We thank you for your decision to relocate to Singapore and your talents you are going to contribute to the island’s prosperity. We know what that epic move costs you, your business, and family. Surviving in society where everything is new is challenging. That’s why we would like to smoothen your relocation and hope this comprehensive guide will provide insight into all matters you are going to deal with in Singapore.
The first thing all expats get puzzled about after finding a work and obtaining a visa is finding a suitable housing. Singapore is famous for relatively affordable accommodation options as compared with other business hubs like Hong Kong, Shanghai or Japan. However, the inrush of immigrants in 2010s resulted in breakthrough in real estate, and now the cost of better quality accommodation is higher.
Apartments of different style are available for rending and buying, and they can be divided into 2 categories: private condos or public housing (flats built by state’s Housing Development Board / HDB). The cost will greatly depend on remoteness from the business centre and amenities. Higher paid migrants prefer living in condos located not far from their offices. Renting a stylish apartment in a high building with such amenities as a swimming pool, a gym, a tennis courts will cost you at least 7,500 SGD. But if you prefer more modest option, you won’t feel like an odd man out as 90 % of locals live in quite unpretentious HDB flats. They won’t contain the above mentioned amenities, but you still benefit as such buildings are usually located in districts where a lot of malls, supermarkets and healthcare institutions are concentrated. The closer to the business district a flat is, the higher its cost will be (up to 3,000 SGD), but cheaper options in remote areas (2,000 SGD) are also available. Expats from Asia usually prefer HDB flats for their affordability and convenience.
You can also buy property in Singapore, but your opportunities will greatly depend on the kind of work visa you hold. Employment Pass enables you to buy a condo if you can afford the downpayment of 20%. If the bank finds your financial eligibility trustworthy, it can give you 80% loan. However, holders of EP aren’t allowed to buy such restricted kinds of property as bungalows or HDB.
Singapore boasts the reputation of international finance centre – all thanks to its titanic efforts in maintaining stable political environment, creating propitious tax and legal system, devoted fighting against fraud and crime. Singapore is home to 6 local banks and over 116 foreign financial institutions. You will be surprised to see that the bank you use in your home country has its presence in Singapore. This can dramatically simplify any overseas transfer you need to do.
When you are choosing a bank in Singapore, look at the services it offers, fees, location of its offices and availability of ATM network. Opening a bank account in Singapore is a matter of one day. You don’t have to worry about language barrier, as banks serve their clients in English. All you need for opening an account is your valid passport and working visa for Singapore, as well as some minimum amount required for making a deposit. You can use Visa, MasterCard or Amex credit cards in Singapore, but in some cases, you may be required to secure some minimum amount on a linked account or provide your salary proof.
If you prefer using cashless paying methods, NETS really deserves your attention. You can find an ATM almost in every building, but take into account that transactions with international cards will cost more.
All Singapore expats have to pay income taxes. Personal income tax is 3.5-20% for salaries higher than 320,000 SGD. If you aren’t a Singapore permanent resident, you don’t have to pay taxes from any amount of foreign income. Filing can be made in manual way or using e-filing system. Double taxation avoidance treaties Singapore has with such countries as Great Britain, the U.S. and Australia allow nationals not to pay taxes in their home countries if they pay them in Singapore. You can research in order to know if your home country has such beneficial agreement with Singapore. If you stay in Singapore for more than 183 days in a year (or if you hold a PR visa), you are considered a Singapore tax resident.
Singapore is very innovative in telecommunication infrastructure and maintains the breakneck speed of technology development. Infrastructure is being updated all the time to meet expanding business ambitions. Being a perfect startup ecosystem, the city attracts a huge number of telecom companies, developers, providers and operators. Singaporean telecom network is named among the best networks in the world. It is strictly regulated by the country’s Infocomm Authority that enforces obligatory licensing for all forms telecommunication. Singapore government owns all radio and television stations.
Broadband connection is serviced at 99.9% of apartments (as compared with 98% in Hong Kong). In Singapore you are prohibited to use a satellite dish in house or apartment privately, but you can get access to cable StarHub TV or internet Singtel IPTV television. You can learn about important events in the newspaper The Straigts Times
(also available online) and daily newspapers which are published in English, Chinese, Tamil and Malay. Due to the proximity of Malaysia and Indonesia, technologies allow to easily receive radio and TV signals from these countries.
Environment and Climate
Hot Singaporean climate with its high humidity and rare changes can be quite uncomfortable for expats from moderate climate zones. But the government did its best to compensate these inflexible weather conditions with attempts to create clean and green environment. Thanks to governmental programs of ecological urban planning and pollution control, Singapore reminds a garden. Its high-end business districts are buried in verdure. Despite Singapore can’t vaunt its resorts and abundant recreation options (expats who love to explore nature wonders are likely to choose Malaysia and Indonesia as their weekend destinations), the country is lucky to be passed over by such disasters as earthquakes or tycoons.
Singapore boasts advanced water cleansing systems and clean air. In 2010, its air was found 93% good and 7% moderate. According to the survey made in 2011, Singapore was dubbed as the country with the cleanest air in Asia. Its parks, nature reserves and water bodies make this place on earth famous as “city inside a garden.” Non-smokers would be happy to learn that smoking is prohibited in public places.
Singaporean transport is safe and clean; taxis are always available and are a relatively cheaper option as compared to owning a car. That’s why expats whose company doesn’t supply a car, feel quite comfortable in public transport (buses and Mass Rapid Transport) and taxis. Another upside of city’s transport system is low traffic congestion that makes using public transport a fast and reliable option for business people. The cost of one trip in a bus or MRT will range from 0.70 SGD to 2.50 SGD. Taxis are, of course, more expensive, but you shouldn’t be afraid of overcharge in taxis which often happens with foreigners in other developed countries.
Owning a vehicle is an expensive treat: taxes, registration, insurance and the vehicle itself will cost you no less than 60,000 SGD. Leasing a vehicle is much cheaper. Car owners must take into consideration that Singaporeans drive on the left hand (they have adopted this style from neighbouring Malaysia which is a former British colony). Although you can drive using your valid driving license, obtaining a Singaporean license is also possible.
Parking in the country is affordable and even cheap if compared to London or New York. 1-hour parking at the Singapore-based shopping centre will cost you about 1 SGD (0.70 USD), while the same parking in New York would cost you at least 12 USD. Singaporean parking grounds are equipped with sensors that help drivers to easily find a free place.
Singapore is home to the “world’s best” Changi airport which is an amazing place that not only connects Singapore with the rest of the world, but also amazes with its astonishing landscape design, pool on the rooftop, fitness centers, mind-blowing vertical “wall” garden, movie theaters, showers, top-notch hotels, Skytrains that connect different terminals, children’s playgrounds and even a 4-story slide. It is definitely a place where you can have the best delay ever.
Schools & Universities
Singapore has built its success on knowledge and works hard now to maintain the competitiveness of this knowledge. If you plan bringing your family and kids to Singapore, they have an opportunity to be educated according to the world’s highest standards. Except Singaporean school, the country is home to many foreign (community-established) schools that educate kids according to curriculum common in their native countries. Such approach is beneficial for kids whose parents plan returning to the motherland in a couple of years: it makes adaptation and future repatriation smoother.
International schools often become a parents’ choice as they have the best expertise in handling cultural differences. English unites kids of all nations and give a good start in professional career. If you plan to put roots in Singapore and obtain a permanent residency, local schools would be a better option for your kids, though more challenging in the beginning. Little kids usually learn foreign language very quickly, so assimilation process in local school would be easy.
Except three native Singaporean (national, technology and management) universities, the country has attracted word-known institutions like United World College, Chicago Graduate School of Business, INSEAD and many others. World University Ranking by Quacquarelli Symonds places The National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University among 40 planet’s best institutions.
Culture and Lifestyle
Singapore is well-known for its cosmopolitan (cross-cultural) mind-set that combines with conservativeness in some amazing way. Western spirit is felt here and English is spoken everywhere, that’s why people who arrive here find the adaptation very easy. But in the same time, the country enforces some bans that may seem weird to foreigners: here you aren’t allowed to chew a gum, fail to flush public toilets after use (a fine is implied) and have sex with same sex partner – just to name a few.
Singapore is an English-speaking country which makes your assimilation easier (if compared to Hong Kong or Shanghai where only Mandarin language is widely spoken). Even when it comes to Asian cuisine, Singapore is more moderate due to combining both east and west tastes.
Singapore is country where the law is enforced everywhere. It may create a false stifling feeling of total control. But the reality is: the law is awed here, and everybody is equal before it. As a result, the country has extremely low rates of crime and corruption. You won’t shake in your shoes while going through the park at 2 am here. Leaving your cell-phone in a public place unattended will rarely result in it being stolen.
Singapore has a premium healthcare system supported by high-end health infrastructure, world-class technologies and specialists. Medical system is organized in the way that working people build up their Central Provident Fund (its “Medisave” sector) by making monthly contributions, and then this Fund covers their healthcare expenses. Those who don’t work or are in need are taken care by the government-subsidized healthcare institutions (public hospitals and others).
The state takes measures to allow only registered practitioners to the healthcare sector and control the quality of drugs and their availability not only in the pharmacies, but also in regular stores. Due to serious attention to hygiene, advanced technologies and insect control, the country succeeded in deterring such diseases as chikungunya, dengue, and diabetes. Singaporean healthcare system was dubbed as the third best in the world (the survey made by Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, 2003) and the best in Asia (World Health Organization, 2002).
With all its unique features and fads, Singapore is a cool and safe place to spend your best productive years, enjoy healthy lifestyle and innovative comfort and bring up clever children. We tried to cast light upon most common issues all expats face in a new country, but if you still have questions, we are open to help you to know more. Keep in touch!