Quality of Life in Singapore

Quality of life is often used as a shorthand for measuring how good one feels about one’s life. There are formal procedures for calculating this measure that includes factors such as economic, social, physical, political and spiritual well-being. Singapore may be the smallest country in Southeast Asia but it has emerged as one of the best places to live in Asia with a very high quality of life measurement.

For a second year running, Singapore has been ranked as the top city in Asia in terms of quality of living according to global human resource consultancy Mercer. Singapore is also regarded as the ‘Happiest country in Asia’ in a study reported by ABC News. 95% of Singapore residents appreciate the clean, safe and efficient society. The study also showed that in Singapore, family is the most important unit and despite materialistic goals, the family and community always takes precedence. This is turn helps build a content and happy society. The 2016 Quality of Living Survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting revealed that Singapore ranked #1 in Asia for offering the best quality of life.

Factors that impact quality of life:

The following factors play a key role in determining the quality of life in a given country:

  • Political and social environment
  • Economic environment
  • Socio-cultural environment
  • Health and sanitation
  • Schools and education
  • Public services and transportation
  • Recreation
  • Natural environment
  • Consumer goods
  • Housing

Political & Social Environment

Singapore is known for its stable political climate. Despite being considered centralized and authoritarian, the political culture is pragmatic, rational and based on the rule of law. The highest goal of the government is the survival and prosperity of this small nation. This often means, having to make unpopular but hard and wise decisions in the interest of the nation. The government believes in being pro-active and thinking for the future.

According to Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore has been able to attract some 9000 multi-national companies, because it offers First World conditions in a Third World region. Good governance is having a good system that will ensure the country survives, so that citizens have secure lives.

Economic Environment

Singapore boasts of a competitive, corruption-free, open business environment. The Port of Singapore is one of the busiest in the world as the country focuses on electronics and chemical exports to richer industrialised nations. However, over the years, Singapore has diversified its economy and today it has become a research & development hub, bio-medical hub, banking and finance centre and in recent times the health-care destination of Asia. Today, Singapore is a knowledge-based economy and attracts multinational investments. Its open trade policies, social stability, world-class infrastructure and international communication links, are some of the reasons why foreign investors flock its shores. This is despite the fact that land and labour costs have risen sharply and employers have to pay a sizable portion of their employees’ salary to their Central Provident Fund.

The World Economic Forum positions Singapore’s economy as the most open in the world. The country is also known for its low tax regime. In Singapore, personal income tax rates start from 0% and are capped at 22% for residents while non-residents are taxed at 15% to 22%. The corporate income tax rate in Singapore is approximately 8.5% for profits up to S$300,000 and a flat 17% above S$300,000. The GST or VAT rate is only 7%. Furthermore, there is no dividend tax, no estate duty, and no capital gains tax.

Related link: Economy in Singapore

According to a report by financial advisory firm, Ernst & Young and the Japan External Trade Organisation, Singapore was found to be one of Asia’s best investment destinations for foreign firms. It has benefited from these firms, as they bring in capital, technology, management know-how and access to international export markets. Singapore has also realised the need to enhance its manpower and encourages top foreign talent to re-locate here. Hence the labour force is highly educated, competent and skilled. The country has consistently topped the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ survey for the past six years in a row and it was awarded the top spot in BERI’s ‘2014 Labour Force Evaluation Measure’.

Related link: Doing Business in Singapore

Socio-cultural Environment

Singapore’s social and ethnic fabric is a unique blend of cultures and people – Malays, Chinese, Indians and expats from various countries. Singapore’s lifestyle is multi-cultural with each of these ethnic communities maintaining their unique way of life and at the same time living harmoniously. Singapore’s society is cosmopolitan due to the influx of foreigners in recent times. People are amiable and courteous to each other. High emphasis is placed on communal and racial harmony. The Singapore government has laid down five basic ‘Shared Vales’ to develop a distinct Singapore identity – nation before community and society above self; family as the basic unit of society; community support and respect for the individual; consensus not conflict; racial and religious harmony.

Related link: People of Singapore

Singapore has been ranked first in Asia and eighth globally in Mercer’s personal safely ranking. Ensuring security and personal safety for expats and their families has made Singapore a popular destination for international relocation. Expatriates continue to cite safety as one of the most attractive features of living in Singapore. 


Singapore’s population enjoys one of the highest levels of health and nutrition in Asia. The country is also renowned for its world-class health infrastructure, technological advancements in the health-care industry, expert doctors and specialists. The health-care environment is clean, efficient and safe. Singapore has adopted a public-private partnership in health-care financing. Central to this system is the ‘Medisave’, where every working resident has to make a mandatory monthly contribution to the Medisave portion of his Central Provident Fund account. This can then be used for payment of medical expenses. The government on its part provides good, affordable health-care and subsidised medical services to the needy, at public hospitals and clinics. Apart from registered pharmacies, pharmaceuticals are easily available in super-markets, shopping centres and departmental stores. Drugs are safe for consumption and have a high standard of quality. All medical practitioners are registered with relevant bodies.

Related link: Healthcare in Singapore

Singapore promotes a clean and green environment. It encourages a healthy lifestyle and diet. Cleanliness and hygiene are imbibed in its system, with fines for even failing to flush a toilet after use. The National Environment Agency conducts surprise checks all over the island for instances of mosquito breeding and imposes heavy fines at breeding sites. Steps like these have played a vital role in trying to contain the spread of diseases like chikungunya and dengue. According to a survey published by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy in 2003, Singapore’s health-care system was rated as the third best in the world (after USA and Australia), by expatriates in Asia. The World Health Organization in 2000, ranked Singapore health-care system as the 8th best in the world.

Schools & Education

Since Singapore is a knowledge based economy, great emphasis is placed on education. The education system arms individuals with the necessary skills and knowledge to survive in a globally competitive environment. Singapore’s public schools have high standards of teaching and learning, with many of its students winning International competitions. Apart from the 3 internationally renowned local Universities – National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University – Singapore houses several internationally renowned world-class institutions like INSEAD, University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and United World College to name a few. The country has taken cognizance of a growing expat community and set up many International or Foreign System schools. These schools are registered with the Ministry of Education and follow a curriculum identical to those in their home country. However, they come with a price. Fees per year range from S$12,000 to S$48,000.

  • The National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School and Nanyang Business School (NBS) are both among the top 38 business schools worldwide according to the 2014 Financial Times ‘Top 100 Global MBA’ ranking.
  • Both the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have been ranked among the top 40 in the 2014 global ranking of universities by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a company that provides information on higher education and career choices.

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Public Services & Transportation

Singapore is acutely aware of the need to have good water, clean energy, clean air, managing traffic congestion, water conservation, reliable energy supply and good urban planning. Over the past few years, the government has focused efforts on building Singapore as a ‘Garden City’ (addition of greenery and create a garden effect), with good urban planning and pollution control as key considerations. Today the city is clean and green and relatively free of traffic congestion. Residents have access to well planned parks and nature reserves. The nation’s clean water bodies provide reliable water supply and opportunities for sports and recreation.

According to the National Environment Agency, air quality in terms of Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) was good on 93% of the days in 2010 and moderate on 7% of the days. In recognition of the progress and achievement that Singapore has made in integrated water resources management, the national water agency, Public Utilities Board, was awarded the prestigious Stockholm Industry Water Award in 2007. According to a survey conducted by Gallup, Singapore residents are more satisfied with the quality of their water than citizens in any other country surveyed in 2006-2007. According to a survey conducted in 2011, Singapore’s air quality was rated the best in Asia beating powerhouses such as Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Singapore boasts of a highly efficient, hassle-free and affordable public transportation system, which includes taxis, buses and the modern Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) rail system. These modes of transport are air-conditioned and operate from 5:30 am until 12 mid-night and link the entire city. They are safe, clean and efficient. Bus and rail fares are relatively cheap when compared to other countries and cost anything between S$0.70 to S$2.50 per trip. Taxis are plentiful and relatively cheap compared to the Western world. Taxis are reliable and drivers do not fleece customers or demand even a cent more than the metered fare.

In order to curb traffic congestion, the government has introduced a Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system. This means that you have to pay a minimum fee when you use certain congested roads and expressways in the CBD. Owning a car can be extremely expensive in Singapore, costing anywhere between S$100,000-S$200,000, excluding registration, insurance and tax costs. Leasing a vehicle is a cheaper alternative.


Dining and shopping are the two most popular activities in Singapore. Most expatriates feel the lack of adequate recreational options and resort to exploring nearby places in Malaysia (Langkawi, Tioman, Genting etc.) and Indonesia (Bintan, Batam, Bali etc.) over the weekend. Singapore does have a vibrant night life and there are several bars and night clubs that are frequented by patrons. Cinemas are another option that rates high on popularity. There are art festivals, plays, music concerts, cultural performances etc., but these options are seasonal and could be expensive. Another irritant for most expatriates is the ban placed on smoking in public places.

Natural Environment

Singapore is a safe island to live in. It does not face the danger of volcanoes, earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes etc. It is either hot and dry or hot and wet for most of the year.

Access to Consumer Goods

Singapore’s retail sector experiences brisk trading conditions practically all year round. With an increase in disposable income, housing boom and aggressive retail promotion, people spend on luxury items, automotive and household items like furniture and other consumer durables. Hence, every retailer is setting up shop in Singapore. According to the 1990 national census ‘window shopping’ was the number one leisure activity. Both Fast Moving Consumer Goods (packaged food, cosmetics, toiletries, household products etc.), and luxury brands are easily available. Many consumer durables have become basic necessities in Singapore.

Hyper-marts like Carrefour and Giants are a one stop shop where everything is available under one roof. Super markets like Cold Storage (popular with the expats), NTUC Fair Price (co-operative supermarket chain), Shop & Save have several outlets that dot the island. Most of these supermarkets offer promotions and discounts and also stock basic Mexican, Australian and Indian products. This apart, there are convenient stores like 7-Eleven and small local grocery shops near the housing estates. You wold also find speciality supermarkets like Media-Ya (Japanese products and sea food), Tanglin Market Place (American products), Tierney’s (Scandinavian, Swiss and German products) and Mustafa (Indian products). Heat-and-serve meals, semi prepared food, frozen food, western-type convenience foods are gaining importance. Low fat foods, diet beverages, yogurt, fruits and other health foods are also becoming popular. Since Singapore imports every possible item from every corner of the globe, the choice is wide and prices are competitive.


Due to the recent influx of foreign talent in Singapore, housing is no longer as cheap as it used to be. The year 2011 saw unprecedented growth in the property market and expats felt the pinch as well. However, when compared to Hong Kong or Japan, housing is still affordable in Singapore. Housing falls under two main categories – public HDB flats (built by the Housing Development Board) and private condos/bungalows. The choice of housing purely depends on budget, location, facilities/amenities, transportation and personal preferences.

Most expats prefer to live in condos, close to their place of work or their children’s schools. Condos are mid to high rise buildings with stylish exteriors and interiors, 24 hours security, swimming pool, gym, tennis courts, BBQ pits and covered car parks. A three-bedroom condo close to the CBD rents at S$7,000-S$15,000, while units located outside the CBD rent between S$3,300-S$5,000. HDB flats, where 90% of Singaporeans live, are a less expensive option. However they do not come with the luxury amenities like swimming pools or gyms. The upside is that they are part of an ‘estate’, which has a neighbourhood centre comprising of shopping malls, food courts/restaurants/hawker centres, a library, supermarkets, clinics and sports/recreational facilities. A three bedroom HDB close to the CBD rents at S$3,000 while at other locations it costs S$2,200-S$2,700. Expats from India, China and Malaysia find HDBs a viable and convenient option.

Related link: Housing in Singapore

In a nutshell

Positive Factors

  • Easy country to adjust to when relocating from elsewhere
  • Modern, westernized environment
  • Scores high on safety and low crime rates
  • Wide use of English is appreciated and attracts foreigners
  • High quality transport, infrastructure and health facilities
  • Readily available and affordable domestic help
  • Clean, green and healthy environment to live in

Negative Factors

  • Limited sports/recreation options
  • Rule-bound and sometimes stifling
  • Expensive to own a car
  • No change in climate which is hot and humid most of the time

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