For the last couple of years, Singapore has ranked 1st in the best places for expats to live. It comes as no surprise that more and more expats are moving to Singapore: better quality of life, lots of career opportunities, great base to explore Asia etc. We’ve created this guide to help you prepare your new life as an expat in Singapore. You’ll see, moving to Singapore has never been so easy.

1. Moving to Singapore: Visas, residence and work permit.

Before coming to Singapore, make sure you are clear about your legal status. The visa you’ll get depend on your nationality and the purpose of your stay. Are you coming to study? To work?

Work permit and dependent passes

Depending on your skills, job and salary you’ll receive a different work permit. Most of the time, your company will deal with the application. Otherwise, it can be done online, on the Ministry of Manpower website (MOM)

If you are an entrepreneur wishing to start a business in Singapore, apply for the EntrePass. You’ll have to submit your business plan as well. You’ll have to hold at least 30% of the company’s shares. The company needs to have at least $50 000 capital.
Please note that if you’re into one of the following sectors, your pass will be rejected:

  • Food courts, coffee shops
  • Bars, night clubs, karaoke clubs
  • Massage parlors

Permanent residency

To become a permanent resident in Singapore you first need an Entry Permit. Only the following groups of people can apply for an Entry Permit:

  • P,Q or S Pass holders
  • The spouse or unmarried children under 21 of a permanent resident or Singaporean
  • Entrepreneurs, investors

Applications for the Entry Permit can be completed online.

The Permit costs $100 plus $10 each year. Applications are treated within a period of 3 months.

Useful links: SingPass, once you get your work permit, apply here to create a single account to access various services online.

2. Where do you want to live? Choose a neighborhood

Most neighborhoods in Singapore have good transport links as well as shopping and eating options. Your location will essentially depend on where your work or where your children go to school. Each location has its own appeal.

ORCHARD AND CITY

(Orchard, Tanglin, River Valley, Holland village, Robertson Quay and Mohammed Sultan Road)

Perfect if you want to be in the center of the city. Close to shopping malls, restaurants, and cinema. Despite the density, the area is quite calm. Obviously, rents are higher here but you’ll be close to public transport and to the CBD (Central Business District).

CENTRAL

(Central Bukit Timah, Novena/Newton, Serangoon,Thomson,Braddell)

These areas are more residential and attract families. Especially Serangoon and Braddell which are closed to the French and Australian schools.

NORTH

(Woodlands)

Large expat community in the area as it is home to the Singapore American School.

EAST

(East Coast, Katong and Joo Chiat Siglap, Bedok, Tampines and Pasir Ris)

East Coast neighbourhoods have a village feel and a laid-back lifestyle. If you’re looking for a sea breeze, you’re a the right place. Accommodation is more affordable in these areas than on the center.

WEST

(Upper Bukit Timah, Sentosa, Faber Park)

One good point about living in the West part of Singapore is to be close to Malaysia. Handy if you plan a weekend getaway. The area is also cheaper than the center. However, you’ll find the most expensive houses of Singapore in Sentosa Island. Many parks and open spaces.

3. Find an accommodation: Are you more a condo guy or a house guy?

You probably know it but renting a flat or a house in Singapore is expensive. Rent generally accounts for 40% household expenditure. 9 out of 10 Singaporean families own their property. This means that the rental market is almost entirely supported by expatriates. Lately, Singapore has been attracting many expats. The market is therefore quite competitive.

Prices vary on the area you’ll intend to live in and on the size of the property. The housing market can be divided into two categories: public (HDB: Housing Development Board) and private. Unlike other countries, public housing is not associated with lower income groups.
Expats are eligible to HDB accommodation. In reality, they attract more locals or expats from Asia.

Apart from HDB, you’ll have the choice between several options:

  • Low or high-rise condominiums (building equipped with swimming pool, gym or tennis court)
  • Semi-detached houses, clustered houses (shared facilities).

4. How to get around this (not so tiny) city? – Transportation

Singapore has an excellent public transportation system composed of buses and MRT (Mass Rapid Transit). This is rather good news as owning a car in Singapore is very expensive. Indeed, you have to pay the COE (Certificate of Entitlement) upon purchase. Singapore is also equipped with the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), a congestion tax, that you pay as you drive.

To use buses and MRT, you’ll need to buy an EZLink
card and charge it with credit.
Funny fact about it: you can pay at McDonald’s with it.

Driving in Singapore might require some practice for some of you as only right-hand drive vehicles are authorized. You’ll have two options regarding your driving license:

  • You’re staying less than 12 months: You can use your national driving license. If it is not in English, you’ll need an international driving permit.
  • You’re staying more than a year: You will have to convert your license into a Singapore license. To do this, you’ll have to pass a basic theory test.

Taxis or Uber are another option to circulate in Singapore. Even if fares have been increasing lately, they remain cheap in comparison to the US or Europe. If you compare to Malaysia or the Philippines, they are really expensive.

5. Forget about your winter clothes – The climate and weather

Unless you plan to have a trip to Japan to ski, no need to bring warm clothes with you. Singapore is very close to the equator and enjoys a tropical climate. This means that there are no well-defined seasons. The only one is the monsoon season that takes place in November and December. Temperatures are quite high all year-round ranging 22°C to 34°C (72°-93°F). If you cannot stand humidity, you’d better find another destination. Rainfalls are very common, which brings the humidity to 100% quite often.

5. Moving to Singapore: Don’t forget the health insurance

Healthcare systems hardly ever work the same from one country to another. Make sure you’ve understood how it works in Singapore to avoid surprises in the case of an accident.

Private insurance for expats

Only permanent residents are eligible to Singapore’s healthcare system. One can become a permanent resident after 6 months spent in the country (working and living). Applications review take around 3 months. This means that any expats need a private insurance for at least the first 9 months in the country.

Singapore healthcare system

It ranks among the best in the world. It is composed of 3 systems called the 3M.

MediSave: As a permanent resident between 8 to 10,5% of your monthly salary is used to pay your MediSave account. This fund works like a savings account that you can use to pay treatments, bills etc.

MediShield Life: complementary to MediSave. It is designed to cover more severe injuries or long hospital stay. You’ll be automatically enrolled as a permanent resident.

Medifund: set-up by the government. It works as a safety net if you ran out of funds in your MediSave and MediShield Life.

Even after becoming permanent residents, many expats choose to keep their private insurance as a supplement to the public one. Here are the main reasons why:

  • It offers support in English. It is almost impossible to find an English speaking doctor with a local policy.
  • To get international cover in case of travels in Asia.
  • Should you need to be repatriated, the national system does not cover it.

6. Manage your finances like a banker

When arriving in Singapore you will quickly need to open a bank account. Unless you prefer wasting money each time you withdraw money at the ATM. The process is quite easy. Learn more about how to open a bank account in Singapore.

Once your account is opened, you’ll need to transfer some money from your home country to Singapore. As this point, you will be probably be tempted to make a simple wire transfer between your two accounts. Well, this is the worst thing to do in that case.
Even if banks seem safe for this kind of operation they are also very expensive. To make it short, you’ll be charged many fees and get a poor exchange rate.

The best alternative is to use a money transfer operator when making a transfer. There are quite many on the market today. They offer different services and prices. Thus, comparing them on CurrencyLive is important to make sure you get the best deal.

Moving to Singapore implies dealing with a different currency: the Singapore Dollar. Thus, you’ll become familiar with the notion of exchange rates. Did you know you could actually save money? Indeed, making your transfer when the rate is in your favor makes you save money in a way.

But let’s be honest, who has time to check it every day? I don’t! Fortunately, there is Neomy for that. It is a robot that monitors exchange rates in real time and sends alerts whenever something happens. Pretty handy isn’t it?

7. Pay your taxes

Here is our guide to help you pay your taxes in Singapore.

Adapt to the local culture

Singapore, in spite of being one of the smallest states in the world, has a great cultural diversity.

Mandarin is the government official language – English is the most common one.
Other common languages in Singapore include Tamil, Malay, and Cantonese.
Singlish is quite common among Singaporeans: a mix of English and another language.

In many aspects, Singapore can be considered an authoritarian state. For example, people found trafficking drugs are subject to the death penalty. Be aware that not flushing the toilet after use is illegal. You’ll also be fined if caught littering or spitting in public areas.

The food in Singapore is famous for being delicious. Here again, you’ll find a great combination of the various ethnic groups of the country. Seafood is quite popular and vegetarian will easily find tofu alternatives.

8. Plan your week-ends

No doubt that one of the best thing about Singapore is its central location in Asia. Thus, planning weekend getaways is quite easy and relatively cheap. Want to laze on a sandy beach? Or you prefer trekking into the jungles of Laos? There is something for everyone! Another good thing is that in most cases you will not need a day-off from work.

If you are looking for new shopping experiences, head to one of the following cities:
Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hong-Kong, Penang

Do you need to spend some relaxing time by the sea? Try the following places:

  • Langkawi, Kota Kinabal and Tioman island (Malaysia),
  • Bali, Lombok, Gili Island (Indonesia)

Don’t forget Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Burma etc.

This is it. You should be all set now for your departure. I hope this guide has been useful. Please leave us a comment if you feel something is missing. Don’t hesitate in sharing with us anecdotes about your new life in Singapore!


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