cost-of-living-singapore

Country Facts about Singapore

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What you should know about living costs and more in Singapore

Before making it your new home, brush up on some key Singapore country facts. From the cost of living and getting around to how to make the most of the varied Singapore culture, get your relocation off to a smooth start with this country facts section.

From hawker centers to luxury shopping districts, Singapore packs a lot of variety into a small area. This section of our relocation guide covers everything from the practicalities of living in Singapore to how to navigate such a wide range of cultures in one place.

One of the biggest shocks when moving to Singapore may be the high cost of living. The country has been steadily climbing Mercer’s Cost of Living index and is now the fourth most expensive city in the world for expats.

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Cost of living

  • With space at a premium, rent is the biggest expense for many expats costing between 500 SGD for a single room to over 35,000 SGD a month for a bungalow!
  • High salaries and low income taxes offset high rents, so you may find your net worth is greater than back home.
  • Due to various fees and taxes, the costs of having a car in Singapore are prohibitive. Luckily, public transportation and even taxis are relatively cheap.
  • Expats with children have the additional cost of childcare and education. With international schools costing up to 48,000 SGD a year, the public school system can be a sensible alternative.

One of the original four “Asian Tigers”, the small city-state has a prosperous economy and a well-to-do population. Though there is pronounced inequality with regards to income and wealth, Singapore also has one of the highest percentages of millionaires worldwide. The large number of affluent denizens is reflected in the cost of living in Singapore.

According to the Mercer Cost of Living Survey, Singapore has been steadily creeping up the ranks as one of the most expensive expat destinations. Over the past five years, it’s jumped from being outside the top ten to the fourth-most expensive city in 2016.

On the other hand, Singapore has low income tax rates, so your net income will probably be larger than back home. The highest personal income tax rate is 20%, and you can see a breakdown of all tax brackets on the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore’s website. When calculating your cost of living in Singapore, remember to take into account your increased net worth.

Sky-High Buildings — and Rents!

Housing is the biggest expenditure as far as the cost of living in Singapore is concerned. With the third-highest population density in the world, real estate is in high demand. If you have an expat benefits package, you should make sure that your employer covers at least part of your accommodation costs. If you are not that lucky, there are several options for housing in Singapore.

  • Single expats on a tighter budget should rent a room in a shared flat to minimize money spent on furniture, water, electricity, or utilities. Depending on the location and quality of the apartment, room rental starts at about 500 SGD per month.
  • Most local inhabitants live in government-subsidized housing (HDB). Though “government housing” may conjure up images of dreary council estates, most HDBs are fairly modern and conveniently located. Their schemes are mostly designed to enable local residents to buy, and rental options are targeted at lower-income households. For those eligible to buy, there are long waiting lists and quotas in place for non-Singaporeans.
  • Renting a private flat is another alternative. Although they are often situated in older buildings, they offer a good standard of living. Rents vary wildly depending on proximity to the city center: a private three-bedroom flat may cost anything between 2,000 and 7,000 SGD a month.
  • Well-to-do expats frequently live in condominiums. They often have luxurious facilities, for example swimming pools, tennis courts, and gyms. Outside the city center, rents start at around SGD 3,500 for a three-bedroom condo. If you want a sizeable condominium with state-of-the-art facilities in the CBD, you’ll need to budget up to 15,000 SGD!
  • Houses are the most expensive choice of accommodation available only to the most affluent. Rent starts at 8,000 SGD a month, but you can expect to pay over 35,000 SGD a month for a nice bungalow with a spacious garden.

Extras for Your Housing Budget

When you draw up your monthly cost of living in Singapore, don’t forget about the utilities. You should put aside a minimum of 150-200 SGD for water and electricity. However, your electricity bill can be much higher if you use air-conditioning a lot. Internet, cell phone plans, and house phone lines are really affordable, and should only account for around 130 SGD in your budget.

Getting Around the Island State

Singapore has extensive, safe, and reliable public transportation. Using mostly trains and buses is a good way to keep costs down. Taxis are cheaper than in other comparable expat hotspots, but can still add up if used every day. Have a look at our article on taking cabs in Singapore to calculate the cost of your journey.

Unfortunately, you won’t save anything by owning a private car. The Singaporean government is trying to cut down on road congestion and air pollution, so there are prohibitive costs, fees, and taxes involved. If you have to travel round the city a lot for work, try negotiating a travel allowance with your employer. Expat families with small kids may consider renting or leasing a car if frequent travel on public transport proves too stressful.

Save Up for School!

Expatriates with children will find that childcare and schooling increases their cost of living in Singapore considerably.

In terms of childcare, full-time day care can charge between 500 and 1,500 SGD per month. Pre-school is often cheaper costing between 250 and 700 SGD in monthly fees. The exact amount largely depends on the institution. An alternative is to hire a foreign domestic helper. Averaging around 500 SGD a month, they often provide help around the house as well as looking after the children.

For older children, international schools will set you back about 22,000 to 48,000 SGD a year including the additional application, enrolment, and facilities fees. For public schools, costs vary by education level from around 500 SGD per month for primary school to 1,100 SGD a month for pre-university. A full breakdown can be found on the Singapore Ministry of Education website.  As the language of instruction is English and the education system has a good reputation, this could be a great alternative to private education.

Budgeting for Healthcare

Last but not least, ensure that you have a decent healthcare plan. If you don’t have a chronic illness, you can go for cheaper coverage that won’t reimburse you for outpatient consultations. By going to public facilities for non-residents rather than private clinics, you can save on medical fees and cut back on the cost of living in Singapore.

However, you should always be insured for major treatments, surgery, and hospitalization as a serious illness or accident would dramatically increase your cost of living in Singapore without medical insurance.

Practical information

  • Given that Singapore is a hub for many different religions, the public holidays range from the Christian holiday of Good Friday to Vesak Day; a Buddhist holiday.
  • The varied holidays give expats in Singapore a chance to experience and celebrate many different religions and cultures.
  • It’s not all religious celebrations, Singapore also has its very own National Day during which it celebrates Singapore’s independence from Malaysia on 9 August 1965.

There are a variety of public holidays in Singapore, which reflect the many different religions prevalent in the state. The Chinese New Year is celebrated alongside Good Friday, Deepavali, Hari Raya Puasa, and Vesak Day. On top of the religious public holidays in Singapore, there is, of course, National Day, a day that celebrates the independence of the state. All in all, there are 10 public holidays in Singapore which are observed throughout the year. Despite the multiculturalism, subtle discrimination is still prevalent in Singapore.

The Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year is one of the most important public holidays in Singapore, due to the large Chinese population in the country. The celebrations usually take place in February and mark a new year of prosperity and good luck. Each year, families take the opportunity to celebrate this holiday by decorating their home with red lanterns and doing a thorough spring cleaning.

In Chinatown, little stalls are set up – sometimes weeks before the actual celebration – where you can buy fireworks and decorations. But the most important aspect of this public holiday in Singapore is the family reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve. The entire family gets together to celebrate a new beginning. Children are excited about the tradition of gift-giving.

Vesak Day in Singapore

Vesak Day is the only Buddhist celebration among the public holidays in Singapore. It is the most important holiday for Buddhists, in commemoration of the birth, enlightenment (Nirvana), and death (Parinirvana) of Gautama Buddha. The aim of Vesak Day is to practice love, peace, and harmony. Devoted Buddhists gather in the early morning before dawn at their temple to chant, sing hymns, and celebrate. Flowers, incense, and candles are placed at the statues’ feet.

Performing good deeds is a central aspect of Vesak Day. Buddhists often organize charity events or mass blood donations on this day. These acts of generosity are also referred to as Dana. The day ends with a candle-lit procession, often performed in accordance with the “three steps, one bow” ritual. During this ritual, devoted Buddhists move forward on their knees, bowing at every third step.

Deepavali

As part of the population is Indian, some public holidays in Singapore have an Indian origin, such as Deepavali. The name of the holiday literally translates to “row of lights” and is the most important festivity in Hinduism. It is celebrated in the last quarter of the year. While there are many legends surrounding the heritage of this holiday, there is a very traditional way to celebrate Deepavali in Singapore: Hindus paint their hands with henna art.

Even if you are not a Hindu and to you Deepavali is the least important of the public holidays in Singapore, Little India is always worth a visit during this time. The streets are colorful and light up in bright, festive decorations. Of course, there are also various events surrounding the holiday, including a street parade, exhibitions, and concerts.

Hari Raya Haji and Hari Raya Aidilfitri

Among the public holidays in Singapore which are observed by the Muslim population is Hari Raya Haji. The holiday is also known as the “festival of sacrifice” and is celebrated for three days. Muslims celebrate the end of Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. The celebrations are used to pray, reflect, and share one’s wealth with the less fortunate. In the areas of Geyland Serai and Kampong Glam, you can partake in festivities, visit the bazaars, and enjoy the beautiful decorations.

All in all, there are two Muslim public holidays in Singapore. Hari Raya Haji is one of them; the other is Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Eid al-Fitr). The latter commemorates the end of the Ramadan and is celebrated on a grand scale. After the preceding 30 days have been devoted to worship, acts of compassion, and practicing abstinence, it is now time for large festivities. The most important aspect of Hari Raya Aidilfitri is the feast. A variety of spiced meals, such as vegetable curry, Malay spice cakes, and spicy beef, are served during the three days of celebration.

Singapore National Day

The public holidays in Singapore are a direct reflection of the different ethnicities, cultures, and religions that have shaped the country. Still, Singapore’s National Day on August 9th is the biggest celebration of the entire year. The festivities already begin in the days leading up to National Day when the entire city is feeling the patriotic vibe and prepares for the big day.

National flags are everywhere during that week. There are festive sales, activities for kids, spectacular aerial performances at Marina Bay, and, of course, the famous National Parade. The tickets for the parade are much sought after and can go quickly. If you don’t manage to secure one of those tickets, just take your loved ones to the Marina and enjoy the fireworks.

Driving

  • A certificate of entitlement allows you to own a car in Singapore for up to ten years.
  • Singaporeans need to pay a road tax every six to twelve months.
  • If you accumulate more than 24 points in a two-year timeframe, your license will be suspended.

Driving: A Luxury in Singapore

Due to the very limited space in Singapore’s streets, the total number of cars as well as all new registrations in the city-state are highly regulated. Owning and maintaining a car here is truly a luxury, as initial and recurring costs are substantial, to say the least.

Most expats might want to adapt to the way locals get around and use the excellent public transport system instead of insisting on driving in Singapore. It might be a big adjustment for some, but it will ultimately be worth it.

Certificate of Entitlement

The bureaucratic (and financial) hurdles for people keen on driving in Singapore begin even before they buy a car from the dealer; anyone who wishes to register a new vehicle in Singapore must bid on a so-called Certificate of Entitlement (COE). It gives them the right to own and use a car for ten years. After this period the certificate has to be renewed. As the state-regulated vehicle growth quota is 0.5% per year, beginning in February 2013, there are fairly few certificates to go around.

You can bid on a COE twice a month, usually on the first and third Monday of the month. Note that the costs for the COE might easily parallel or exceed those of the car you want to buy. In July 2016, quotas started from six digits. The bidding system for COEs is also responsible for highly fluctuating prices — month-to-month differences can be tens of thousands of SGD. One Motoring offers an overview of the bidding system on their website, which also goes into detail on a number of other car-related matters.

Vehicle Registrations and Additional Registration Fee

The costs obviously do not stop here. You still need to bid on a vehicle registration number. While far from cheap, it is still substantially less expensive than the COE and your third-biggest expense related to driving in Singapore, the Additional Registration Fee. What sounds rather painless is in fact a fee of 100% of your car’s Open Market Value (the sum of the purchase price and all costs incurred during the import and sale of the car).

If you have taken care of all these costs and fees and are finally ready to start driving in Singapore’s streets, you will have to dig deep once again. Road taxes in Singapore are payable in advance, either on a six-month or annual basis. Then, there are the omnipresent administrative fees on all the above. All in all, anyone keen on purchasing a new car in Singapore can expect to pay a multiple of what the car actually costs.

Insurance and Road Fees

As you can most probably tell from the above paragraphs, a car is a substantial investment in Singapore, more so than in most other countries. Even after you have paid all the costs and fees due before you even use your car, its upkeep will keep costing you constantly.

First off, you have to buy vehicle insurance in order to legally start driving in Singapore. As the market for insurance is open and deregulated, you might want to spend some time shopping around for a provider which fits your needs and budget — though the latter is probably not much of a concern to people who can afford a car in Singapore in the first place. Again, One Motoring offers a very helpful overview site on the topic, with tips and links to some of the leading insurance providers in the island state.

Another frequent expense is the Electronic Road Pricing system (ERP). This system is used to maintain a steady flow of traffic on Singapore’s toll roads and to discourage people from driving in Singapore’s heavily congested main arteries. These include all main roads leading to the Central Business District, as well as all speedways and a number of other roads heavily burdened by traffic.

In order to use toll roads (penalties for violations are rather harsh), you need to install a so-called In-Vehicle Unit (IU) in your car. Payment then is done via two options: You insert either a value-stored card specifically for this purpose in your IU, or an ez-link or NETS Card with multiple purposes, most notably for use in public transport. Our article on the public transport system has details on the two cards. Please note that toll prices fluctuate during the day and according to the current traffic situation — driving in Singapore is most pricey during rush hour.

Further expenses you’ll face driving in Singapore include parking — again, space is limited here — and gas, the price of which can roughly be compared to those in many European countries at the time of writing. Neighboring Malaysia has lower fuel prices; motorists in Singapore can, however, not make much use of this fact. When leaving Singapore by car, your fuel tank has to be at least three-quarters full as per exit regulations. This is in order to prevent “fuel tourism” to Malaysia.

Importing your Car

The only alternative to buying a new car in Singapore is importing your car from your home country. But as you might have expected, just like everything else related to driving in Singapore, this will also not exactly come cheap. Our article on customs and imports has details on this matter.

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Transportation

  • Singapore plans to develop the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system further, with expansion plans laid out until 2030.
  • Singaporeans most frequently use the bus network, as it is the most reliable means of public transportation.
  • EZ-Link and Nets FlashPay are the two types of smartcard tickets in Singapore.

Mass Rapid Transit: Singapore’s Metro

The city-state has invested large amounts of money in order to provide citizens and permanent residents with a fast and effective means of transport to commute to work. Introduced in the late 1980s and first operating on a single line only, the Singaporean metro system — dubbed Mass Rapid Transit or MRT for short — has seen expansion at a matchless pace. It has now become one of the main pillars of public transport in Singapore.

Within the past 29 years, the MRT has blossomed into one of the most extensive and reliable systems of public transport in the entire region. Seeing how the government’s policy on automobiles is restrictive to the point of making them a luxury item not many can afford (if they even get the chance to buy and use one, see our article on driving in Singapore), providing swift and safe methods of public transport in Singapore is vital to the national economy and infrastructure.

As is the case with other methods of public transport in Singapore, the MRT network is not owned and operated by a single company. It’s rather a joint effort of SBS Transit — a subsidiary of the leading transportation company ComfortDelGro — and SMRT Trains. This won’t affect your daily commute in any way, though: as we cover in greater detail in part three of this article, tickets and fares are calculated by the distance traveled and do not depend on the means of transportation or the operator whose services you use.

MRT Lines

As of the beginning of 2016, a total of five MRT lines operate throughout most regions of the island. The combined track length is just less than 180 km, servicing more than 140 stations. While service penetration is not yet total (an issue that is currently being addressed), the system is still very effective and highly popular. Daily customer numbers easily topping two million are testament to this.

The current lineup of MRT lines is as follows:

  • The North South Line runs from Jurong East to Marina Bay.
  • The East West Line runs from Joo Koon to Pasir Ris, with an additional branch servicing Changi Airport from Tanah Merah.
  • The North East Line runs from HarbourFront to Punggol.
  • The Circle Line runs from Dhobi Ghout to HarbourFront and services Marina Bay in an additional branch (despite its name, the line is not actually a complete circle).
  • The Downtown Line services all of the major downtown areas from Bukit Panjang to Chinatown.

All lines feature at least one transfer possibility to all other three lines. The MRT services usually operate from 5:30 in the morning to about midnight, and often longer during the many holiday seasons in Singapore. Train frequencies are between two minutes in peak times and seven minutes off-peak.

What’s to Come?

The expansion, as we have mentioned above, is far from being over. As the great majority of residents rely on public transport in Singapore to go about their day-to-day business, demand for more lines and stations is increasing. In an effort to meet these demands, the Land Transport Authority has expansion plans laid out until 2030.

The recently opened Downtown Line,  running from the northwestern regions to the east of the island via — you’ve guessed it — downtown Singapore will be the longest MRT line in the country upon completion.

The second new line is the Thompson-East Coast Line. This line will operate in a north–south direction, running from Woodlands to Gardens by the Bay. The line will then curve east, from the Gardens by the Bay to Sungei Bedok, running alongside the ocean. With interchanges to all other existing MRT lines, the Thompson-East Coast Line is designed to serve hundreds of thousands of commuters and drastically shorten the time they have to spend in public transport in Singapore before and after their work day. The Thompson-East Coast line is expected to open in 2019, but will need to undergo further expansion to reach its complete coverage plan.

Of course, there is a simpler way of expanding a metro network that does not involve creating whole new lines from scratch: extending the lines that are already available. The East-West line has recently been extended, and the North-South line will be extended by 2019.

Although the importance of the MRT for Singapore is increasing, the bus still remains the most frequently used method of public transportation. Continue to the next page of this article, if you are interested in learning more about Singapore’s bus and light rail system.

InterNations GO!
by InterNations GO!
04 July 2019
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