Here’s What You Need To Know As An Expat In Singapore

Here’s What You Need To Know As An Expat In Singapore

Singapore may be the world’s most expensive city in the world for expats to live in, but it’s also the greatest. HSBC’s global expat survey has ranked Singapore the best expat destination for the third year running based on a range of economic, experience and family criteria.

If you’re considering making the move to Singapore – or already in the midst of preparing –   here’s what you need to know about handling your finances.

 

How do I open a bank account and make money transfers?

It’s fairly straightforward to open a bank account, even as an expat. Many banks operate in Singapore; from local banks like DBS, POSB, OCBC and UOB, to foreign ones like American Express, Citibank, HSBC and Standard Chartered. Local banks tend to have the most ATMs, with DBS and POSB the topping the list as their ATMs are interchangeable.

To open a savings or current account, you’ll generally need the following:

  • A copy of your passport
  • A copy of your Employment Pass
  • An initial deposit sum
  • Proof of residence (e.g. bank, mobile or utility statements)

Most banks will allow you to make international transfers through online banking. However, transaction fees can quickly add up if you’re making them regularly. For expats who need to make many international transactions, you could consider a multi-currency account, which may offer the following features:

  • Hold multiple currencies in a single account, so that you can make international transactions without incurring additional foreign exchange costs
  • Make transactions at zero or lower fees, compared to regular online banking with a current or savings account
  • Access to preferential foreign exchange rates

Here are some of the popular multi-currency accounts available in Singapore:

 

The best credit cards for expats in Singapore

Credit cards in Singapore offer pretty great perks. Apart from earning miles on spending and redeeming discounts and rewards at participating merchants, some credit cards also offer cashback or cash rebate amounts of around 5%. You can even stack your credit card with other cashback tools for additional savings.

Before you apply for a credit card, you’ll need to satisfy certain income requirements, which may be higher than those imposed on Singaporean citizens. Some cards may also require a minimum period of employment. Other than that, you may need the following:

  • A copy of your passport
  • A copy of your Employment Pass
  • A company letter stating proof of employment for a minimum period of time
  • Proof of residence (e.g. bank, mobile or utility statements)
  • Your Income Tax Notice of Assessment

So, what should you look for in a credit card? The best credit card is one that complements your spending habits. For instance, as an expat, you may look for a card that rewards you most for spending on travel. Here are a few credit cards with the best rewards for popular categories of spending:

Best expat card for overall spending: HSBC Advance Credit Card

For expats earning a minimum annual income of S$40,000, the HSBC Advance Credit Card is an excellent cashback card. However, to access its highest cashback rate of 3.5%, you’ll need to qualify for HSBC’s Advance status. To be eligible, you’ll need either S$30,000 in deposit/investments/insurance with HSBC, a S$200,000 home loan with HSBC or a minimum monthly salary crediting of at least S$3,500 a month.

Here are the rates you’ll get if you do not qualify for HSBC Advance:

Spend per month
Cashback
Monthly cashback cap
Annual fee
Above S$2,000
2.5%
S$70
S$192.60, waived first year,
subsequent year waived with
minimum yearly spend
of S$12,500
S$2,000 and below
1.5%

If you qualify for Advance, you’ll enjoy these rates:

Spend per month
Cashback
Monthly cashback cap
Annual fee
Above S$2,000
3.5%
S$125
-
S$2,000 and below
2.5%
HSBC Advance Credit Card

Interest rate: 25.9% p.a.
Annual fee: Free (for HSBC Advance customers) or S$192.60 (for non-HSBC Advance customers spending below S$12,500 in a year)
Feature highlights:

  • Up to 3.5% cashback on retail purchases
  • High cashback cap (up to S$125 a month)
  • Additional 10% off hotel bookings at Agoda (until 31 Dec 2018 )
HSBC Advance Credit Card

HSBC Advance Credit Card

Up to 3.5% cashback on retail purchases

High cashback cap (up to S$125 a month)

Best expat card for overseas spending: Standard Chartered Unlimited Cashback Credit Card

Looking for a cashback card with no limits? The Standard Chartered Unlimited Cashback Credit Card offers 3% cashback on all foreign spending for your first 3 months (for customers approved before June 30, 2018) and 1.5% cashback on all local spend – no cashback cap or minimum spending attached. However, you do need to meet its S$60,000 annual income requirement to apply.

Standard Chartered Unlimited Cashback Credit Card

Interest rate: 25.9% p.a.
Annual fee: S$192.60
Feature highlights:

  • Unlimited 1.5% cashback on all spend, 3% cashback for foreign currency spending
  • 20% off Grab with minimum monthly spending of S$900, capped at S$50
  • 2-year annual fee waiver
Standard Chartered Unlimited Cashback Credit Card

Standard Chartered Unlimited Cashback Credit Card

Unlimited 1.5% cashback on all spend, 3% cashback for foreign currency spending

Annual fee waiver for the first 2 years

Best expat card for air miles: American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Ascend Credit Card

This card is great for racking up air miles quickly. It offers 1.2 KrisFlyer miles for every S$1 spent, 3.2 KrisFlyer miles for every S$1 spent on Grab and 2 KrisFlyer miles for every $1 spent overseas during the months of June and December. It comes with other travel perks, such as complimentary airport lounge access in participating lounges, an annual complimentary night’s stay in Hilton Asia Pacific and free travel insurance. It also has a pretty huge welcome bonus for new customers – up to 38,000 KrisFlyer miles, which is enough to redeem a return ticket to Maldives from Singapore.

American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Ascend Credit Card

Interest rate: 25.9% p.a.
Annual fee: S$337.50
Feature highlights:

  • Up to 3.2 KrisFlyer miles for every S$1 spent
  • Welcome bonus of up to 38,800 KrisFlyer miles
  • Complimentary airport lounge access at selected lounges globally
American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Ascend Credit Card

American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Ascend Credit Card

Up to 3.2 KrisFlyer miles for every S$1 spent

Welcome bonus of up to 38,800 KrisFlyer miles

Best expat card for daily spending: Citi Cash Back Visa Card

If you spend a lot of money on dining and daily essentials – in Singapore or worldwide – then the Citi Cash Back Visa Card is for you. It offers 8% cashback on dining, groceries, petrol and Grab rides worldwide, though your cashback amount for each spending category will be capped at S$25 a month. However, you’ll enjoy 0.25% cashback for other retail spend, with no cashback cap or minimum spend required.

Citi Cash Back Visa Card

Interest rate: 26.9% p.a.
Annual fee: S$192.60
Feature highlights:

  • 8% cashback on dining, groceries, petrol and Grab rides worldwide
  • 25% unlimited cashback on other retail spend categories
  • Up to 20.88% fuel savings at Esso & Shell
Citi Cash Back Visa Card

Citi Cash Back Visa Card

8% cashback on dining, groceries, petrol and Grab rides worldwide

0.25% unlimited cashback on other retail spend categories

Best expat card for Malaysians in Singapore: Maybank Family & Friends Card

If you’re a Malaysian expat working in Singapore, the Maybank Family & Friends Card could be an excellent option to rack up savings in both Malaysia and Singapore. This card offers an 8% cash rebate on daily essentials like petrol, groceries and other selected spending in both countries. Although the minimum spending required to hit that 8% cash rebate is set at S$1,000 a month, there are different cash rebate tiers even at lower levels of spending:

Minimum Monthly Spend
Cash rebates awarded on selected merchants
S$0 - S$499
0.30%
S$500 - S$999
5%
S$1,000 and above
8%
Maybank Family & Friends Card

Interest rate: 24% p.a.
Annual fee: S$180
Feature highlights:

  • 8% cash rebate on daily essentials and selected merchants in Singapore and Malaysia
  • Unlimited 0.3% cash rebates on all other purchases
  • 3-year fee waiver
Maybank Family & Friends Card

Maybank Family & Friends Card

8% cash rebate on daily essentials and selected merchants in Singapore and Malaysia

Unlimited 0.3% cash rebates on all other purchases
Need more choices? Browse through other credit cards or use iMoney’s SmartSearch tool to find the right credit card to suit your needs.

 

Types of Singaporean properties for expats

Singapore has strict policies on who can buy government-subsidised public housing, even among its own citizens. If you aren’t a Singaporean citizen or permanent resident, you cannot buy public housing directly from the Housing & Development Board. The types of public housing in Singapore include:

  • HDB flats. Around 80% of Singaporeans live in these flats. They vary in size and number of rooms to accommodate different living requirements. Flats that are built and sold directly by the Housing & Development Board of Singapore are called Build-to-Order (BTO) flats, while those that were bought and are being sold on the open market are called resale flats.
  • Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) flats. These flats are higher-end properties that are built by private developers. However, foreigners cannot buy DBSS flats, as they have the same eligibility requirements as HDB flats.
  • Executive Condominiums (EC). Like DBSS flats, these condominiums are a hybrid of private and public housing. They’re pricier than regular public housing, but more affordable than private apartments and condominiums. Though ECs are built by private developers, you’ll have to meet certain citizenship conditions to buy them, ruling them out for expats. However, after 10 years, ECs will become listed as private properties, and can be sold to foreigners on the open market.

As for private housing, foreigners can only buy landed properties in Sentosa Cove, a residential enclave in Sentosa Island. In mainland Singapore, foreigners aren’t allowed to purchase landed properties unless they have consent from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). However, there aren’t any restrictions on buying an apartment or condominium unit. Keep in mind that buying a private property in Singapore will require you to pay a 20% down payment, as well as other upfront costs.

What properties can expats buy in Singapore?
BTO flatsNo
Resale flatsNo
DBSS flatsNo
Executive Condominiums (EC)Only resale ECs, 10 years or older
Landed propertiesNo, unless in Sentosa Cove or with consent of SLA
Private apartments & condosYes
Looking to buy a property in Singapore? Engage with our mortgage experts to find the right private home loan.

 

Property rental for expats in Singapore

As an expat, you may be considering renting a home, especially if you’re unsure of how long you will stay. In Singapore, the minimum rental period is 3 months for private properties and 6 months for HDB flats.

You can rent both public and private housing in Singapore. Most expats live in private condominiums, not least because there are quotas on the number of HDB flats that can be rented out to non-Malaysian foreigners. However, private condominiums do offer access to recreational facilities like swimming pools or gyms, while public housing lacks these amenities.

Finding a property to rent is relatively easy. You can get a rundown of the different districts in Singapore through sites like Singapore Expats, and start your search using property rental portals like PropertyGuru.

 

How do I pay income tax in Singapore?

The amount of income tax you’ll have to pay depends on your tax residency status. Generally, you are considered a tax resident if you stay or work in Singapore:

  1. For at least 183 days in a calendar year; or
  2. For at least 183 days for a continuous period over two years (applies to foreign employees who have entered Singapore from 1 Jan 2007 but excludes directors of a company, public entertainers or professionals); or
  3. Continuously for three consecutive years.

Here are the tax implications of your tax residency status:

  • Tax resident. You will be taxed at progressive tax rates. You can file your taxes online.
  • Non-resident (in Singapore for 61 to 182 days). Your employment income will be taxed at a flat rate of 15% or the progressive resident rates, whichever results in a higher tax amount. Other sources of income, such as director’s fees and rental income will be taxed at 22%. Non-residents can only file through paper filing.
  • Non-resident (employed for 60 days or less). Unless you are a director of a company, public entertainer or professional, your short-term employment income is exempt from tax.
If you’re required to file taxes, you’ll have to do so by mid-April every year. To estimate how much taxes you may need to pay, tax residents can use this income tax calculator, while non-tax residents can use this one.

 

Can expats invest in equities and bonds in Singapore?

Investing in property is popular among expats – around a third of Singaporean expats surveyed by HSBC own real estate. However, as an expat, you can also invest in equities and bonds:

  • Stocks and ETFs. To buy shares in Singapore, you’ll need a Central Depository Account (CDP) and a brokerage account. You can open both these accounts through a brokerage firm. To open these accounts, you may need a copy of your passport (with at least 6 months to expiry), a copy of your Employment Pass and proof of residence (e.g. bank, mobile or utility statements).
  • Bonds. Some government and corporate bonds can be traded on the stock exchange, as long as you have a CDP and a brokerage account. Other types of bonds, like government-issued Singapore Savings Bonds (SSB), can be bought through ATMs if you have a CDP account and a bank account with DBS/POSB, OCBC or UOB.

 

Other resources

Moving to a new country can be daunting. Fortunately, Singapore is pretty expat-friendly. For other expat resources, check out sites like LivinginSingapore, Singapore Expats and Expat Singapore. Expat forums can also be useful to get to know other expats, and to help ease the moving process.

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