Expat’s guide to living in Singapore
The Republic of Singapore, Southeast Asia’s Lion City – a city, an island, and a country in one. It’s one of just three city-states left in the world and today it’s a major centre of business, innovation, and commerce. It’s truly cosmopolitan and multicultural with a vibrant society you won’t get anywhere else in the world. It’s famous for amazing food, culture, incredible architecture, and clean-edged modernity.
And because it’s just under three hours from Hong Kong, and close to so many of Asia’s holiday destinations, it’s an ideal place to situate yourself for both business and beautiful vacations – after, of course, you’ve explored what Singapore has to offer (as well as the main island, it has 62 islets). Its tropical climate means some beautiful gardens and interesting animals. If you need to escape the humidity you can retreat into an air conditioned building or head to one of many beautiful beaches. While Singapore’s strict regulations could be a culture shock depending on where you’re coming from, you can also expect a clean, well-organised, and safe city.
Moving to Singapore checklist
For a detailed week by week checklist , click here
Paperwork and customs
When you’re moving to Singapore a visa may be top of your mind. If you (or someone else) are just paying a visit, you’ll likely need a visa – check out the requirements on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website. If you’re moving to live longer term, or even permanently, you’ll have other requirements. Contact Singapore also has some great resources about entry and living in Singapore more generally.
Right to work
You’ll need to have an Employment Pass or be eligible for one if you haven’t got a job when you move. When you begin work you’ll need to get your Pass endorsed by submitting your passport and immigration card to your HR department.If you hold a P1 or P2 pass you’ll be eligible to bring your family if they qualify for the Long-Term Visitors Pass or (in the case of kids) the Dependant’s Pass. There’s information and checklists on the Ministry of Manpower website. Permanent residency in the form of an Entry Permit may be an option to explore in the future.
Moving to Singapore : What to bring
Import laws in Singapore are strict. It pays to check the Import Procedures before you plan what you’re taking, and if there’s anything you’re unsure about get in touch with someone. Breaking the law can lead to imprisonment and in some cases will even involve the death penalty. If you have medication, especially with strong narcotics, check with the Health Sciences Authority first. If you’re moving to Singapore with a dog or other pet you’ll also need to check regulations.Keep in mind that Singapore is a very modern place and many things you need on a regular basis you’ll be able to find there. If you’re moving essentials for Singapore may mostly be things you can’t get there – maybe some of those classic foods from your own country. If they’re wrapped, they should be importable for personal use.
Finding a job in Singapore
Singapore is a real business hub, one of the world’s major commerce and financial centres, with accounting, banking and finance offering high salaries. Other big industries are healthcare and life sciences, biotechnology, information technology, and legal. There is also a strong industry for energy, infrastructure, and service and tourism.
In terms of salary, Singapore is in the top 10 cities globally. Depending on your job, you can expect to earn well. According to the Ministry of Manpower, the median average monthly income in 2016 was $4,056. More stats are available on their website.
To work in Singapore as an expat, you’ll need to have an Employment Pass. If you already have a job secured your employer should help you with your application before you move. If you plan on finding work while there, you’ll need to apply for an Employment Pass Eligibility Certificate from the Ministry of Manpower website. They also have a self-assessment tool so you can check in advance if you’ll be eligible.
It’s often easier if you can secure a job before you move to Singapore, especially as you can likely organise a remote interview. Many people get jobs through networks or by company relocation opportunities. However, there are a range of online job boards, including a lot of the international ones like Linkedin Jobs, Beam, and Indeed. You might like to check out Jobs DB.
Malay is the national language but, being such a multicultural nation, there are four official languages in Singapore – Malay, English, Mandarin, and Tamil. Most people speak English. But if you do want to learn another language there are plenty of schools and classes available.
We’re not going to kid you – Singapore is an expensive place to live. It’s been ranked as the world’s most expensive city for expats four times in a row. However, you’re also likely to enjoy a decent income and a little advance planning makes a big difference. Your biggest expenses will probably be rent, transportation (if you buy a car), and the cost of school for international children. If you want to compare living costs, have a look at the Numbeo database.
The local currency is the Singapore Dollar (SGD). SGD$1 exchanges at about USD$0.75, HKD$5.8, and AUD$0.98. You can find current exchange rates on the XE website – and we always suggest you take a look when you’re planning your move!
In order to open a bank account you’ll need an endorsed Employment Pass. As with any bank, keep an eye out for bank fees. To apply for a credit card you’ll need to supply your Pass, your company ID, and your passport. Debit cards are also available if you don’t earn the required minimum to be eligible for your bank’s credit card.
There are a range of options for currency exchange and sending money home. Your bank – either in your home country or your new Singapore bank – may provide some good rates. SingPost also offers CASHOME Visa Money Transfer, and you can investigate companies like Pay2Home and OFX. .
Your income is taxed at 15% or the progressive resident rates, depending on your earnings, and returns should be filed by 15 April each year. There are a range of ways to pay, including online but you will need to set up your SingPass for this. You can find your tax bracket on the Inland Revenue Authority website, along with a helpful guide for new foreign taxpayers on the IRAS website.
Moving home in Singapore
Being a small island, land is at a premium and renting or buying your own house is expensive. You can consider ways to minimise cost, like flat shares or living out of the city centre. Before you start looking make sure you have some criteria in mind! Do you want to rent or buy, live in a condo or a flat, be based downtown or out from the center?It’s also important to start the process for moving your things. You may like to look at a moving company for Singapore review or two (although we’d always emphasise that as Links is based in Asia, this is an area of expertise for us!). If you’re already in Singapore we also offer some domestic relocation services and may be able to help you with a moving van in Singapore.
Do some research about the different areas and take into consideration things like schools, transport, and any facilities that are important to you. If you’re moving house in Singapore price is also a factor – so research the area first. Some of the popular neighbourhoods for expats are Orchard, Tanglin, Holland Village and East Coast. You can find several property guides online to help and this district guide will help you identify areas and work out where streets are, and Nest Pick can also help you work out prices and location. It’s a good idea to have a sense of where you might like to live at least a month in advance.
About 80% of the market is Housing and Development Board (HDB), which is subsidised and also provides good assurances for landlords and tenants alike. HDB have lots of information on their website. Tip: if you’re renting an entire flat make sure your landlord has HDB approval. When you find a place to live, you and your landlord will need to sign a Letter of Intent (which should also note details like any furniture you want removed or added) and put down a deposit, and there’s also a Tenancy Agreement to sign. Shorter term, you can also consider staying in a serviced apartment, especially if you only want to start looking at properties when you’ve actually arrived. This can help make sure you’re moving in comfort to Singapore!
It’s worth keeping in mind that as well as a big mortgage, there are other fees involved in buying a property in Singapore. Property Guru has some good information about this. Again, make sure you do your research first!
If you’ve decided to look for a house when you arrive (or if you’re just arriving a little after your belongings have) you may need to arrange somewhere to store your belongings. Links can help you find storage to suit your needs.
Setting up shop
Actually moving into your house can sometimes be a stressful thing, but it’s just the final step before you can relax back into space of your own! Shipping relocations can help you with moving boxes to Singapore, deliver to your door, or sort you out with temporary storage. If you like to move into a clean and functioning house, you can also consider a service to tidy things up before you move in – Links has a maid service as well as a handyman service to sort out any finicky work that might be needed around the house before you shift.
Good news – Singapore is right up there globally when it comes to fast internet, for both broadband and mobile! When you’re setting up your home connection there are three big companies who offer internet SingTel, Starhub and M1 and a few smaller companies (like MyRepublic and Colt) scattered around. It generally take a week to 15 days for your service to be connected, so if you know where you’re living you may like to pre-arrange connection before you move. Most contracts range from 6 to 24 months. Fast fibre-optic connections are available but check first because there are some regions where they’re not.
Again, SingTel , Starhub and M1 offer internet connections. SingTel is the most popular. Compare their offers before you decide, and don’t forget to check if you’re eligible for a corporate discount! There are prepaid SIM options and contracts. And if you’re after a fixed line, you may be able to find a deal with a cable internet option.
The government is working on a portal for their services with a single sign-on called SingPass . This will make things easier to use services, and you’ll also need it for tax purposes, so apply online as soon as you can!
You’ll need to apply to SP Services for your electricity and water – probably best to do this as soon as you’ve got accommodation arranged to get the process started. In terms of electrical current, Singapore uses 230 Volts, 50 Hertz, and the Type G Plug (British style, three flat prongs). If you need to get an adaptor they’re easy to find.
Need to send a package or even just an old-fashioned postcard? The SingPost website can give you an estimate of how much it’ll cost.
There are a few forums online where you can chat to other expats and get advice. You might like to look at Singapore Expats if you have questions for people who’ve been in the same situation as you or want to meet other expats.
Moving your family?
Education in Singapore is excellent, though a little more strict than the relaxed Western system. The school year begins in January and ends in November. It’s divided into four terms with term holidays lasting from around a week to a month. If you have kids, you may want to research schools before you move – and before you decide where to live. Admission isn’t guaranteed for international students and there will be a centralised test (the Admissions Exercise for International Students, or AEIS) to complete before your child can be enrolled, and it will also depend on school vacancies. You can find a list of International School locations here. The Ministry of Education website has details and your schools will also be able to give advice on the process and paperwork. If your child is not on a Dependant’s Pass they’ll need to get a Student’s Pass.
If you want to bring the family pet with you, make sure check out the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority’s guidelines first . You may need to arrange an import permit and there are some quarantine and veterinary requirements as well. Singapore also has regulations on the breed and size of dogs you can have living in different kinds of buildings, and you’ll need to get a license. To get your pets across to Singpore, Links Moving does offer a Pet Relocation Service.
The island is well-connected with roads and transport, especially in the centre, giving you the chance to really explore what the state has to offer. And it’s just as well because walking around in the heat and humidity of Singapore is probably not something you want to be doing for very long.
Singapore has efficient (and affordable) transport links! Busses, MRT trains, and taxis should be able to get you most places you want to visit regularly. The EZLink card can be topped up easily at machines or customer service counters and used on busses and trains (and at McDonalds). Visit the SMRT website for timetables, pricing, and route maps. Taxis are well-regulated in Singapore, and you can call, find them in stands, or hail them down. They run on meter, provide you a receipt, and display contact details if you have any disputes. However, the pricing can be complicated to work out and there are some surcharges (notably midnight to 6am and during the morning rush) so you may like to check out a fare calculator to gauge the cost.
If you’re planning on getting a car, you’ll be able to drive on your home country’s full driver license for 12 months. After that you’ll need to convert your license. Having a car can be expensive – as well as the cost of petrol and a Certificate of Entitlement for your vehicle, Singapore has Electronic Road Pricing, a fee charged for using roads during peak traffic hours. And if you have a car already that you just can’t bare to part with, consider bringing it over with you.
Free WiFi is available in several shopping malls and public spaces, so if you find yourself suddenly in need of directions (or badly need to check your Twitter account) you should be able to connect up somewhere.
Don’t know what to pack for your move?
Check this article out: what to pack and what to leave when moving overseas