Singapore for expats - living guide

Singapore was built on Western immigration

Singapore was built on Western immigration

One thing that virtually all expats agree on is that it is remarkably easy to adjust to a new life in Singapore. Public transport is superb, living standards are as high as anywhere in the world and doing business is corruption-free and very professional. In a nutshell, Singapore offers all the character and uniqueness of Southeast Asia without the bureaucracy, poor hygiene and arduous living conditions found in other parts of the region.

Another similarity to life in the West is unfortunately the high cost of living. It is still generally cheaper than the major capitals of Western Europe, but will be a big shock if relocating from countries such as Indonesia or Vietnam. If you are coming here to work on an expat employment package, life can be very sweet with good wages and perhaps housing, schooling and medical expenses covered. There is also the option of the Singapore permanent residence scheme.

Doing business is usually conducted in English, even in predominantly Chinese companies, and although it tends to be on the formal side, business etiquette is quite straightforward. English is spoken universally but may take a little getting used to. Singaporeans use a unique dialogue known as ‘Singlish’ which includes many curious colloquialisms. 

If you are setting up a business or are employed on local terms, property is going to be the major expense. Both buying and renting a home is not cheap, although foreigners can legally own a flat or condominium outright unlike many other Southeast Asian countries. There are several desirable central locations which are full of expats and have a real cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Most expats gravitate towards The Holland Park, Clarke Quay and Bukit Timah areas and is a good place for new arrivals to mingle and make new contacts. In these neighbourhoods you can expect to pay around SGD$3,000 a month or more for a decent family sized condo, although if you prefer to ‘go native’ in one of the outlying suburbs, you should find something similar for almost half the money. More on property.

There are many cultural activities for expats here

There are many cultural activities for expats here

Singapore is a safe, clean and green place but all the same you should make provisions for healthcare as medical fees can be astronomically high for foreigners. Many companies employing foreigners provide comprehensive health insurance cover but otherwise it is a good idea to change your official status to ‘permanent resident’ (PR). Otherwise there are various insurance companies such as Expat Health which specialise in those working overseas. More on healthcare.

This is possible depending on the length and type of employment contract. All ‘PRs and their employers make contributions to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) through payroll which is used to pay for hospital care, pensions and also to pay for a deposit on a home purchase. When it is time to eventually leave Singapore you can withdraw your remaining CPF savings. You can get full details by calling in at the CPF Office (CPF Building, 79 Robinson Road, Singapore, tel: +65 6225 8732email:, website:

While eating out in Singapore is very enjoyable and often extremely cheap, the weekly grocery bill is expensive in comparison. As an urban island state, there is very little agriculture and most foodstuffs are imported, resulting in higher costs. Fresh meat is very expensive but other everyday items such as milk, bread and detergent are pretty good value compared to the West.

The most popular and cheapest supermarkets in Singapore include NTUC, Cold Storage and Giant and are well stocked with local and imported goods. Due to high ‘sin’ tax, cigarettes and alcohol are expensive with a thriving black market.

Singapore has all the hallmarks of a bustling modern city but is not as impersonal as you would think. There is a massive expat scene and it is quite easy to integrate and make new friends quickly. There are also countless expat social clubs for business, leisure and sporting activities. More on living here.

In fact whatever your nationality, there is bound to be an established social group catering to it. Some of the longest established include the American Association of Singapore (21 Scotts Road, tel: +65 6738 0371, fax: +65 6738 3648, email:, website: Singapore St Andrew's SocietyThe Australian and New Zealand AssociationLions Club and the Royal Society of St George.

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