Expat Moving to Singapore: Tips for Getting a Job Offer and Setting Up Finances

Expat Moving to Singapore: Tips for Getting a Job Offer and Setting Up Finances

In 2020, I moved from San Francisco to Singapore as a tech professional.

I was seeking out a new adventure in Asia. Yet when I arrived, I realised I felt totally overwhelmed when setting up my finances.

Singapore is an attractive destination for expats, growing 13.1% in its foreigner population from 1.56 million in June 2022 to 1.77 million in June 2023. From compelling work opportunities in tech and other high-skilled industries to a convenient, modern lifestyle—it’s an excellent launching pad for living and working abroad.

Moving to Singapore? Don’t make the mistakes I made—learn how to plan your finances so you can work and live in the red dot without unnecessary stress and sacrifice.

In this post, we’re going to deep dive into strategies and tips for getting a job offer, managing your finances after relocation, and automating your finances so you can enjoy your lifestyle.

 

A Guide for Expats Moving to Singapore

  1. Tips for Getting a Job Offer
  2. How to Manage Finances as an Expat
  3. Ways to Save Money as an Expat
  4. Automating Finances in Your Home Country

 

Tips for Getting a Job Offer

In December 2019, I had collected a list of open senior product leadership and PM roles while I was abroad.

I sourced these roles from informational interviews, online job boards, and investors—which I describe further below. However, recruiters had already taken leave for the winter holidays.

Hence, once January came around, I applied to all these roles in 1 go.

Here are a few tips for the interview, pre-offer, and post-offer stages:

 

Interview stage

  • Conduct informational interviews with people in your industry. Networking in an overseas job search is a must. Moreover, setting up informational interviews with industry connectors is one of best-kept secrets for getting real-time data on market-rate compensation. For example, when I moved to Singapore I reached out to local investors, other tech workers who moved from the US, and local PMs in my network and via cold outreach. I asked about what they perceived to be the market rate for PMs, and their responses were very informative.
  • Clarify if the role is designated for expats. Before hiring managers publish a job listing in Singapore, they scope if this role is designated for locals and/or expats. They need to do this due to immigration/visa and budget reasons. For example, employers may be willing to offer additional relocation and incentives as part of the role budget to persuade an expat to move.

 

Pre-offer stage

  • Do an interview tour. In my experience, hiring managers don’t take you seriously unless you can show up in person. I’ve rarely seen foreigners get the offer without making a trip. Personally, I scheduled a 2-week interview tour where I packed as many in-person interviews as I could handle in Singapore & Jakarta. While I can’t be 100% sure, I’m confident that meeting teams in-person was critical to sealing the deal.

  • Emphasise your commitment to moving. Hiring managers want to avoid wasting time with candidates who were never serious about moving to Singapore in the first place. Even if it may feel obvious, state your commitment repeatedly to your recruiter, hiring manager, and interviewers to give them confidence that they’re making the right choice.

 

Offer stage

  • Use online sources to complement. Aside from having conversations, you can check Mycareersfuture, Indeed, Glassdoor, Levels.FYI, and Payscale to validate your hypotheses around compensation ranges. I used a combination of these websites.
  • Be prepared for varying compensation ranges. While some roles afforded a budget close to US major city salaries, others landed at much less. The key is to keep having conversations with people who can give you additional insight. As of summer 2023, my observation based on my hiring and industry experience is that Singapore tech compensation still has a wide variance.

  • Negotiate on non-traditional elements of your offer package. In addition to base salary, many employers may offer benefits like paying in different currencies or subsidising or deducting personal expenses (e.g. housing).

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How to Manage Finances as an Expat

Before moving to Singapore, make a plan.

  • Setup a virtual mailbox and phone number. You may need this to confirm payments, reset passwords, and send delivery/travel notifications for your home country financial apps. For example, I needed to receive a replacement credit card while travelling. This could’ve been a headache, but fortunately I got it delivered to my virtual mailbox.
  • Create a financial plan for your Singapore life. One of the mistakes I see expats making is not accounting for the expat hedonic treadmill. It’s easy to rack up spending on trips to Bali, your kid’s international school fees, and high-end meals. Once you move to Singapore, plan for your monthly spending using  the 50/30/20 rule. It breaks out 3 categories: 50% needs (rent, mortgage), 30% wants (travel, gourmet meals), 20% savings (emergency fund, investments). 
  • Set aside funds for housing security deposit. Housing will likely be your biggest expense as an expat, and security deposits are typically 1-3 months of rent. Before my partner and I moved, we decided on a monthly rent budget, then used 99.co and Property Guru to conduct our search. Protip: While most expats only look at private condos, don’t be afraid to explore HDB flats for substantial savings.

 

After arriving, you’ll also need to set up your basic financial services.

Bank Account

Many expats in Singapore I know are happy with setting up a DBS Multi-Currency Account for their banking needs. This account is available for foreigners, has no account fees, and comes with a debit card that has decent currency exchange rates for overseas spending situations.

DBS logo
FX Fee
0%
FX Rate
Bank Rate
Min. Balance
S$0

UOB and OCBC are other common banks where expats open up an account.

UOB logo
FX Fee
0%
FX Rate
Bank Rate
Min. Balance
US$1,000
OCBC logo
FX Fee
0%
FX Rate
Bank Rate
Min. Balance
US$5,000

Investment Accounts

While there are many popular robo-advisors and investment brokerages in Singapore, the one I always recommend for expats is Interactive Brokers.

Interactive Brokers is a publicly traded American multinational brokerage (Nasdaq: IBKR) with a presence in 100+ countries.

It has several benefits for expats:

  • Low fees—Commissions start at $0 and go up to 1% per order. FX is 0.002% with US$2 minimum.
  • Broad selection—Buy stocks and funds across 150+ markets.
  • Geo coverage—Available in 100+ countries. Most brokerages will shut down your account after you relocate. With IBKR, keep your account open even after you move abroad.
Interactive Brokers logo
Min. Commission Fee US Stocks
US$1
Min. Commission Fee SG Stocks
$2.50
Min. Funding
$0

 

Health Insurance

If your employer’s plan provides you with sufficient and affordable coverage, then your decision-making will be simple. Go with your employer’s plan.

However, if you’re working for a startup or company without a designated plan (like me), you’ll need to purchase private medical insurance.

Here are a few tips for navigating health insurance in Singapore:

  • Be mindful around financial advisors. While there are great advisors, be aware that they are incentivised differently. Many make their commissions by selling you a policy. Always ask a lot of questions around the type of insurance, policies, and how those match your needs. For example, what is covered and not covered? What are the premiums required for different types of health services? If you intend to work with an advisor, choose an insurance brokerage (who isn’t associated with a specific insurer) or fee-based advisor (don’t earn commission but charge a flat fee for consultation).

  • Consider your risk tolerance. If you have a higher risk tolerance, you can start with the bare minimum coverage you need and build up your coverage as you go along.
  • Use modular coverage. Pick and choose your specific coverage modules based on your needs to save money. For example, FWD International Insurance or TRIBE by Income.
  • Consider geo-arbitraging your insurance. If insurance is cheaper (a lower premium for the same coverage) in your home country compared to your residence country, then you might consider using it to get a payout on your overseas medical treatments.

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Ways to Save Money as an Expat

As an expat in Singapore, you’ll have access to unique savings and tax benefits. Learn what these are so you can decide if they’re right for you.

Here are 3 ways to save more:

1. Supplemental Retirement Scheme

The Supplemental Retirement Scheme is a voluntary, tax-advantaged account available to foreigners. By investing, you can get a tax deferral (you can deduct your contributions from your taxable income that year, your investments compound tax-free, and upon retirement 50% of your withdrawals are tax-free.

2.  0% Capital Gains

As an expat, you are eligible for 0% capital gains on your investments as long as you are a Singapore tax resident.

3. Tax Reliefs

As an expat, you’re eligible for various personal income tax deductions. Some of these are excellent, especially for working parents.

The Qualifying Child Relief allows you to deduct $4k per child / $7.5k per handicapped child and the Working Mother’s Child Relief allows you to deduct 15% of earned income for 1st child, 20% for 2nd child, 25% per child for 3rd child onwards.

You can claim these when filing your income taxes.

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Automating Finances in Your Home Country

Depending on where is your home country, you may want to consider automating your finances across borders.

Since I keep most of my savings, investments, and credit cards in the US, I created a “set and forget” system to help me automatically save, invest, and pay off bills back in my home country.

Here are the steps:

  1. Set up local accounts. These include your bank, investment, and credit card accounts, based on your needs.
  2. Set up home accounts. Do the same thing for your home country accounts.
  3. Set up a money transfer account and link your bank accounts. Sign up for an online money transfer app with transfer scheduling functionality like Wise. Link your local and home country bank accounts to your money transfer solution.
  4. Schedule cross-border transfers. These can be recurring transfers (a) from your local checking account to your money transfer account and (b) from your money transfer account to your home checking account.
  5. Schedule your credit card payments and investments. Use your credit card issuer’s web app to schedule monthly bill payments on a day of the month after you know you’ll receive fresh funds. You can also schedule your monthly contributions with your investment app (as long as they have scheduling functionality).

Voila! You now have an automated system to save, invest, and pay off your bills back in your home country.

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Last words

Singapore is an incredible launchpad for expats in Southeast Asia. This region is brimming with economic opportunities, welcoming people, and exciting travels.

When I first moved to Singapore, I wish I had known about these strategies and tips for setting up my finances. No matter your goal while living here, I hope these lessons help you save time, money, and stress.

 


About the Author

Dexter Zhuang is the founder of Money Abroad, a weekly newsletter and website that helps professionals build wealth overseas. Over the last decade, he’s been building and growing internet products across Silicon Valley and Asia at top companies like Dropbox and Xendit.

His work has been featured in global publications like Business Insider, CBS, US News & World Report, and Tech in Asia. He graduated from Dartmouth College.


 

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