For many years now, Singapore has been renowned the world over as a favorite destination for expats. The island nation’s position as a global financial hub, business and innovation hotspot, and gateway to the rest of Asia attract expatriates in the thousands each year. In fact, Singapore’s expat population was recorded at around 1.64 million in June 2020. This impressive figure accounts for as much as 29% of the country’s entire population and more than a quarter of its workforce.
Those seeking to move to Singapore, however, have historically had to contend with high living costs, particularly compared to the country’s Southeast Asian neighbors. Surveys designed to collect cost of living in Singapore statistics have consistently described Singapore as one of the most expensive cities to live in, not only in Asia but in the entire world.
If you’re thinking of moving to the Lion City, familiarising yourself with the major expenses you’ll probably incur can make them easier to manage. The following costs, for example, are likely to be especially significant:
Visas and Work Permits
Visas for yourself and any dependents you have will likely be some of the first things you’ll have to spend on when relocating to Singapore. There are many types of visas and work permits foreigners can apply for, so do research which type is best suited to your employment situation and other needs. These documents usually cost upwards of SGD 100 each.
Business owners may live and establish their enterprises in Singapore on an entrepreneur pass (EntrePass), whereas expats taking positions in Singaporean companies will need to secure an Employment Pass (EP). EP applications will typically be handled by your employer or employment agency, assuming you satisfy all the required criteria. For instance, expatriates must earn a fixed monthly wage of SGD 4,500 or more to qualify for an employment pass.
A Personalised Employment Pass (PEP), meanwhile, is available to high-earning and highly qualified individuals who wish to work in Singapore. This is a special variety of employment pass that is not linked to any specific employer and allows you to switch jobs throughout your stay in the country. The Singapore government may also issue other work passes to trainees, foreign students, and workers with particular skills.
EP holders may bring their legally married spouse and children to Singapore on a Dependents Pass, provided they earn the required minimum income of SGD 6,000 a month. If you and your partner are unmarried, they and any stepchildren you have will instead need to secure a Long Term Visit Pass.
Whether you intend to buy or rent a home in Singapore, accommodation is likely to be your biggest expense by far. The island nation has a very limited land area, which means property prices tend to be high. Renting a 1-bedroom apartment close to the city center, for example, is likely to set you back around SGD 2,000-4,000 per month. Rentals for 3-bedroom apartments in the same area will probably go for as much as SGD 4,000-8,000 per month.
On the upside, Singapore is fairly small and its public transportation is well-developed. This means that you may be able to find more affordable accommodation further out of the city centre without compromising too much on convenience. A 1-bedroom apartment outside of Singapore’s city centre will cost around SGD 1,300-2,700 a month to rent, while a 3-bedroom apartment will likely cost around SGD 2,400-5,000.
It’s also worth noting that unless you’re renting a serviced apartment, most accommodation for rent in Singapore is unfurnished. Many will, however, include essential appliances.
Temporary residents like expats and foreign entrepreneurs will need to buy international health insurance to access Singapore’s superior healthcare system. While you may choose to take out insurance on your own, your employer may also be able to secure it for you.
Most expats in Singapore go to private hospitals and clinics for their health concerns. Fees at these institutions are generally not much higher than those at public facilities, and they often offer equally good service. While day-to-day health services are generally quite affordable and won’t always require you to have health insurance, adequate insurance coverage is a must in case of sudden serious illnesses, accidents or other emergencies.
Groceries tend to be on the expensive side in Singapore, as the country imports most of its food products. Milk, cheese, non-tropical fruits and other items imported from outside of Asia may be especially costly. Because of this, cooking at home daily will likely cost you around SGD 250 a month.
Expats on a budget can expect to eat well for a fairly low price at street food stalls and hawker centres, so you may want to take advantage of these cheap eats as much as possible. These inexpensive food establishments are plentiful in Singapore and well-loved by both locals and foreign visitors for the affordable but delicious meals they offer. Hawker meals typically go for as low as SGD 3-6 without drinks. If you’d rather eat at mid-range restaurants, it makes sense to budget about SGD 20-30 per meal.
The famously high cost of living in Singapore can be managed with a lot of diligent preparation and a lot of resourcefulness. Those who relocate to the country will also soon find that it’s well worth the material investment. Singapore’s thriving economy, superior standard of living, and welcoming business environment are just a few factors that make it a dream destination for entrepreneurs and expatriates looking for a new place to settle.