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Housing in Singapore

The Best Places to Live in Singapore

With its generous salaries, inviting climate, and modern way of life, Singapore is an attractive relocation destination for many expats. Newcomers to the country will be enthralled by the city’s glitz and glamor, including a major international airport that is so beautiful and exciting that people visit it even if they do not have a flight.

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If you are heading to Singapore to start a new expat life, you should know some of the most popular expat destinations. But first, let us explain something about Singapore: the island nation is a city-state, and therefore does not have its own cities. Instead, it is made up of 55 “planning areas.”

Rather than talking you through the best cities in Singapore, this guide will tell you about the best planning areas and most unique neighborhoods that are especially attractive to expats. For example, find out why Orchard is near the top of many expat lists. We also give you a rundown of life in Novena, which is more relaxed than Orchard, and Woodlands, which connects the country to Malaysia.

At a Glance

  • Approximately 80% of Singaporean households live in a home built by the Housing & Development Board (HDB).
  • More than 90% of Singaporeans own their home, with renting being less popular.
  • After a major fire in a squatter settlement called Bukit Ho Swee, the Singaporean government built about 51,000 new apartments, re-housing about 400,000 people, between 1961 and 1965.
  • In 2019, the Mercer Cost of Living Survey ranked Singapore as the third most expensive city for expats.

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Singapore’s Most Popular Cities

Singapore is a city-state. There are five main regions in the city-state, each with a regional center. They are:

Region Regional Center Population
Central Region Central Area 930,900
East Region Tampines 690,510
North Region Woodlands 543,630
North-East Region Seletar 889,300
West Region Jurong East 911,760

There are 55 planning areas in Singapore. The most densely populated are Bedok, Jurong West, Tampines, Woodlands, and Hougang. The planning areas are then divided into further subzones.

Orchard

If you want to live in the center of everything, Orchard is the place for you. It is where most of the shopping malls and central business districts are located. The main thoroughfare running through the neighborhood is Orchard Road. It is from this road that the rest of the area spreads out. If you are into fashion, you can find trendy brands and exclusive designer label stores on Orchard Road.

The Singaporean government and the Urban Redevelopment Authority plan to introduce the Central Business District (CBD) Incentive Scheme, which could see 20,000 new apartments built in the center of the city-state. The idea is to breathe life into the area at night, as well as during the day, so the CBD becomes a place to live, work, and play 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The government plans to offer property developers a more attractive deal for creating residential units in the CBD.

Size of the Neighborhood

There are just under 1,000 people living in Orchard, so any new residential developments could allow this number to increase significantly. This also means that the demand for residential real estate is high. In the third quarter of 2019, the availability of homes in District 9, where Orchard is located, dropped by nearly 2%. Orchard Road, which Orchard surrounds, is 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers) long.

Working Opportunities

Due to all of the retail outlets on Orchard Road, the retail industry is a major source of jobs in the area. The tourism and property industries also play a part.

Roles like a concierge, retail supervisor or assistant, operations assistant, or a guest service executive (at hotels) are common. Also typical are jobs in the property sector, such as a center manager.

Finance is another major player in the Orchard area, with some lucrative salaries on offer. Examples of these available opportunities are:

  • finance manager;
  • financial accountant;
  • bank manager;
  • finance executive;
  • administrative assistant;
  • planning and performance partner;
  • finance team leader.

Unsurprisingly, jobs in finance tend to be some of the better-paid positions available. Finance managers can expect to earn anything from 6,000 to 23,000 SGD (4,400 to 16,800 USD) a month. The average for this role is approximately 8,000 SGD (5,850 USD).

Cost of Living

Expect to pay at least 750,000 SGD (550,000 USD) for a property in Orchard. For this amount, you can get a property between 330 and 460 square feet (301 and 43 square meters).

According to PropertyGuru, in the third quarter of 2019, 53 of the 106 non-landed private residential properties that sold above 5 million SGD in Orchard were bought by foreign nationals.

Orchard is Singapore’s most expensive area to buy property. Homes cost 2,600 SGD (1,900 USD) per square foot (0.09 square meters) on average. According to PropertyGuru, the percentage of foreign buyers purchasing property in the Core Central Region (CCR) of Singapore has risen from 37% in the first quarter of 2018 to 50% in the third quarter of 2019.

Cultural Life

According to a Pew Research Center study, Singapore is the most religiously diverse nation in the world. Religious holidays such as Christmas, Deepvali, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Vesak Day, and the Chinese New Year are all celebrated in Singapore.

The Singapore tourism board promotes the island city-state based in its multiculturality. Singapore’s visa laws are reasonable, but they favor skilled and highly paid workers.

InterNations has an active expat community in Singapore, and several expats talk about how particularly welcoming their community is. They describe the city-state as a melting pot of people from all over the world.

As we mentioned earlier, a significant chunk of luxury homes in Orchard are bought by foreigners (50% in Q3 of 2019), making it a popular area for expats to live in. If  you have kids, you can find Chatsworth International School and The Tanglin Club in the area.

Transportation

As Orchard is so central, it is well-placed to reach various parts of the island. It has several MRT stations, including Orchard and Somerset. You can also catch a bus. For example, it takes approximately 11 minutes from Orchard Road to Tanglin on the 123, 7, or 7B bus.

Novena

Novena is a planning area in the Central Region of Singapore. It is popular among expats for a number of reasons. For starters, you can easily get to Orchard and its shops and businesses by taking the MRT one or two stops. There are also two expressways servicing the area. In addition, there are more family housing options than what can be found in Orchard.

Size of the Neighborhood

There are a little under 50,000 people living in Novena. The largest age group, about 8,630 people, are between 40 and 50 years old. This is only the 25th largest planning area in Singapore, and it includes the subzones Balestier, Moulmein, Dunearn, Malcolm, and Mount Pleasant.

In terms of geographical size, Novena is 8.98 square kilometers (3.5 square miles).

Working Opportunities

With Novena being well-supported by transport options and expressways, it is easy to get to various parts of the city-state from here. As mentioned, jobs in Orchard would be easily commutable.

One of the main employers in the area is the Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, a 333-bed hospital with private suites. Some of the most common jobs in Novena that could suit expats include

  • financial advisor;
  • project manager;
  • staff nurse;
  • clinic assistant;
  • customer relations officer (hospital);
  • finance executive;
  • HR manager.
Cost of Living

If you want to rent in Novena, it costs approximately 2,400 SGD (1,750 USD) for a studio apartment or one-bedroom home; 3,500 SGD (2,560 USD) for a two-bedroom home; 4,300 SGD (3,140 USD) for a three-bedroom home; and 7,250 SGD (5,300 USD) for a four-bedroom home.

If you want to buy a home, it is around 1.04 million SGD (760,000 USD) for a studio apartment or one-bedroom home; 1.49 million SGD (1.09 million SGD) for a two-bedroom home; 2.02 million SGD (1.48 million USD) for a three-bedroom home; and 4.95 million SGD (3.6 million USD) for a four-bedroom home.

Cultural Life

Novena is set up nicely for its expat community. There are several international schools to choose from, such as the Stamford American International School. The Kids Learning Mall in Union Square is the perfect spot for parents and children to spend the day. There are music, language, art, ballet, drama, and speech classes, plus children’s fashion stores, as well as restaurants and bakeries.

Transportation

Novena has an MRT station, called Novena. It only takes 20 minutes to get from Novena to Orchard Road on the North South Line. There are also bus services that can be even quicker.

Woodlands

Woodlands is one of the most popular destinations for expats in Singapore. You can find this planning area in the North of the city-state. What makes Woodlands unique is its connection to Malaysia via the Johor-Singapore Causeway.

Size of the Neighborhood

Woodlands has an estimated population of 254,730 people. It is the fourth-largest planning area in Singapore in terms of population, and it has nine subzones—Woodlands East, Woodlands South, Midview, Woodgrove, Woodlands West, North Coast, Greenwood Park, Senoko West, and Woodlands Regional Centre. Woodlands is 5.2 square miles large (13.6 square kilometers).

Working Opportunities

These are some examples of job opportunities in the Woodlands area:

  • marketing manager;
  • IT engineer;
  • mechanical engineer;
  • financial analyst.

Opportunities in the finance industry are not as concentrated in Woodlands as in Orchard, and there are more mid-level jobs in areas like customer service and human resources.

There are also roles available in science and engineering at companies like DuPont and Thermo Fisher Scientific. A quality assurance specialist at DuPont would earn around 6,500 SGD (4,750 USD). A graduate financial analyst at Thermo Fisher Scientific would earn about 3,500 SGD (2,560 USD).

Cost of Living

Housing in Woodlands consists of condos and Housing Development Board properties, plus large five and seven-bedroom houses with yards and swimming pools.

Rent Prices

To rent in the area, it will cost on average:

  • 1,680 SGD (1,230 USD) for a studio apartment or one-bedroom home;
  • 1,900 SGD (1,390 USD) for a two-bedroom home;
  • 2,100 (1,540 USD) for a three-bedroom home;
  • 3,100 (2,270 USD) for a four-bedroom home.

To buy in the area, it will cost on average:

  • 500,000 SGD (370,000 USD) for a studio apartment or one-bedroom home;
  • 600,000 SGD (440,000 USD) for a two-bedroom home;
  • 610,000 SGD (450,000 USD) for a three-bedroom home;
  • 940,000 SGD (688,000 USD) for a four-bedroom home.

Affordable Housing

ValueChampion ranks Woodlands as the second-cheapest place to rent a property from the Housing Development Board (HDB). Compared to the Central Singapore, where a four-bedroom HDB home costs about 2,750 SGD (2,010 USD) a month, the same property would be 1,750 SGD (1,280 USD) in Woodlands.

Also, according to ValueChampion, Woodlands was the cheapest area in Singapore to buy a resale HDB property. A four-bedroom resale HDB property is around 330,000 SGD (242,000 USD) in Woodlands compared to about 470,000 SGD (344,000 USD) on average.

Cultural Life

Children in the expat community in Woodlands are provided for by international schools, like the Singapore American School.

It is generally a friendly area with a strong community feel. For instance, around 6,000 people get together to celebrate and spook on Halloween in a mass trick or treat outing.

In addition, Woodlands Neighbourhood Centre is just one of the meeting spots where members of the community can get together.

Woodlands has a reputation for being home to lots of expats, especially Americans, so it should be easy for you to integrate. It is not uncommon for neighbors to get together to socialize, and go on outings together, such as bike rides and coffee mornings.

Transportation

If, for example, you want to get to the shopping district of Orchard Road from Woodlands, it will take about 30 minutes using the MRT. The same journey will take about 50 minutes using bus services and you will have to change buses at some point. It only takes about 35 minutes to get from Woodlands to Malaysia using a bus and then taking the KTM (Keretapi Tanah Melayu) train once in Malaysia.

Holland Village

Holland Village, or Holland V, has a relatively short history, but it has been home to all sorts of expats since it was established around the early twentieth century. It was the neighborhood of choice for Dutch immigrants. British Army personnel and their families also moved into the area. The name Holland Village was inspired by the English architect, Hugh Holland, who worked in nearby Tanglin.

Holland Village is in the west of Singapore. It is still popular with expats and allows quick access to the shopping haven of Orchard Road, the National University of Singapore, and the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Size of the Neighborhood

The village is around 60,000 square meters (645,840 square feet) large and is set to double in size when the Holland Village Extension is finished around 2024. The new extension project will add approximately 59,715 square meters (64276691 square feet) to the area, including space for offices, retail, residential, parks and recreation, bars and restaurants, and mixed-use areas.

Working Opportunities

Some residents of Holland Village work at the National University of Singapore while the extension of the village allows for new jobs to be created. Some examples of other jobs available in the area are:

  • project manager (technology);
  • executive director (research);
  • reliability engineer (technology).
Cost of Living

According to Value Champion, Holland Village has some of the most expensive properties in Singapore, with its most expensive property priced at 110 million SGD for 52,000 square feet (4,831 square meters). However, it is worth noting that this property in Holland Village was much larger than the most expensive property in other areas. In terms of cost per square feet, Holland Village was only the eleventh most expensive area to buy property, at 2,115 SGD (1,550 USD) per square feet.

  • A one-bedroom home in Holland Village will cost around 3,000 SGD (2,200 USD) per month. You can get a one-bedroom apartment for as little as 1,000 SGD (730 USD) and some of the nicer homes reach around 6,000 SGD (4,400 USD).
  • Three-bedroom homes in the area cost around 2,500 SGD for 700 to 1,000 square feet (65 to 93 square meters).
  • A five-bedroom home in the area will cost around 17,000 SGD (12,450 USD) per month.
Cultural Life

Holland Village has a long history of expatriate influence, with the Dutch and British expats helping to create exclusive clubs, like the Hollandse Club, the Swiss Club, the American Club, and the Tanglin Club.

Coffee Club, Singapore’s first upmarket coffee shop, opened in the area in 1991, before the likes of Starbucks and Coffee Bean appeared.

Holland Village has plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, and a hawker center (food court) to enjoy some leisure time and shopping. However,if you want a very vibrant night life, you will need to head elsewhere.

Transportation

You can get to most places via the Holland Village MRT station and, what’s more, some of the condominiums have shuttle bus services that will take you to work or school.

From Holland Village it takes:

  • ten minutes to drive to Orchard;
  • 20 minutes to drive to Woodlands;
  • 12 minutes to drive to Novena;
  • seven minutes to drive to Singapore Botanic Gardens;
  • 21 minutes to drive to Singapore Changi Airport.

Tampines

Tampines, in the East Region of Singapore, is not as famous for being a top expat neighborhood, but it could provide the ideal environment if you want to feel far away from Western culture. In Tampines, you will find that a higher percentage of residents are local Singaporeans, and the cost of living is lower than in more well-known expat areas.

Size of the Neighborhood

There are approximately 261,000 people living in Tampines in an area of 8.1 square miles (20.89 square kilometers).

Working Opportunities

In the East Region, where Tampines is located, manufacturing is the biggest industry and there are industrial estates in the areas of Tampines, Changi, Pasir RIs, Paya Lebar, and Bedok. Also, IBM has a technology park on Tampines Industrial Avenue, creating products for the Asian market.

Major airlines have their head offices nearby in Changi, including Singapore Airlines, Jetstar Asia Airways, SilkAir, Singapore Airlines Cargo, Scoot, Tigerair, and Valuair. At Changi Business Park, you will find offices of major companies, such as IBM, DBS Bank, and Standard Chartered.

Specific job opportunities in Tampines include:

  • architectural coordinator;
  • executive;
  • equipment engineer;
  • site engineer;
  • operations assistant.
Cost of Living

When compared to popular expat neighborhoods, you can expect a lower cost of living in Tampines. The most expensive property is approximately 1,121 SGD (821 USD) per square feet, compared to 5,800 SGD per square feet for the most expensive property in Orchard.

  • One-bedroom homes are generally around 2,100 SGD (1,500 USD) for 500 square feet (46.5 square meters).
  • Three-bedroom homes range from about 2,000 to 4,000 SGD (1,460 and 2,900 USD).
  • There a few five-bedroom homes available in the area, but there are plenty of four-bedroom apartments, which range in price from about 2,200 to 9,000 Singapore SGD (1,600 to 6,600 USD). The most expensive homes tend to have a view of the water.
Cultural Life

Tampines Eco Green park is the perfect place to relax, where you can enjoy natureand go hikingor bird watching. In the park, there are bird hides where you can wait out of sight to see perching and waddler birds.

Tampines has a large Housing Development Board (HDB) estate so you can expect to see plenty of locals and enjoy a more authentic East Asian feel.

Transportation

Tampines is regularly talked about as being extremely well-connected with transportation options, no matter how you get around. In addition, it is where three major road networks start: the Tampines Expressway (TPE), East Coast Parkway (ECP), and Pan Island Expressway (PIE). It is close to Changi Airport, making flying more convenient. Tampines is served by the Tampines MRT on the East-West Line, plus Tampines West and Tampines East on the Downtown Line.

Updated on: April 01, 2020
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