Moving to Singapore : What to expect
About a few weeks back I moved. Again! Less than 14 months ago, I had just moved from Seattle to Tokyo. That was one crazy but exciting move. I documented some of my experiences here. Japan was a wonderful country. It has beauty and culture, a fantastic public transit, some of the most hospitable people in the world. I loved the food there. In fact, I believe Tokyo is a foodie’s paradise. But life happens and you make decision. The story on why I decided to move (and leave Indeed) is for another blog. This blog is about Singapore and what to expect here.
Interestingly I didn’t find a lot of great resources about moving to Singapore. So here’s my perspective on moving to Singapore from another country.
Before you move
There are a few things to note about Singapore before you move here.
- Taxes are super low. Here’s the official link. You would never pay more than 22% in income taxes. If you make $200K (~150K USD), your effective tax rate is ~10% (or $20K in taxes.
- If you are not a Permanent resident or citizen, there are no pension / insurance deductions by default.
- Buying a car is next to impossible. A normal sedan might cost ~100K as the government only issues fixed number of car permits every year.
- It’s warm and humid all year round. Only one season here.
- It’s a very multi-cultural country. No matter what race you are, you won’t feel excluded or out-of-place here. That said a majority of the population are of Chinese, Malay or Indian ethnicity.
Where to stay initially?
There are 3 broad options for where to stay initially:
- Corporate accommodation: If your company provides you with corporate apartment etc, that should be simple.
- Hotels: I think hotels can cost you ~$ 200 / day. For long stays it might not feel the right option.
- Airbnb: There are various restrictions on Airbnb’s in Singapore especially with respect to Condos. Please do make sure your host has the permission of the apartment management to host you. It’s quite possible to find entire studio or 1 bedroom apartments for ~$ 100 / day (longer stays and you book a month in advance). If you want to stay near the central / downtown area the price would be closed to ~$ 130-150 / day.
Phone (SIM cards etc)
The first thing you would want to do when you land in Singapore is to get a local SIM. You can get prepaid travel SIM cards at the airport or the convenience stores as well. The price varies but you should find something ~S$ 10. This would be sufficient for the first few days and you can always top-up with various packs from the stores, through the app or at a convenience store. If you want more details, check out this blog. If prepaid does the trick for you, great! If not, at some point you would want to get a post-paid SIM card.
For post-paid, expect to pay at least $ 20 / month for a plan with 12 months contract. SingTel has a plan currently that offers 5GB data per month for $ 20. This website was very useful to compare the plans. If you want 28GB of data per month, Circles.life had a plan for $48 / month.
- No plan (post-paid) is truly $20. There is usually a $5 fee / month to get caller ID for incoming calls which is weird.
- If you are on certain visa / pass types, expect to pay $200 as deposit when you get a post-paid connection.
- Major Companies: SingTel, StarHub, Circles.Life, M1
There are 3 main ways to get around in Singapore:
- Grab / Taxi: There is obviously the normal taxis that you can hail on the street. However the most common way to ride around is to use Grab! Just download the app and start moving. The fares are generally cheap. For example a ride of 2-3 KM would be ~$7. The ride from airport to downtown was ~$20. However with surge pricing, there is no guarantee for the rates. Lastly, there is Comfort Del Gro for those rare instances where you can’t find a Grab.
- MRT (Metro rapid Transit): This is the most dependable and convenient way around the major parts of city. The trains are on time and no part of the city feels too far from another. Fares are between $0.77 to $2 I think.
- Buses: There are buses as well serving the routes where train is not the best option. Fares are between $0.77 to $2 I think. Use MyTransport.SG or SG Dr Bus apps to check on the bus arrival times, types of buses etc.
- You can buy EZ-link cards at convenience store and top them up via the app or at the MRT stations. Use these cards to pay for both buses and MRT.
- Google Maps has some weird algorithm to calculate total trip time (in Transit option) from point A to B. For example if you go from place A to B that involves 5 minutes walking to station, 10 minutes on train, another 5 minutes of walk to get to B, GMaps might show you a total trip time of 35 minutes. So please check the trip details to see real travel times.
- Most trips on train or bus cost me $0.77 to $1.30. There are unlimited use passes for $120 per month but it is unlikely it will be worth it. If you use transit to commute to work, expect to pay about $50-70 month on transit costs.
Before coming to Singapore, I expected it to be no cash country like US simply because it is a developed country and that was my perception of developed countries. Everything happens using cards or mobile phones. Turns out this was not the case. In general keep some amount of cash with you at all times for those cheap food purchases etc.
- Credit / Debit: Most major stores, big restaurants and malls would accept credit and debit cards. You can pay for your Grab using cards and you can recharge your EZ-link card using debit or credit cards as well.
- Cash / NETS: However a lot of smaller places, food courts inside malls, hawker centers, DAISO etc might only have cash as the only option. Some of them have started accepting a form of payment called NETS which I believe is a centralized debit card equivalent option. Please check with your bank whether your Debit Card supports NETS or not. My understanding is that NETS has 0 or low processing fees for merchants unlike Debit / Credit cards.
- Wallets: Apart from this there are various wallets that are accepted at various merchants. These include GrabPay, FavePay, PayLah etc. Look out for the QR code stickers on the walls of merchants. Also Singapore government recently launched SG QR which will allow you to use same QR code to pay using different wallets.
Singapore is another country that’s full of food options. No matter where you are, you are never away from tons of food.
- You can find any and every cuisine including Western, Indian, Pizza, Japanese, Malay, Indonesian, Chinese etc.
- Hawker centers are like community center food courts (mostly non-air conditioned). This is probably the lowest priced options and a full meal should be ~$5. You can get noodles for $2, coffee / tea for $1.5 and various dishes under $5
- Food courts inside mall are similar to hawker centers with tons of options, air conditioning and slightly more expensive. Most food is less than $10 here
- Restaurants are plenty and especially congregated within malls. There are tons of malls in Singapore and each of them have a lot of restaurants. I usually expect to pay ~$20 per person for decent restaurants but there is no upper limit. (Alcoholic drinks not included)
- Alcohol is usually expensive in Singapore. Expect to pay $8 to $12 for a pint of beer in a restaurant. Buying alcohol at grocery stores would be $15-20 for 6 cans.
- Grocery is usually reasonable: 2L milk is $5.5, $2 for bread, $2-$2.5 for 10 eggs. I think an average person would spend less than $250 for groceries per person.
Once you get here, you probably want to find an apartment. Your best bet is to look at PropertyGuru or 99.Co. There are various ways to organize your search including by districts, by MRT train lines, looking at Map etc.
- It is quite common in Singapore to find fully furnished apartments if you are not in the mood to buy everything afresh. The price differential also does not seem very significant compared to partially or non furnished apartment.
- There are 2 types of places: HDB (Housing Development Board) / Condos. HDB is government built apartments which are very decent. Condos are private built apartment with a lot more bells and whistles and facilities like Gym, pool etc. Condos can be significantly more expensive depending on location and facilities.
- In general you can contact agents on the above-mentioned website, schedule viewings and finalize an apartment. In this case you pay no agent fee and only the stamp duty.
- If you find your own property agent and work through him to find and schedule viewings, there is an agent fee for 1 month of rent.
- The rent varies by type (HDB or Condo), size, distance to MRT, location etc. In downtown, you can get a 1 bedroom furnished Condo for anywhere between $3000 to $5000. Staying 30-40 minutes outside of downtown, you can probably get a 3 bedroom furnished HDB for less than $3000. Use property guru to get a sense of what to pay. In most parts of city you can get a 2 bedroom furnished condo for ~$4000, HDB for ~$3000.
- There is IKEA if you decide to furnish the place yourself.
- It is fairly common to do 24 month contract but you can also try doing a 12 month contract for your apartment. The stamp duty is calculated based on total rent to be paid for the entire contract.
- If you expect to leave or need some flexibility in your lease, you can include the diplomatic clause which allows you to break your contract without penalty if you leave Singapore or quit your job (after a specified part of contract has already elapsed).
There is a lot of variety in terms of options and benefits for banking available in Singapore. After all, it is the financial center of Asia. You can expect a presence from pretty much any major bank. However DBS and POSB are most popular local banks. Here is a great resource for what kind of banking options are available.
To open a bank account you need your passport, proof of residential address and a copy of your pass (or IPA). For proof of residential address, a letter from your company may also suffice.
Opening a utilities account is usually as simple as filling out a form on your mobile phone using the app. Once you fill out the details of your place, your account might be opened without any further actions in 2-3 days. Here are the things you would be paying for: Electricity, Gas and Water.
- Here is a link from the SP utilities website showing per unit cost for each type.
- Singapore will be implementing choose your own electricity provider option soon. This link compares the cost of electricity based on your needs and contract type.
- For a 2 bedroom HDB the average utilities cost is ~$120 while for condos the average is $200. (Figures are per month).
Surprisingly 1Gbps broadband in Singapore is fairly common and almost the standard option. There are quite a few providers like SingTel, StarHub, M1, WhizComms, MyRepublic each offering some type of 1Gbps plan.
The most common option here is a 24 month contract but you can try to find 12 month contracts (usually by contacting customer service). Expect to pay ~$30 for 300Mbps (12 month), $40 for 1Gbps (24 month).
If there is one thing Singapore lacks, it is a good online shopping portal like Amazon.
- You have quite a few grocery delivery options from 2 hour delivery (Prime Now) to 1-2 day delivery on HonestBee, Redmart. However they usually contain staples and overall selection is small. There is delivery minimums or delivery fee in general. Prime Now ($40 for free shipping), Redmart ($100 for free shipping) etc.
- There is Lazada, Shopee, Qoo10 for online shopping but the delivery times can be long from 7-30 days. A lot of the selection ships from China so expect it to be slow, of unknown quality and with very little product reviews. The shopping experience on the website is also sub-par.
- Food Delivery: There is Deliveroo, Foodpanda, Honestbee and Grab Food among various other players where you can order on the app and get food delivered within an hour or so. Delivery charges usually apply and can be $3-$5 per order.
- Amazon.com : You can always sign up for an Amazon US account and a lot of things there will ship to Singapore. Some of the products have expedited 2-5 business day shipping options. This can be expensive but the product selection is great and if you choose slow shipping it can be extremely reasonable. For example buying a Fitbit 2 on Amazon.com is $185 SGD (15-20 day shipping included) or add $15 for 2-5 day shipping. Even at that price it is cheaper than $250 in-stores in Singapore.
Overall Cost of Living
|Sample Scenarios for Salary and Taxes|
|Salary Info||Monthly Salary||$5,000||$7,500||$10,000||$15,000||$20,000|
|Computed Yearly Salary (Monthly X 12 + Bonus)||$60,000||$100,000||$150,000||$225,000||$300,000|
|Tax Calculation||Income Tax||$1,950||$5,650||$12,450||$25,900||$40,550|
|Percentages||Salary After Taxes||$58,050||$94,350||$137,550||$199,100||$259,450|
|Tax as % of gross salary||3.3||5.7||8.3||11.5||13.5|
Depending on how often you eat out, take grab and other spending habits you might end up spending anywhere between $4000 to $5000 per month. The above figures are for 2 people staying in a 2 bedroom HDB. The majority of your expense will be rent so things can change drastically based on what you pay for rent.
- All figures in SGD
- This is not an authoritative guide but just my observations based on my move in September 2018
- Prices change, so this may be completely useless in a few months / years.
- Please do not hold me responsible if things don’t turn out to be as I described.
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