Moving to Singapore: A guide for expats

12.07.16
4 minute read
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Updated 26, June 2017.

Singapore might be small but it packs a punch. This modern city state is one of the world’s financial powerhouses and offers huge opportunities to expats wanting to experience life in this vibrant corner of South-East Asia. A mixture of eastern culture and western capitalism gives Singapore its unique identity and culture. It has been popular with English speaking expats ever since the early 1800s when Sir Stamford Raffles first established it as a British trading post.

Quick Facts About Singapore

  • Population: 5.399 million
  • Some popular areas for expats: Orchard, Tanglin, Holland Village, East Coast
  • Currency: Singapore Dollar
  • Official languages: English, Malay, Tamil, Standard Mandarin
  • Main industries: Finance; Biotechnology; Energy; Infrastructure; Manufacturing; Service/Tourism

What Visas and Paperwork Do You Need?

For a stay of less than one month, no visa is needed (although you need at least six months left in your passport), but in order to work in Singapore, you need to apply for an Employment Pass. An Employment Pass requires your employer to make the application, and you need to be paid at least $3,600 (Singapore Dollars) a month (approximately £1,500). There is also the S Pass, which requires a salary of $2,200 a month. More information on both can be found Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower website.

The Cost of Living

Brace yourself… Singapore is, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the most expensive city in the world. The good news is that if you are moving there for professional work, your salary will match the cost of living, and many companies offer expats competitive packages including school and accommodation.

If you are intending on taking up less well-paid work, and are happy with a less flashy lifestyle, it is still possible to live in such an expensive place: Government built Housing Development Board flats (HBD) are open to applications from foreigners, and are much cheaper than accommodation in the private sector. Public transport is excellent and very cheap, and eating out can be extremely competitive as well. Watch what the locals do, and learn. Check out the figure-crunching website Numbeo for some details of the everyday costs of living in Singapore...

Setting Up Your Finances

It is possible to set up your Singaporean bank account before arriving in the country, which can make relocation a lot easier from the start. Due to its position as a global financial centre, Singapore is also home to many banks recognisable from the English-speaking world, such as HSBC, Citibank, Standard Chartered Bank and Barclays. Speak to your bank to see what international banking they offer. Once your account is opened in Singapore, register with TransferWise in order to transfer money between your US and Singapore accounts without having to pay hefty bank fees.

Finding And Getting Work

The Singaporean government is actively trying to attract “Foreign Talent” to the city, with various initiatives run through the Ministry of Manpower. The language of business is English, and the main areas of work for expats are in the Finance, Technology and Manufacturing industries. There are many specialist recruitment agencies dealing specifically with people wanting to move to Singapore and work in those areas, so do some research and make contact.

Finding Somewhere To Live

Accommodation in Singapore is expensive: Land is at a premium, and so for many expats, that translates into renting a condo - an apartment in a high rise building. Condos offer a sociable expat life, with a swimming pool and other communal amenities. Houses and smaller apartment buildings are also available, and many expats with families choose to live further out of the city itself to take advantage of being near the coast or river. The good news is that there is another type of housing called HDB flats that comprises around 80% of the housing market. It's subsidised, so you'll find it a bit cheaper. If you want a more thorough guide on the different types of housing and whether you qualify, you can read more from KRIB's explanation of Singaporean housing options.

Singapore is a diverse city with something for everyone’s taste (if you can afford the price tag): The ExpatLiving website has a comprehensive guide to the various areas. Engage the services of a rental agent - and try and get a word of mouth recommendation, as service can vary wildly.

The general rule is that the agent’s fee is paid by the landlord, regardless of how much the rental costs. You'll just need to know that the same agent can't represent both parties. Knowing your rights is helpful - make sure you are covered by the “Diplomatic Clause” on your tenancy agreement, which allows you to break the lease after 14 months.

Education And Schools

Although expats are entitled to enroll their children in any of the public or private schools in Singapore the reality is that the waiting lists for the best schools are long and places are limited. However if you are planning on staying long-term, this is a cheaper option than international schools. Education in Singapore is excellent, though culturally very different than more relaxed schooling in the Western world. Many expats turn to the international schooling sector for their family’s education and there is a wide range of schools to choose from.

Healthcare

Singapore’s healthcare system, run by the government’s Ministry of Health is of excellent quality and currently ranked most efficient in the world. For expats, the costs of public and private healthcare are similar, and so most expats earning a decent salary opt for private, just to cut down on waiting times. It is vital to get a comprehensive insurance policy, as expats do not qualify for the subsidies that locals are entitled to.

Other Useful Resources For Expats In Singapore

Before moving abroad, take a look at our handy time-sensitive checklist to remind yourself of everything you need to do to get organised.

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