How to buy a car in Singapore: A complete guide

25.07.17
6 minute read
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Singapore is a compact city with an extensive and reliable public transport network. As such, owning a car isn’t seen as a necessity for most residents. Car ownership is an expensive luxury few can easily afford.

Nevertheless, the convenience of driving a car outweighs the exorbitant price tag for some people. For instance, travelling from western Singapore to Changi Airport in the east takes at least an hour and a half on the subway, but with a car takes half the time.

Over the course of this guide, you’ll explore the various ways to own a car, the registration process involved and the important points to note when driving in Singapore.

Should I bring or import my own car to Singapore or should I just buy new?

Importing a car into Singapore comes with a hefty price tag. However, depending on what you’re looking for, it may be your best option.

Firstly, only right-hand drive cars that are less than 3 years old may be used in Singapore. The car must also meet safety and environmental standards and use a speedometer marked in km/h.

Once everything checks out, the importer can engage an agent to ship the car over, and help apply for an Inward Cargo Clearance Permit. Singapore Customs will calculate the Open Market Value (OMV) of the car, the Excise Duty, and the Goods and Service Tax (GST).

Upon reaching Singapore, the car will be subject to an emission and fuel economy test to ascertain the carbon emission, which will either incur a surcharge or a rebate. This is added or subtracted from an Additional Registration Fee (ARF).

The importer also needs to bid for a Certificate of Entitlement (COE) which entitles the car to be registered. After paying all outstanding fees, including the ARF, insurance, road tax, and any applicable surcharges, a registration notification letter is issued and the car is now permitted for use.

Here’s an example of the costs involved to import a car (>1,600cc engine) to Singapore with an OMV of S$30,000.

Fee Cost
Excise Duty (20% of OMV) S$6,000
GST (7% of total cost) S$2,100
Surcharge for importing used car S$10,000
Land Transport Authority (LTA) processing and registration fees S$165
Additional Registration Fee (ARF) S$33,000
COE S$50,000 (estimated)
Road Tax (annual) S$2,000 (estimated)
Motor Insurance (annual) S$1,300 (estimated)
Carbon Emission-Based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS) rebate/surcharge S$0 (assuming the car is environmentally neutral)
Total S$104,565

If you’re still convinced importing is your best option, you’ll want to check out a detailed guide to importing your car into Singapore.

How do I buy a car in Singapore?

Due to strict car ownership rules, the easiest way to buy a car is through a dealer. For new cars, you’ll need to buy the car and a Certificate of Entitlement (COE) which, as its name suggests, is a permit to register a car.

If a car loan is required, the dealer may also introduce a banker to assess the finances involved. After the COE and loan amount is approved, the buyer and dealer finalise the transaction and register the car under the buyer’s name.

What’s the cost of owning a car in Singapore?

A typical sedan costs between S$80,000 to S$150,000 including COE. Road tax is calculated based on the engine capacity, but expect to pay around S$2,000 per year. Insurance premiums also average out at S$1,300.

Cars are exempt from inspection for the first 2 years, and subject to biennial inspection from the 3rd to 10th year. Each inspection costs S$62.06, and subsequent re-inspections cost S$31.03.

Petrol prices vary between S$2 to S$2.50. Parking rates start at S$0.60 and can reach as high as S$5 per 30 minutes in the CBD. Singapore employs electronic road pricing (ERP) along busy roads, and charges between S$0.50 to S$3 depending on area and time of day. As a rough gauge, an average daily commute to work - including parking and petrol costs - in a downtown office may cost around S$15 to S$25 per day.

Where can I find a car?

New cars can be test-driven and purchased at authorized dealers or parallel importers, many of which are located along Leng Kee Road and in the Ubi Industrial estate. Authorised dealers are usually more reliable, but parallel importers can offer better prices.

Increasingly, many car owners are trading cars through online marketplaces like SGCarMart, OneShift and Carro. If you’re in need, some even offer services like vehicle inspections and financial planning.

How can I pay for the car?

Buying a car involves large sums of money paid upfront for the COE, taxes, insurance and the down-payment. Transferring these amounts from an overseas bank to a Singaporean bank account will incur expensive bank fees and poor exchange rates. A trusted service like TransferWise - approved by the Monetary Authority of Singapore - is able to transfer up to £1m for most currencies, and offer the real exchange rate, the same one you find on Google.

Once your money is in a local bank account, you can pay through a bank transfer mechanism known as GIRO. For smaller amounts like insurance premiums, monthly loan installments and road tax, your credit or debit card may be used too.

How do I register a car in Singapore?

A COE is a prerequisite to registering a new car. Introduced to control the vehicle population, there are only a limited quantity to be purchased through a bidding exercise held bi-monthly.

In most cases, the car dealer will bid for the COE on behalf of the buyer. The buyer can also make a bid directly through a DBS Bank ATM or using the online COE bidding website. Note that a deposit of S$10,000 is required for this.

If you’re buying a second-hand car, the COE, road tax and insurance may already be included. Otherwise, the outstanding road tax and motor insurance must be purchased separately.

The final paperwork to complete registration can be done online by the dealer, or in-person at the LTA Customer Service Centre if preferred. A S$25 administrative fee will apply in this case.

In order to complete your car registration in Singapore, you’ll need to submit:

  1. Application for Registration and Licensing of a Motor Vehicle/Revised Off-Peak Car (Form R01/R01A)
  2. Notification of COE (issued by LTA as Temporary COE)
  3. Employment/Immigration Pass Card bearing Foreign Identification Number (FIN) issued by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) or Immigration & Checkpoint of Singapore (ICA)
  4. Certificate of Insurance
  5. Notice of Approval with Vehicle Approval Code (VAC) issued

What should I know about driving a car in Singapore?

What kind of compulsory car equipment is there in Singapore?

All Singapore registered cars should come equipped with an In-Vehicle Unit (IU) that reads the NETS stored value card, and is required for paying the tolls and charges at ERP and carpark gantries.

Newly qualified drivers should display a probation plate clearly on the windshield on the front and back of the car, as required by law.

What kind of driving licenses are accepted in Singapore?

For short-term visits, valid foreign driver licenses are accepted with an International Driving Permit (IDP). In the absence of an IDP, an official translation of the foreign license in English is required. Drivers from ASEAN member countries don’t need an IDP to drive in Singapore, though.

If you’re staying in Singapore for more than 12 months from the date of last entry, you’ll need to convert your foreign license to a Singaporean one.

What kind of vocabulary is helpful for me?

COE Certificate of Entitlement, a permit required to register ownership of a car
LTA Land Transport Authority, the government agency handling car registrations
Demerit points The Traffic Police has a system of penalising offences with demerit points. After a limit is reached, the driver’s license may be suspended.
Summons Issued by the Traffic Police for offences like speeding, illegal parking or inconsiderate driving.
OMV Open market value, a fair value of a car based on the local market rates.

Buying a car is a big commitment in Singapore, but with proper financial planning you’ll enjoy the convenience it offers. Where possible, seek help from the professionals, ensure all your documentation is in order and use online forms and payment systems to help move the process along faster. You’ll be on the road in no time!

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