Moving to Singapore

There are countless reasons to make a move to Singapore. The city-state within South East Asia may be small (ranked 176th in the world by landmass), but boasts a giant offering of career, culture, and lifestyle opportunities to draw expats to its shores.

Life in Singapore is subject to the influences of many different cultures, ethnicities, and languages. 42% of the population are foreign-born and contribute in varying degrees to the art, music, sport, and cuisine of this still young country.

Singapore today enjoys the status of being among the top four financial centres in the world, largely a result of its ability to act as broker and conduit between the large powers of east and west.

Moving to Singapore opens up tremendous opportunities; the Lion City has the world’s highest percentage of millionaires per capita. The country has hash an efficient healthcare system, its public education is delivered in English and consistently ranks among the best in the world, and travel to the rest of Asia and Oceania is suddenly affordable.

Visas and becoming a citizen

Singapore benefits from a visa system that is by and large seamless and easy to navigate. Entry to the country from most western nations can be done visa-free for either 30 or 90 days dependent upon your home nation.

If you’re moving to Singapore to work, you must obtain a valid work pass. You can apply for one of the following:

  • Employment Pass(EP)- for professionals which requires you earn at least $3,300 SGD per month
  • Personalised Employment Pass - is a graduated pass that offers more flexibility than the EP
  • Entrepass- best suits foreign entrepreneurs who intend to start a new business in Singapore.

To obtain permanent residency one must seek what is known as an Entry Permit (which doubles as a proof of PR).

For an application for citizenship there exists both a straightforward application process as well as some specialised pathways for a child of a Singaporean PR or citizen, a spouse, and also for those who’ve served in the national guard or residing in singapore as an entrepreneur. Further info about the process for citizenship can be found in our guide to visas for Singapore.

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Singapore’s healthcare system is one of the finest in the world, and also one of the most affordable. The system is underpinned by two main providers, Medisave and Medishield, and then thereafter by Medifund and the Medication Assistance Fund.

Together, these ‘4 M’s’ can provide for all your basic and essential medical needs and are drawn from compulsory payments made by you, your employer, and the Singaporean government into one healthcare fund.

Though entitled to receive emergency care if needed, non-permanent residents and non-citizens of Singapore are not permitted to access the healthcare system for general care.

Private healthcare in Singapore

While some employers will provide health insurance for expats, if is not uniform not guaranteed. Therefore, seeking out a private insurance provider (with many international providers maintaining a presence in Singapore).

This can become more expensive over many years, so if you are staying in the country long term, seeking permanent residency or citizenship may be wise.

It is notable that even within the private sphere, Singaporean healthcare is often far more economical than many other nations, so private cover for a short term stay would likely suffice and not break the bank.

Job market

Singapore’s job market is among the most dynamic and exciting in Asia. With a growing presence within the ‘traditional’ finance sectors of banking and accounting, the nation also boasts an impressive startup culture and tech scene, offering opportunities aplenty for those who wish to add an experience within Asia to their CV.

This is especially so giving the presence of many Western companies within the city, as well as the wide prevalence of the English language, meaning both finding a job in Singapore and working without a language barrier is an easy undertaking.

While like any nation Singapore has its share of challenges, its consistent low unemployment rate of around 3% or less is comparatively low from a global perspective. This means you shouldn’t struggle to find multiple roles on offer should you relocate to Singapore long term.

Essential info for Singapore

Official language:Mandarin, English, and Malay.
Capital city:Singapore (both a country and capital city)
Currency:Singapore Dollar (SGD)
International dialling code:+65
Emergency numbers:192
Electricity:230 volts
Drives on the:Left
Tipping:Not law, but a growing custom.
Unusual fact:The national anthem of Singaporean is written on the nation's $1,000 note.

Property comparison

One of the downsides of a Singaporean relocation is the challenge of housing. While moving from a smaller city it takes sometime to adjust, anyone who has grown up or lived as a longtime London resident shall find the accommodation and expense familiar, just the same as a long time Berlin resident would find offense at the expense.

With space at a premium within the city, alongside the general prevalence for smaller living spaces across many capitals in Asia like Tokyo and Hong Kong, finding a spacious apartment can be a real challenge. It is best to efficiently utilise the space you have.

The upside of this is the density and abundance of apartment buildings around Singapore means there is ample opportunity to seek out a residence you find best fits your budget and lifestyle.

Further, for those with more spacious needs (and the income to match), a number of neighbourhoods outside the CBD proper exist. With a spacious apartment in a good area costing around $3,000SGD per month, a home can be expected to cost around $8,000SGD.

Living costs

Though Singapore is of comparable expense to London and New York in rent, advantages lie within the more affordable amenities found within this city state. From restaurants, to electricity, to shopping for basic groceries (save for a lettuce, which is a cheaper buy in London), all over you stand to save between 10% to 30% on average living within this Asian city.

Further, while your rent may be of comparable expense to cosmopolitan cities, travelling either via public transport or the city's ubiquitous taxis means you can regularly save up to 200%, 300% and 400% per ride than in those same cities.

The trade off for these savings is various western goods you may be used to enjoying - and buying at a low price point - can be subject to considerable markups within Singapore.This particular cost of living in Singapore is most manageable either by having your expense offset elsewhere, or simply switching to a tasty domestic brand or beer or coffee to maintain the price point of home.

Cost of moving to Singapore

One of the biggest advantages of Singapore as a global city is its central location between northern and southern Asia. Accordingly‚ whether relocating from the UK or wider EU‚ the USA‚ Australia or beyond; you'll find your costs relatively economical for shipping to Singapore. Estimates for a 3 bedroom house are as follows:

Hong Kong to Singapore

350 ()

Sydney to Singapore

1,100 ()

Los Angeles to Singapore

1,500 ()

London to Singapore

1,800 ()

Auckland to Singapore

1,900 ()

Dubai to Singapore

2,100 ()

School and education

Singapore enjoys an excellent reputation for primary and secondary school education, and offers two universities regularly ranked within the world’s top 20.

The Tanglin Trust School, the Stamford American International School, and ACS International all serve as attractive institutions for young expats, each with a sterling international reputation and offer a diverse curriculum,. There are also a number of public schools in Singapore also offering excellent education.

Differences in schooling from western cultures

An important point to note when selecting schools is students in Singapore typically have one year less than 12 years of schooling common in western nations. Starting one year earlier at 4-5 with kindergarten, a student will usually finish their formal schooling at 16-17.

Further, though rarely a great challenge in terms of finding a suitable institution for a young expat, it is important to ensure (especially if only residing there for a short stay) that the correct grade allocation occurs given the differences in ages between systems.

Universities in Singapore

The National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University both list highly in annual worldwide university rankings, with the latter offering a more nuanced selection of courses focusing within the engineering and technology sphere.

Beyond this, 32 other tertiary institutions offer courses within the city state, and tailor to almost any desired education pathway accordingly.

Driving in Singapore

The right to drive in Singapore is a straightforward affair. If intending to stay for under 12 months, you just need to bring along an International Driving Permit (IDP) when you arrive. If you've a driver's license from an ASEAN member nation you do not need to obtain an IDP.

If coming from a non-English speaking nation outside of ASEAN where an IDP is not offered, an official translation of your license into English is required and shall suffice. After 12 months, obtaining an official Singaporean drivers license is a must.

Getting a Singapore driver’s license

This is done by sitting the Basic Theory Test (BTT), and allows for conversion of both manual and automatic licenses. While heavy vehicle licenses cannot be converted (instead requiring you to sit for a new license in-country), motorbike licenses for 200cc or less can be converted sitting the BTT.

Further, license for higher cc can be obtained by sitting the BTT, having at least 1 years riding experience, and by showing documentary proof of training and ownership of a license of a higher classification. Finally, you must show proof of ownership of a higher classification bike as applicable.

Ranking against the world

Singapore boasts high salaries and a high standard of living that is offset by its high ranking on the list of the world’s most expensive cities. Indeed, in recent years Singapore has often been ranked as the world’s most expensive city. Yet, while true property can remain expensive, this is also offset by some advantageous stats elsewhere.

From the high standard of living (ranked 26th in the world) to the life expectancy (ranked 5th in the world), once you have sorted out the challenges that ceme with Singapore’s expensive accommodation, thereafter the city is widely one that offers great opportunity and lifestyle at a reasonable cost.