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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

  • Hmlet;
  • HomeAway;
  • Nestpick;
  • Commontown.

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.

Average Price  

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

  • Propertyguru
  • 99.co
  • STProperty
  • iProperty

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.

Next Steps

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).

Additional Fees

  • 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.

HDB Housing

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.

Public/Private Hybrids  

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.”

Private Housing

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)

Email:  hdbresale@mailbox.hdb.gov.sg

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:

  • DBS;
  • Standard Chartered;
  • HSBC;
  • Citibank;
  • 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.

Utilities

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.

Utility Companies

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.

Gas

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.
Electricity

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:

  • Geneco;
  • Diamond Electric;
  • Ohm;
  • Keppel Electric;
  • Pacific Light.
Water

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.

Required Documents

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.

Internet Contracts

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:

  • Whizcomms;
  • M1;
  • StarHub;
  • Singtel;
  • ViewQwest.

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 Television

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!

Updated on: March 19, 2020

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