In the distant past, Singapore was considered a hardship posting; a savage frontier port mired in tropical heat and mosquitoes. Today it’s pretty much like that, except also more expensive. If you intend to move here for a while, to work or study, here are some key points to note:
1. Check for a diplomatic clause when renting
Your tenancy agreement, as an expatriate, should contain the following text (or something similar):
If any anytime after the expiration of twelve (12) months from the date of the commencement of this tenancy, the immediate occupant of the said premises
(Passport No. :______ FIN No. :______ )
shall be :
- assigned, posted, transferred or relocated from Singapore to another country on a permanent basis;
- required by the relevant authorities to leave Singapore or is otherwise incapable of working or residing in Singapore; or
III. no longer employed by the Tenant for any reason whatsoever,
The Tenant may terminate this Agreement by giving the Landlord not less than two (2) months’ notice in writing (this is in addition to the completion of the initial twelve (12) months lease aforesaid) or paying TWO (2) MONTHS’ rent in lieu of such notice. Proof of such transfer or cessation
The diplomatic clause allows you to terminate your lease within the stated two months, without the risk of losing your security deposit. In the event that your employer closes shop, needs you to go home, and so forth, you’ll need to have this clause signed.
2. Unfurnished property saves you a lot of disputes
If you want to protect your security deposit, or avoid arguments about what you did or didn’t break, consider an unfurnished unit. The less stuff there is in the house, the less you can be accused of damaging; and as an upside, unfurnished units are cheaper.
Affordable, reliable furniture is everywhere these days. You can outfit a four-room condo with less than $500, if you just browse online. On ezbuy.sg, you can get everything from tables to floor lamps sent to your door, and ship an entire sofa for $2.99.
3. Singapore is not as expensive as most people think…if you don’t live in the CCR
Singapore has a reputation for being expensive, but this is not true. For example, we only have to donate three kidneys to make rent for a year. Well, in the Central Core Central Region (CCR), anyway.
If you want to know where a CCR district is, just note the district numbers 9, 10, and 11. Any postal code that begins with these two digits are in the CCR, where one sandwich and a cup of coffee will cost about a second mortgage.
The other zones are the Rest of Central Region (RCR) and Outside of Central Region (OCR). Things get significantly cheaper in these areas, including rent and food. And while OCR is considered ‘outskirts’, remember this is a country you can walk across in half a day.
Living in the CCR is like trying to live in Times Square in New York. It’s overcrowded, touristy, overpriced, and makes locals roll their eyes at you.
4. Buying a property with a local bank? We don’t have perpetual fixed rates
Unlike America and many parts of Europe, Singaporean banks don’t have perpetual fixed rate mortgages. Our mortgages only stay at fixed rates for a certain length of time, typically between three to five years. After that, they revert to floating rates.
When local banks use the term ‘semi-fixed’, they refer to a process of refinancing from one fixed rate package to another (and each refinancing attempt carries its own price, typically around S$2,000 to S$3,000).
5. Retail mark-ups are high in Singapore
In Singapore, rental rates for commercial space range between ‘too high’ and ‘extortionate’. Expect some sticker shock when you walk into a Starbucks, or buy a Michael Kors. There’s a reason Singaporeans prefer to buy their cosmetics and bags in, say, New York where it’s cheaper.
Even if you’re not used to it, you’d best learn to use online shopping while you’re here. Most of the time, websites will beat store prices by a mile.
6. Driving is expensive and unnecessary
Singapore is one of the world’s most expensive cities for cars. Right now, S$100,000 will buy you a mid-range Toyota. Consequently, everything car related – including long term leasing – will be far more expensive than what you’re probably used to.
If you don’t want to live out of cup noodles and start seeing McDonald’s as a five-star restaurant, forget the car. This is a tiny island, where the longest trip via public transport is probably 90 minutes, tops.
Most foreigners who have lived in Singapore for a few years will ditch the car; even constantly using Uber is cheaper.
7. International banks have fewer ATMs in Singapore
Many expatriates or foreign students have opted to stick with a familiar, international bank. Citibank, HSBC, Standard Chartered, and so forth all have a presence in Singapore. That’s all great, until you realise the international bank of your choice has maybe 10 ATMs on the entire island, and you need to make an epic cross-country trek to withdraw $20.
Most foreigners who have been here a while will know DBS / POSB* has the biggest number of ATMs. By dint of practicality, you might want to put your spending money here where you can get at it.
(*This isn’t a paid advertorial by DBS/POSB, because we were smart enough to think of that before posting this).
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