Expats Guide to Living & Working in Singapore

Singapore as an expatriate destination

Singapore is a sovereign city-state and island country, situated in south east Asia at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Once a British colonial trading post, Singapore today is a thriving global financial hub and is described as one of Asia’s economic tigers.

Covering an area of only 660 square miles and having a population of around 5.3 million, living in Singapore is more akin to city living than that of most countries as it is well populated with modern high rise buildings, parks and visitor attractions.

Singapore has always been popular with UK expats with around 45,000 living and working there. In addition, UK tourists and business visitors account for about 450,000 visits to Singapore each year.

General Information for Singapore

Population:  Approx 5.3million
Official Language: The main languages are English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil and UK expats will have no problem communication when moving here.
Time Zone: GMT +8
Currency Singapore dollars
Nearest neighbours Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Philippines.
Religions: The main religions in Singapore are Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism.
International Dialling code: +65
Popular attractions:  Raffles Hotel, China Town, Singapore Zoo, Sentosa Island, Orchard Road, Singapore Flyer, Gardens by the Bay, Fort Canning and Changi Chapel Museum.
Emergency contact: 999 for the police and 995 for ambulance and fire services
Visa: Not normally required for stays up to 90 days.
Singapore Travel Advice: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Formal Requirements for entering Singapore

All visitors to Singapore must have the appropriate documents for entry into Singapore with the main requirements shown below.

  • Passport – Passports must be valid for more than 6 months at the time of arrival.
  • Visas – Visitors from the UK do not normally require a visa if their stay is less that 90 days. Visitors of other nationality should check their situation before travelling.
  • Return travel ticket – Visitors must be able to show that they hold a valid return ticket from Singapore. 
  • Funds – Visitors must be able to show that they have sufficient funds available to cover their intended stay in Singapore.
  • Onward travel documents – Visitors must be able to show that they hold valid onward travel documents, including a visa to their next destination, if required. 

 

Working in Singapore

Singapore is a highly developed country with one of the most successful economies in the world. Its cosmopolitan workforce is efficient and productive and the growth areas are in IT, finance and software engineering. Although the workforce is efficient, it needs to be supplemented with skilled foreign workers in order to maintain its development and meet demand.

As a result of this, Singapore is a very attractive location for Expat workers of all nationalities but particularly for British Expats as English is commonly spoken and it is the commercial language of the country. Singapore has a UK Expat population in the region of 45,000.

Expats will require a working visa but this is usually straightforward to obtain and in most cases will be sponsored by your employer. In Singapore, the normal working week for most companies and public offices is a five-day week, Monday to Friday with an average working week of 44 hours.

There are eleven official public holidays in Singapore and additional annual leave allowances range from 7 to 14 days. You may be entitled to claim annual leave after you have worked with a company for more than 3 months.

Expats working in Singapore will find that the tax rates are lower than in many other developed countries and as a non-resident, you will become liable to pay income tax in Singapore if you have worked there for 60 days or more. Detailed information on Singapore taxation can be provided by Singapore’s Inland Revenue Authority. This is available for residents and non-residents.

If you are a British expat, it is important that you check your UK tax and National Insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs before leaving the UK to ensure that you will not be losing any UK pension rights.

Expats working in Singapore can apply to become Permanent Residents. For more information and to download application forms, go to the immigration and checkpoints authority website.

Housing and Accommodation in Singapore for Expats

Singapore has an extensive public housing programme which houses around 80 percent of the local population. These homes are of a good standard and are usually located within housing estates or developed neighbourhoods with schools, supermarkets, health clinics and recreational facilities.

The properties are mainly three-room, four-room and five-room flats. A three-room flat will usually have two bedrooms with a floor area of around 1,000 sq. ft. Four-room flats will have three bedrooms and have a floor area of around 1,200 sq. ft. while five roomed flats come in at about 1400 sq. ft.

Although this housing id good, Expats will tend to live in private housing such as apartments, condominiums and landed properties. There is a wide range of these types of property in many locations across the island that will have their own unique appeal and attractions.

Transport links to these locations are excellent, making travel to work a simple matter. A traditional Expat favoured location is Holland Village, which has a good selection of restaurants and cafés, bars and health and beauty outlets. The Holland Village shopping centre is also handy as are the shops at Jalan Merah Sag, which is nearby. There is also easy access to the botanic gardens and orchard road and an MRT station (Circle line). 

Suitable Expat locations in Singapore:

  • The orchard road area is a prime location with its easy access to shopping malls, restaurants, hotels, cinemas, and health and beauty services. This being a top location, rents will be a bit higher than the Singapore average.
  • Tanglin is another prestigious Expat area which is widely favoured by embassies and diplomatic staff. Properties here vary from large houses with leafy gardens to established low-rise condominiums and new high rise condos. The Ayer Rajah express-way gives good and speedy access to orchard road and the botanic gardens.
  • Holland village is well-appointed with cafés, health and beauty outlets, bars, and numerous local and Western restaurants. It also has a good Shopping Centre nearby and good transport links to the Botanic Gardens and Orchard Road via its MRT station on the Circle line.

These are just a few of the areas preferred by Expats but there are many others and as Singapore is a small island community, getting about from any part of Singapore is easy.

Singapore utilities & Energy Supplies

Energy supplies in Singapore are regulated by the Energy Market Authority (EMA) and residential consumers in Singapore buy their electricity from the SP Group which is a market support services company regulated by the EMA.

Tariffs are set by SP group and at March 2018 were around 21.56 cents per kWh. These tariffs are reviewed each quarter to reflect the actual cost of electricity.

Gas tariffs for gas supplied via the SP group are18.42 cents per kWh

Water tariff, for water supplied via the SP group, is S$1.46 per meter cubed.

Living in Singapore as an Expat

Expats should find life in Singapore to be enjoyable, vibrant and rich in culture with plenty to see and do. With its British colonial past and its very interesting mix of western and Asian cultures, the UK visitor will very quickly feel quite at home yet be able to enjoy the luxury of a warm climate.

The city itself is impressive with its modern high rise buildings and importantly it is considered to be a safe country in which to live and work.   The city itself is clean and litter-free and orderly with good rules that are properly but unobtrusively enforced.

With its first-class medical facilities, excellent transport services, and good quality housing, Singapore must be considered to be one of the best Expat locations anywhere.  Add to this its climate and small island location which is just off the tip of Malaysia and you have an ideal location for all types of living, sports and outdoor activities.

The city itself and its outlying resorts have a multitude of restaurants, cafés, shopping precincts and bars in which to relax over a drink or two and for Expats with children, the many international schools provide first-class education and sporting facilities for children of all ages and cultures.

Leisure facilities for Expats in Singapore

Because of the warm climate in Singapore, most sports and leisure activities can be played and enjoyed all year round. As Singapore is an island nation, there are numerous sailing clubs to be found and plenty of venues for all types of water sport activities.

Many of the social clubs in Singapore have sports sections that can organise inter-club games and tournaments and provide social events for their members. For children who are keen on team sports such as football, rugby, cricket or baseball, often their school will provide opportunities for competition and there are many organisations that can be joined to facilitate this.

Other activities are:

Muay Thai, the ancient martial art form from Thailand which is now becoming popular. If you require a bridging loan or a secured loan on a UK property then by clicking on the link provided you will be able to access information on these services and be able to leave an enquiry.   (LINK)

Fishing is a popular pursuit particularly from boats as there is a wide range of large fish species to be caught.

Golf is a popular sport in Singapore with many courses available with good facilities.

Singapore cuisine for Expats

Singapore is well-loved for its wide range of foods which includes the traditional Malay and Chinese dishes to Indian, French, Italian and traditional British foods. For such a small country the range is extensive and UK Expats will have no difficulties finding a wide range of suitable dishes.

Some Singapore delicacies include:

  • Satay, a dish of small pieces of meat served with a flavourful spicy peanut sauce, slices of cucumbers and onions
  • Roti prata, which is an Indian Pizza type of dish
  • Fried kway tiao, which is made up of fried black noodles and normally served with cockles.
  • Hokkien noodles, which is a seafood noodle delight.
  • Hainanese chicken and rice, which is a dish of Chinese origin.

Festivals celebrated in Singapore

  • New Year's Day – Festivities for New Year’s day will follow very similar patterns to those found in most parts of the world but as the weather is warm, a lot of the events will take place at waterfront venues such as marina bay and the siloso beach party at sentosa.
  • With Singapore’s diverse cultural and religious heritage there are many special celebrated days on the Singapore calendar which are over and above the normal public holidays. These can have popular religious performances and impressive fireworks displays which are always popular.
  • Other popular party spots will be found along Orchard Road, Boat Quay and Clarke quay.
  • Chinese New Year – This is the most important festival for Chinese culture and is a family event that lasts for many days. Families will partake in reunion feasts and visits to each-others homes, exchange presents and visit their temple. This festive period begins on the first day of the first luner month of the Chinese calendar which usually falls between the last week of January and early February. Preparations usually begin weeks in advance.
  • Singapore’s Chinatown will glow in the evenings as it will be lit by the many lanterns lining the streets.  Shopping malls will be decorated with traditional Chinese ornaments in the traditional Chinese colours of red and gold and will often offer attractive discounts and promotions.
  • Dragon dances will be common in Chinatown and along the Singapore River and at both the quays. These celebrations will go on until the 15th day of the new year.
  • Vesak Day – This is an important annual event for the Buddhist community which usually takes place during May. This event commemorates the birth, enlightenment and final nirvana of the Buddha. Celebrations are usually held as closed door events but are open to the general public. Highlights include hymn singing and public talks.
  • Deepavali – Also known as the Festival of Lights. This is an important Hindu festival and is the most important festival for Singapore’s Indian community. The festival usually takes place during October or November and celebrations can begin weeks in advance.  The festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil.
  • Hari Raya Puasa – This is a major festival for the Malay community that marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. This festival usually falls during the month of September or October and families celebrate during this festival by wearing their best clothes while attending an early morning prayer meeting at their local mosques. This festival is also a period for visiting family and friends and partaking in a thanksgiving feast.
  • Hari Raya Haji – Usually falling during the month of November, Hari Raya Haji marks the end of the Haj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca and festivities will normally be very similar to Hari Raya Puasa
  • Christmas – Celebrated on the same day the world over but in Singapore, Christmas will be a period of high activity on the streets and shopping malls which will be heavily adorned with decorations and coloured lights for weeks in advance of Christmas day itself. As Christmas day is a day for families to meet together for feasting and exchanging gifts, the shopping experience in the weeks leading up to Christmas is intense.
  • Famed for their Christmas Lights, Orchard Road and Marina Bay are transformed during this period by festive street lighting and many other features and on Christmas day itself, families may attend midnight mass, visit their relatives and friends and enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner.

Popular Visitor Attractions of Singapore

  • Orchard Road – Orchard Road is one of the iconic shopping experience in Singapore, hosting local and international department stores, boutiques, beauty salons, great hotels and top entertainment spots with a good selection of restaurants and cafes. The choices are so plentiful that you will need to allow a whole day to work around them.
  • Raffles Hotel – Raffles hotel has been an Icon in Singapore since it was built back in 1887 and it has regularly been frequented by the rich and famous, included Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, silver screen celebrity Elizabeth Taylor and pop star Michael Jackson. Still a luxury establishment and well worth visiting, even if it is just to enjoy a quiet drink in the bar.
  • Changi Chapel Museum – For those interested in the history of the Second World War in Singapore, this museum is dedicated to the thousands of allied soldiers and Singaporean people that were imprisoned in Changi jail after Singapore fell to the Japanese army.
  • China Town – For those wishing to have the taste and feel of China, Singapore’s China town will deliver this in spades.
  • Singapore's Education System

Singapore’s education system ranks among the highest in the world with the Singapore government spending about one-fifth of Singapore’s annual Gross Domestic Product on education. This funds the public and state schools and also government-assisted private schools. Singapore children receive free education although there is a small monthly fee for each student to cover miscellaneous costs.

For Expats however, enrolling children into Singapore’s school system can be time-consuming with lengthy waiting lists. This is made worse as preference will be given to children of Singaporean parents.

There are now around 30 international schools in Singapore whose annual fees will range between S$10,000 and S$40,000. In addition, there is usually an initial application fee that will range between a few hundred to a few thousand Singapore dollars, depending on the school chosen, plus an initial enrolment fee, which can be a few thousand dollars.

Some examples of Private schools in Singapore

  • Nexus International School -  This is one of the most renowned schools in Singapore and it is an International Baccalaureate authorised world school, providing up to date facilities such as modern science and computer laboratories and multi-media learning systems. The school also boasts one of the best extra-curricular facilities in Singapore with a gymnasium, swimming pool and a sports field where students are encouraged to take up sports from an early age. An effort is continually made by the school to improve its teaching practices and maintain the quality of the education it provides.
  • One World International school – This is another International Baccalaureate world school offering primary education. This school has one of the most modern teaching facilities in the world with interactive white-boards, computer systems and other learning resources including its Library, a learning centre, a multi-purpose auditorium as well as specialist classes for music, art and drama. Sports facilities include basketball courts and the school has it own swimming pool facilities.
  • San Yu Adventist School – This school is run by the seventh-day Adventist mission of Singapore which opened in 1999. Already, the school has made a name for itself as a first-class place of education. Children are required to attend Chapel and the bible is taught to all students except those of Muslims faith. Apart from the basic curriculum, the school teaches discipline, spiritual life and respect for the larger community which is the main reason that has allowed it to attract children from all faiths and backgrounds despite it being a Christian school.
  • Tanglin Trust School – This school is ideal for British Expat families as it provides British style learning and is inspected by the British Schools Overseas framework. Approximately 65 percent of the students at this school are from British Expat families. This school has world-class facilities with separate buildings for infant, junior, senior and sixth form classes, properly equipped with assembly and sporting halls and facilities for music, computer studies, and science. Full sports facilities are available and the school is equipped with its own health centre with professional nurses on stand-by.This school is considered to be one of the best in the country.
  • Avondale Grammar School – This school is also aimed at the Expat community having over 20 nationalities enrolled at any one time. The school follows the Australian curriculum and is licensed by the Board of Studies for the teaching and educational standards of the NSW Government. Avondale has a system that recognises how each child is different in their learning patterns, enabling each student’s progress to be individually monitored under the school’s personal achievements plans. This allows a far more personalised and tailored education experience where teachers ensure that each and every child can perform the best to their abilities.

Health and Medical care System in Singapore

Singapore has one of the better healthcare systems in the world having both public and private facilities. Healthcare is not free and the government tends to leave things to market forces to a certain extent but many Singaporeans will have private medical insurance to cover conditions that fall outside the government health programs.

Government healthcare facilities are primarily designed to provide subsidised healthcare services to Singaporeans. These facilities consist of a number of government hospitals for inpatient services and numerous polyclinics offering outpatient services. Although wholly owned by the government, the public sector hospitals are operated as private limited companies in order to compete with the private sector on service and quality.

These are a far cry from what is generally known as government hospitals in other countries as Government healthcare facilities not only provide very good healthcare services to the masses but they can also handle any complicated cases that are referred from other hospitals and neighbouring countries.

The government health system also sets the benchmark for the private sector on such things as professional medical standards and fees. Specifically, the government influences most long-term trends such as the supply of hospital beds, the introduction of high-tech/high-cost medicine, and the rate of cost increases in the public sector which sets the benchmark in terms of pricing for the private sector.

Charges in public health services are subsidised by the government while in the private hospitals and outpatient clinics, patients pay the amount charged by the hospitals and doctors on a fee-for-service basis. Public sector healthcare facilities are designed to provide subsidised healthcare services to Singaporeans and consist of a number of government hospitals for inpatient services and numerous polyclinics offering outpatient services.

Although these facilities are wholly owned by the government, they are operated as private companies to ensure that they compete with the private sector on both service and quality. As a result, Singapore can provide very good healthcare services to its entire population and can handle the most complicated cases that are frequently referred from other hospitals in neighbouring countries.

With the public sector operating similarly to the private sector, it sets a benchmark for the private sector for its professional medical standards and fees. However, charges in public health services are subsidised by the government while in the private hospitals and outpatient clinics, patients pay the amount charged by the hospitals and doctors on a fee-for-service basis.

The system is quite unique in that patients are free to choose their health providers within the government or private healthcare delivery system and can walk in for a consultation at any private clinic or any government polyclinic. For emergency services, patients can go at any time to the 24-hour accident and emergency departments located in the government hospitals.

Information from the World Bank shows that Singapore has one of the lowest rates of infant death in the world and life expectancy at 79 years for men and 84 for women is also good. This has been achieved through an extraordinary low spend in health care as a proportion of Singapore’s GDP. These are good outcomes which may be associated with the fact that Singapore is such a small country having high standards of living in a clean environment where there are over 10,000 doctors operating within its system.

Private healthcare facilities

For Expats, Singapore’s private medical sector can be considered as a centre of excellence and as good as any in the world. For Expats using the facilities, the difference in cost between government and private healthcare facilities is negligible as they directly compete with each other. Since private healthcare facilities in general offer better service levels and minimum waiting times, most of the expatriates living in Singapore will prefer to visit a private healthcare facility.

For more information on Singapore’s health care system, please click on the link. (LINK)

Transport and travel in Singapore

Singapore is well provided with good public transport facilities and getting around Singapore from any location is easy.

  • MRT - the MRT (mass rapid transit) system is probably the quickest way to get around the main city as its extensive rail network brings most of the main attractions within walking distance from an MRT station. Tickets can be bought for individual trips but if you intend to use the MRT and basic bus services  frequently, you can buy a Singapore tourist pass which will allow unlimited travel for one day, 2 days or three days. Singapore’s trains and stations are accessible to wheelchair users.
  • Bus services – The bus services in Singapore can be used to reach most areas and will be the most economical way to get around. Fares are mainly paid by stored value cards or with the Singapore tourist pass.  Payment can be in cash but you will need to have the exact amount as the change will not be given. Most buses in Singapore have air conditioning which adds to their comfort.
  • Taxis - Taxis are plentiful and can be hailed from virtually anywhere but there are also taxi ranks within popular areas where you can wait for a cab. Taxis are metered but surcharges can apply depending on when and where you start your journey. It is always a good idea to check the fare with the driver if a surcharge is to apply.

Services for UK Expats in Singapore

Expatriates.co.uk can provide assistance to Expats of all nationalities to obtain access to the following types of services.

  • Expat mortgage services – If you require a mortgage or re-mortgage for properties in the UK, Europe or other common locations then help is to hand. By clicking on the heading link you will be able to access the descriptions of mortgage types that are available and be able to leave an enquiry.
  • Expat Mortgage protection insurance - If you require mortgage protection insurance for UK property then by clicking on the heading link provided you will be able to access information on this service and be able to leave an enquiry.
  • Expat bridging loans - If you require a bridging loan or a secured loan on a UK property then by clicking on the headling link provided you will be able to access information on these services and be able to leave an enquiry.
  • UK Property services – By clicking on the link provided you will be taken to the property section of the site where you will find property guides, property market studies and property listings.
  • Expat wealth management services – Expats working in Singapore and earning high levels of income in Singapore’s low tax environment can get information on the benefits of wealth management services which can be provided from the UK and through Singapore associated branches of UK wealth managers. Click on the heading link for more information and to leave an enquiry.
  • Expat pension services – Expats who assistance with their pension needs can obtain information on pensions or make a pension enquiry by clicking on the heading link.
  • Expat Healthcare insurance – Expats who require insurance for healthcare or travel can obtain an online quotation or purchase a policy online, can do so by clicking on the heading link.

Banking and financial services in Singapore

Singapore is now a flourishing financial centre of international repute, servicing the entire Asia Pacific region. With its sound economic and political environment, it's conducive legal and tax policies and strict enforcement against crime and money laundering, Singapore deserves its status as an international finance centre which is currently the third-largest in Asia.

Expats will find the banking system in Singapore to be well regulated and efficient. Bank staff are usually quick, informative and very helpful. Some of the more popular banks for personal banking are POSB / DBS, ANZ, OCBC, UOB, HSBC, Standard Chartered and Citibank

The financial sector of Singapore is regulated by MAS, the central bank of Singapore having the sole regulatory oversight of Singapore’s financial services industry.

Due to Singapore having proper regulatory standards, Expats who are able to create wealth through their employment will find that Singapore is well stocked with financial advisers and wealth managers who will be able to give proper levels of financial advice and service to suit most needs.

Many of these advisers will be UK Expats themselves, often working for branch offices of UK firms which can provide continuity of advice to UK Expats when they decide to return home.

Income Taxation in Singapore

Income derived from services carried out in Singapore is subject to taxation.  A person is considered a Singapore tax resident for a specific tax year if they either permanently reside in Singapore, are a permanent resident of Singapore with an established home or are a foreign national who has remained or worked on the island for 183 or more days in the preceding tax year.

Residents and non-residents who receive income from sources outside the country are not subject to tax on that income.

For Singapore residents and Expats residing in Singapore for more than the 183 day limit, income tax is levied on a sliding scale as shown below. Figures are in Singapore dollars.

Salary Band Rate Total earnings Tax Total tax
First 20000 0% 20000 0 0
Next 10000 2% 30000 200 200
Next 10000 3.5% 40000 350 550
Next 40000 7% 80000 2800 3350
Next 40000 11.5% 120000 4600 7950
Next 40000 15% 160000 6000 13950
Next 40000 18% 200000 7200 21150
Next 40000 19% 240000 7600 28750
Next 40000 19.5% 280000 7800 36550
Next 40000 20% 320000 8000 44550

Over 320,000 a fat rate of 22%

As will be seen from the chart, UK Expats will find that tax in Singapore is very low when compared to the UK.

Driving rules in Singapore

British nationals over 18 years old who holds a work pass or student pass may drive in Singapore with a valid class 3, 3A or 2B UK licence for a period of not more than 12 months. After this time, a Singapore driving licence is required.

People on short term social visits to Singapore may drive with their foreign licence for up to 12 months each time they enter into Singapore.

Due to Singapore’s British colonial history, diving is on the left side of the road and therefore most vehicles are right-hand drive. Where left hand drive vehicles are used, they are required to display a sign saying LEFT-HAND-DRIVE. Otherwise, they must only be under tow.

Driving documents 

It is advisable to carry the following documents with you while driving in Singapore.

  • A valid driving licence
  • An IDP (International driving permit)

It is also advised to carry with you:

  • Proof of insurance
  • Proof of ID such as a passport
  • A V5C certificate

 Speed limits within Singapore

  • Normal roads 50 km/hour
  • Express-ways 70-90 km/hour

On the Spot fines

Most parking offences will result in a fine and in addition, you can also be fined for:

  • Driving in a bus lane
  • Failing to give a signal
  • Not displaying a valid licence
  • Faulty lights

Telecommunications in Singapore

The telecommunication infrastructure of Singapore covers the entire state and its development level is high providing access to virtually all inhabited parts of the island.

There are four mobile phone operators and 4 major internet providers in Singapore so good levels of choice are available.

  • Radio and television stations are all government-owned entities with 8 channels available. Due to the proximity of Singapore to Malaysia and Indonesia, almost all radio and television sets in Singapore can pick up broadcast signals from both countries.
  • Private ownership of satellite dishes is banned but most households have access to the StarHub TV and Singtel IPTV networks.
  • Land Lines - The main phone provider in Singapore is Singapore Telecom who will provide both land and mobile phones as well as Internet access. The telephone number for Singapore Telecom is 1-800-738-1311 or 1-609-738-1311. Phones are capable of both national and international calls and current call charges can be obtained from Singapore Telecom.
  • Postal services in Singapore are handled by SingPost, Singapore's postal services company. SingPost operates a network of post offices, post boxes and Self Automated Machines (SAMS) that are conveniently located throughout the island. You can pay bills, such as your mobile phone bill and fines, such as parking fines using a SingPost SAM.

Removal Services in Singapore for Expats

When moving to Singapore Expats should do their research as there are many companies who offer shipping and removal services to and from Singapore making this an easy move.

If you have owned general household items for more than 12 months then it may be better to purchase these in Singapore rather than ship them as Singapore has many places where Expats can find good quality household products and home furniture, avoiding the need to ship most things from their home countries.

Shipping to Singapore for UK Expats can be very expensive both by air and sea due to the distances involved. However it is possible that if an employer has hired you then it may be possible that they will help you with your removal costs.

Shipping products by sea will usually be less expensive than shipping by air but will take much longer. Perhaps where long distances are involved, both methods could be used.