Cost of Living in Singapore

This report provides an introductory guidance on cost of living in Singapore. In general, prices for basic necessities such as food, clothing, public transport, basic education and utilities in Singapore are quite moderate. Public transport and taxis are very affordable as well. On the other hand, housing, private schooling and maintaining an automobile can be costly.

If you are an expatriate whose compensation package includes benefits such as transportation or car allowances, housing, childcare, payment of school fees, entertainment allowances and other work-related benefits, these costs would be less of a concern to you and you will find that life in Singapore can be quite comfortable. Even if you do not have an extensive package, you can always find something that fits your budget; for every category, Singapore offers a wide range of available choices and prices.

Cost of Accommodation

The cost of housing in Singapore depends on factors such as the property’s proximity to the city, relative age of the property, availability of recreational facilities (such as pool, gym, etc.) and the quality of furnishings that come with the accommodation. You should take your time to decide where you want to live in Singapore and make a decision only after careful consideration of the average rental cost as well as your personal preferences.

Condominiums

Most expats in Singapore live in private condominiums due to the availability of recreational facilities such as swimming pools, tennis courts, playgrounds for children, secured access; opportunity to socialize with other expats; and affordability as compared to renting landed property.

The rental prices for private condos can vary greatly depending on the location and age of the building. The rental cost of a 3-bedroom condo in prime areas close to the city-center including areas such as Orchard, Bukit Timah, Tanglin, and River Valley starts at around S$7,000 per month and can go up-to S$15,000 depending upon how luxurious the apartment is and its proximity to the CBD. The rents for high-end luxury apartments such as waterfront housing at Sentosa and Keppel Bay can range anywhere between S$8,300-S$13,000 per month. 3-bedroom condos located in the city fringe areas start from around S$4,500 and can go upto S$7000. Condos that are located outside the city-center in neighborhoods such as Bedok, Changi, Pasir Ris, Tampines, Ang Mo Kio, Woodlands, Yishun, Clementi, Jurong, and Punggol are less expensive with a monthly rental of around S$3,300-S$5,000.

Private Apartments

Private apartments in Singapore are similar to condos but normally lack most of the facilities that are found in condominiums such as large sized pools, BBQ pits, tennis courts etc. They also tend to be older buildings since most of the new private construction is done in the form of condominiums. Renting a 3-bedroom private apartment in the CBD area will bear a tag of S$5,000-S$7,000 while those in the outskirts can be rented around S$4,000 per month.

HDB Flats

If you are on a tight budget, living in a government housing flat (called HDB flats) is a very reasonable option; more than 80% of the local Singaporeans live in HDB units. Most HDB flats are within close proximity to basic facilities such as banks, local schools, markets, polyclinics, libraries, shopping malls and train and bus stations. However, these apartments do not come with luxury amenities like swimming pools or gyms. Rental costs for HDB units depend on the location and size of the unit. A 3-bedroom HDB apartment close to the CBD rents at S$3,000 while at other sub-urban locations it ranges from S$2,200 to S$2,700.

Landed property

Landed properties include terraced houses, semi-detached houses, detached houses, and bungalows. Due to Singapore’s relatively small land size and large population, landed property is no longer very common and is consequently quite expensive to rent. The average rent for detached bungalows in prime locations is close S$18,000 per month. A high-end luxurious bungalow (i.e.4-bedrooms, land area of 1,400 sq meters, and a large garden) can cost as high as S$35,000 per month. Terraced houses and semi-detached houses are less expensive and can be rented for approximately S$8,000-S$13,000 per month.

Paying Guest

Rent for a room in a private apartment in prime districts such as East Coast, River Valley and Chinatown costs approximately S$800 – S$1,800. Monthly room rental in an HDB flat can range anywhere between S$500 to S$800 depending upon the location and size of the room.

Serviced Apartments

Some expats prefer to rent serviced apartments as they offer personalized services and hotel-style facilities or because they intend to stay in Singapore for a short-term period and are looking for a flexible lease. Serviced apartments in Singapore are fully furnished and house a pool and gymnasium. Most serviced apartments house 1-2 bedroom units as well as larger 3-4 bedroom units. Lease terms are flexible and can be negotiated for a per-day basis, per-week basis or on a per-month basis. A large number of serviced apartments are located in the Orchard area while some are located in the River Valley, East Coast and West Coast areas. The monthly rental of a one-bedroom unit can range from  S$7,000-S$14,000 depending upon the location and how luxurious the apartment is.

Cost of Food

Food is relatively cheap in Singapore. However, as elsewhere, food expenses depend on how extravagant you are. Food expenses can either be a marginal factor or a significant factor when calculating your average living costs depending on the lifestyle you choose to adopt in Singapore.

An expatriate family living in Singapore can save on their food budget if they cook on their own as often as possible or eat out in food courts. Although several international cuisines are available in a range of restaurants to suit varied budgets, dining out on an everyday basis is definitely a more expensive option in the long-term.

Eating In

If you cook at home, your average monthly personal food costs should come up to only about S$200 per person for basic meat and vegetables. For a couple eating out, average monthly food cost can range around S$1,000 – S$1,200 depending on their eating choices.

Eating Out

One of the unique features of living in Singapore is the abundance of hawker centres and food courts that offer a wide variety of dishes. An average daily lunch at a hawker centers can be as low as S$4 whereas at a food court you can have lunch for about S$5 – S$6. A meal at fast food joints such as McDonalds will cost you around S$7, while a drink at Starbucks is around S$6 – S$7. A visit to to an average restaurant can set you back by S$20 – S$40 per person for basic meals. In summary, with breakfast and dinner at home, lunch outside at food courts, plus basic weekend outings, the monthly food budget in Singapore can run around S$600 – S$1,000 for an average budget-conscious couple.

Transportation Costs

Public Transportation

Singapore has one of the best, most comprehensive, and least expensive public transport systems in the world. A one-way average bus or MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) fare is about S$1.60. If you combine bus and MRT transports, it will cost you S$150 a month on the average considering a daily to and fro office commute costing S$3.50 and average weekend cost of about S$10. A couple that travels regularly within Singapore, using MRT or bus, will need to set aside a monthly combined transportation budget of roughly S$300 as part of their Singapore living costs.

Taxi Service

Taxi service in Singapore is one of the most efficient worldwide. Taxi drivers are willing to cover even the shortest of distances. Unlike most western countries, traveling by taxi in Singapore isn’t very expensive.

Taxi fare starts at S$3.00 – S$3.40 for the first mile and you pay S$0.22 for every 400m traveled up-to 10km, and S$0.22 per 350m thereafter. Some taxis like a Mercedes or a London cab start at a higher rate of about S$3.90. You can hail a cab on the road or call their number (S$2.30 – $3.30 extra) to book a service. During peak hours (weekday mornings 6:00am – 9:30am and evenings through Sundays 6pm – 12 midnight), you will incur extra charges of about 25% of the fare while the late night surcharge (from midnight until 6:00am) is 50% of the metered fare. There are location-based surcharges that apply in the CBD area (S$3 from Monday to Saturday, 5pm until midnight) airport (S$3-S$5), etc. You may also have to pay any ERP (Electronic Road Pricing) charges on selected expressways during certain peak hours.

Private Car

In contrast to inexpensive public transportation and taxi service options, owning a private car in Singapore can be a rather expensive luxury due to heavy government taxes on this mode of transportation. The government aims to reduce heavy road congestion and air pollution. Therefore, it encourages the average person living in Singapore to use public transportation instead.

You will need to take into account initial purchase costs and recurring costs while deciding to buy a car in Singapore. The biggest component of the initial purchase costs is the Certificate of Entitlement or COE. COE is a certificate that entitles you to to register and own a vehicle for 10 years. If you wish to buy a car in Singapore, you must participate in a COE bidding exercise. This is an auction of sorts where you have to bid for the certificate in order to fall within the pre-determined quota. Most often, the demand for COEs outweighs the limited quota that is released. This imbalance often results in unaffordable COE costs. As of February 2011, COEs are priced at  S$57,009 for vehicles under 1600cc and S$78,189 for those above 1600cc. Apart from the COE, you will have to pay a Goods and Services tax of 7% of the custom duty. Registration fees of S$140, an additional registration fee that is 100% of the vehicle’s Open Market Value (value of the car as assessed by the Singapore Customs), and an excise duty (20% of Open Market Value) apply. Apart from the initial purchase costs are the recurring costs of motor insurance, road tax, petrol (automobile fuel) charges, parking charges, etc.

Automobile fuel is called petrol (instead of “gas” or “gasoline”) in Singapore.  It is measured in liters. A liter of petrol can range from S$2.15 to S$2.52 depending on the grade. Parking your car in the city will cost you from S$2.00 per hour. On the average, you will spend about S$600 a month for petrol, toll charges, and parking, and about S$500 – S$1,000 yearly for maintenance. A brand new Japanese or European model can easily cost upwards of S$150,000.

In the face of such steep prices, many expatriates have opted for car rental arrangements that range from about S$1,000 to S$1,800 a month, depending on the vehicle’s model and mileage. Also, with a fairly recent regulatory amendment, rented vehicles are now permitted to drive into Malaysia on weekends.

Singapore is a very small place with excellent public transportation services (both air-conditioned); therefore, there is absolutely no necessity for owning a car unlike most other countries in the world. However, if your work requires extensive city travel during the day, you might think about buying or renting a car. Owning a private car will add significantly to your average living costs in Singapore.

Cost of Healthcare

The health-care system in Singapore was ranked best in Asia and sixth best in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000. The system is cost effective and offers state-of-the-art medical treatment that boasts of high success rates. The system has stringent government-mandated guidelines for transparency, excellence, safety and cleanliness. However, there is no government mandate for employers to provide health insurance to its employees. As a general practice, health insurance benefits are not provided by majority of the employers in Singapore. If your compensation package includes medical insurance, this is a non-issue for you. Even if your employer does not provide health insurance, the cost of medical services in Singapore is reasonable.

You don’t need any insurance to cover your day-to-day health-care needs and can set aside a monthly budget of S$100 – S$200 to this end. A typical consultation fee at a general practitioner is S$40 while blood-work and x-ray will cost you around S$50-S$80. Specialists at private institutions usually charge between S$75 -S$125 for a consultation. Note that you should purchase insurance that covers surgery and hospitalization. Such insurance will add up to about S$2,000 – S$3,000 per year. Hospitalization charges vary depending on the type of ward chosen. Wards in Singapore vary from open wards with no air-con in place to a private medical suite that resembles a royal suite at a 5-star hotel. Accordingly, the daily charges for a ward can vary from S$30 to S$3,000.

Utilities Expenses

Monthly gas, water and electricity bill may range from a low of S$200 to a high of S$600 a month, depending on your air-conditioning usage. Mobile phone subscription costs anywhere between S$35 to S$100 per month. A broadband Internet connection at home will cost you around S$50 per month. For cable TV connection you can estimate about S$28 for the basic channel subscription and S$50 – S$80 for the expanded subscription. You have a wide choice of international channels including familiar channels such as CNN, BBC, Discovery, HBO, Disney, ESPN, and many more. A deposit of S$250 is required of foreigners for obtaining a cable connection. StarHub’s (the cable company) offering for Digital TV has further improved the choices for programs. The company’s Demand TV offers a choice of 10 movies at any given time for a cost of S$4.50 per movie. You need a digital set-up box from StarHub to use this service.

Cost of Education

As a working expat in Singapore, you have the choice of sending your child to a government or private school. Government schools are also called local public schools while private schools are also called international schools. Education standards in Singapore are very high and you can’t go wrong with either one of the two. A local school will follow a curriculum as approved by the Ministry of Education whereas an international school will follow a curriculum that’s more widely accepted internationally such as the well-known International Baccalaureate (IB) high school diploma. One of the key advantages of local school education in Singapore is that it is very affordable. In contrast, sending a child to an international school can cost anywhere between S$1,000 – S$3,000+ per month.

Local Government Schools

Primary school totals 6 years. There are 4 years of secondary school leading to the GCE O Level exams or 5 years for the GCE N Level exams. Children of expatriates residing in Singapore on employment passes can be admitted to local schools. It should be noted however that local schools are attended by children of Singaporeans and Permanent Residents. The monthly cost of sending your child to a local school in Singapore w.e.f 2012 will be S$246 – S$356 for primary education, S$341 – $486 for secondary education and S$552 – S$772 for junior college education.

International Schools

International, American, British, Canadian, Dutch, German, Japanese, and Swiss are some of the international schools present in Singapore. The estimated yearly fees range broadly from S$12,000 to S$30,000. School bus fare expenses amount to an estimated S$1,500 – S$2,000 a year.

Cost of Childcare Services

There a number of childcare centers in Singapore that provide childcare services for babies and children up-to to the age of seven years. The fees vary from center to center and depends on the packages being offered i.e half-day childcare, full-day childcare, or extended full-day childcare. Typically, half-day childcare (7am to 1pm) costs around S$400-S$1,200 while full-day childcare (7am to 5:30pm) will cost you about  S$500-S$1,500.

Cost of Hiring Domestic Help

You can hire a live-in domestic helper in Singapore through maid agencies. Most of the live-in domestic helpers are recruited by maid agencies from approved neighboring countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. The average monthly cost of keeping a live-in maid would come to around S$600 – S$1,000, inclusive of your helper’s salary and government levy. As the term “live-in” implies, you also have to provide accommodation and food for the maid. You can opt to hire part-time domestic workers for a modest fee of S$10-S$20 per hour.

Taxes

Singapore boasts of one of the lowest income tax rates in the world. Singapore’s tax system ensures sizable tax savings and is one of the most commonly cited advantages among expats relocating to the country. Singapore follows a territorial basis of taxation which essentially means that only income earned in Singapore is taxed. Income earned overseas is not taxable, barring certain exceptions. Singapore’s personal income tax rates for residents (citizens, permanent residents and foreigners who have stayed or worked in Singapore for 183 days or more in the tax year) start at 0% and are capped at 20% while non-residents (foreigners who have stayed or worked in Singapore for less than 183 days in the tax year) are taxed at a flat rate of 15%. Singapore has also concluded as many as 69 comprehensive tax treaties to provide relief from double taxation of income. Furthermore, there is no capital gains tax, no wealth tax, no estate duty, and no dividend tax in Singapore. You can use our online tax calculatorto compare how you will be taxed in Singapore vis-a-vis your country of residence.

Miscellaneous

Electronics and appliances in Singapore are relatively inexpensive. A typical PC sells around S$800 while a regular laptop at about S$800 – S$1,200. You can buy a TV for anywhere between S$600 – S$10,000 depending on your personal preferences. A movie ticket sells for around S$10.00 and a copy of local newspaper will cost you about S$1.00. Concert prices start from S$12 and go up to S$150+. The national library annual membership fee for permanent residents is free with only a one-time registration fee of S$10.50 while the annual membership fee for foreigners is S$42.80. A pack of cigarettes cost from S$11.60 onwards. The average cost of a 640ml bottle of beer is around S$5.50.

Final Note

Choices are abound in Singapore. By and large, the cost of living in Singapore is kinder to those who know how to manage their financial resources, and keep a regular paying job. For a couple with one school-age child and one working adult, the following can be a useful rule of thumb guideline: If your take home salary for the family is less than S$4,000 per month, your living standard would be modest and resemble the following:

  • Rent an HDB flat
  • Use mostly public transportation and occasional taxi
  • Send your child to local school
  • Mostly home cooking and occasional eating out

With a take home of about S$6,000 -S$7,000, you should be able to upgrade yourself to renting a private condo outside the central district area and hire a maid, with rest of the choice remaining the same. If you take home around S$10,000 per month, you can add international school education for your child to the menu, and use taxi as your primary transport mode. In the S$15,000 range, you can afford a condo in the central district area, send your child to an international school, and use a taxi as your primary transport mode. If budget is not limited, you can rent a bungalow, buy a high-end car, provide an international school education for your child, hire more than one maid, eat out regularly and take frequent vacations.

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