Expat life can be refreshing, exciting and enriching – few places capture this formula better than the jungle-framed city-state of Singapore. In a thronging nation of skyscrapers where temperatures rarely dip below 77°F, it’s easy to find your place in the crowd, whether you’re a single expat or relocating to Singapore as a family.
This guide supports future and current expats, helping with everything from the visa you’ll need in Singapore to sorting healthcare and building a social network. Read below to find out how to make a move and what it is like to be living in Singapore in 2021.
Moving and living in Singapore as an expat in 2021: what to expect?
Singapore, a sovereign nation in Southeast Asia, has a reputation for expat life – in 2018, it was ranked the world’s best destination for expats by HSBC. It’s no wonder that so many expats move to Singapore: it is a place with some of the world’s strongest happiness indicators, including for GDP, social support and health.
If you’re thinking of joining them, there are a few key things to know about the cost of living, visas and vaccines. There’s plenty to organise before your arrival, however, from health insurance to housing. Here’s a general lowdown of what to expect from life in Singapore.
Is Singapore a popular place for expats?
Yes! The Singapore expat population stood at 1.64 million as of June 2020 – a figure that represents almost 29% of the nation’s 5.69 million-strong population according to the Population in Brief 2020 report.
With more than a quarter of its workforce hailing from overseas, Singapore is very much a city of expats, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with Singapore’s first population drop in a decade. According to the report, its non-resident population, which includes people holding work permits and international students, dropped by more than 35,000 between 2019 and 2020.
Despite pandemic pressures, Singapore saw a surge of businesses and expats relocating from Hong Kong in 2020. Swapping political uncertainty for Singapore’s shores has been a key priority for some, leaving prime Singaporean property in high demand. These demographics have a significant impact on expat life in Singapore, bringing international energy and some familiarity – in a melting pot, you’re likely to meet others from your home country and encounter diversity too.
Moving to Singapore from USA and UK
A former British colony, Singapore is is rated one of the best economies for business in the world, which is why it is such a popular destination for expat workers from USA and UK. You will easily meet new friends here, and if you move with family, education is great. However, the downside is that the costs of renting and buying a property in Singapore is higher.
Is living in Singapore expensive in 2021?
In general, yes. The cost of living can be high in Singapore. The Economist’s Worldwide Cost of Living Report 2020 ranked this city as the world’s fourth most expensive.
Making sure your outgoings match up with your salary and expat relocation package is therefore often a key step.
How much money do you need to live in Singapore with a family?
Expat life in Singapore comes at a cost, so making calculations can be an important step when travelling with family. How much money you’ll need will depend on where you live, school fees and the cost of your commute, as well as healthcare and lifestyle factors.
Some expats invest in global income protection insurance for added security.
What language do people speak in Singapore?
The main language in Singapore is Malay. This language serves a culturally symbolic role, although English is used in many day-to-day exchanges.
Where to learn Malay in Singapore?
Inlingua is one of many local providers that offer Malay tuition to individuals and businesses, but you can also find classes run by government organisations such as People’s Association (PA).
How has Singapore dealt with COVID-19?
The city-state is relying on high-speed testing and vaccinations as it prepares to live with the coronavirus. For over a year Singapore has pursued a “Covid-zero” strategy that quashed the spread of the coronavirus by strict border controls, a mask mandate, enforced social distancing and aggressive contact tracing.
But at the beginning of July 2021, Singapore embarked on a new “living with Covid” mission, easing restrictions after its leaders concluded that the disease will not be eradicated as new variants continue to emerge.
Where do you meet other expats in Singapore?
The high number of expats in Singapore gives life a fast pace and there are plenty of opportunities to meet new people. Besides shopping on Orchard Road and enjoying the nightlife at Marina Bay, expats often join social clubs such as the American Association or the British Club to make connections.
Of course, it isn’t just the expat who gets to experience an entirely new place. Expat wives, husbands and children embrace Singapore life by using community forums and joining summer camps to help children make friends. It’s worth knowing that the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) subway system is efficient in Singapore, so you won’t necessarily need a car – but if you decide for wheels is best for your family, you’ll need to convert your licence after 12 months.
Top expat tips for living in Singapore
Settling into a new environment can take time, particularly in larger cities which can feel isolating. Building connections can make all the difference to your experience of expat life in Singapore. But making the best of your experience requires some know how.
From understanding Singapore business culture to finding out what expats do for fun, here are some tips to make your experience as an expat in Singapore the best it can be.
- Ensure you have all essential documents and visas in place before departure
- If you move with your kids, early application for school places is advisable
- Have up to three months’ rent available upfront to secure a rental property
- Be aware that you have to submit and pay your own taxes bi-annually
- Look at life insurance and health cover that reflect your location needs
- Stay healthy, immerse yourself in the culture and take language lessons.
How can I find accommodation in Singapore?
Where are the best neighbourhoods for expats in Singapore?
Singapore’s expat communities tend to live in neighbourhoods, such as Tiong Bahru – nicknamed Singapore’s Brooklyn due to its artsy side – and Holland Village, a well-connected district home to houses, which can seem rare in a nation where 80% of people live in high-rise government apartments.
Single expats and couples sometimes prefer Tanjong Pagar, a place just outside the central business district known for its lively dining scene. Sentosa is best-known for luxury expat housing, while Woodlands is especially popular with American expats.
How do mortgages for expats work in Singapore?
In Singapore, expats can get a fixed or variable-rate mortgage for up to about 60 to 80% of the property value. The buyer normally funds the remainder from a Central Provident Fund bank account – these form a key part of Singapore’s social security system – but for expats it’s likely that this sum will need to be paid in cash.
There are rules about the types of properties foreign buyers can purchase in Singapore – HDB flats are off-limits, for instance. This rule also eliminates expats from accessing the Home Protection Scheme (HPS), so global life insurance can be a key safety net.
What is the average cost of rent in Singapore?
Property comes at a premium in Singapore, where land is scarce – so although the cost of rent varies, it’s usually a significant outgoing for expats. In general, it costs at least SGD 700 per month (£370/$515 USD) for a room in a shared flat and a one-bedroom apartment can cost SGD 1,500 to 4,000 per month in Singapore.
Recent changes – such as the influx of expats from Hong Kong – may drive these figures up further. The Singapore Expats Forum is a useful resource for finding rentals and checking the latest rates. Except for serviced apartments, most rental accommodation is unfurnished, but often includes appliances.
When we moved to Singapore, the market was on the rise: we had to pay an inflated price but there were not many options. We ended up using ‘Property Guru’ website to save on costs.
Kalie and Josh from expatseverywhere.com travel bloggers who moved to Singapore in 2021
Rentals are payable monthly in advance and, serviced apartments aside, are generally exclusive of management fees and government taxes, which could add a further 12-15% on top of rental costs. There will also be legal fees for signing tenancy agreements and often an agency introductory fee equivalent to 50% of one month’s rent to take into account. Additionally, it’s wise to factor-in an upfront deposit of two to three months’ rent.
The job market in Singapore
What is the local job market like in Singapore in 2021?
Because Singapore is a hub of industry and commerce, job opportunities are usually in abundance. That said, with so much global talent flowing into this region, competition for the top jobs can be fierce. That’s why it’s always best to agree a contract for a job before moving to Singapore.
How to find a job in Singapore?
Typically, expats are already employed when they arrive in Singapore, but there’s a chance your situation may change – or you may be travelling with a partner who would like to find employment. To work on a Dependent Pass, you’ll need a letter of consent from the Ministry of Manpower.
Suitable jobs for expat wives and husbands in Singapore might include:
- Marketing and partnership work. Expats can earn up to 10% following each successful recommendation.
- Freelance work – and work from anywhere in the world.
- Language tutoring – if you’re a native speaker and you have relevant qualifications, then Singapore’s melting pot can be the perfect place to share language skills.
What is a good expat salary for living in Singapore?
Expats with a few years’ experience in a professional occupation can expect to earn a good wage in Singapore.
The average expat salary for a middle manager working in Singapore was SGD 119,927(£63,574 GBP/$88,045 USD) in 2020, according to a study by ECA International. However, expatriate benefits packages tend to be higher than this – totalling SGD 216,000 – and pay varies considerably by role type, seniority and sector.
According to Payscale research: “The most popular occupations in Singapore are Marketing Executive, Software Engineer, and Senior Software Engineer. The most popular industries for expats in Singapore are Information Technology (IT) Services, Banking, and Education.”
Ultimately, if you are looking to grow your career while earning a good salary, Singapore could be the perfect place to do it.
Will I need to learn Malay?
While the local language of Singapore is officially Malay, English is the de facto second language and employees of international companies will often speak English at work. In fact, many companies will expect you to speak English as a first language.
That’s not to say there is no need to learn Malay if you are moving to Singapore. You will still need to know a little in order to communicate with people outside of work.
Visa requirements and cost of moving to Singapore
Once you’ve arranged your accommodation, job and taxes, it’s time to finalise your application by applying for a visa.
How do I apply for a Singapore visa?
Expats will typically need an Employment Pass (EP) before entering Singapore. An employer or appointed employment agent will apply for this document on behalf of those wishing to live and work as expats in Singapore. You’ll need to meet certain criteria to receive the pass, such as earning a fixed monthly salary of at least SGD 4,500 (around £2,417 GBP / $3,309 USD).
Singapore Employment Pass holders can apply for their legally married spouse and children under 21 to join them on a Dependents Pass but must earn at least SGD 6,000 (around £3,223 GBP / $4,412 USD) per month to do so. You’ll need a different type of pass – a Long Term Visit Pass – if you and your spouse are not married, and the same rule applies for stepchildren.
The Entrepreneur Pass (EntrePass) allows entrepreneurs to enter Singapore, while the Personalised Employment Pass (PEP) allows high-earning candidates to apply directly.
Other types of Singapore work permits may be granted to professionals with certain skills.
When working as an expat in Singapore, there are some cultural matters to be aware of. Some ethnic groups may wish to avoid shaking hands with the opposite gender, for instance, and older Singaporeans may use both hands for this greeting.
What are schools for expats like in Singapore?
For an English-speaking expat living in Singapore, there are plenty of international schools to choose from, including many that follow the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum. There are also international schools closely aligned with certain national education systems.
Yearly international school fees in Singapore range from about SGD 10,000 ($7,354 USD / £5,300 GBP)to 50,000 ($36,771 USD / £26,502 GBP) per child.
State schools in Singapore are accessible for expat children since the primary education language is English. Securing a place in time will be key, however, competition can be fierce and preference may be given to local children.
Some local private schools charge fees as low as SGD 2,000 per year – that’s about $1,500 USD / £1,060 GBP.
Potential downsides to using Singapore’s public schools may include some language barriers and curriculum differences.
Singapore is a fantastic destination for expats and their families, with wonderful food, a vibrant culture and so much opportunity. Just make sure you are well prepared, with a job offer secured, international health insurance prepared and an apartment ready to help you settle in quickly.
Kalie and Josh from expatseverywhere.com travel bloggers who moved to Singapore in 2021
Healthcare in Singapore
How does healthcare work in Singapore?
Singapore has universal healthcare which is financed via a public statutory insurance system and government subsidies – however, temporary residents such as expats don’t fall into this system. This means you’ll likely need international health insurance to access Singapore’s excellent healthcare.
Singapore has more than a dozen private hospitals, 10 government hospitals and several specialist clinics. You can register with a general practitioner (GP) in person at a public or private clinic – and for some medical needs, such as vaccinations, you might need to head to a polyclinic.
What vaccines will I need to travel to Singapore?
Expats will typically need to get certain vaccines before travelling to Singapore. These include shots for:
- Hepatitis B
- Yellow fever
The vaccinations recommended may vary by age and might change as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses.
What medications are illegal in Singapore?
Certain drugs, such as strong painkillers, some sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medications, are illegal in Singapore. If you need to bring these substances, or more than a three-month supply of any drug, you’ll need to get approval.
Your handy “moving to Singapore” checklist
- Do you have an offer of employment?
- Have you found a place to live?
- If your property is unfurnished, have you found a company that can supply your home with essential furniture ahead of your arrival?
- Have you prepaid your property deposit and any other bills?
- Have you received your tenancy agreement as proof of address? (You will need this to do many other things like set up a bank account.)
- Have you asked your landlord or property manager to set up your home Wi-Fi ahead of your arrival?
- Have you calculated a budget that takes into account expenses such as rent, taxes and other bills/fees?
- If you are migrating with children, have you arranged a place for them at a local school?
- Have you set up a bank account?
- Do you have all the necessary payment cards to go with your account?
- Have you arranged to get a mobile phone with a local SIM card?
- Have you taken out international health insurance to cover you and your family?
- Have you checked the COVID-19 situation and made preparations to undergo regular testing?
- If you have already been vaccinated for COVID-19, do you have evidence of your evidence such as the batch number of your vaccine? If you have not been vaccinated, have you made arrangements to get a vaccine once you arrive in Singapore?
- Have you applied for a visa at least 6 weeks before beginning your preparations?
- Have you also applied for a visa for your spouse and/or family?
- If your spouse will be working too, have you applied for one work visa that will apply to both of you?
- Have you checked to see if you can bring your pets?
- Once you have received your visa, have you registered for a smart identity card?
- Have you learned some basic Cantonese phrases to help you get by in day-to-day life?
Living in Singapore in 2021 and beyond is an exciting and rewarding prospect. There’s so much culture to be discovered – and plenty of money to be made, too. To truly make the most of it, make sure you do as much preparation as possible. Click here for information on international health and life insurance from our Partners, William Russell.