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Housing in Singapore

Everything You Need to Know About Finding a New Home

Your choice of accommodation in Singapore may depend on your citizenship status. While Singapore citizens are able to buy new public housing, permanent residents can only buy resold public housing. Also, Singapore citizens can get financial help to buy a home from the Central Provident Fund, while permanent residents are not eligible for this type of grant. Before you can become a permanent resident, for which you will need to provide six months of salary slips, you are classed as a foreigner. This means your options are limited and you may need to rent a flat or room from a local landlord.

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In the middle of a housing crisis in 1959, the government was forced to revolutionize housing in Singapore and cater to its fast-growing population. Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, set up the Housing & Development Board (HDB). His government started a project to build new homes for the poor, no matter if they were Malay, Chinese, or another ethnicity.

In 1961, there was a fire in Bukit Ho Swee, a squatter settlement, which left around 16,000 people homeless, and during the next five years, the government built new housing on the site. By 1965, the government had built around 51,000 apartments (so-called HBDs) and re-housed around 400,000 people. Now, 90% of citizens own their homes, with about 80% of Singaporean households living in HDB homes.

Whether you are planning a long and short-term stay at the local rentals, no matter if it is public or private accommodation, there are different types of houses and apartments available in Singapore. They include studio flats, exclusive apartments, condominiums, and more.

Renting a House or Apartment

If you are considering making the move to Singapore, especially if you are relocating on a strict budget, you might want to know how to rent a house or apartment, and information on Singaporean rent prices in different planning areas. This section covers a range of issues you are likely to face plus the rental process and rules (both for landlord and tenant).

How to Rent Houses and Apartments: Landlords

Always make sure to read rental contracts thoroughly and remember that you are perfectly entitled to ask landlords for proof that they are allowed to rent their property. As soon as you have found a property you are happy with, send a letter of intent (LOI) to the landlord, outlining the basic conditions of your contract.

Many landlords will want to see proof of your immigration status, so make sure to have your passport and visa handy.

How Much Is Rent in Singapore?

Although Singapore’s average monthly rental prices have dropped by 15.6% since their peak in 2013, partly due to an exodus of around 1.6 million expats, the city-state still features regularly in top 10 most expensive cities to rent lists.

In March 2019, Housing Wire ranked Singapore 5 in a list of the 10 most expensive rental markets in the world to rent a one-bedroom apartment. The average cost was 1,852 USD.

In May 2019, Business Insider ranked Singapore 11 in a list of the 25 most expensive cities in the world to rent a two-bedroom apartment. The average price was 1,893 USD. As you can see, the average price for a one-bedroom and a two-bedroom apartment are very similar across these two rankings, so please only take these prices as a general guide.

Average Rent Prices in Singapore

  • Three-bedroom condominiums in the city center cost between 7,000 (5,065 USD) and 15,000 SGD (10,855 USD). Outside the city, these properties can cost between 3,000 (2,170 USD) and 7,000 SGD (5,065 USD).
  • Three-bedroom HDB flats carry an average price of between 2,500 (1,810 USD) and 3,000 SGD (2,170 USD).
  • A private apartment with three bedrooms could be between 5,000 (3,620 USD) and 7,000 SGD (5,065 USD) in the city center and around 4,000 SGD (2,895 USD) in the suburbs.
  • Bungalows can cost between 18,000 (13,025 USD) and 35,000 SGD (25,330 USD), while terraced and semi-detached homes are around 8,000 (5,790 USD) to 13,000 SGD (9,410 USD) per month.
  • A private room would be between 500 (360 USD) and 2,000 SGD (1,450 USD).
  • Serviced apartments cost between 7,000 (5,065 USD) and 14,000 SGD (10,260 USD) a month on average.

Minimum House Rent in Singapore

  • The least you can expect to pay for a studio apartment is 2,000 SGD (1,450 USD) in Paya Lebar in the east of Singapore.
  • You can find a three-bedroom HDB flat for 2,500 SGD (1,810 USD)in Clementi in the west.

Furnished and Unfurnished Apartments

  • Furnished: In Singapore, ‘furnished’ apartments could contain most appliances you need, including furniture in every room, major appliances like a fridge, microwave and oven, beds, settees, and closets. However, you might not get cutlery or sheets, so consider budgeting for these before you move.
  • Unfurnished: You may find just the bare essentials, such as lights and power outlets.

Renting in Singapore as a Foreigner

Since you are an expat, the landlord will want to inspect your immigration papers before signing the agreement. Some of the requirements and documents for renting are your passport, visa, and work permit.

HDBs are first and foremost intended for Singaporean citizens with a lower income. For this reason, foreign residents cannot rent them directly from the HDB.

However, HDB housing is also available on the private market. Expats interested in renting in Singapore should check if the landlord is permitted to let the HDB in question. Ask to see the original letter of approval from the HDB and, if necessary, proof of ownership.

Rental Contract and Deposit

Once you have found a place that you would like to turn into your new home, move fast. Contact the real estate agency or the landlord immediately to express your interest. If the landlord considers you as a potential tenant, he will reply to discuss the conditions of your lease.

How to Express Your Interest in a Rental Property

After talking about these issues, you need to write the LOI to the landlord. This specifies the exact conditions for renting in Singapore, including the monthly rental price and the term of the lease. Your personal signature on the letter indicates that you have reached a preliminary agreement with the landlord.

You must pay a booking deposit, called a “good faith deposit”. For a 12-month lease, this usually amounts to one month’s rent and for a 24-month lease, it is normally two month’s rent.

Remember to include an expiration date for your letter of intent. If the landlord has not responded by then and signed the letter, you can pull out of the agreement and receive your deposit back.

The Tenancy Agreement

Once you receive the letter of intent back from your landlord, it is time to sign the tenancy agreement. This is normally prepared by the landlord or his agent, but you should study it carefully before signing. A standard tenancy agreement contains these specifications:

  • Your contact details
  • Landlord’s contact details
  • Monthly rent due date
  • Penalties for late payment
  • Mode of payment
  • Monthly rental fee (including or excluding utility bills payment)
  • Security deposit amount (normally one or two months’ rent)
  • Property inventory
  • Term of the lease (generally 12-24 months)
  • Termination clauses

All other conditions, like keeping pets or sub-letting a room, are subject to the landlord’s approval.

Requirements and Documents for Renting

To rent a property in Singapore, you will need to prove to your prospective landlord that you can afford to pay the rent and that you are who you say you are. For this, you should produce the following:

  • A photocopied passport
  • A photocopy of your Employment Pass
  • One month’s rent for the security deposit

Payments for Utility Bills

If you are lucky, you will live in a furnished room or a serviced apartment, where everything comes pre-installed. The building management of an upscale condominium may also help get your utilities connected. Otherwise, it is fairly straightforward to set up utilities yourself.

Things to Know

  • Singapore Power (SP) is the main point of contact for expats wanting to set up gas, electricity, and water accounts.
  • When it comes to electric appliances, double check the voltage and electric plug type. The voltage in Singapore is 220-240 V, and the common model for electrical plugs and sockets is the British standard (BS-1363).

Short-Term Rentals

Unless you are planning on buying property in Singapore, which, due to a shortage of real estate and land for expats, can be very expensive, short-term rentals and apartments for rent might be the best alternative. The average price for temporary rentals in Singapore varies based on how central the property is, its size, facilities, special services, and more.

Average Short-Term Rental Prices

Here are some averages to give you an idea of how much rent you might need to pay in Singapore:

  • One-bedroom apartment in the city center: 2,645 SGD (1,915 USD)
  • One-bedroom apartment outside the city center: 1,511 SGD (1,095 USD)
  • Three-bedroom apartment in the city center: 4,756 SGD (3,440 USD)
  • Three-bedroom apartment outside of city center: 2,810 SGD (2,035 USD)

What Documents do You Need to Rent Short-Term?

Once you have found a rental property you like, you will need to prepare the following documents:

  • A photocopied passport
  • A photocopy of your Employment Pass
  • One month’s rent for the security deposit

You should expect any real estate agent you are using to prepare your letter of intent (LOI) and your tenancy agreement.

Things to Know About Short-Term Rentals

  • Airbnb operates in Singapore, however, it is unclear whether the thousands of available properties in Singapore are being made available legally. Rentals should be at least three months long (for private properties) and at least six months long (for public HDB housing).
  • HDB apartments cannot legally be rented short-term.

Monthly Furnished Rentals

If you are looking for apartments to rent on a short-term lease while you find something more permanent, serviced apartments could be the answer.

There are a number of companies which provide this sort of accommodation:

  • MetroResidences claim they have provided accommodation to customers for more than one million nights and offer customer support during check-in and during the time you are staying with them. They have properties in a variety of different areas, such as the business district and quiet neighborhoods. Their apartments are available for prices starting at around 5,400 SGD (3,910 USD) per month.
  • HomeAway offers all sorts of short-term rentals, such as condominiums, beach houses, and cabins. You can find a condo to house a family of four for around 5,000 SGD (3,620 USD) a month.

High-End Temporary Rentals

  • Thesqua.re offers stylish short-term apartments in Singapore. You can get a “premium” and “bespoke” two-bedroom/two-bathroom apartment for around 15,400 SGD (11,145 USD) for 28 nights.

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Buying a Property as a Foreigner

Understanding how to buy a property as a non-resident in Singapore can be complicated, but as long as you study the rules and regulations on non-nationals purchasing properties, the process should be smooth.

Read on to find out more about the process of buying a home in Singapore, what sorts of properties non-residents can buy, and the average house prices.

Singapore House Prices 

Research by ValueChampion showed that the most expensive properties in Singapore’s 28 neighborhoods varied in price from 1.4 million SGD (1.01 million USD) to 110 million SGD (79.6 million USD).

On the other hand, in the cheapest neighborhoods, the top property prices went from 200,000 SGD (144,736 USD) to 2.2 million SGD (1.59 million USD).

Types of Property

On the private market, you are free to purchase condominiums or apartments in smaller building units. You can also buy so-called leasehold estates under certain conditions.

Public housing, though, is subject to restrictions. If your plans for buying property in Singapore involve an HDB flat, you need to get in touch with the Housing Development Board.

Condominiums

These are a great option for expats as they are affordable and may offer attractive facilities, such as gyms and swimming pools. There will almost certainly be other expats in the building, so you will be able to make friends. In fact, this type of housing is the most popular among expats.

Government Housing

Some 80% of Singaporeans live in government-provided housing (HBD) and about 90% of them own their homes. Government housing is usually in convenient locations, near practical facilities, like shops and schools. To buy this type of housing unit, however, the buyer needs to be a citizen of Singapore.

Private Apartments

These do not usually have swimming pools, gyms, or other extra features, but what they lack in this area they make up for in price. Note that this type of short-term rental is generally older than condo units, which could be appealing if you prefer old-fashioned properties.

From Bungalows to Terraced Houses

If your budget stretches further, there are all sorts of landed properties in Singapore, such as semi-detached and detached homes. Landed property is in short supply, so you will probably have to pay much more compared to an HDB apartment.

Serviced Apartments

For a higher fee than a simple private apartment, a serviced apartment, usually furnished with a gym and swimming pool, could be perfect for you. This type of home offers special services and is flexible in terms of length of stay.

Be In the Know

  • It is unadvised to try and purchase property or land in Singapore without help from a lawyer.
  • Including maintenance costs and general utility bills, you also have to pay taxes on Singapore properties.

Process and Steps for Buying a House in Singapore

Once you have found the apartment of your dreams, the property purchase process works like this:

  • You contact the seller or their estate agent to express your interest and agree upon a price.
  • Your lawyer draws up an “Option to Purchase”. For 1% of the price, this gives you an exclusive right to purchase the property in question for a period of around three weeks. Property lawyers will also look into the ownership details of the property, check the owner’s credit history, and more.
  • The Option to Purchase usually states another deadline for paying up to 10% of the price. This shows the seller that you are serious about the purchase. It is customary to forward the signed option together with this sum.
  • Your lawyer will then prepare the documents for the property transfer. They will also advise you on the amount of money you still need to pay in order to complete the sale.

Costs for Property Buyers

Buying property in Singapore entails certain costs. They normally include:

  • Up to 3% in stamp duty for your first purchase
  • Legal fees for the property lawyer (generally around 0.3% of the price)
  • Some 1% of the price for the real estate agent
  • Registration fees for the official transfer of ownership

Requirements to Buy a Property

Only Singapore citizens of 21 years old and over can buy and rent property from the Housing Development Board (HDB). However, once you become a Permanent Citizen, you can buy a resale HDB flat.

Property Buying Regulations

The Residential Property Act of 1973 regulates foreign ownership of land and housing. It applies to everyone who is not a citizen of Singapore, i.e. temporary and permanent residents alike. The act classifies the following sorts of property as restricted:

  • Vacant land intended for residential use
  • Landed property (e.g. bungalows)
  • Property in housing developments that are not officially classified as approved condominiums

Who is Eligible to Buy and Rent Property in Singapore?

Citizens PRs Foreigners
Buy subsidized new flats from HDB Eligible Not eligible Not eligible
Buy resale HDB flats Eligible Eligible (subject to eligibility schemes) Not eligible
Rental of HDB subsidized flats Eligible Not eligible Not eligible
Rental of a room or flat Eligible Eligible Eligible
Buy non-landed property, e.g. private apartments and condos Eligible Eligible Eligible
Buy landed property, e.g. bungalows and terraced housing Eligible Eligible (with approval from Ministry of Law) Not eligible
Rental of landed and non-landed property Eligible Eligible Eligible
Central Provident Fund (CPF) Housing Grant Eligible Not eligible Not eligible
Upgrading subsidy and concessionary interest rate Eligible Not eligible Not eligible
Mortgage loans from HDB at a concessionary interest rate Eligible Not eligible Not eligible
Bank loans for mortgages Eligible Eligible Not eligible

 

Buy a House in Singapore and Get Citizenship

You cannot buy a house in Singapore for citizenship, permanent resident status, or a visa. However, you might be able to get Permanent Resident status sooner by investing in the Global Investor Programme, also known as the Investor Scheme.

You can either:

  • Invest at least 2.5 million SGD (1.81 million USD) in a new business or expansion of an existing business.

OR

  • Invest at least 2.5 million SGD (1.81 million USD) in a GIP-approved fund that invests in Singapore-based companies.

Utilities

It is fairly straightforward to set up utilities with one of the major utility companies in Singapore. There are three main companies each dealing with water, electricity, or gas respectively. They are:

Utility Providers: Water

The water supply and sanitation in the city-state are regulated by the Public Utility Board (PUB), Singapore’s National Water Agency.

To open a water utility account, you have to check if there is a water service pipe as well as a PUB supply connection available. If your home is among the rare exceptions that do not have this, an official water service worker must install them first. However, most expats can simply apply for water supply to their house or apartment.

Singapore Power (SP), the provider for all other main utilities in Singapore, acts as the PUB agent for customer services. Therefore, please contact one of the SP service centers. They are located on Somerset Road in Central Singapore, in the suburban Woodlands Civic Centre, and in the HDB Hub of Toa Payoh.

Their charges for water are:

  • 74 SGD (1.98 USD) per cubic meter up to 40 cubic meters and 3.69 SGD(2.67 USD) per cubic meter for more than 40 cubic meters.

Alternatively, you can submit an online application for water, gas, and electric utilities in Singapore.

Utility Providers: Gas and Electricity

Singapore Power (SP) is the utility provider responsible for delivering gas and electricity to the homes of the island nation. For your utility account, you can apply in a variety of ways:

  • In person at an SP customer service center
  • By fax or mail
  • By phone by calling 1800 222 2333
  • Via the online application

After applying for a new account, you usually have to wait for one to three business days for an appointment. An SP technician will then come to your home to activate your utilities.

However, for a gas connection, you need to set up an extra appointment with City Gas.

Required Documents

To apply for your Singapore utilities accounts, you will need the following documents:

  • Signed application form
  • Copy of your ID card or work/residence permit
  • Copy of your tenancy agreement or proof of ownership

Moreover, you have to pay a security deposit. The deposit for SP utilities in Singapore depends on the size and type of your accommodation. It is cheapest in small HDB apartments and most expensive in bungalows or penthouses, ranging from about 40 SGD (30 USD) to about 400 SGD (290 USD).

The amount is even higher if you are not a GIRO customer. GIRO is a direct debit method of payment, where bills are automatically paid from your bank account.

Things to Know

As Singapore is such a hot city, you can expect to spend a lot of money keeping your home cool with air conditioning. Some households keep their air conditioning switched on for most of the day, even around 20 hours in some cases.

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Internet and Mobile Phones

When, or even before, you have access to water, electricity, and gas, in Singapore, it might be time to find out how to get your phone and internet up and running.

How to Get a Phone Number, Internet, and a Cell Phone

There are three main utility providers when it comes to phone and internet in Singapore:

To find a plan tailored to your personal needs, please contact the individual providers directly. They might offer plans that include cell phones in the contract.

When you sign up for any sort of telecommunications or utilities in Singapore, always pay attention to the duration of your contract – when do you have to give notice? If you need to get out of the contract early, how much will it cost you?

To be connected in Singapore from the get-go, you can simply acquire a pre-paid SIM card. They are sold in convenience stores and at the retail shops of local mobile providers. The cards work for most mobile phones using GSM technical standards.

To get a fixed line for your phone at home, you basically have the choice between two big providers: SingTel and StarHub. The SingTel Home Line plan is the most basic phone service for landlines in Singapore. It does not require digital broadband or a cable point. However, it does not include any flat rates. You have to pay for all calls in units of 30 or 60 seconds.

How to Watch Your Home Country’s TV in Singapore

Nowadays, SingTel also offers the Home Digital Line. It is based on a digital broadband connection, which can be bundled with internet services, Singaporean television, and international TV.

Therefore, if you want to watch your home country’s TV in Singapore, this could be an option. To sign up for a SingTel phone plan, visit one of their retail shops or call 1688.

Star Hub is the main alternative to SingTel. For their Digital Voice package, you need a cable point in your home. This should be available in most kinds of housing in Singapore. By calling their service hotline (1630), you can find out if this applies to your apartment.

Just like SingTel’s digital plan, the Star Hub offer has the definite advantage of fixed monthly fees rather than pay per call costs. Contact their customer hotline (1630) or go to a local shop for more information.

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: September 12, 2019

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