Singapore is a city-state with it all. In just half a century it's gone from a war-ravaged colony to a modernized paragon of good governance and the financial center of Asia. With 63 islands (yes, 63!) and history lurking around every corner in neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little India, there is much for its 5.4 million residents to explore.
For hundreds of years Singapore has been a heady mix of ethnicities and religions: Chinese, Malay, Indians, and Westerners; Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, and Christians. This multicultural background has turned the island state into a cultural powerhouse. From Chinese New Year celebrations to Ramadan to the Dragon Boat Festival to Deepavali, there is always something to celebrate. This diversity has also led to a vibrant art scene, from staid institutions like the National Gallery Singapore to funky galleries featuring up-and-coming local artists.
As you'd expect of such a mixed population, food choices here are neverending and eating has become an art form of its own. You'll find everything from hawker centers offering humble stalls selling noodles, rice, crab, dim sum, and more (among these stalls are the world's most affordable Michelin-starred eats), fine dining, and everything in between.
Singapore long had a reputation as an overly polished, boring city of malls and high-rises. You'll still find areas that fit that description, but you're never far from a hike through tropical forest, a picturesque beach, or a buzzy ethnic neighborhood.
Read on to learn about the basics (housing, transportation, internet, and more!) of moving to Singapore and to find the perfect neighborhood for you.
Singapore is considered one of the safest cities in the world.
Ample trains, buses, and cars for hire (including Uber) make owning a car unnecessary.
Singapore incentivizes people not to buy cars by applying serious costs to doing so. Just getting a license will cost you (or your company) tens of thousands of dollars, the annual road tax comes out to thousands of dollars, and if you import a car that tax can be equivalent to 150% of the car's value. Fortunately, great public transit is in abundant supply.
Singapore likes to keep itself tidy so for years there was a complete ban on chewing gum in the country. That ban was lifted for any gum claiming a therapeutic effect (such as whitening or Nicotine), but it's still illegal to import gum into Singapore. So will you get arrested for walking around chewing gum? Probably not, but why risk it.
"It's easy to misjudge Singapore and see it as superficial, but the shiny buildings and impressive architecture are only a small part of the country's identity. It's not hard to scratch beneath the surface to find a cultural melting pot home to many languages, traditions and customs, which gives it a unique flavour. Living there means you can be part of that rich tapestry."
With available land space becoming increasingly scarce as development continues, real estate in Singapore is not known to be cheap. However, with everything from affordable public housing developed by the state to multi-million dollar private mansions located in exclusive postcodes reserved for the rich and famous, Singapore does have a wide range of housing options to suit different budgets.
Locations closer to the city center or those with a higher concentration of private developments generally have a higher price than neighborhoods further from the city center. Most neighborhoods in Singapore are designed to be “self-sustaining”, with multiple supermarkets or local grocery shops to provide you with your everyday amenities, one or more large shopping malls for a variety of retail, service and dining options, medical clinics, places of worship, and primary/secondary/tertiary schools serviced by multiple public transportation lines (train and bus). That being said, the island itself is not large and with its excellent transportation networks (or with the convenience of a car), nothing is ever too far away.
RENTING IN SINGAPORE
Taking the plunge to move to sunny Singapore? Great – now it’s time to sort out your accommodation. While buying in Singapore may be more of a challenge for foreigners, it is relatively easy for expatriates to rent properties. A variety of local HDB (Housing Development Board) flats, single rooms in apartments, private condominiums, and even landed property (terraces/bungalows) are available for you to choose from.
There are a couple of ways to begin your property search in Singapore: you could adopt a gung-ho approach and source properties by yourself using property websites, bulletin boards, and newspaper listings, or you can engage the services of a local property agent.
The latter approach is the recommended option. While you may incur fees by engaging what's called a Tenant Agent (it's usually 50% of one month’s rent), it is thoroughly helpful to have someone who understands the ins and outs of the industry, the rules and regulations of the country (and there are quite a few in Singapore), and who will be acting in your best interests and saving you from unnecessary hassle. Should you choose to engage a Tenant Agent to assist you, be sure to look up agents belonging to reputable real estate organisations such as Huttons, ERA, and PropNex, to guarantee the quality of service.
A few points to take note in the process of your house hunt:
WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO RENT
Once you have decided on a property to rent, you will need to prepare following documents:
Following that, your agent (if you used a Tenant Agent in your search) or the Landlord’s Agent will draw up a Letter of Intent and Tenancy Agreement that will have to be completed and endorsed before the rental is official.
BUYING IN SINGAPORE
The Singapore housing system was designed to enable Singapore citizens to be home owners, and for housing to remain affordable for its citizens in changing times such that all citizens have a stake in their country. With finite land resources in the city-state, the government has been highly involved in the property market, imposing rules and regulations that limits foreign ownership of property in Singapore. As a foreigner, the types of residential properties available to you for sale in Singapore are limited, however there are still many opportunities to purchase and own properties.
Here is a list of the types of residential properties in Singapore and their general terms of purchase and ownership for foreigners:
Public housing estates developed by the Housing & Development Board of Singapore.
Restricted – foreigners are not permitted to purchase and own HDB properties.
Executive Condominiums (EC)
Also known as HDB Executive Condos, ECs are a hybrid of public housing estates developed and sold by private developers) that combines elements of public and private housing. ECs are subsidized, and thus priced more attractively than private condominiums.
Restricted – foreigners may only purchase Executive Condominium properties 10 years after the building is completed.
Private Apartments & Condominiums
Modern high-rise estates developed and sold by private developers.
Non-restricted – foreigners may purchase and own private apartments & condominiums.
Terraced houses, semi-detached houses, bungalows.
Restricted – foreigners may apply to the Singapore government to seek approval for purchase of landed property.
Should you have your eyes set on a restricted residential property, fret not. While this segment of the market is designed to be barred to foreigners, the Singaporean government has reserved windows of possibilities for foreigners who are Permanent Residents of Singapore, or who have made “adequate economic contributions” to Singaporean society.
As with anyone buying property in a foreign land, it is highly recommended to work with a real estate agent and real estate lawyer to ensure the process is as seamless as possible. The typical process involves signing an Option to Purchase (which includes a payment of 1-5% of the property value to the seller to reserve the property as a buyer), and exercising the option by entering into a Sales & Purchase Agreement between the buyer and seller, which also involves putting down a deposit and setting deadlines for future payments and fees.
HELPFUL REAL ESTATE WEBSITES
Property Guru (http://www.propertyguru.com.sg) – Singapore’s largest real estate listing website includes both residential and commercial properties for sale and rent. The site offers a Q&A forum where property agents will answer questions, as well as other features such as a mortgage calculator, stamp duty calculator, property price and valuation tools, and property guides, to try and ease the hassle on the hunt for your dream property. Property Guru is also available on iOS and Android applications.
99.co (https://www.99.co) – 99.co conveniently segments your property search by district and area (as most sites will do), but interestingly also by HDB Towns, MRT stations, and by schools (limited largely to local primary schools). With a focus on residential properties for sale and rent, you’ll get a more curated selection as compared to sites that offer both residential and commercial properties. With a user-friendly interface, 99.co is also available on iOS and Android applications.
ST Property (http://www.stproperty.sg) – ST Property offers listings of both local and overseas properties for sale and rent. For local properties, the site allows you to further segment your search by properties for sale, for rent, or even just a room rental (great for international students or singles looking to share a flat). ST Property also offers analytics delivering insights and trends into the property market in Singapore, as well as financing tools, property tax calculators, and even “Feng Shui” guides.
Singapore is equipped with well-planned road and transport systems that will get you around the city without much fuss. With its high interconnectivity and exceptional cleanliness standards, public transport is a very comfortable and cost-efficient way to travel here. And given the high costs of owning and maintaining a car in the city, public transport is the preferred mode of transport for many residents.
The MRT (or Mass Rapid Transit) system is probably the fastest and most cost-efficient method of getting around town. Complementing the MRT system is the LRT (Light Rail Transit) system, a smaller network of trains acting as a feeder service which allows commuters to alight closer to home. Most trains operate between 5:30am and 12:00am daily, with extended hours applied for certain festive periods. The normal frequency of trains is every 2-3 minutes during peak hours, and every 5-7 minutes during off-peak hours.
Singapore’s trains and stations are also designed to be accessible to wheelchair users, the visually impaired, as well as families with strollers. With a wide network servicing a large percentage of Singapore’s neighborhoods (and more stations currently being built), the MRT/LRT trains are a highly accessible and convenient mode of transport.
Standard tickets are available for single/return trips for short-term use, and can be purchased from ticketing machines or Ticket Offices in the MRT stations. For more frequent/long-term use, you can purchase an EZ Link stored-value card that you can top up in value as you use it. EZ Link cards can be purchased from Ticket Offices or Passenger Service Centres in MRT stations, and can be topped up at various outlets (e.g. Ticket Offices, General Ticketing Machines, 7-Eleven stores, SingPost outlets etc.).
With an extensive network of routes covering most of the city, Singapore’s public bus system is the most economical way to get around (though not always the most time-efficient). Most buses are fitted with ramps for wheelchair accessibility, and the Land Transport Authority aims to have all buses fully wheelchair accessible by 2020. Another bonus for the tropical weather of Singapore? All public buses are fully air-conditioned.
There are supplementary public transport bus services operated by private bus operators that offer more transport options for commuters. For those willing to pay a little more in exchange for more convenience and comfort, Premium Bus Services (PBS) offers a higher level of bus service with direct routes between major housing estates and the Central Business District/industrial business parks during peak hours. The Fast Forward Bus Service also operates only during peak hours, makes fewer stops, and has more flexible routing to avoid congestion, saving commuters up to 20% of travel time.
Bus operation timings vary depending on the route, operating anywhere within the ranges between 5:00am and 12:00 midnight. You can pay for your bus fares with cash (exact cash only, no change is given) and take the bus ticket as proof of receipt, or use your EZ Link card. For more specific information on bus timings, visit Mytransport.sg (https://www.mytransport.sg/), or download the mobile app.
Taxis are a highly convenient and comfortable way to travel around Singapore (especially for getting to places that are less accessible by train or bus) and are considered to have relatively low fares compared to that of other developed countries. While abundant in numbers, taxis can become scarce during morning and evening peak hours, as well as on rainy days. Taxis here are metered, though surcharges may apply depending on where and when you board the taxi, which company of taxi you are taking, and whether or not you used a booking service.
Taxis may be flagged down at any time of day from any public road outside of the Central Business District. To get a taxi within the CBD, look for an allocated taxi stand (available at most shopping malls, hotels, and tourist attractions), or call a taxi to your nearest car drop-off/pick-up point. Each taxi company has their own booking hotline, and some like Comfort Delgro also have a booking app available. Other useful services include UBER and GrabTaxi and may offer more competitive rates at certain times of day than a normal hailed taxi.
One of the most convenient ways of getting around that affords you total freedom in your plans is, of course, to own a car. However, cars are not cheap to buy or maintain in Singapore, and are considered a luxury that many can only aspire to have. For short term stays, a valid foreign license and an International Driving Permit (IDP) are required in order to drive in Singapore. If an IDP is not available, an official translation of the foreign license in English is required. In order to drive in Singapore after 12 months of stay, it is necessary to obtain a valid Singaporean driving license.
TRANSIT AND WALKABILITY RATINGS
For each Singapore neighborhood you'll see a Transit rating and a Walkability rating. The Transit rating tells you how good and reliable public transportation options are in that neighborhood. The Walkability rating tells you how many local amenities (shops, restaurants, fitness options, etc.) you can walk to in that neighborhood.
Gothere SG – An awesome site everyone should become familiar with (also available as a free app), Gothere SG offers detailed directions, live updates on public transport timings, and estimated travel times across various transport and route options. You can also make future travel plans by inputting your time of travel and date of travel in the fields provided and Gothere SG will let you know the best ways to get to where you want to be, how long it will take you, and even an estimate on what it would cost you.
Land Transport Authority – For more information on Singapore’s transportation systems.
Education has always been a high priority in the affairs of the Singapore government, especially in the early years of nation building. Consistently in the top rankings of international education standards, Singapore is known to have a “world-leading” education system with the highest achieving students in international tests for maths and sciences.
The Ministry of Education in Singapore manages the education system, controlling the development and administration of government-funded state schools, as well as holding an advisory and supervisory role in private schools. 20% of the annual national budget goes towards education spending, subsidizing state education, government-assisted private education for Singaporean citizens, and funding the Edusave programme.
In 2000, the Compulsory Education Act was passed, making education compulsory for children of primary school age (with the exception of children with disabilities) and making it a criminal offence for parents to fail to enroll their children in school and ensure regular attendance. Any exceptions required (e.g. home-schooling) must be applied for by parents to the Ministry of Education.
Officially designated as the first language within the local education system, English is used as the main language of instruction in Singapore, except during Mother Tongue (Chinese, Malay, Tamil) language lessons. The school year is divided into two semesters with the first semester running from January to May, and the second semester from July to November.
Pre-school/kindergarten: Kindergartens in Singapore provide up to three years of pre-school for children between the ages of 3 and 6. The three years are generally termed as Nursery, Kindergarten 1 (K1), and Kindergarten 2 (K2). Kindergartens provide safe environments for children to learn how to interact with others, and prepares them for formal education. Children would start to engage in activities that allow them to learn languages (written and oral), numbers, social and personal skills, music etc. Typically, lessons would be conducted in English, with Mother Tongue lessons also provided. Note that most institutions do not provide Malay/Tamil Mother Tongue lessons.
Primary studies: Normally starting at the age of 7, primary education comprises of 4 foundation years (Primary 1 to 4), and 2 orientation years (Primary 5 and 6). Primary education is free for all Singapore citizens in schools under the Ministry of Education. The first 4 years of primary education provides pupils with a foundation in English, a Mother Tongue language, maths, sciences, arts, physical education, and social studies. After the foundation years, students sit a formal examination at the end of Primary 4, and are then streamed into different classes according to their abilities. After 6 years of primary education, students sit the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examinations), and are then able to choose their secondary schools based on their PSLE results.
Secondary studies: Based on their PSLE results, students are streamed into different secondary schools. There basic streams are “Express”, “Normal - Academic” and “Normal – Technical”. The Express stream offers a four-year route directly to Singapore-Cambridge GCE “O” level exams. Students in the Normal routes are offered a four-year route to the “N” level exams, with the possibility of a 5th year leading up to the GCE-O level exams. The Normal-Academic stream prepares students for the GCE-O level exam in their 5th year, and the Normal-Technical stream are for students focusing on more technical subjects such as Design & Technology, and prepares them to enter technical institutions (such as the Institute of Technological Education) in their 5th year.
Post-secondary studies: Also known as “pre-university studies” (or “Pre-U” as you will hear most commonly in Singapore), post-secondary studies are a 2 year course leading up to GCE-A level exams. Students’ results in the GCE-O level examinations determine which pre-university institution they are eligible to apply for. Institutions include junior colleges, polytechnics, technology institutes, and arts institutes.
Tertiary studies: Students looking to pursue university educations will find 6 autonomous public universities in Singapore, with the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University high in world university rankings. Foreign universities from Canada, UK and Australia have also established campuses in Singapore, giving students a wider range of institutions and courses to choose from for a fraction of the cost it would take to study overseas.
School fees for primary education through pre-university education in state schools are heavily subsidized by the government for Singaporean citizens. Foreigners are eligible to enroll in state schools in Singapore, though there are different tiers of fees depending on whether or not you are a Singapore Permanent Resident, part of an ASEAN nation, or belong to other countries. For expats public school fees cost hundreds of dollars per month and generally increase each year. The Ministry of Education website lists the breakdown in fees.
Another option is sending your children to private schools, such as international schools. These costs will vary from school to school and can cost thousands of dollars per semester. There are dozens of international schools catering to students of different nationalities.
The Ministry of Health is responsible for the management of the healthcare system in Singapore. Ranked #6 in the World Health Organization’s ranking of the world’s health systems in 2000, Singapore has one of the best healthcare systems in the world and is recognized as the leading medical hub in the Asia-Pacific region. Medical establishments in Singapore cater not only to locals and residents, but also to citizens of neighboring countries who travel to Singapore specifically for the excellent care. Many world-renowned medical centers, such as John Hopkins and The West Clinic, have also established themselves in Singapore.
One of the key principles in Singapore’s healthcare system is that no medical service is provided free of charge in order to mitigate over-utilization of healthcare services. Through a system of subsidies, compulsory savings, and price controls, the government aims to ensure affordability of healthcare within the public health system. While Singapore citizens and Singapore Permanent Residents are subsidized to a certain extent under the public healthcare system, foreigners working and living in the country are not covered under any subsidy schemes. Hence, it is highly recommended for those working and living in the country without Singapore citizenship or Permanent Resident status to ensure they are sufficiently covered under personal medical insurance schemes.
Singapore’s neighborhoods are designed to be “self-sustaining”, meaning basic services and amenities can be found in each local community. This means that healthcare services are readily available in most local neighborhoods, provided by a network of primary healthcare services across the island. Pharmacies can also be conveniently found in most neighborhoods and shopping malls.
HEALTHCARE FUNDING FOR RESIDENTS
The Singapore healthcare system is funded by a combination of direct government funding as well as individual compulsory savings schemes. As long as you are a working Singaporean citizen or Permanent Resident, a portion of your income will be deducted monthly and put towards a compulsory savings fund (CPF) that you can use to service your housing, medical, and retirement needs.
The Central Provident Fund (CPF) is a compulsory comprehensive savings plan for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents in the workforce. It is an employment based savings schemes with employees and employers contributing a mandated amount to the fund. The CPF is used to fund the housing, healthcare, and retirement needs of citizens and residents. Contributions to the CPF are divided into three accounts:
PRIMARY HEALTHCARE SERVICES
Singapore’s primary healthcare is provided through a network of outpatient polyclinics and private medical practitioners’ clinics situated within local communities. There are approximately 18 polyclinics, and 1500 private medical clinics island-wide providing primary healthcare services. The healthcare professionals in these facilities include general practitioners and nurses, who are the first point of contact for patients seeking medical attention, and can offer referral services to hospitals or specialists for patients requiring further treatments. These facilities offer outpatient medical treatments, immunizations, health screenings, as well as diagnostic and pharmaceutical services.
Consultation fees may vary depending on which private medical clinic you go to. For polyclinics, the average consultation fee is around $8 for Singapore citizens, $12 for Permanent Residents, and $16 for foreigners. With basic primary healthcare being relatively affordable, many people choose to pay for these out of their own pocket, and only seek insurance coverage for inpatient treatments/hospitalisation.
PUBLIC & PRIVATE HOSPITALS
As of 2012, there are 25 hospitals and specialty centers in Singapore. The 8 public hospitals comprise of 6 general hospitals, a women’s and children’s hospital, and a mental institute. General hospitals provide multi-disciplinary acute inpatient and specialist outpatient treatments, as well as 24-hour emergency services.
Private hospitals in Singapore also offer exceptional standards of medical service and care. The private healthcare sector in Singapore caters to those who are privately insured, foreign patients, or public patients who can afford the high fees of private care. The capacity of the private healthcare sector is also used to reduce waiting times in the public sector. The private sector is largely run by 3 groups: Parkway Holdings, Pacific Healthcare Holdings, and Raffles Medical Group.
Medical expenses for hospitalization and more complicated treatments can add up to pretty hefty sums, especially in the private sector. While medical subsidies are available for Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents, many still decide to purchase personal insurance plans for additional coverage.
HELPFUL HEALTHCARE WEBSITES
Ministry of Health Medical Directory - This medical directory allows you to search for clinics, hospitals, laboratories, and nursing homes in Singapore.
GoBear - The first health insurance comparison website in Singapore, GoBear provides free comparisons of over 130 health insurance products, allowing you to compare and choose a plan that suits your needs.
Singapore has a well-established telecommunications infrastructure that spans the entire city-state, with high mobile phone penetration and excellent service coverage for most parts of the island. There are 3 main telco operators in Singapore – Singtel, Starhub and M1 (or MobileOne). The mobile and phone services each of these telcos provide are generally the same, with the differences between them being in the structures and pricing of their various plans and bundles.
For mobile phone services, there are 2 main plans to choose from: pre-paid or post-paid.
Mobile pre-paid option: Suitable for those who want a rapid set-up or those who are only intending to be in the country for a short period of time and want freedom from binding contracts. Pre-paid SIMs can be purchased at 7-Eleven stores island-wide, other convenience stores, or at the retail outlets of the network service providers, and conveniently topped up via internet banking, ATM machines, or various retail outlets (e.g. supermarkets and convenience stores).
Mobile post-paid option: Post-paid plans are suitable for those who intend to be in Singapore for an extended period of time. Whether you spend all your time talking on the phone and utilise call minutes, or you’re constantly online and need a huge data package, there are plenty of post-paid plans to suit different needs. In Singapore’s small and competitive market, you will not find large discrepancies in pricing between telcos for post-paid plans in the same tier (tiers range from basic to premium), with no large differences in the call minutes and number of SMS provided in plans either. Where they vary the most is in the amount of data provided so do pay more attention to that if you cannot live without data (it helps to draw up an excel file to make comparisons). To sign up for a post-paid plan, you will need to prepare (though not all of these may be requested for) your passport, employment pass, and proof of address (e.g. utility bill).
To set up home lines, all network service providers have individual packages available. You can also choose from an array of bundled options, which include the set-up of home phone lines amongst other plans such as home broadband and home TV network.
Singtel (https://www.singtel.com) – Singapore Telecommunications Limited (Singtel for short) is one of the largest mobile network operators in Singapore. With a mobile subscriber base of over 600 million customers, Singtel is also in the top 30 ranks of largest network providers in the world. Singtel is arguably the fastest data provider in the country with the best coverage.
Starhub (www.starhub.com) – The second fastest data provider in the country with second best coverage, Starhub services close to 2 million mobile customers and has almost 30% of the Singapore market.
M1 (https://www.m1.com.sg) – The third fastest telco in Singapore, M1 has similar coverage to that of Starhub’s range. Also the smallest telco in Singapore, M1 is one of the providers of the 4G pre-paid SIM in Singapore.
Singapore has a high internet penetration rate, with a connectivity across the city-state of over 99%. There are three major service internet providers (Singtel, Starhub, M1) and other growing providers such as MyRepublic. While broadband is readily available across the city, fiber optics may not be available in every residential complex, so be sure to enquire with the landlord if fiber optics is high on your priority list.
Singtel: The largest telco in Singapore, Singtel offers different bundles from home broadband, allowing you to choose home broadband as an individual package, or as a bundle with home phone line set-up, TV packages etc. Singtel offers speeds of up to 10,000mbps (10Gbps).
Starhub: The second largest telco in Singapore, Starhub (like Singtel) offers different bundles that allow you to get home broadband as an individual package, or as a home bundle inclusive of phone lines and TV networks etc. Starhub offers speeds of up to 1,000mbps.
M1: M1 is another major telco in Singapore, offering the widest selection of fibre optic broadband packages amongst all the telco providers, with speeds of up to 10,000mbps (10Gbps).
MyRepublic: The 4th internet service provider in Singapore, MyRepublic does not offer the peripherals and add-ons that the major telcos offer with their bundles (e.g. home phone lines, TV networks etc.). A favourite of gamers, MyRepublic offers crazy fast speeds of up to 2Gbps with their dual fibre broadband packages.
HELPFUL INTERNET WEBSITES
Enjoy Compare – Comparison website for broadband rates, credit cards, loans and other investments and insurance services. The great thing about this site is that it has a range of different filters (superior to those on iMoney SG) that allows you to efficiently compare plans that are most suited to you. Filter by broadband provider, broadband speeds, monthly costs, bundle packages and even contract durations.
iMoney SG – Comparison website for broadband rates, credit cards, loans, and other investment and insurance services. You’ll be able to compare broadband rates and packages by broadband providers and level of internet usage (light, moderate, heavy, extreme). Layout of the website makes it easy for you to compare more deals on a page with less scrolling. iMoney also covers packages with extreme download speeds (e.g. 1Gbps).