regulations and restrictions when it comes to rental and ownership.

Also similar to condominiums are private apartments, with the exception of other amenities. The apartment buildings also tend to be older since private developers have veered towards condominiums instead.

The More Affordable Option: HDB Flats

Compared to public housing in other countries, HDB flats in Singapore can be quite spacious, with one-bedroom to three-bedroom options available. Rent is considerably more affordable for an HDB flat versus private apartments and condominiums, with three-bedroom versions near the city center going for around SGD 3,500. Depending on the location, flats farther from the business district usually go down to about SGD 2,500 to SGD 3,200. Do note that some older HDB flats may not be air-conditioned, and in the notorious heat and humidity of Singapore, you will definitely want to have one installed.

About 82 percent of Singapore locals live in HDB flats which are within easy distance of banks, wet markets, hawker centers, post offices, local schools, clinics, and shopping malls. Minus the swimming pool and fitness facilities, HDB blocks form an entire neighborhood that makes it easy to adjust to the local way of life.

Single expats in Singapore usually opt to share an HDB flat, condominium or apartment with other people to bring down the rental costs. Many opt to cook at home with occasional visits to a nice restaurant for special occasions. Get more information about HDB flats at

School Fees and Child Care

Students from Singapore are ranked among the best in the world, most recently in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2016 results which measure aptitudes in maths, reading and science. PISA is run by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) every three years.

Expats and their families relocating to Singapore need not worry about the choice of schools. The country has many public schools which are subsidized by the government, and private schools which are also called international schools. As education standards in Singapore are very high, you can't go wrong with either one. However, expect to pay higher fees when enrolling your child as an international student. A majority of expats cite child care and school fees as one of their major expenses while residing in Singapore.

Preschools are run by the private sector as well as international schools and child care centers, and many are duly registered with the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE). Classes can be half-day while some offer a full day program, with costs ranging from SGD 800 to SGD 1,500 for half-day care, while full days can go up to as much as SGD 3,500. Families with young children often avail the services of a live-in domestic helper to help with childcare and everyday household chores.

The local school system in Singapore follows a curriculum approved by the Singapore Ministry of Education while international schools usually adhere to a curriculum more widely accepted like the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma. As local schools are supported by the government, fees are much lower than that of international schools but can be just as competitive in terms of quality. Both use English as the primary language of instruction at all levels.

Sending your child to an international school can be expensive in Singapore and can cost anywhere from SGD 2,000 to 4,000 per month. There are also different fees depending on the nationality of the student. The fees are based on whether the student is a Singapore Permanent Resident, a citizen of an ASEAN country or coming from a non-ASEAN country. Costs increase for secondary and pre-university levels. A list of international schools in Singapore can be found on the Contact Singapore website. For more information, visit the Singapore Ministry of Education website at

Healthcare in Singapore

Singapore exemplifies modernity and progress with its gleaming skyscrapers, award-winning Changi Airport, and its much-admired public transport system and cleanliness. Expats who move to Singapore find themselves experiencing a new culture and a different way of life from what they're accustomed to. Are you and your family relocating to Singapore on assignment? Aside from housing, schooling, and your new job, a little due diligence about healthcare costs for Singapore expats and international health insurance can immensely help in important decision-making. Get to know the healthcare system of Singapore to make your move pain-free.

Healthcare in Singapore at a Glance

Frequently mentioned by former and current expats in Singapore is the high quality of life they enjoy in the city. The Singapore government takes pride in its health care system that has won accolades all over the world. A report from 2000 released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the overall health system performances of 191 countries saw the country in sixth place, while the United Kingdom ranked 18th and the US was in 37th place. The latest analysis from Bloomberg in September 2018 shows Singapore in second place after Hong Kong, with an average life expectancy of 82.7 years.

Boasting state-of-the-art facilities, the country currently has 5,607 public and private medical care establishments as of September 2018 overseen by the Singapore Ministry of Health (MOH) according to the Singapore Department of Statistics, comprising more than 18 hospitals, over 3,000 Western clinics, 790 non-Western clinics and an additional 1,660 offering dental and other health services. Many of its premier institutions take the lead in medical research and maintain partnerships with renowned medical centers all over the world. This has resulted in an increasing number of international visitors seeking medical services at many of Singapore's internationally-accredited hospitals.

The current network of healthcare services includes nine private hospitals which include Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Gleneagles Hospital, Farrer Park Hospital, Raffles Hospital, and Camden Medical Centre. There are also eight public hospitals, among them Singapore General Hospital, Changi General Hospital, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital. The Institute of Mental Health provides psychiatric care and there are also nine specialty centers for cancer, skin, neuroscience, eyes, cardiac health, and dental care.

At the frontline of primary health care are the over 2,000 private and 200 public polyclinics as of 2017 with general practitioners providing outpatient care. These polyclinics provide at least 80 percent of Singapore residents' primary medical care. If your Singapore relocation package includes local health insurance plans from your employer, visits to private clinics for minor ailments may be covered by this. Make sure to ask your company prior to your move about any such coverage for you and your dependents. 

Public Healthcare

Singapore maintains a universal health care system through compulsory savings and government subsidies. For the most part, public healthcare benefits in Singapore extend only to its citizens and permanent residents.

This is done through the country's mandatory social security scheme, the Central Provident Fund (CPF), which includes a component called Medisave. Medisave is essentially a savings scheme which puts aside a certain amount from a person's income into a special account designed for hospitalization, surgery, and outpatient treatments for diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes or stroke. An expat who has acquired permanent resident status can start making monthly contributions to their CPF, and in turn, start maintaining their own Medisave account. The Ministry of Health features a list of other available public health insurance schemes such as MediShield Life coverage, MediFund and more, as well as eligibility requirements and benefits including allowances and hospital stays at

Health Insurance is Absolutely Essential

Now that you have a basic idea of how the Singapore public healthcare system works, it's necessary to determine how much local and international health insurance coverage you want for yourself and your family. Another important factor is to find out whether your employer will provide you and your dependents at least some basic medical coverage for the duration of your stay in Singapore. This way, you can figure out whether you require any additions to your plan such as vision, dental coverage, and more.

If you have any private health insurance for yourself or your entire family in your home country, do a quick check with them to see if they have international coverage and how much is the limit for such. Most international insurance companies allow some flexibility when it comes to extending their members' coverage in other territories. This is especially important if you require some traveling for work, or if you and your dependents intend to make regular visits home, have a baby, require surgery or long-term hospitalization.

See Now Health Singapore for more information

However, be prepared for any increased fees on your monthly premiums due to the expanded coverage. Many Singapore-based insurance schemes that cater to expats also command higher premiums than what locals usually pay. International healthcare companies usually settle their members' medical bills directly with the hospital, unlike local companies who choose to reimburse the amount after treatment or hospitalization.

On the other hand, it's worth checking Singapore-based insurance companies who offer international health plans. Health insurance from local companies may offer limited scope compared to international coverage when it comes to geographical territory, payouts and co-payments, and add-ons such as pregnancy, newborn visits, vision, and dental. Take time to screen and compare everything carefully. One important reminder about local health insurance is that this is all dependent on your status in Singapore. If you quit, lose your job and your Employment Pass gets canceled, you need to terminate your insurance plan.

Availing of Private Healthcare

A majority of the 1.2 million foreigners currently working and living in Singapore usually go to private hospitals for treatment. As of 2017, there are a total of 1,500 beds available in Singapore's private hospitals and over 4,000 doctors working in private healthcare.

Healthcare provided by the private sector is understandably more expensive but also offers more benefits than public facilities. These include medical staff who speak English and other languages, shorter waiting times and top-notch facilities that offer more than just basic comforts. Some offer world-class rooms and suites more similar to luxurious hotels than medical centers which can set you back as high as SGD 8,000 to SGD 10,000 per night. If privacy isn't much of an issue especially for an overnight stay, there are also one- or two-bed wards available that can cost around SGD 3,000. It goes without saying that treatment at private hospitals will cost you more so it's imperative that your healthcare plan can cover the expense.

Note that international prescriptions are not accepted in Singapore. Consult with a local doctor in order to get a valid prescription of your required medications. Just to be on the safe side, make sure to have an adequate supply of your medications for the first few months of your arrival in Singapore.

Once you have a local prescription, it's much easier to fill it at many of Singapore's pharmacies, shopping centers, and even supermarkets, where over-the-counter medications are also available. Singapore doctors can also provide you with a more affordable generic equivalent of imported medicines.

Getting Around in Singapore

A Guide to the Transport System in Singapore

Winning the top spot four years in a row as the best place for expatriates to live and work, Singapore boasts not only clean and safe surroundings but a world-class public transport system that continues to be the envy of many countries. Anyone who has visited Singapore knows how easy it is getting around in Singapore. Planning to work there as an expat? Here's your guide to the transport system of Singapore to make your new life easier to navigate.

Driving in Singapore

There are currently 5.6 million people in Singapore, making it one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Unlike larger cities, it only has around 9,300 lane-kilometers of public paved roads. In contrast, there were 546,706 cars in Singapore at the end of 2017. Thus, the Singapore government continues to promote the use of public transport such as buses and MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) to allow more people on the road.

Expatriates may drive in Singapore. Driving in Singapore is on the right-hand side so it may take some adjustment if you're unused to this arrangement. Expats living Singapore for more than a year or become Permanent Residents need to change their foreign driver's license into a Singapore license to continue driving.

Want a Car? You Need a COE

Unlike in other countries, getting a car in Singapore isn't that easy. The government implements stringent measures to curb car ownership and use. One of the most important and costly requirements to get your own vehicle is the Certificate of Entitlement (COE). The Vehicle Quota System administered by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) helps regulate the number of vehicles on the road to prevent gridlocks.

Those who wish to buy a new car need to bid for a COE, which has a 10-year validity from the date of registration. More often than not, the cost of the COE is higher than the price of the vehicle itself. The owner also needs to pay two kinds of registration fees, the Excise Duty, and the Road Tax. For more information, visit the Ministry of Transport website at

What is the ERP?

Road congestion is a serious matter in Singapore. To help ease bottlenecks, the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) was implemented in 1998.

All vehicles in Singapore have an In-Vehicle Unit (IU) installed which contains the cash card. Passing through roads with the ERP gantries in operation automatically deducts the amount from the cash card using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology. The ERP charges on a per-pass basis and encourages motorists to adjust their schedule, route or mode of travel.

Singapore's Public Transport System: Fast, Convenient, Efficient

Due to land scarcity, the Singapore government promotes the use of public transport such as trains, buses, and taxis. A report from global management consulting firm McKinsey ranks Singapore first in affordability of public transport, second in terms of effectiveness, and one of the lowest in terms of accidents and fatalities. Thanks to an efficient combination of integrated road networks and rail infrastructures, people living in Singapore have plenty of options when it comes to getting from Point A to Point B.

The most popular is the Mass Rapid Transit or MRT which carries over 3 million riders per day on average, and a network stretching 230 kilometers all over Singapore. The MRT system is considered the easiest and fastest way to commute with its network of 6 operating lines and 141 stations. Trains run every three to eight minutes daily, while the stations open at 5:30 am and close at 12:30 am.

Riding the trains is a breeze with the use of stored value cards called the EZ Link and NETS FlashPay cards. The bus fare is deducted each time you tap your card on the card reader at MRT stations. The cards can also be topped up at many ticket machines, and any MRT ticket office or convenience store. Fare discounts are also given to seniors, children, students and people with disabilities. Tickets for single trips are available, while visitors may avail of the Singapore Tourist Pass for unlimited travel on the MRT, LRT, and buses to visit popular tourist attractions.

Public Buses and Taxis

All 20,000 Singapore buses are air-conditioned and a bus stop is always within walking distance from most residential areas. Around 95 percent of Singapore's public bus fleet is wheelchair-accessible, with the goal of having 100 percent of all buses compliant by the year 2020.

To pay the bus fare, commuters can use their EZ Link card or NETS FlashPay card for bus rides by tapping on the card reader upon embarking and disembarking, which will also show the fare and distance traveled. Cash payment is also allowed but no change will be given.

With the opening of more MRT lines, the Singapore government plans to increase the number of buses on the road, aside from the ones currently operated by bus companies like the SBS Transit and SMRT Buses. The additional buses provide feeder services for new HDB developments to help residents connect to MRT stations, commercial areas such as shopping malls, and other community facilities.

Other bus services such as the Premium Bus Service offer direct journeys and guaranteed seats, while the Fast Forward Bus Service makes fewer stops and has flexible routes to save travel time. Visit for more information.

Getting a taxi is quite easy – you can hail one on the street, wait at taxi stands, book through the phone or use an app. All taxi rides are metered and based on a flag-down rate and distance traveled. The flag-down fare for standard taxis ranges from SGD 3.20 to SGD 3.90 while premium taxis may charge a flag-down rate of SGD 3.90 to SGD 5.00. There may also be additional charges for peak hours, ERP, public holidays and for certain locations like Singapore Changi Airport and the Singapore Expo.

To book a cab via the taxi company or via an app might incur a booking fee which may be charged separately from the taxi fares. Most taxi drivers provide receipts at the end of the journey and accept cash, credit cards, mobile payments, and the NETS FlashPay or CEPAS stored-value cards.