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Cost of Living for an Expatriate in Singapore


Expat living in Singapore

Contrary to common belief, the prices for basic necessities such as food, clothing, public transport, basic education and utilities in Singapore are quite moderate, while public transport is very affordable as well. However, housing, private schooling and maintaining an automobile can be costly. Like in all other countries, 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 and the quality of furnishings that come with the accommodation. 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 socialise 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. However, 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. 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. 

Food is relatively cheap in Singapore and 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. 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. 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 centre can be as low as S$4 whereas at a food court you can have lunch for about S$5 – S$6. 

Cost of Living for an Expatriate in Singapore

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 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. 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. The health-care system in Singapore was ranked best in Asia and sixth best in the world by the World Health Organisation 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.

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. 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.

There a number of childcare centres in Singapore that provide childcare services for babies and children up-to to the age of seven years. The fees vary from center to centre and depends on the packages being offered ie. 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. 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. 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.

Electronics and appliances in Singapore are relatively inexpensive and 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 tax
  • 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.