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Living in Singapore

What you should know about living costs and more in Singapore

Our guide has all the  country facts  you need to know about  living in Singapore, including a deep dive into the concept  of  Kiasu. If you are more interested in socializing, you can learn about how much a beer in a restaurant might set you back (around 12 SGD, or 8.5 USD).

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There is more to life than the cost of living—though this is a big consideration. For some, relocating to Singapore is a welcome opportunity for luxury. The nation offers amazing cultural opportunities, from incredible dining experiences to world-class  golf courses and more.

For others, Singapore is primarily an opportunity to climb the career ladder. They might be more interested in cultivating relationships through endless dinners and building their  professional  knowledge in the process. We have all the information to help expats budget for their daily needs, including the grocery store cost of a liter of milk or a beer.

Practicalities  are important when you move abroad. From knowing local emergency numbers (you call 999 for a police emergency in Singapore) to  understanding the  driving and public transportation  systems,  getting all the information you need will help you feel more comfortable when you move.

Knowing about your new country also  helps you  integrate  smoothly. Our guide offers an overview of cultural  communications,  so you can break the ice instead of breaking cultural  etiquette.

Cost of living

It is common knowledge that average cost of living in Singapore is high. For a single person in Singapore, their average spend (excluding rent) is around 800 SGD (575  USD) per month. For a four-person family this is significantly higher-around 4,400 SGD (3,200  USD) a month.

From escalating rent prices to some of the most expensive private education in the world, the city-state is a place that offers an incredible lifestyle for people that can afford it.

Though there is no question that it is expensive to live in Singapore, expats will be happy to learn that not all aspects of living expenses in Singapore have a hefty price tag. Eating out and restaurant costs are limited if you spend more on dishes from local  restaurants. You can also  lower your travel and transportation costs by taking the bus instead of a taxi.

This section also explores the cost of living in Singapore by province (or rather, the different regions and districts of the city) including the most expensive and cheapest parts of the city. You can find information about utility costs, grocery prices, the cost of education, and healthcare costs.

Cost of Living in Singapore By District

Singapore city is divided into five regions: Central, East, North-East, North, and West. These regions are further divided into 28 districts through an old post code (zip code) system. While this system is no longer used, estate agents and people looking to find properties find it practical to separate the city up into these districts when house hunting.

Central

The central region in Singapore is the heart of the city. Home to districts 1 to 15 including the CBD, Marina area, and City Hall, as well as number 21 (Central West district). This is the place for expats who do not mind paying higher rent prices for easier access to international schools and major shopping malls.

East

Close to the airport, the Eastern districts in Singapore are made up of the Upper East Coast (district number 16), the Far East (number 17), and Tampines (number 18). A growing business hub, this area is known for having a great range of restaurants from many cultures and access to many parks and outdoor activities. It is also known to have housing that is better value for money.

North-East

Covering districts 19 (North East), 20 (Ang Mo Kio), and 28 (North East), this area is home to a lot of younger couples. The government has invested a lot in residences in the area to draw families there. It has extensive connections to the Central region and large shopping malls.

West

The most populous area of Singapore, the West region is known to be industrial. Many offices are based there because of this, with people living in the districts to reduce their commute. These districts are Far West (number 22), North West (number 23), and Far North West (number 24).

North

A largely under-developed area with the smallest population of any region, the North is very green. The area is close to the causeway linking Singapore and Malaysia and has MTR lines linking it to the center. Lots of redevelopment is planned in the different districts, which include the Far North (number 25), North (number 26), and Far North (number 27).

Being such a small country, it is hard to differentiate the cost of living by district. However, there is a distinctive difference between the most expensive and cheapest areas to live in the city. We look at this below.

Most Expensive Areas to Live  in Singapore

The most expensive  districts  to live in are all in the city center and central business district. They are known as districts 1 to 10.  These include:

  • Holland Village
  • Orchard Road
  • Marina Bay
  • Tanjong  Padar

Many businesses are located here. This makes walking to work a  more  achievable goal, or if Singapore’s weather is too hot for walking,  a short taxi ride  away. These sought-after residences also form part of the main commercial area of Singapore as popular entertainment and tourism districts.

Rent prices here are far higher than the average in Singapore. A 3-bedroom apartment in the spacious, tree lined  Orchard Road, for instance, might set you back  anywhere between  7,000 to 10,000  SGD (5,050  to 7,200  USD) a month.  Holland Village, a favorite for expats, is around 4,500 SGD (3,250  USD) a month for a new condo.

Cheapest Areas to Live  in Singapore

The further towards the outskirts of the city that you live, the cheaper your rent is likely to be.  In particular, the north of the country has many districts that are considered  affordable.

Some of the cheaper areas to rent include:

  • Woodlands
  • Bukit Panjang
  • Choa  Chu Kang
  • Punggol

Woodlands is particularly popular with American expats, as it is close to the Singapore American School. This is one of the largest  international  schools in the country.

To make rent cheaper, people often live with roommates or negotiate cheaper rent for a longer lease. This arrangement often works in the favor of expats, as the costs involved in  moving can add up quickly.

It should also be noted that living in housing provided by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) is cheaper than living in private accommodation. See our Housing section for more information.

Singapore Food and Alcohol Prices

If you enjoy cooking at home, Singapore is a great place to hone your skills. Buying food from a supermarket is cheap in comparison to eating out. There is a wide range of fresh food available influenced by the country’s multiple diverse cultures.

Alcohol can be expensive if you are looking to go out every night.  A 500ml bottle of local beer will set you back around 12 SGD (8  USD), with the same price buying just 330ml of imported beer.  This is before you consider that a bottle of 330ml water can cost 2 SGD (1.40  USD).

For most working expats, however, this  should  not be an issue. Alcohol from the supermarket is far more affordable  at around half the price of restaurants, so you can still enjoy a glass of wine at home.

Singapore Grocery Prices

Buying fresh food from the grocery store—or, more likely, a fresh food market—is affordable in Singapore.  On average, a liter of milk costs around 3 SGD (2.10  USD), while a loaf of bread is around 2 SGD (1.40  USD).

Rice, potatoes, and tomatoes all cost around 3 SGD (2.10  USD) per kilogram in Singapore, the same price as 12 eggs. Imported Western food will always cost more than buying local goods.

Cost of Eating Out

The cost of eating at a restaurant can vary greatly in Singapore, depending on the kind of place you go to. You can dine out in five-star restaurants one day and fill your belly at local cheap eats the next.  Some hawker stands (food stalls) even have Michelin stars!

The price between eating out at an inexpensive restaurant and eating mid-range is stark. A cheaper meal might cost you 25 SGD (18  USD) for two people, whereas a meal for two at a mid-range place will cost around 60 SGD (43  USD).

A little tip expats have picked up on in Singapore for cheaper  dining is to head to the food halls, known as hawker centers.  It is a great idea for people who have just relocated, as you can pick up local  and international cuisine at half the price of restaurants and immerse yourself in Singapore culture at the same time.

Utility Costs

An island with limited resources, monthly utility bills in Singapore might seem quite high. It might also come as a shock to some Westerners that their bills will remain high, and probably increase, throughout the summer.  This is because air conditioning is necessary all summer in Singapore, bringing extra electricity costs.

Numbeo  calculates that the average monthly utilities  bill for an 85m squared  apartment is around 200 SGD (145  USD) per month.  Having a property with a gas supply should make this bill slightly cheaper, to average out at around 160 SGD (115  USD) per month.

For a detailed guide on how to set up your bills, see our Housing section.

Education Costs

Most expats with children in Singapore favor international schools. This is often due to their cultural background, or the future they see for their children. An American couple might want their children to receive an American High School Diploma, for instance, to make it easier for them to work in their home country.

With specific educational goals, however, comes a high price. International schools in the Lion City are some of the most expensive in the world. Tuition fees alone can cost over 30,000 SGD (21,600  USD) a year depending on which school your child attends.

On the other hand, Singapore public schools are subsidized by the state. This offers set school fees that are paid monthly. The fees are higher for expats than for Singapore citizens, but substantially lower than those for an international school.

For more information, please see our Education section.

 Healthcare Costs

Singapore is renowned for having an excellent healthcare system. This is a reason that expats often cite as a huge bonus for living in the city. Healthcare is not free, however. Workers who contribute to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) pay for government mandated health insurance and received subsidized healthcare. Expats who do not pay into this fund will need to get private health insurance. For detailed information, see the Healthcare section of our guide.

Travel and Transportation Costs

Public transport across the city of Singapore is very affordable. Public buses in particular cost around 1 SGD (0.72  USD) a trip, while the efficient MRT is also cheap at around 2 SGD (1.40  USD) per journey.

Costs can skyrocket if you use private transportation. Taking a local taxi or renting a car can easily reach hundreds of Singapore dollars. We have gone into this in more detail  in the  Public Transportation section  below.

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Practical information

Emergency Numbers

Police 999
Police SMS (if unable to call) 71999
Police Hotline 1800 255 0000
Fire 995
Ambulance (Public) 995
Non-Emergency Ambulance (Public) 1777
City Gas (leakages and disruptions) 1800 752 1800

 

Public Holidays

Singapore is incredibly diverse and strives to be inclusive and tolerant. Holidays from multiple faiths are celebrated.

If a holiday falls on a Sunday, then the public holiday will be observed on a  Monday.

The main public holidays are:

 

New Years Day January 1st
Chinese New Year January/February (dates vary)
Good Friday March/April (dates vary)
Labor Day May 1st
Vesak Day Usually May (dates vary)
Hari Raya Puasa End of Ramadan (dates vary)
Hari Raya Haji 70 days after Ramadan (dates vary)
National Day August 9th
Deepavali Mid-October to mid-November (dates vary)
Christmas Day December 25th

 

Main Embassies

As of February 2020, there are  70 resident foreign high commissions and embassies, 43 foreign consular posts, and 11 international organizations  located  in Singapore.

  • US Embassy:  27 Napier Road, Singapore 258508, singaporefrontoffice@state.gov
  • UK Embassy:  100 Tanglin Road, Singapore 247919, consular.singapore@fco.gov.uk
  • Canadian Embassy:  1 George Street #11-00, Singapore 049145, spore@international.gc.ca
  • Australian Embassy:  25 Napier Road, Singapore 258507, enquiries-sg@dfat.gov.au
  • Indian Embassy:  31 Grange Road, India House, Singapore 239702, hc.singapore@mea.gov.in

For all other embassies, please check the  Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs  website.

Main Airports

Singapore has two public airports, Changi (SIN) and Seletar (XSP).

Changi, in the eastern part of the country, is the most famous and one of the largest transport hubs in Asia.  More than 100 airlines operate in Changi and it serves around 380 cities in 100 countries.  It is easily  accessible  from the city center via taxi, public bus, train, and car.

Culture and Social Etiquette

Singapore is an incredibly popular expat destination because of its diverse mix of cultures.  The country’s population has  a make-up of  around 74% ethnic Chinese, 13% ethnic Malay, and 9% ethnic Indian. This results in a  wide range of South and East Asian cultures and religions being represented at a national level.

This diversity  creates a vibrant cultural landscape  with its own etiquette  that expats must learn to navigate.

Staying Polite

Singapore aims to be a meritocratic society, where hard work takes you to the top.  This has created quite a hierarchical structure, with a key concept being  deference and politeness for those senior to  you.   As such, Singaporeans rely a lot on indirect communication to remain polite.  This covers body language, expressions, and tone of voice, as well as  listening  closely  to others.

  • Speaking loudly  can be seen as being rude, as is maintaining eye contact for too long.
  • People may avoid answering a question with “no.” If someone hesitates or seems to give you an indirect answer, they might be trying to refuse your offer without offending you.
  • Pointing with just your index finger is rude. Use your whole hand or head to gesture.
  • It is disrespectful to touch someone’s head.
  • It is respectful to remove your shoes when  entering  someone’s home.

For more on this topic, please see our Working section.

Religion

Singapore is considered a spiritual country with much religious tolerance.  Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism,  Skihism, and Taoism, are all represented in the country.  However, Jehovah’s Witness meetings are illegal.

Cultural customs  and  religious practices should be respected. For instance, Muslim  Malay  women may not want to greet someone by shaking their hand.  The best way to respect  another  person’s  religious and cultural beliefs is to allow them to introduce themselves first and to follow their lead regarding personal space.

Similarly, naming is an important custom that should be respected.  As people come from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, there is no “one size fits all” approach.  Call someone by the name they  introduce  themselves by  and do not try to shorten a name unless directed.

Day-to-Day  Dress

Western clothing is prevalent in Singapore. Casual clothing is preferred on the weekends, especially in the heat of summer. Dressing out of the norm tends to attract a lot of attention. There are even gossip sites for the country where pictures of “outrageous” outfits are posted.

It is common to carry both an umbrella and sunglasses. This is because the weather can change quickly, and an umbrella protects against both the sun and rain.

Dining

Any dining experience is likely to be determined by  the cultural background of  your host.  It is usually polite to let the host choose the dishes. They are likely to be served all together and with everyone sharing.

For instance, Malay people are predominantly Muslim. This means they will serve halal food at a meal and no alcohol will be consumed. You should not bring alcohol as a gift to a Malay Muslim household.  In contrast, a Chinese household is likely to use chopsticks and alcohol will be consumed.

If you have any doubts about dining cultural etiquette, you can politely ask your host questions. Alternatively, online forums such as  InterNations  can often answer common questions.

Remember to never give a gift to a Singaporean official, even if you are dining together. This can be perceived as bribery, an offence which is taken very seriously.

LGBT Acceptance

It is currently illegal for men to engage in homosexual acts in Singapore, punishable with a prison sentence of up to two years. This law does not apply to women. Though the  government has stated that they will not proactively enforce this  law, it is a factor in Singapore being considered an unfriendly place for expat members of the LGBT community.

Foreign same-sex marriages are not acknowledged in Singapore  and same-sex marriage is illegal.  There are also no anti-discrimination laws for members of the LGBT community. However, the community is growing and increasingly open. Recent polls even suggest that support for same-sex marriage is on the rise among the general public, though the process is slow.  There are  LGBT  nightclubs, bars, and a yearly gay pride event called Pink Dot. Because foreigners are not allowed to take part in protests, they are not able to join  Pink Dot.

LGBT members in Singapore can contact  Oogachaga, a local support group.

Kiasu

Kiasu is the term for a Singapore characteristic that often confuses expats. The closest meaning in English is a “fear of losing,” or a “fear of missing out.”   For example, if a new restaurant or shop opens in Singapore, everyone will want to be the first to try it.

Expats tend to stay out of this trend to avoid the crowds. You  don’t  have to get involved – but it will  definitely be  a cultural experience to try it at least once.

Cutting the Line

If you stand in line in Singapore, you cannot cut in front of anyone, though people are often too polite to scold you if you do.  Expats have stories of older people cutting queues. In this case, remember that the elderly are highly respected in Singapore. If the cashier has a problem with the person who has cut the queue, they may not serve them anyway.

Things to  Note

  • Singapore is relatively conservative when it comes to public displays of affection (PDA). Luckily, PDA is  most often met with stares or confusion, rather than violence.
  • You should seek approval from the Ministry of Manpower  before  giving  a talk on racial, religious,  or  political topics.
  • It  is  illegal to drink alcohol in public places from  22:30 to  07:00  (and all day on weekends)  in designated  areas and  Liquor Control Zones.  If you are caught  being drunk and disorderly, you can face  a fine of  up to  5,000  SGD (3,600  USD),  up to 15 years’ imprisonment, or  even  caning.
  • Drugs are illegal in Singapore, with penalties for offences  being  severe.  Possession of even very small quantities can lead to imprisonment, caning,  or  possibly  the death penalty.

Driving

Driving in Singapore is straightforward. There is no difference with how to get a Singapore driving license to many countries around the world if you need to learn to drive. If you are over the age of  18  and a permanent  resident, you must pass the Basic Driving Theory Test and the Practical Driving Test. Singaporean instructors are notoriously tough to please, so practice makes perfect.

Driving in Singapore with a Foreign License

Tourists and temporary visitors to Singapore can drive on a foreign driving license, including UK, US, and EU licenses.  You are only allowed to drive on a foreign license for a maximum of 12 months.

If you are relocating to Singapore, you should convert your home country license into a Singaporean driver’s license. If you decide to move back home, you can convert it back.

Exchanging  your license is easy—anecdotally easier than taking the Singapore driving test!  To convert your  license,  you  need:

  • to be at least 18 years old;
  • have a valid work pass;
  • take a Singapore driving theory test;
  • to convert your license within a year of moving to Singapore  (6 months for S pass holders).

Singapore permanent residents  have to  apply to convert their license within three months of obtaining residency.

Expats need to head to their local Traffic Police Driving Test Center to exchange their license. The following documents are necessary:

  • original and photocopy of your passport and residency documents;
  • original and photocopy of your  valid  foreign  driver’s  license;
  • passport photo taken within the past three months, with a matt-white background;
  • your certificate for passing the Singapore Basic Driving Theory Test;
  • translation of your driving license (if it is not in English);

There will be a 50 SGD (36  USD) processing fee, which can be paid through NETS or a cash card.

Your driving license needs to show the first date of issue. If it does not, you will need to present documentation showing this.

Rules for Driving in Singapore

The legal driving age in Singapore is 18 years old. Drivers must wear a seatbelt and drive on the left. Be aware that the standard speed limit in Singapore is 50 km/h (31/mph) on regular roads and 70-90 km/h (43-55/mph) on expressways (highways).

You should also:

  • use a child seat for anyone below the height of 1.35m;
  • turn your headlights on between 19:00 and 07:00;
  • follow mandatory circular signs in red or blue;
  • give way to traffic from the right at  uncontrolled junctions.

Renting a Car in Singapore

It is possible for foreigners to drive a rental car in Singapore. International car rental companies in Singapore include:

  • AVIS
  • Europcar
  • Hertz

In general, the shorter the rental duration, the higher the cost per day.  Surcharges are also imposed  during public  holidays.

If you are interested in driving a rental car in Singapore, you usually need to:

  • be between the age of 23 and 65;
  • have at least a year’s driving experience;
  • own a valid driver’s license or international driving permit.

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Transportation

Public transportation in Singapore is extensive, covering all areas of the city. In fact,  it is  recommended that you take air-conditioned public transport because walking around, especially in the humid summer months, can be uncomfortable.

Helpful apps to navigate around Singapore include  CityMapper and GoThere.sg, as well as Google Maps.

How is the Public Transportation in Singapore?

Singapore transportation is known to be efficient. It is, after all, a small nation; you can get from Changi Airport in the east  to Jurong bird park  in the west  in around half an hour by car.

Expats enjoy this efficient and easy-to-understand system because it takes very little time to adjust to it. Unlike in huge cities, you can understand the city-state’s layout and ride public transport like a local in very little time.

Commuters should note that public transport can become very busy during rush hour: between 07:00 and 10:00. It is usually less packed for the commute home from work.

Cost of Public Transportation in Singapore

Expats in Singapore can purchase an EZ-Link Card.  This contactless stored value card costs 10 SGD (7  USD) when purchased from a 7-Eleven store. It comes with 5 SGD (4 USD) pre-paid and can be topped up via an app or at 7-Eleven  stores  and  TransitLink  ticket offices.

It works across the transport system, including many taxi services. The card can also be used as payment in certain shops and restaurants across the city.

MRT

The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system  has  six  lines and operates from 05:30  to  00:00  (later on  holidays).  Trains usually arrive every 2-3 minutes between 07:00 and 09:00, and every 5-7 minutes for the rest of the day.

Price  (single trip): 1.40 to 2.50 SGD (1  to  2  USD)

Bus

Buses have extensive routes.  They run between 05:30 and 00:00 and arrive every 5-30 minutes.  Night buses are also available along some routes until 02:00.

Price is based on the distance traveled. It will generally be between  0.42 to 1.05 SGD (0.30  to 0.75  USD).

Train

Apart from the MRT, there is no railway network around the city. Only a short section of  railway connects Singapore to  the  Malaysian rail network . Tw o more international stations are planned.

Taxi

Singapore has both local taxis and ride-sharing apps.  Designated taxi ranks are available around the city. These are the only places where taxis are permitted to stop, although it is possible to flag one down.

Popular  ride-sharing  and ride-hailing  apps include:

  • Grab
  • Gojek
  • Ryde

Uber does not operate in Singapore.

Price varies based on the time of day. Keep in mind that local taxis may be subject to different surcharges. Ride-hailing app taxis are generally cheaper. Expect to pay around 10 SGD (7 USD) for a 10 km journey before surcharges.

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Updated on: March 04, 2020

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