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Singapore’s Best Bank Accounts for Expats

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I’m a big believer in field testing my articles. But I can’t do it for this one, because I’m not an expat. It’d be silly to even try thinking like one, ha ha. “You renounced your citizenship and migrated back didn’t you?” Yeah. And also, I’m wearing a beret and carrying a plastic baguette while I write this. If there’s one thing mainstream media’s taught me, it’s that journalism’s not far from method acting (Thanks Noose!) So if I were an expat, here’s the banks I’d use:

Banking in Singapore

Banking in Singapore is well-regulated and efficient. Service staff are fast and informative, and possess all the charm of elevator music. We’re good but we’re all business, is what I’m saying.

Peter Vaughn, who’s stayed in Singapore for three years, wants his fellow expats to know:

In this country, a lot of bank tellers don’t slow down to explain things. They’ll ask you whether you want a Savings account or Current account, and they’ll expect you to know what they’re talking about. And they talk fast, like a machine gun.

Popular banks (for personal banking) in Singapore include:

  • POSB / DBS (Two merged banks, and the most widespread as POSB was Singapore’s homegrown bank)
  • ANZ
  • OCBC
  • UOB
  • HSBC
  • Standard Chartered
  • Citibank

 

Pictured: What 90% of you imagine banks do to make me write this.

 

Note that many bank outlets only open from 9.30am to 3.00pm. On Saturdays, they may close as early as 11.30am. There are some exceptions (e.g. POSB opens from 8.30am to 4.30pm).

Typical interest rates are 0.125%. No, that’s not a typo. To accrue significant interest, you’ll need to commit the money to a fixed deposit, not a current or savings account.

(See this article for more on fixed deposits)

Note that some banks require a minimum sum to be maintained in your account (e.g. at least $500). Failure to do either incurs administrative costs (around $2 per month), or account cancellation.

Now, based on surveys (where survey = annoying any foreigner within three feet of the Raffles Place MRT station one Tuesday), the favourite banks are:

 

Pictured: 90% of what I’m actually paid to write anything.

 

1. POSB / DBS

As mentioned before, POSB and DBS are merged entities.

DBS has an expatriate banking package; they allow you to transact between Singapore dollars and multiple currencies under the same account. Also, it’s appreciated that the POSB bank card acts as a NETS card.

(NETS is a form of cashless payment, supported by most merchants. A vocal minority thinks it’s the anti-Christ of the retail world. But you’ll appreciate using it at convenience stores, petrol stations, to top up bus and train fare cards, etc.)

POSB offers a telegraphic transfer service, which is a way to say “remittance service” with more syllables. It allows you to shift money between 20 different countries. The time taken to transfer is variable.

Biggest Advantage: ATM Locations

 

A rare picture of a DBS ATM machine. It’s rare because there’s no battalion-level queue.

 

POSB / DBS has more ATMs than local vandals have caning scars. Wherever you are, chances are there’s one within walking distance. Note that POSB and DBS ATMs can be used interchangeably with the same bank card.

Alex Koh, who moved from Sydney three months ago, says:

I used to use Standard Chartered, and then HSBC, but it was just hard to get to an ATM. There’s a DBS ATM near my studio, another one near my home; I think there’s like four other DBS ones I like to use, all over town. To get to a Standard Chartered ATM, I had to take the train here (Raffles Place) or to ION Orchard.”

 

2. UOB

United Overseas Bank (UOB) is one of the bigger banks in Singapore. These days, they’re better known for their credit cards, like the women-only UOB Lady’s Card.

But UOB got a thumbs-up from many expats. The main positives highlighted were prompt service, and easy transfers between their UOB account and any other accounts back home. And like POSB / DBS, the UOB bank card comes with NETS facilities.

 

Some claim the UOB building is lit by pure evil. This is *probably* untrue.

 

Biggest Advantage: Best Online Service by General Consensus

Vernon Stole, who’s been in Singapore four months, was one of the voices in support of UOB’s online banking:

I think their mobile banking app is the best ever. I like how efficient it is; when you check statements you get your temporary codes and such over your phone; you don’t even need the little gadget thing (He means the electronic banking token. It’s a plastic thing that banks transmit temporary codes on. Like a cereal box decoder ring, but uglier. – Ed.)

And I like how their mobile app also lists all the shops and restraunts that have discounts (Discounts for UOB card holders – Ed.)

I’ve been handling all my transactions online. The only time I had to step into their office was the one time I opened an account.”

 

3. Citibank

Ciitbank is a growing presence in Singapore. It’s gained attention for Citibank Express, which a banking system formerly found only in sci-fi novels.

You can open an account at any time of day without visiting a branch. Apart from online banking, the system supports video-conferencing and biometric customer identification. Don’t even try to tell us they aren’t working towards deep-frying hackers via satellite laser.

 

“Thanks for coming down. Now, this here’s a telephone. Do they have these where you come from?”

 

For phone banking, Citibank’s customer service standards require that they answer in 15 seconds or less.

It’s a bit of a slap in the face that most surveyed expats still think UOB has the best online service. Maybe Citibank Express just needs more time to catch on.

Anyway, Citibank is much loved for its low cost fund transfers.

Biggest Advantage: Moving Money Around, Internationally

When you transfer money overseas, there’s a fee attached. It’s not sensible to put a fixed price list here, since those fees are highly variable. Nor is it convenient for you to find the cheapest, since it means a gazillion phone calls.

Citibank Global Transfer (CGT) simplifies it:

If you have a Citibank account on both sides, the transfer fee is just $10. If you join their Citigold program, the transfer is free. So if you open a Citibank account in Singapore and one in, say, the United States, you can shift money between the two at far less than most remittance services charge.

Image Credits:
Dayou_X, RikkisRefugeOther, jronaldlee, Abishek_Kumar, Gaurav, modery

Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.

Ryan Ong on Google+
  • mrdthree

    I am an expat and I am using OCBC. Until this point their customer service was great. But in September 12, I tried to transfer $3000USD to my US Bank of America account. The money was deducted but the transfer never went through. Now a month later (October 13) and dozens of emails and phone calls and OCBC has neither credited my account nor completed the transfer. When I call Bank of America they say they have not received the money and when I call OCBC they say they have the money but will neither refund it nor transfer it. How can I get help?

  • Jonny Whelan

    call your financial ombudsman or the equivalent in singapore and /or US. it varies from country to country, but I know for the uk a legal president has now been set that the burden of proof falls on the bank transferring the money not the account holder nor the bank receiving the money. i.e. they have to prove that you have received the money as opposed to you proving you or your us bank proving you have not. CAUTION. this is a uk case and does not apply to all financial authorities, still hopefully it provides a useful avenue to explore. the threat alone may be enough to kickstart your bank into action. make sure you document each conversation on email and put in clear legal frameworks/timelines for your discussions.

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