Savings Accounts

Singapore Expats – Which is the Best Local Bank for You? (2019)

As a new expat in Singapore, you’ve got probably got a long to-do list which might or might not include figuring out how to gain access to Marina Bay Sands’ infinity pool, checking out the zoo, figuring out where to live and opening a bank account.

The last item on that list being by far the least fun, we’ll help you out by comparing the various banking options most expats will want to consider.

 

What banking services do Singapore expats need?

Expats in Singapore come in all shapes and sizes, and a 24-year-old first-jobber who’s living in a shared flat with four other people will have very different banking needs from a billionaire who’s here to stash his wealth.

But as a general rule, most expats will want to consider these banking services to start with:

Savings account: No matter what your income level or employment status, you will need a basic bank account for crediting your salary and stashing your cash. Ideally, you want something that gives you a decent interest rate too.

ATMs: Though credit cards and mobile wallets are quite widely accepted in Singapore, you’ll still need cash for things like eating at hawker centres or taking taxis. You will want to ensure the bank has a decent ATM presence should you need to withdraw cash.

Remittance: Those who need to send money back home might want to use their bank’s remittance service. Most banks in Singapore let you do this online easily.

Multi-currency accounts: Some bank accounts let you store money in multiple currencies, which is very convenient if you frequently travel home and don’t want to carry a large wad of notes.

Credit cards: Some banks do offer more attractive credit cards for expats than others. You don’t have to get a credit card from the same bank, but it’s more convenient for staying on top of the bills.

At some point, you might also want to think about these…

“Stash away” account: If you’re not remitting every last cent back home, you might consider opening a second bank account to keep your savings separate from your spending account. This account needn’t have a widespread ATM presence – what you want is a high interest rate for doing nothing.

Current account: An alternative to savings accounts, current accounts pay little or no interest on your deposits but make it easier to spend. For instance, if you run out of money, you can usually overdraft a current account (which will lead to a negative balance), while not all savings accounts allow it.

Personal loans: Moneylending is fairly tightly regulated in Singapore. About half the banks don’t do personal loans to foreigners, while the ones that do – which are listed below – have higher income requirements for expats.

Investment account: If your goal in coming to Singapore is simply to make lots of money, you will probably want to open an investment account. These are offered by banks and brokerages, and enable you to invest in a range of vehicles such as unit trusts, equities and so on.

 

5 best banks for Singapore expats (2019)

Singapore being a financial centre and all, you might have noticed just how many banks have set up offices here. But only some of these banks provide personal banking services, and to varying degrees of expat-friendliness.

Here are our picks for the 5 best banks for Singapore expats:

Bank Features for Singapore expats
DBS Fast account opening, multi-currency account with good interest rates, affordable remittance, ATMs everywhere
UOB SGD savings account with good interest rates, multi-currency wallet, good air miles card, ATMs everywhere
Citibank Global priority banking programme, multi-currency account, free remittance to overseas Citi accounts, ATMs quite common
Standard Chartered Global priority banking programme, pre-arrival account opening, free remittance to overseas StanChart accounts
HSBC Expat programme with relocation services, pre-arrival account opening, earn bonus interest for regular remittance

If you’re curious, here are the other banks in Singapore with personal banking services:

  • OCBC
  • CIMB
  • Maybank
  • RHB Bank
  • Bank of China
  • ICBC
  • State Bank of India

 

Best DBS bank account for expats – DBS Multiplier Account

Without a doubt, DBS (or POSB – they’re one and the same) is the most ubiquitous local bank in Singapore. Just about every Singaporean has a bank account with them. You can find DBS/POSB ATMs practically everywhere, which is convenient, though be prepared for long queues during peak periods.

The DBS Multiplier Account is a good all-rounder for Singapore expats to use as a day-to-day savings account. There’s no minimum balance if it’s your first DBS bank account, and it gives you 1.55% p.a. interest or more, as long as you credit your salary to the account and spend some money on a DBS/POSB credit card (which you will, this being Singapore).

The account also lets you stash cash in 12 foreign currencies. AUD, CAD, EUR, HKD, JPY, NZD, NOK, GBP, SEK, THB are supported but don’t bear interest. You do earn interest on CNH and USD, but much less than SGD.

DBS is also one of the more affordable banks for remitting money back home. There are no fees for remittance to Australia, China, Eurozone, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, UK and US.

For newly-arrived expats, DBS allows you to open an account before you even get your Employment Pass – just submit your Approval in Principle (AIP) instead.

 

Best UOB bank account for expats – UOB One Account

UOB is another local bank that has a widespread ATM presence (UOB account holders can also use OCBC ATMs), but queues are way shorter than that of DBS/POSB.

Their best savings account is the UOB One account, and how it works is similar to the DBS Multiplier. Credit your salary of at least $2,000 and spend $500 or more on selected UOB credit cards each month, and you get at least 1.85% p.a. in interest.

Unfortunately, you can’t use UOB’s miles card (which is pretty good) to help you meet that minimum spend, which is bound to be really annoying for most expats. Instead, you need to use the UOB One Card or UOB YOLO Card.

While the UOB One account doesn’t have a multi-currency function per se, you can supplement it with UOB’s multi-currency wallet service, Mighty FX. It supports AUD, CAD, CHF, CNH, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, USD. You can earn interest on most of these, too, except on EUR, JPY, CHF and HKD.

 

Citibank Global Banking programme for expats

Citibank has numerous branches in Singapore, and almost every MRT (public subway) station has a Citibank ATM. It’s not ubiquitous like DBS or UOB, but still very convenient so banking is pretty straightforward.

One feature to highlight is that Citibank has a global banking programme, which supposedly lets you manage your international accounts more easily. If you have a Citibank account back home, you will appreciate the Citibank Global Transfer service which lets you remit money with no fees.

The global banking programme also boasts fringe perks like relocation services. The website doesn’t state any requirements for joining the programme but it can’t hurt to try applying.

For day-to-day banking in Singapore, you can open a local currency account like the Citibank InterestPlus Savings Account or Citibank MaxiSave Checking Account. A Global Foreign Currency Account is also available. Just note that these accounts aren’t as great as the abovementioned ones for earning bonus interest with salary credit and spending.

One more thing: Citibank is one of the few banks in Singapore that will loan money to foreigners, whereas most of the local banks like DBS and UOB don’t.

 

Standard Chartered Expat Banking Solutions

Similar to Citibank, Standard Chartered is another name that’s recognised worldwide and that has an expat banking programme to cater to expats’ needs.

Those on the programme can get their accounts set up prior to arriving in Singapore, and remit money to an overseas StanChart account for free. So if you already bank with Standard Chartered back home, it makes sense.

Standard Chartered has got a pretty good local savings account called the BonusSaver, which lets you earn bonus interest when you credit your salary and spend on StanChart credit cards. (Unfortunately, they don’t have a good miles card.)

The main drawback, though, is the lack of Standard Chartered ATMs around – it has just 29 on the island. This can be a problem as most Singaporean small businesses still use cash.

Like Citibank, Standard Chartered will loan money to foreigners as long as you have an employment pass. If you have a “type Q” E-Pass, though, you need to have had it for at least a year.

 

HSBC Expat Journey programme

Expat programme with relocation services, pre-arrival account opening, earn bonus interest for regular remittance

The third of the global banks with a dedicated expat programme in Singapore, HSBC, too, offers things like pre-arrival account setup and relocation services. What’s unique to them, though, is that they offer free remittance to 230 countries (whether or not the recipient is an HSBC account holder).

HSBC also has a savings account that lets you earn 1.5% p.a. bonus interest when you remit money (at least $500 monthly). However, it falls short in the other departments, like bonus interest for crediting your salary. Another issue with HSBC is the lack of ATMs (and branches) around Singapore.

HSBC also loans money to foreigners who have had an E-Pass for at least a year.

 

Multi-currency bank accounts in Singapore

For reference, here is a list of multi-currency bank accounts in Singapore that you may want to supplement your main bank account with. Note that not all of these are interest-bearing accounts, and even those that are may award interest only on selected currencies.

Bank account Currencies
DBS Multi-Currency Account SGD, AUD, CAD, EUR, HKD, JPY, NZD, NOK, GBP, SEK, THB and USD
UOB Global Currency Premium Account SGD,  AUD, CAD, EUR, NZD, CNY, JPY, USD, CHF and HKD
OCBC Global Savings Account AUD, CAD, CNY, EUR, GBP, HKD, NZD and USD
Citibank Global Foreign Currency Account AUD, CAD, EUR, HKD, JPY, NZD, GBP, CHF and USD
HSBC Multi Currency Savings Account SGD, AUD, CAD, EUR, JPY, NZD, GBP, CHF, USD, HKD, CNY
CIMB Foreign Currency Account USD, EUR, GBP, AUD, JPY
Standard Chartered FCY$aver USD, EUR, GBP, AUD, NZD, CNY, CHF, CAD, HKD, JPY
BOC Current Account SGD, RMB, USD, EUR, GBP, NZD, AUD, JPY, CAD, HKD, CHF
RHB Multi-Currency Savings Account SGD, RMB, USD, EUR, GBP, NZD, AUD, JPY, CAD, HKD, CHF

Have you used a Singapore bank account before? Share your reviews in the comments!

 

Related articles

Your Savings Account Sucks, Here Are Some That Don’t

The Expat’s Guide to Getting a Prepaid SIM Card in Singapore

Remittance from Singapore – Expats’ Guide To Cheaper Overseas Money Transfers

Cost of Living in Singapore – Is Your Salary Really Enough?

Tags:

Personal finance tips delivered to your inbox!

Personal finance tips delivered to your inbox!

Receive news, subscriber-exclusive promotions and guides on how to become smarter with money.