Budgeting

The Expat’s Guide to Personal Finance in Singapore

Joanne Poh

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So you’re moving to Singapore! And not only did you only just find out it wasn’t part of China, you’re also completely clueless as to how to get your new life all set up.

If your employer isn’t going to help you find a place to stay, set up a bank account or wipe your posterior, you’re going to have to do it yourself.

But fear not, life in Singapore is for the most part easy and hassle-free, if not expensive. Here’s what you need to know in the first week of your arrival.

 

Rental property

An increasing number of people coming to Singapore from abroad aren’t on cushy expat packages where their homes are taken care of.

But don’t worry, so long as you’ve saved up enough to leave your landlord with a deposit, rental property is easy to find and you can often move in almost immediately.

The main types of property you can rent are:

  • HDB flat – These public housing flats without facilities like swimming pools are usually cheaper to rent than their condo equivalents in the same area. If you’re on a budget, an HDB common room is the cheapest option, although you should bear in mind that officially HDB flat owners aren’t allowed to rent out their property on a short-term basis.
  • Condo – These private apartments are usually relatively luxurious in terms of the facilities they offer (swimming pools, gyms, occasionally tennis or squash courts). They also cost more to rent than HDB property in the same area. Note that many of the newer condos have pretty tiny bedrooms.
  • House – If you’re here with the entire family, renting a house might make sense. One downside is that a lot of landed property tends to be situated far away from MRT stations.

Find out where your workplace is located and then use this guide to pick a location, bearing in mind that the central area where most people hang out is situated around the Raffles Place, Bugis and Orchard MRT stations. Check the location of any property you’re considering on gothere.sg and you’re all set.

Many young expats start the search online by browsing the Singapore Expats Forums and joining the Facebook group FindYourRoominSG. If you’re on a tight budget, running a search on EasyRoommate might be your best bet, as there are numerous rooms available for under $1,000 on the site. Start your search before you arrive so you can move in once your plane lands.

If you don’t have a place to stay when you arrive and use a property agent, they’ll take you around in their cars to view various properties until you’ve found one you like, and then you can move in pretty much immediately. On the downside, you can expect the rent to be a little inflated, especially if your lease is a short-term one.

It’s worth noting that the landlord is almost certainly going to ask you for a 1 to 2 month deposit, so you’ll want to make sure you have the money ready before committing to something. Better still, if you don’t have a bank account yet, using a service like CardUp to pay with your credit card can be even better as it allows you accrue whatever benefits your card gives you.

 

Bank accounts

Many of the world’s major banks have branches in Singapore, but there’s a good reason you should still open an account from one of the local banks (POSB or DBS, OCBC and UOB) anyway.

Not only are these banks’ ATMs plentiful and free to use (POSB and DBS are interchangeable and tend to have the most machines), making bank transfers is also easier.

If you need to make international transfers, check with the above banks whether your country is on the list and how long or how much a transfer will take.

 

Credit cards

While the attitude in your country might be that credit cards are from the devil and a surefire way to end up destitute, the perks offered by Singaporean cards, while not as good as those in some places like Hong Kong, are still decent enough to warrant a sign up if you pay them off in full and on time every month.

All credit cards here can be linked to your Singapore savings account and the bills automatically paid each month so you don’t have to worry about forgetting and being slapped with a late payment charge. Just google for the inter-bank GIRO forms of each credit card provider.

Here are some benefits you can receive from Singaporean credit cards.

  • Foreign currency spending – If you intend to use your credit card to pay for stuff back home or on your travels around Southeast Asia, get one that gives you cash back or rewards for foreign currency spending, like the UOB Visa Signature Card, which gives you up to 5% rebate on overseas spending if you meet the minimum spending amount each month.
  • Frequent flyer miles – If you fly often, sign up for a credit card that lets you accumulate frequent flyer miles, like the ANZ Travel Visa Signature Card, which Aussie expats can benefit most from.
  • Cashback – The American Express True Cashback card gives you 1.5% cash back on everything you spend on to help you ease Singapore’s high alcohol prices just a tiny bit.

Comparing credit cards to find which one suits you best is easy as well, and you can do that in a matter of minutes on sites like MoneySmart’s credit card comparison page and just apply directly from there as well.

 

Mobile data plan

There are three telcos in Singapore—Singtel (generally the most expensive), M1 and StarHub (generally the cheapest). Here’s how to choose the most appropriate plan for your needs.

If you’re here for at least 2 years, you can sign up for a plan.

Some expats who are here for less time choose to sign up for a plan nonetheless and then transfer it to someone else when they leave.

You can also take over someone else’s mobile data plan when they’ve left. Check the Singapore Expats Forums for people who are looking to transfer their mobile contracts. To get a mobile contract, you will need to show proof of a local address, so make sure you’re not living in a tent when you sign up.

If you don’t need to make a ton of calls, a prepaid plan can wind up being cheaper. Here’s some information on using prepaid SIM cards.

 

Internet service

If you’re moving into an apartment or house that already contains another living, breathing occupant under the age of 70, ask if wifi is provided for free or included in the utilities bill.

Otherwise, you can choose from service providers like SingNet, M1, StarHub, MyRepublic and ViewQwest, which all provide broadband and superfast fibre-optic connections.

You’re looking at contracts of 6 to 24 months. If you’re only here for a short stint, opt for MyRepublic or ViewQwest, which have pay-as-you-go plans.

Are you an expat in Singapore? Share your tips for a fuss-free move in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.