Due to the very limited space in Singapore’s streets, the total number of cars as well as all new registrations in the city-state are highly regulated. Owning and maintaining a car here is truly a luxury, as initial and recurring costs are substantial, to say the least.
Most expats might want to adapt to the way locals get around and use the excellent public transport system instead of insisting on driving in Singapore. It might be a big adjustment for some, but it will ultimately be worth it.
The bureaucratic (and financial) hurdles for people keen on driving in Singapore begin even before they buy a car from the dealer; anyone who wishes to register a new vehicle in Singapore must bid on a so-called Certificate of Entitlement (COE). It gives them the right to own and use a car for ten years. After this period the certificate has to be renewed. As the state-regulated vehicle growth quota is 0.5% per year, beginning in February 2013, there are fairly few certificates to go around.
You can bid on a COE twice a month, usually on the first and third Monday of the month. Note that the costs for the COE might easily parallel or exceed those of the car you want to buy. In July 2016, quotas started from six digits. The bidding system for COEs is also responsible for highly fluctuating prices — month-to-month differences can be tens of thousands of SGD. One Motoring offers an overview of the bidding system on their website, which also goes into detail on a number of other car-related matters.
The costs obviously do not stop here. You still need to bid on a vehicle registration number. While far from cheap, it is still substantially less expensive than the COE and your third-biggest expense related to driving in Singapore, the Additional Registration Fee. What sounds rather painless is in fact a fee of 100% of your car’s Open Market Value (the sum of the purchase price and all costs incurred during the import and sale of the car).
If you have taken care of all these costs and fees and are finally ready to start driving in Singapore’s streets, you will have to dig deep once again. Road taxes in Singapore are payable in advance, either on a six-month or annual basis. Then, there are the omnipresent administrative fees on all the above. All in all, anyone keen on purchasing a new car in Singapore can expect to pay a multiple of what the car actually costs.
As you can most probably tell from the above paragraphs, a car is a substantial investment in Singapore, more so than in most other countries. Even after you have paid all the costs and fees due before you even use your car, its upkeep will keep costing you constantly.
First off, you have to buy vehicle insurance in order to legally start driving in Singapore. As the market for insurance is open and deregulated, you might want to spend some time shopping around for a provider which fits your needs and budget — though the latter is probably not much of a concern to people who can afford a car in Singapore in the first place. Again, One Motoring offers a very helpful overview site on the topic, with tips and links to some of the leading insurance providers in the island state.
Another frequent expense is the Electronic Road Pricing system (ERP). This system is used to maintain a steady flow of traffic on Singapore’s toll roads and to discourage people from driving in Singapore’s heavily congested main arteries. These include all main roads leading to the Central Business District, as well as all speedways and a number of other roads heavily burdened by traffic.
In order to use toll roads (penalties for violations are rather harsh), you need to install a so-called In-Vehicle Unit (IU) in your car. Payment then is done via two options: You insert either a value-stored card specifically for this purpose in your IU, or an ez-link or NETS Card with multiple purposes, most notably for use in public transport. Our article on the public transport system has details on the two cards. Please note that toll prices fluctuate during the day and according to the current traffic situation — driving in Singapore is most pricey during rush hour.
Further expenses you’ll face driving in Singapore include parking — again, space is limited here — and gas, the price of which can roughly be compared to those in many European countries at the time of writing. Neighboring Malaysia has lower fuel prices; motorists in Singapore can, however, not make much use of this fact. When leaving Singapore by car, your fuel tank has to be at least three-quarters full as per exit regulations. This is in order to prevent “fuel tourism” to Malaysia.
The only alternative to buying a new car in Singapore is importing your car from your home country. But as you might have expected, just like everything else related to driving in Singapore, this will also not exactly come cheap. Our article on customs and imports has details on this matter.
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