An Expat’s Guide to Moving to Singapore

Situated in south-east Asia, the Republic of Singapore is comprised of 63 islands, with a population of more than five million people. Visitors and expatriates are drawn to Singapore for a number of reasons.

It’s a prime spot for international business, while its interesting history, tropical climate, and cosmopolitan atmosphere are also incentives for people to choose reallocation in Singapore or spend time travelling around the region. Read on to find out what it’s like for an expat living in Singapore.

Living in Singapore as an Expat

Singapore is generally considered to be one of the easiest regions in Asia for expats to settle. It often ranks highly on the best places for expats to live, with a strong economy and multicultural, safe society. Around 1.64 million expats live in Singapore, which is around 29% of the nation’s population.

Singapore is regarded as having a high quality of life. The city is safe, clean, and well-governed, although some can see the strict rules as being overbearing, especially regarding how some TV and media is censored by the Government. Still, Singapore is seen as a very efficient city, which is part of the reason why its so popular with expats.

Singapore Visa Requirements

Singapore has strict requirements for foreigners looking to work there. The nation tends to favour citizens for employment opportunities, so it can be best and advised to secure a job before you move. Your company will need to apply for your Employment Pass on your behalf.

To qualify for an Employment Pass, you will need to be highly skilled and earn at least £1,940 per month. You will need to prove you have the relevant qualifications and also have a valid passport. The Employment Pass will be valid for up to two years.

Those who hold an Employment Pass will be able to apply for their spouse and children to join them in Singapore on a Dependents Pass. The initial applicant must earn at least £3,223 in order for the application to be successful. A Long Term Visit Pass is available for partners who are not married.

Those who hold an Employment Pass for at least six months will be able to apply for permanent residency. It can take up to a year for a permanent residency permit to be processed. You will need to supply your employment pass, your passport, your birth certificate and work-related documents such as pay slips and employment confirmation letters.

The Job Market in Singapore

Singapore is a hub of industry and as such, has numerous job opportunities. As stated, local citizens are often favoured for roles over expats, and competition for jobs can be fierce. However, the right individual with the right skills and experience will be able to secure a role.

The large majority of jobs in Singapore are related to finance and banking. There are also openings found in IT, shipping, and electronics. Marketing and language tutoring are also popular job roles for expats in Singapore.

The average salary in Singapore is relatively high, and estimated to be around £3000 per month (around £36,000 per year). Workers with a degree will earn around £6,400 per month. Workers in the finance industry were among the highest earners.

Cost of Living in Singapore

Cost of living in Singapore is quite high, which is reflected by the higher average wages. According to Numbeo, the cost of living is around 38% higher than in the UK, and rent is a huge 213% higher than in the UK.

It’s estimated that a family of four will need around £3,257 per month to cover costs, not including rent. A single person will need around £906 per month, not including rent.

Renting a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre will cost nearly £3,000 per month, and renting a one-bedroom on the outskirts will cost just under £2,000. A three-bedroom home in the city centre will cost around £5,600 per month.

Healthcare and Health Insurance in Singapore

Healthcare in Singapore

Singapore has a strong universal healthcare system; ranked sixth in the World Health Organisation’s list of the best world health systems. The country has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. Unlike many countries in the world, both the public and private healthcare sectors function efficiently and professionally. More often than not, expats will use private hospitals for primary care, and public hospitals for emergency services.

No service is provided free of charge – this is intended to reduce overuse of the system – but most treatments are heavily subsidised and prices are controlled. Understandably, the private fees are more expensive than the public healthcare facilities. All citizens are enrolled in a compulsory savings scheme to help them pay for services. Many people in Singapore also enrol in private healthcare.

It’s important to note that some medicines available in other countries – both over the counter and via prescription – may be considered controlled substances in Singapore.

Before you travel to Singapore, it’s essential to check any medications you may be bringing into the country. You may need to get prior authorisation and a permit to carry these medications and this should be arranged at least ten days before you travel. In most cases, you will be able to bring up to a three months’ supply with you and you will need a letter from your doctor and a copy of the prescription.

Nearly all hospitals and medical facilities have English-speaking medical staff and the facilities themselves are some of the best in the world.

Public hospitals in Singapore are championed by many and it is commonplace for patients from other neighbouring countries to be transported to a Singaporean public hospital to receive expert care. That being said, there seems to be an unwritten rule that public hospitals are primarily for Singapore nationals and permanent residency holders.

Either way in Singapore, expats will be paying for their healthcare and many prefer to spend a little extra and go private. There are countless private facilities in the city-state and it is simply a case of finding the best one for your needs.

Health Insurance in Singapore

Neither Singapore nationals or expats in the country have access to free healthcare, even via the public sector. All patients must co-pay for their medical expenses and, in return, they receive basic and affordable healthcare.

Only citizens of Singapore and expats who are permanent residents are entitled to access to this universal coverage scheme. Most expats will either be issued with comprehensive private medical insurance by their employer or will have to cover the cost themselves.

It isn’t compulsory for expats to invest in healthcare insurance in Singapore, however, it is highly advised that all expats do take out international health insurance as it will provide comprehensive cover in the case of prolonged illness, complicated illness, or more complicated injuries or medical needs.

Expats that have permanent residency status in Singapore can take advantage of the compulsory state insurance scheme. It is funded by monthly contributions from both employees and their employers. Large and medium-sized companies in Singapore often include this state level of coverage in their employment packages. However, most expats often invest in supplementary health insurance to cover all eventualities whilst abroad.

Money in Singapore

The unit of currency in Singapore is the Singapore dollar (SGD) and represent as S$. Each dollar is divided into 100 cents. Notes are available in denominations of 2, 5, 10, 50, 100, 1,000 and 10,000 SDG. Coins are available in 1 SGD and 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents.

Singapore is one of the world’s leading financial centres, meaning that expats benefit from leading banking systems – around 700 local and foreign institutions. There is also a cashless payment system known as NETS in Singapore, which is a convenient way to make purchases and most expats will find their Singapore bank card will have this facility automatically.

ATMs are readily available, and credit cards are widely accepted. Expats should shop around when choosing a bank account in Singapore as different banks will charge different service fees and require different account balances.

Expats wishing to open a bank account in Singapore will find the process incredibly easy and they can be up and running in under a day. There is no need to head to a central branch, simply pop in to the nearest local branch of your desired provider. English is the professional language in Singapore, so expats will not face any barriers when it comes to managing their finances.

Like most banks in the world, expats will need their passport, employment pass, and a deposit to open their account. They will then receive an ATM card, passbook, and a security ring that will be used for internet banking.

To be liable to pay tax, you have to have lived in Singapore for 183 days. Individuals are required to pay their own taxes themselves twice a year and the process is deemed to be simple and straightforward. Tax is paid at progressive rates according to your income. If you earn money outside of Singapore, it is generally not seen as liable for tax again and you won’t need to declare it. If you’re unsure about what tax rules apply to you, you should always speak with a financial advisor or local accountant.

Education in Singapore

Education in Singapore is seen as extremely important – it has been described as ‘world-leading’ – and a massive 20% of the national budget goes towards education. There is compulsory education for children of primary school age (6-12) and it can be a criminal offence if parents do not enrol their children in school and ensure they attend regularly.

Expat children can attend public, private, or independent schools, but it is best for parents to weight up the pros and cons of each option before enrolling their child.

The best public schools in Singapore have long waiting lists and places are given to Singaporeans before expat children. Even permanent expat residents struggle to secure a spot for their child in a public school. Public schools are much more affordable than international schools and allow children to integrate themselves in to Singaporean life much more quickly. Getting your foot in the door early is key if you are adamant on your child attending a public school in Singapore but be prepared that your child will be learning the local curriculum.

In private schools, students are highly competitive, and families put a lot of pressure on their children to succeed. This is the way of life in Singapore and many expat children can feel ostracised as they struggle to assimilate with the new educational culture. The best schools often dismiss average and underperforming students.

Western parents must keep in mind that corporal punishment is legal and regularly used in schools in Singapore. Caning is permitted for boys only in Singapore, but both sexes can be struck with an open hand or paddle as a form of punishment. The Ministry of Education states that caning is only allowed for serious or repeated misconduct and it is thoroughly monitored.

Due to a large expat population in Singapore, there are many international schools serving the children of the foreign community and most parents end up placing their children in these schools. Most of the schools implement the International Baccalaureate curriculum, but some uphold the system used in their country of origin. Popular international schools have waiting lists, so it is best for expat parents to research and make informed decisions quickly if they want their first choice.

It is no myth that international schools are very expensive but many expats moving to Singapore will have their child’s school fees paid for by their employer as part of their relocation package.

Weather in Singapore

Singapore is located just a few degrees away from the equator and, for this reason, it is no surprise that Singapore has a tropical climate. Annually the weather is warm, wet, and humid. The temperature throughout the year hovers around 30°C and showers are part and parcel of life. However, it is the humidity (which is generally over 90%) that most people consider the most uncomfortable factor about expat life in Singapore. Winds and breezes are a rarity, providing little relief from the stickiness.

However, January, February, and March do provide some respite. Temperatures during these months tend to hover around a much more bearable 25°C, with much lower humidity levels, very similar to a Mediterranean climate. This weather is very welcome after December, which is hit by the northeast monsoon, resulting in incessant rain. The monsoon season tends to run from November to January.

The hottest months in Singapore are April and May and, from July to October, the sky is ignited by a glowing haze caused by bush fires happening on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

June to September marks the southwest monsoon, and it has been known to rain continuously for entire days during this period.

Crime Rate in Singapore

Broadly speaking, Singapore is not a dangerous city, and it is considered as one of the least corrupt destinations in the world. Although there are fines in place for smoking in public, jaywalking, and chewing gum, it has an extremely low crime rate.

Due to Singapore being a world centre for the finance sector, there is a threat of terrorism in the country. Terrorists can target major financial institutions as well as national landmarks. However, the threat of terrorist attacks is no greater than in any other major city in the world.

Petty crime is the most prevalent in Singapore, mainly made up of pickpocketing and street theft. Like most destinations, this occurs around tourist traps, train stations, and airports. There is a small level of burglary, but this is very rare. Similarly, you rarely hear of violent crimes happening in Singapore.

Murder, rape, and drugs-related crimes are virtually unheard of. The most pressing issue is that of money laundering and scams, with financial crimes the only real sinister presence shadowing Singapore.

Places to Visit in Singapore

Often Singapore has been deemed sterile and nothing more than a stopover on long haul flights to exotic locations. However, this isn’t the case. Singapore is steeped in culture that juxtaposes brilliantly against the futuristic edge of the city. There are some must-visit places in Singapore, for travellers and expats alike.

Little India

The centre of Singapore’s Indian community is a colourful and buzzing neighbourhood known as Little India. Multi-coloured shop fronts line the streets, and the air is full of chants from temples, and the aromas of delicious traditional cooking. Little India is one of Singapore’s most loved districts and expats and visitors alike and welcomed by a warm embrace of Indian culture and tradition.

Sentosa Island

Built as a place for sheer fun, the manmade island of Sentosa is home to Universal Studios Singapore, Tiger Sky Tower, Singapore Insect Kingdom, and SWA Aquarium. It is a lively and harmonious place, and draws in visitors from all over the world. Visitors can access Sentosa via a 12-minute cable car ride from Vivo City which boasts astounding panoramic views of Singapore. The island is home to idyllic sandy beaches and it is a perfect place to relax at the weekend.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum

Located in the popular Chinatown district, the Buddha Tooth Temple is a Buddhist temple and museum complex. The temple is based on the Tang dynasty architectural style and was built to house the left canine tooth of Buddha himself, after his cremation. The relic can be viewed on the 4th floor of the magnificent temple, along with a variety of other ancient relics and historical artefacts.

Clarke Quay

Known as the party hub of Singapore, Clarke Quay is a hive of dazzling lights and buzzing night time venues. Originally, Clarke Quay was a centre of commerce on the Singapore River. Today, it is a maze of restaurants, bars, and shops. Bar Cocoon and Bamboo Bar in The Forbidden City are very popular, but head to Lunar for fantastic shows, and Attica or Canvas to dance the night away.

Singapore Night Safari

Unlike any other attraction in the world, Singapore Night Safari is a unique opportunity for visitors. The centre not only provides wonderment, but also dedication to the conservation and rescue of both captivate animals in their care, and those who are able to live in the wild. Thousands of animals from Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas can be seen in the spacious natural environments of Night Safari.

Moving to Singapore Checklist

  • Valid passport
  • To work out your monthly budget to cover accommodation, groceries, utilities
  • Money for flights and initial costs
  • Job offer in Singapore
  • Booked flights to Singapore
  • Visa application
  • Singapore bank account
  • Enrolment in school for your children
  • Accommodation, either rented or purchased
  • Local SIM card or mobile phone
  • Arrange furniture for the new home
  • Arrange Wi-Fi for the new home
  • Tie up loose ends at home, such as closing utility accounts and informing the tax office