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Housing in Singapore
Everything You Need to Know About Finding a New Home
Searching for accommodation in Singapore is a tough task without guidance, especially if you hope to rent in the city center for under 7,000 SGD (5,050 USD) a month. Take your first step to feeling comfortable abroad with this guide to help you find a home in Singapore.
Need to move abroad? Organizing an international relocation is not something you should do on your own. As expats, we understand what you need, and offer the the essential services to help you move and live abroad easily. Contact us today to jump start your move, and begin the preparations with our free relocation checklist.
After organizing your visa and booking your flights, finding the perfect housing in Singapore will help you feel like your relocation journey is complete. More than this, securing accommodation for you (and your family) is important to settling into a new city and culture.
House hunting in Singapore is not as easy as it might seem. In an area with a shortage of land and many different types of houses, you need to be patient to find a place. Especially if you want to buy a house or find a short-term rental, you need to know the local rules as well as the role of Singapore’s government subsidized Housing and Development Board (HDB).
This guide has all the information you need about finding houses and apartments for rent in Singapore, with tips and tricks for making your search less stressful.
A popular option for expats looking for a short-term rental is serviced apartments for rent on a short-term lease. They are a great way to check out an area before you sign a long-term lease of a year or more. Renting like this also offers you some stability whilst you find your ideal home, which could take a few months.
Popular Short-Term Rental Websites
Things to Note
Be aware that it is hard to establish proof of address with temporary rentals. Moreover, it is illegal to rent a private property for less than three months at a time. A HDB property is illegal to rent for less than six months. Airbnb in particular has had issues with Singaporean authorities and there have been instances of people being denied entry to their rental. The safest legal way to rent short-term is through serviced apartments.
Organizing a place to live before you arrive makes it much easier to settle in and collect all the necessary paperwork. Contact InterNations GO! today to discuss making your expat life easier with our home finding services.
The season that you visit Singapore will affect how much you pay for a monthly rental. Renting a monthly furnished rental studio in the spring, for instance, will set you back on average 2,700 SGD (1,950 USD) per month. In the summer, the average rent is around 3,500 SGD (2,520 USD) per month. Be aware that prices are unlikely to be lowered during your stay, even if you stay across summer and winter.
For serviced apartments in the Central Business District, price is often on enquiry.
What Documents Do I Need?
If you are staying in a hotel or serviced apartment, you will need to present your passport upon check-in. This is an informal and quick procedure that every foreigner in the country must go through.
If you are renting short-term from a private landlord, you should sign a tenancy agreement. For this you will need a:
- photocopy of your passport;
- photocopy of your employment pass;
- Good Faith deposit (typically equal to one month rent);
- letter of intent.
In this case, engaging an agent to help process these documents is important as they can provide your letter of intent and check the tenancy agreement.
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Renting a House or Apartment
If you already know how to rent a house or apartment in your home country, the chances are that you already know the basics of how to rent in Singapore. There is some country-specific knowledge that you need, however, like how much to expect the rent is in Singapore and our guide will help you feel more confident about renting. If you need more guidance, you can contact our friendly InterNations GO! staff who will be there to help you every step of your renting journey.
Things to Know
- Renting in Singapore is expensive. Prices vary in each area and depending on the size of house that you want, and you will need to hunt around if you are on a budget.
- Singapore weather is incredibly hot. Most expats want to live close to a metro station simply because walking around in summer (or taking buses) can be very uncomfortable.
- Singapore citizens cannot rent their flat for five years after they have purchased it. It is always wise to check for evidence that your landlord has owned or lived in the flat for at least five years. If they are found to be illegally renting out their property, any tenants will be evicted.
- Non-residents will not have access to subsidized housing. Only permanent residents paying into the Central Provident Fund (CPF) can get cheap accommodation through the Housing and Development Board (HDB).
Average Rent in Singapore
Singapore is one of the top ten most expensive places to rent in the world. This is partly because Singaporeans have a culture of buying apartments. Most younger people will live with their parents until they can afford to purchase their own place. Thus, the rental market is often for foreigners.
A standard unfurnished, three-bedroom apartment in Singapore is around 5,840 SGD (4,215 USD) per month. A one-bedroom might set you back around 1,900 SGD (1,360 USD) a month. For cheaper rent, permanent residents who pay into the CPF have access to subsidized prices via HDB housing. This can make a real difference in monthly Singapore rent prices. For example, a standard three-bedroom HDB apartment is about 2,800 SGD (2,000 USD) per month.
Price Differences Across the City
The difference in prices is best shown by the Woodlands area, which is popular with expats. The average cost of a privately rented studio here is 1,500 SGD (1,100 USD) versus 550 SGD (400 USD) for a bedroom in an HDB Apartment. Similarly, a 3-bedroom HDB Apartment will set you back around 1,800 SGD (1,300 USD) a month; a 3-bedroom private rental is around 2,600 SGD (1,900 USD) a month.
Minimum House Rent in Singapore
Renting on the city fringe is far cheaper than the city center, saving you up to 5,000 SGD (3,600 USD) a month.
You should expect to pay a minimum of 500 SGD (360 USD) per month for a room in an apartment and $1,500 for a studio apartment in the city fringe. Families should realistically budget around 3,000 SGD (2,165 USD) per month for a 3-bed apartment outside the city center.
If you are a family looking for a 3-bed condo close to the city center, expect to pay upwards of 7,000 SGD (5,050 USD) a month.
Renting in Singapore as a Foreigner
The most popular housing choice for expats in Singapore is condominiums. They are often built in private estates with parking, swimming pools, playgrounds, gyms, and possibly even tennis courts and indoor sports grounds.
Landed property (detached properties with land attached) rentals are popular for expats who want a whole house and a garden. These are the most expensive type of properties and favored by people who want more privacy.
Furnished or Unfurnished Apartments?
If you have all your furniture ready to move into a new apartment, there are plenty of unfurnished rental options on the Singapore market. Usually, these rentals will be completely bare and simply have lights. This kind of property is usually a new structure or refurbished.
For the majority of expats, a partly furnished condo is the best option. In this case, large appliances like fridges and microwaves usually come with the apartment. Buying furniture for the rest of your house or shipping it from your home country can make it feel like a home.
Fully furnished properties are also available to rent. These will include all of your furniture and often all the big appliances, including a fridge, oven, and television. You should negotiate via your agent if you are looking for a fully furnished place. Keep in mind that fully furnished rooms and properties will cost more than unfurnished.
Rental Process and Rules
For most expats relocating to Singapore, renting private housing is the most realistic option. Landed houses and condos offer a good lifestyle along with comfortable housing.
At the best of times, searching for your perfect house can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. This is even worse when you are an expat and are unsure of where best to search. Hiring an agent can be a welcome idea during this process. They will find houses for you to look at and even manage negotiations on your behalf.
Popular Property Listing Websites
Through these sites you can view photos of the properties as well as get details like price and location (including distance from the metro) and arrange viewings.
Once you have viewed the property and negotiated a price, contract period, and deposit, you will need to organize a letter of intent.
Your estate agent can help with the letter of intent. This letter should contain the following information:
- Diplomatic or Repatriate Clause: This is important for expats because it gives you a “get-out-of-jail-free card” if you become unemployed or are transferred to another country. Generally, this clause lets you give two months’ notice after you have lived in the property for a year.
- The “Good Faith” Deposit: Once this is paid, the landlord will take the property off the rental market. The deposit is usually equal to one month’s rent. It will either become part of the security deposit or your first month’s rent after the tenancy agreement is signed.
- Security Deposit: This is usually the equivalent of one month’s rent for every year that you are leasing the property. You will pay it once the tenancy agreement is signed. This should be refunded once your tenancy ends as long as you haven’t damaged the property or broken the terms of the tenancy agreement.
- The Terms of Lease: These terms outline how long you will lease the property for, whether there is an option to renew the lease (and how long for), and the notice necessary to leave the house.
There may be additional items in the letter of intent depending on the specific property you will be renting. This includes whether the accommodation will be furnished or not, and any stipulations pertaining to those items.
Once the letter is finalized, both parties can sign the tenancy agreement.
Landlords and Tenants: Things to Remember
- If you sign a lease that is for less than four years, tenants must pay a stamp duty of 0.4% of the rental amount. For a lease that is more than four years, it is 0.4% of the total amount of rent, divided by the lease period.
- Both sides should agree on an inventory list upon the tenant’s move-in date.
- Private property owners can rent out their properties whenever they want. HDB owners can only sublet rooms in flats that are three-bedrooms or bigger. To rent the whole property out, they must have occupied the flat for more than five years.
- The maximum number of unrelated tenants allowed to rent at the same time in any private property is six.
Rental Contracts and Deposits
Rental contracts should contain details of everything mentioned in the letter of intention, as well as the option to renew. They should also state who is responsible for repairs and utilities.
Fees to pay at the signing of the contract include your first month’s rent, which might be taken from your good faith deposit. and agent commission (usually half a month’s rent for a one-year lease and a full month’s rent for a two-year lease).
- Security deposit (1 month’s rent for every year you are leasing the property);
- Advanced rent (1 month’s rent for every year you are leasing the property;
- Agent commission (usually half a month’s rent for every year you are leasing the property);
- Stamp duty (0.4% of total rent for an up to four-year lease OR 0.4% of total rent, divided by number of years in lease if you are renting for over four-years).
Requirements and Documents for Renting
To sign a tenancy agreement, you need the following documents:
- a photocopy of your passport;
- a photocopy of your employment pass;
- the letter of intent.
To legally rent as a non-resident in Singapore, you must have an employment, student, or dependent pass valid for at least six months. Tourists are never allowed to sign as tenants.
Utilities and Bill Payments
Utilities and maintenance fees are the tenant’s responsibility. At a glance:
- When renting in Singapore you will be expected to pay for internet, electricity, and water. If your household uses gas, you will also have to pay for this.
- You can pay utilities through one company, the SP Group. You can also shop around for good deals for electricity and gas suppliers.
- Singapore does not have a TV license fee.
For more details, see the Utilities section.
Buying a Property as a Foreigner
Many expats who want to settle permanently in Singapore wonder how to buy a house or property as a non-resident foreigner. It is well known that Singapore is a small nation with limited space for properties. This drives up housing prices to make Singapore one of the most expensive places in the world in which to buy a house. However, while this is a turn-off for some, others view the city-state as a great place to make an investment. If you are looking to put down roots and buy a house in Singapore and become a permanent resident, this guide to purchasing a home in Singapore has all the information on the requirements to buy a property.
Singapore House Prices
Alongside other Asian cities such as Hong Kong and Shanghai, Singapore regularly ranks in the top five most expensive places to buy property in the world. In 2019, it ranked second in the world, with the average property price being 1,211,000 SGD (874,000 USD). The average price per square foot is over 1,385 SGD (1,000 USD).
Some of the most expensive areas to buy property include:
- City and Southwest (District 1-8);
- Orchard/Tanglin (District 9-10);
- West (District 22-24).
There is no sign of this changing any time soon. Property prices began to slow in 2019, but they are expected to increase dramatically throughout the new decade.
Types of Property
Due to property being so expensive in Singapore, the government has started to create affordable, quality housing for working class Singaporean residents. This has led to a range of property types being available for purchase.
The Housing and Development Board of Singapore (HDB) manage buildings that are available to purchase at a subsidized rate for Singapore citizens and permanent residents. They are available in all sizes, from studios to five-bedroom apartments.
Larger flats are available, including “3Gen Flats,” which are meant for multiple generations living in the same accommodation. There are also executive (larger) apartments and Design, Build, and Sell Scheme (DBSS) apartments for property developers.
This type of housing is a step up from HDB residences and aimed at young professionals who are unable to afford private housing. Non-residents can only purchase this type of housing ten years after it has been completed. After ten years, the property is considered “fully privatized.”
Expats who are non-residents of Singapore will find private housing the easiest type of property to purchase. They are split into two categories:
- Landed: spacious properties with gardens attached and unrestricted development rights.
- Non-Landed: properties without a land title, but still with development rights.
Requirements to Buy a Property
If you are looking at buying a house in Singapore, the cheapest option is usually HDB housing. However, foreigners need to meet the following requirements to be eligible to purchase:
- be a citizen or permanent resident of Singapore;
- be over the age of 21 if purchasing with a spouse, parents, or children in your legal custody;
- be over the age of 21 if you are widowed or orphaned;
- be over the age of 35 if you are a single purchaser (unmarried or divorced);
- able to physically and continually occupy the flat for five years before renting it out.
Non-residents can buy the following properties:
- condominium developments created under the Planning Act;
- apartment in a private housing building over six levels tall, including the ground level;
- leasehold in a restricted residential property for under seven years.
As a foreigner, you cannot buy vacant land and you will struggle to buy landed property. On the other hand, there are no limits on foreigners buying private non-landed properties. If you have the financial means to buy, you can own multiple condominiums. The minimum age for buying private property is 21.
Process and Steps of Buying a House in Singapore
Buying a house in Singapore is different for residents and non-residents. There are restrictions on houses in place for non-residents, including having to pay additional buyers stamp duty. There is some good news, though. Non-residents can easily apply for a mortgage.
How to Buy Property as a Permanent Resident
To buy HDB property on the resale market, you have to be a Singaporean resident. To buy directly from HDB, permanent residents will have to purchase the property with an accompanying Singapore citizen.
Step One: Checking for Eligibility
If you are looking to buy your house on the resale market, you should enquire to check that you are eligible, or if you will need to purchase with a Singapore Citizen. You can contact the HDB through the following:
Housing and Development Board HDB HUB, 480 Lorong 6 Toa Payoh, Singapore 310460
(Office hours: Weekdays 08:00-17:00, Saturdays 08:00-13:00. Appointment only.)
Tel: 1800-866-3066 (weekdays 08:00-17:00)
Step Two: Register on the HDB Portal
When you know you are eligible, you need to register on the HDB Resale Portal. This will guide you through the necessary steps and documentation.
Step Three: Find Your Home and Gain an Option to Purchase (OTP)
Sites to search include ohmyhome and property guru. You can check the prices of HDB properties in specific areas at the HDB Website.
Step Four: Get a Housing Loan
As a permanent resident, banks offer loans of up to 60% or 80% of the purchase or value price. You will be granted the lowest figure, then provide the remaining money from your Central Provident Fund or in cash.
You will need the following documents:
- three pay slips (most recent);
- two annual income tax assessments (most recent);
- your NRIC and passport;
- your signed OTP;
- official valuation report;
- HDB confirmation page (from the online portal).
There are multiple mortgage options available and it is worth speaking directly with a bank advisor to find the best option for you. Contact InterNations GO! today to be connected with expert advisors.
Step Five: Complete and Pay All Associated Fees
If you are a Singaporean permanent resident buying your first property without a Singaporean national as a co-buyer, you will have to pay both the Buyers Stamp Duty and Additional Buyers Stamp Duty. The Additional Buyers Stamp Duty rate is 5%.
If you are buying with a Singapore national, you may be eligible for a remission of this payment by applying to the HDB.
Buying private property is largely the same for permanent residents as it is for non-residents, except for the documents needed as part of the mortgage process (see above).
How to Buy Property as a Non-Resident
If you are considering buying private property in Singapore, the steps are probably the same as you would have at home. One thing to take a note of, though, is the hefty Stamp Duty paid by foreigners. You will also need to make an application at the Singapore Land Authority for permission to buy the property.
Step One: Find Your Property
This can be done online and offline. If online, 99.co and propertyguru are popular sites to check.
You can also engage estate agents to find your dream property. As most agents use the same property database, it is worth only working with one at a time.
As ever, it is important to inspect the property first and negotiate the prices. Researching average prices for your area is key. InterNations GO! provides home finding services to save you time and take the hassle out of your purchase. Contact us today for more information.
Step Two: Get an Option to Purchase (OTP)
The traditional next step in Singapore is to obtain an OTP. In general, this means paying 1% of the purchase price to make sure the seller is not able to sell the property for two weeks. At this stage, you should engage a lawyer.
Step Three: Get a Loan (if necessary)
Non-residents can get loans and mortgages in Singapore if they have a good credit score. Many banks offer home loans to foreigners, including:
- Standard Chartered;
- Bank of China.
At a minimum, you will need the following documentation:
- three pay slips (most recent);
- two annual income tax assessments (most recent);
- your passport.
If you already have an OTP, the bank will also need:
- your signed OTP;
- official valuation report.
Step Four: Make All Necessary Payments and Complete the Purchase
This can include an option exercise fee of 4% of the property price (including your OTP) and the down payment. At completion, you will have to pay any legal fees as well as Buyers Stamp Duty and Additional Buyers Stamp Duty (ABSD), which is an additional 20% of the property price.
Residents of the US, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein are exempt from paying ABSD due to free-trade agreements.
Can You Buy a House in Singapore and get Citizenship?
If you are a permanent resident in Singapore, you can become a Singapore citizen after living in the country for two years. This can be achieved whether you own property or not.
Singapore has no options for becoming a citizen through property investment only. You also cannot buy a house in Singapore to get a visa.
Setting up any utility bills is an important first step when you reach your new home. InterNations GO! settling in services can take care of this all for you. But if you want to do it yourself, here is all the important information to know.
For the environmentally conscious expat, natural gas is the top fuel provider for Singapore. This is considered the cleanest form of fossil fuel.
Due to the location of the country, there is limited access to renewable resources. Solar power holds the most potential for harnessing energy, especially over wind and geothermal power, but the country has yet to fully take advantage of this potential.
If you decide to rent or buy in Singapore, you have a limited number of utility companies to choose from as your gas, water, and electricity providers.
Singapore opened the gas market to retailers in 2014. This means that rather than paying everything through the government-owned SP Group (formerly Singapore Power), expats have ten suppliers to choose from.
Five of the biggest suppliers are:
- Keppel Gas;
- SembCorp Gas;
- Union Gas;
- Pavilion Energy;
- City Gas.
Since Singapore’s electricity market opened up in 2018, home and business owners can choose their own supplier. Formerly the only choice, the SP Group is still an option but expats can now shop around online to find the best deal.
If you stay with the SP Group as your electricity retailer, you will pay an estimated bill once every quarter. If you choose the open electricity market (OEM), your payments will vary depending on the plan you choose.
There are 12 different electricity retailers to choose from on the OEM. Some of the biggest ones are:
- Diamond Electric;
- Keppel Electric;
- Pacific Light.
Water bills are managed through the SP Group. There is a fixed price for water that covers the cost of Singapore’s complex system. As an island with few natural water supplies, the government has had to get creative with its means of ensuring a water supply with good sanitation.
Water prices can vary greatly month to month. A person living in an HDB one-bedroom apartment without gas should expect to pay 50 to 60 SGD (36 to 43 USD) a month for water. For an HDB 3-bedroom without gas, this increases to 80 to 100 SGD (57 to 72 USD) per month, while an apartment without gas ranges from 110 to 160 SGD (80 to 115 USD) per month.
To open a utilities account in Singapore, expats need to provide:
- A completed and signed application form for utilities accounts;
- A copy of their NRIC or employment pass.
You might also be asked for proof that you are occupying the premises, such as a housing contract.
Things to Know
It is necessary to pay an initial security deposit when you open a utilities account in Singapore. This deposit can be used to pay the final bill when your contract is cancelled or will be sent back to you as a refund.
The amount of the deposit is based on the size of your home and if you are permanent resident or not. Non-resident expats pay double compared to permanent residents, though you should have access to the same rates.
Customers who pay with Giro direct debit also pay a smaller deposit, regardless of their residency status.
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Internet and Mobile Phones
Getting connected is something you never have to worry about in Singapore. The nation takes pride in keeping up with technological advances, with a 5G network rollout planned in 2020.
Regardless of your residency status, expats relocating to Singapore will find that they need very few documents for setting up a phone and internet contract in Singapore. You can even use your own phone, especially if you are relocating from Europe or Asia, as the SIMs will work perfectly well with modern mobiles.
How to Get a Singapore SIM Card
It is easy to find a pre-paid SIM that will last for the length of your stay in Singapore. Most companies offer 120 or 180-day plans, a step up from the usual one-week tourist SIM. This might be a good option before you commit to a monthly contract.
Plans can focus on calls or data. Read the small print when looking for a short-term SIM to check that the data resets when it is topped up, or if you receive a set amount across the whole validity period.
The three largest phone companies offering pre-paid SIMs are Singtel, M1, and StarHub. SIMs are available in almost any gas station, post office, phone shop, or similar. Just pick your ideal plan and register it with your passport. You can top up online at the website of the SIM provider’s company, or you can go in person to a store or gas station. You can even top up at some ATMs, including DBS and POSB.
Over the past few years, the price of internet contracts in Singapore has taken a steep nose-dive. In fact, some of the cheapest contracts are 90% cheaper than plans five years ago.
Some of the biggest broadband providers are:
Generally, non-residents must be over 21 years old and have an employment pass or work permit valid for at least six months to get a broadband contract. Some companies, such as Singtel, ask for a validity period of at least 12 months.
Cell Phone Contracts
Need a new phone? If you are ready to commit to a long-term phone contract, you will need a visa/pass/work permit with at least six months validity and proof of a billing address (if a local address is not on your pass).
Your proof of billing address has to be dated within the past three months, and can be one of the following items:
- tenancy agreement;
- utility bill;
- bank or credit card statement;
- letter from your company or a school.
As with pre-paid SIMs, the largest companies offering cell phone contracts in Singapore are Singtel, M1, and StarHub. In some cases, such as with StarHub, international roaming is not available to foreigners and you might have to pay a contract deposit of up to 800 SGD (575 USD).
Depending on how much data you use, you might find that a SIM-only full data package is the best choice to cover all your phone and internet needs. Singapore network providers have recently been releasing data-heavy packages that provide up to 30GB of internet per month. Check out Singtel, StarHub, and M1 for information on SIM-only packages, or smaller companies such as TPG.
Singapore has a government-owned public broadcaster, MediaCorp TV, which provides seven free terrestrial channels as well as one free HD channel. License fees for TV and radio were abolished in 2011.
If you need more channels, StarHub TV and Singtel TV are local cable providers. These providers offer a wider range of movies and sports options, as well as a variety of English-language channels. You can sign up as part of a TV/broadband package.
How to Watch Your Home Country’s TV in Singapore
If you are from the US, you might be surprised by how many American TV shows and films are shown on Singapore TV networks. Even TV channels like CNN and Fox are available through cable TV.
Netflix is also available in Singapore, with a huge range of Western and Asian TV shows and films.
For people who need to connect to platforms only available in their home country, a common way to watch TV on your phone or laptop is to download a virtual private network (VPN).
Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!
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