Singapore is a small island city in Southeast Asia, a tropical, warm place to live, and a multicultural, prosperous and well-developed country with a thriving economy.
As a business hub for countless sectors trading between the western world and Asia, Singapore is one of the most popular places for expats to live in the Far East.
Clean streets, low crime rates, high-quality healthcare and a growing population of expatriates worldwide characterise it.
As Singapore’s place on the world stage grows, it will likely become a more high-demand destination. However, understanding how the infrastructure works, what your residency status means to your tax obligations, and whether you are entitled to purchase a property as a foreign national remains important.
Table of contents
- Singapore – Quick Facts
- Visas And Residency
- Safety And Security
- Cost Of Living
- Buying Or Renting A Home
- Where Do British Expats Live In Singapore?
- Working In Singapore
- Local Laws And Customs
- Education And Schooling
- Living In Singapore FAQ
- Related Information
Singapore – Quick Facts
- The Red Ensign of Singapore – the Singaporean flag
- Population: 5.454 million
- UK expat population: 49,000
- Capital: Singapore
- Main cities: Woodlands and Marine Parade
Visas And Residency
Expats considering a temporary move to Singapore can apply for a short-term work pass. However, the more common route is to apply directly for permanent residency, which allows access to benefits such as the Central Provident Fund (CPF).
The CPF is mandatory for all residents and provides access to affordable housing and a social security pension, among other services.
Any foreign national relocating to Singapore for employment over 183 days of the year is considered a resident from a tax perspective, which is applied automatically. However, being a tax resident is different from being a former resident.
A Singapore Permanent Resident permit allows expats to live, work or study in the country for as long as they wish, if applicants meet one of these criteria:
- Having an S-Pass for at least six months; a visa category for mid-level skilled professionals, with an income of $3,000 (£1,847) a month or above, granted by the Ministry of Manpower.
- Being the spouse or dependent parent of a person who is already a permanent resident or citizen of Singapore.
- Children under age 21 who are born to married parents or adopted by a Singaporean citizen or permanent resident.
- Foreign investors that meet the thresholds for permanent residency.
Because workers only need to hold a work pass for six months, it makes sense for many to apply for permanent residency rather than renewing a short-term pass twice per year. Residency applications take from six months to a year, so many foreign nationals apply as early as possible to upgrade their work pass to a permanent residency permit.
Expats working in Singapore with any other category of work permit can also apply for permanent residency after two years, via the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), with applications submitted through the Electronic Permanent Residence system (E-PR).
Proof of vaccination
Singapore scrapped requirements for proof of COVID-19 vaccination on entry on 13th February 2023.
Visitors to Singapore must have six months of validity remaining on their passports from their arrival date. Singapore residents do not need to meet any minimum periods but must renew their passports before the expiry date.
Taking medicines to Singapore
Travellers arriving in Singapore are only permitted to bring medications with them for personal use unless the medicine is for an immediate family member. Carrying medication for any other person can be a prosecutable offence.
Some prescription medications must have prior approval from the Health Sciences Authority. Medicines such as blood pressure treatments, cholesterol treatments and contraception are permitted up to a maximum of three months’ supply. Any medication that comprises a supply of over three months requires prior approval.
Foreign nationals may be required to submit a Certificate of Clearance (COC) validated by the Criminal Investigation Department of the Singapore Police Force (SPF). This certificate verifies that the individual does not have criminal convictions on their record.
Visa applicants may also be instructed to provide an equivalent certificate from the police authorities in their home country and all previous countries of residence.
Safety And Security
Violent crime is rare in Singapore, but petty theft and street crime, including bag snatching, is more common. Foreign nationals should leave valuables in a safe, including their passport, and avoid leaving belongings on display in a parked vehicle.
Expats living in Singapore must replace their UK licence within one year of their arrival date. A foreign national with a work pass, student pass or dependent pass is permitted to drive on a foreign licence for the same period.
Roads in Singapore are considered very safe, with sufficient lighting, regular police patrols and good highway infrastructure.
Cost Of Living
Singapore is not a low-cost place to live, and consumer prices are, on average, 14.2 per cent higher than in London, with rental averages 37.8 per cent more expensive than in London and considerably higher than in other cities and regions within the UK.
A single person will need an estimated budget of at least $1,490 (£917) a month to cover basic expenses, increasing to $5,359 (£3,298) for a family of four, excluding accommodation.
The Economist Intelligence Unit survey in 2022 found that Singapore ranked alongside New York as the most expensive city to live in globally.
Buying Or Renting A Home
Expats are allowed to purchase property in Singapore, but there are restrictions. You can only buy property within subsidised developments available through the Housing and Development Board (HBD) if you are a citizen or permanent resident.
Eligible applicants can access significant reductions on the market value of Singapore properties if they qualify for HBD subsidies. Localised home loans will offer up to 75 per cent of the property value through a mortgage.
Most Singaporean mortgages offer terms up to 35 years, or age 75 to repay, on either freehold or leasehold property purchases. However, foreign nationals with a poor credit rating are unlikely to qualify, and a large proportion of the population rents.
Rental prices range from $800 (£492) to $8,000 (£4,924) a month, depending on the type of property and where you wish to live. HBD apartments are normally rented on six-month leases.
You can search for properties available to rent or purchase through sites such as Property Guru, 99.co, and iProperty.com.
Cost of renting and buying a home
|Property Type||Average Monthly Rent|
|One-bedroom city centre apartment||$4,576 / £2,817|
|One-bedroom apartment elsewhere||$3,189 / £1,963|
|Three-bedroom city centre apartment||$8,676 / £5,340|
|Three-bedroom apartment elsewhere||$5,469 / £3,366|
|Property Type||Average Purchase Cost Per Square Metre|
|City centre apartment||$26,989 / £16,612|
|Apartment elsewhere||$13,795 / £8,491|
Where Do British Expats Live In Singapore?
Singapore is both a city and a country, so there aren’t different regions for expats to live in. However, most of the foreign national community is based in neighbourhoods including Holland Village, Tanjong Pagar, Sentosa and Tiong Bahru or Woodlands.
The healthcare system in Singapore is highly developed and one of the best in the world, with government-subsidised primary care through a network of hospitals. Some treatments are free for permanent residents and citizens, and care facilities offer private rooms for an additional cost.
Expats living in Singapore without permanent residency status may have a different experience because private healthcare costs can be expensive, and they will not be eligible for the generous subsidies on offer.
Foreign nationals without permanent residency are advised to ensure they have comprehensive health insurance to cover the considerable costs of private care.
Need Help with your Finances?
Working In Singapore
Every Singaporean worker from another country must have a valid work pass or visa to be permitted to work there. Passes vary in terms of skill levels and requirements, as follows:
- The Employment Pass is assigned to managers, executives and professionals with a monthly salary of at least $5,000 (£3,079) and appropriate qualifications.
- EntrePass permits are issued to entrepreneurs aiming to launch a new business venture in Singapore.
- Personalised Employment Passes are granted to high-income earners with specific skills and knowledge.
- Migrant Worker Work Permits are available for international workers of semi-skilled expertise, such as manufacturing or construction professionals.
- The S Pass is an offer to mid-level workers who earn $3,000 (£1,847) a month or above and meet other criteria.
More detail about work permits and passes is available from the Ministry of Manpower.
Tax obligations in Singapore depend on your tax residency status. Still, if you are not a resident, you will normally only be required to pay tax against the income earned within Singapore. Each year the tax filing deadline falls on 15th April.
You will normally be considered a tax resident if the following apply:
- You are either a permanent resident or a citizen of Singapore.
- You have lived or worked in the country for at least 183 days within the last year or lived primarily in Singapore for the previous three years, even if the number of days in the country has varied.
- Have worked in Singapore for two years, over the end of a tax year, for 183 days or more.
The income tax brackets for tax residents, applicable until the 2023 assessment year, are below.
|Up to $20,000 Next $10,000||0 per cent Two per cent|
|Up to $30,000 Next $10,000||$200 3.5 per cent|
|Up to $40,000 Next $40,000||$550 7 per cent|
|Up to $80,000 Next $40,000||$3,350 11.5 per cent|
|Up to $120,000 Next $40,000||$7,950 15 per cent|
|Up to $160,000 Next $40,000||$13,950 18 per cent|
|Up to $200,000 Next $40,000||$21,150 19 per cent|
|Up to $240,000 Next $40,000||$28,750 19.5 per cent|
|Up to $280,000 Next $40,000||$36,550 20 per cent|
|Up to $320,000 Above $320,000||$44,550 22 per cent|
There are no HMRC-approved Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes in Singapore, so transferring a UK pension fund to the country is impossible. UK nationals can continue to receive a State Pension but will not be eligible for an annual uplift in their benefits.
Local Laws And Customs
- The Singaporean police can arrest and detain a person for up to 48 hours and refuse contact with any third party, including a lawyer, for the duration.
- If the police investigate you, they will confiscate your passport and return it once the investigation concludes. Foreign nationals subject to conviction will receive a passport back once their sentence has ended.
- Bringing items into Singapore, including e-cigarettes, e-cigars, e-pipes, vaporisers and refill packs, is prohibited. Punishments include confiscation, imprisonment or a fine.
- Tobacco products in Singapore are strictly prohibited for use, sale, supply or possession by any person under 21. Non-compliance is likely to result in a fine.
- The no-smoking zone around Orchard Road is supervised, and residents or visitors are only permitted to smoke within designated areas. Smoking is also banned at all beaches, public parks and some waterways in and around Singapore.
- Behaving in a drunk and disorderly fashion in public is a criminal offence. You can be arrested for a variety of reasons, including breaching licensing laws or drinking alcohol outside of a permitted area.
- Criminal punishments, including those relating to drunk and disorderly convictions, can include caning.
- Singaporean residents cannot consume alcohol in public, outside licensed venues, between 10.30 pm and 7 am. There are also liquor control zones where people cannot drink alcohol on public holidays or weekends. Offences can attract a fine of $1,000 (£616), and repeat offenders may be imprisoned.
Education And Schooling
Singapore is a popular location for expatriates worldwide, not least because of the broad use of English in many business and commercial settings. Parents tend to send expat children to one of the many international or private schools in Singapore, which often follow the international baccalaureate curriculum.
You can also find specific schools catering to UK nationals teaching a curriculum aligned with the British education system. Private schooling fees vary but can start from around $10,000 (£6,155) a year up to $50,000 (£30,775) a year, depending on the child’s age, the curriculum followed, and any specialist tuition required.
Public schools remain accessible, and many teach primarily in English. However, these schools can be heavily oversubscribed, and preference is given to local children, or Singaporean faSingaporean families schools can be competitive.
Localised private schools can charge lower fees from as little as $2,000 (£1,231) per year.
Living In Singapore FAQ
Singapore uses the Singaporean Dollar, abbreviated to SGD, with $1 worth roughly £0.61.
Singapore has low crime rates, and violent crime involving tourists is rare. Street theft and pickpocketing are common within tourist areas, hotels, public transport and airports.
Despite its advantages, Singapore is undoubtedly not a cheap place to live – although low tax rates make it attractive to high-income earners. The country is equivalent to New York City in terms of the cost of living.
Singapore has four official languages: Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and English. Although speaking Mandarin or Malay can be helpful, most schools in Singapore have transitioned to teaching mainly in English since the 1970s.
Singapore has a warm, tropical climate and is close to the equator. Expats can expect plenty of rain, hot temperatures all year round, and high humidity. The Singapore climate tends to be the same throughout the months, without much variation between seasons.
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