For many expats, the cost of living in Singapore is an important topic. You need to understand what you’re getting yourself into and if you’re new salary will cover the expenses when living in this country. Singapore is an amazing place to visit for a few days but is notorious for being one of the most expensive (and sometimes the most expensive) country in the world.
But is Singapore really that unaffordable and difficult to live in? The answer is complicated.
I will go in detail about what the cost of living in Singapore is really like from an expat perspective who actually lives here. Note that all of the expenses here are listed in $SGD. The Singapore Dollar is a very safe currency so currency volatility is not as big of a concern if you’re earning local currency in a developing country like South Africa.
Salaries in Singapore
Salaries in Singapore are generally very good. I can’t speak for every industry but I can safely say that the largest sector (financial services) pays as well as any other big city in the world. In fact, I would say that salaries for financial services are exactly the same as in places like New York City after you make the FX conversions.
I find that expats in Singapore generally make enough money to live very comfortable lives. Disposable income is quite high. Perhaps that’s because most foreigners would not choose to move to Singapore if they weren’t making enough money to make it worthwhile.
One of the main reasons the salaries are so good is because of the taxes.
Taxation in Singapore
One of the main draws for living in Singapore is the low taxation. Singapore has one of the lowest personal income taxation rates in the world. The taxation rates are progressive with the highest rate being 22% starting from $320k.
|Taxable income band SG$||National income tax rates|
|1 to 20,000||0%|
|20,001 to 30,000||2%|
|30,001 to 40,000||3.5%|
|40,001 to 80,000||7%|
|80,001 to 120,000||11.5%|
|120,001 to 160,000||15%|
|160,001 to 200,000||18%|
|200,001 to 240,000||19%|
|240,001 to 280,000||19.5%|
|280,001 to 320,000||20%|
For example, if you make $150,000 per year, your taxes will be $12,450. View the image below.
This means your effective tax rate is just a mere 8.3% which is insanely low compared to the US or Europe.
What about the CPF?
The CPF (Central provident fund) is only for Singaporean PRs and Citizens. This CPF is the state retirement fund. It is very generous and allows people to save money quickly as it is matched 1 for 1 by the employer.
If you’re a foreigner, you are not allowed to contribute to the CPF fund so it is not a part of the income taxes. Many of the income tax calculators for Singapore does not allow you to remove this option but for expats, always calculate your tax rate without this number in effect.
Either way, the CPF is not a tax since it’s just a retirement fund. If you’re a foreigner, there is no mandatory retirement or pension fund you need to contribute to. The money is all yours and it’s up to you to save for retirement accordingly.
Rent – $3,500
Without a doubt, rent will be the single largest expense for most people in Singapore. Singapore’s real estate market is notorious for being among the most expensive in the world. In actuality, Singapore’s rent was quite reasonable only a few years back. Before the pandemic, I would say that Singapore’s salary to rent ratio was among one of the best when you compared to other big financial hubs around the world.
After 2022, rental prices in Singapore have skyrocketed and nowadays, the rent burden is severe. As an example, living in the CBD of Singapore will cost you somewhere between $4,000 to $6,000 for a one bedroom apartment. Two bedrooms will be at least $5,000 and easily going up to $7,000 for something that isn’t even anything special. If you live further out of the city a few stops along the MRT, you can expect rents to cool down, but not drastically.
Singapore is broken down by the type of building you want to live in. Most expats opt for condominiums which are filled with amenities like a communal pool, BBQ areas, lounge areas, and more.
HDB (Housing Development Board) are Government subsidized housing that is only available for purchase by Singaporeans. However, foreigners can live in these buildings but only up to a certain percentage quota of the building. HDB buildings do not have amenities and are always cheaper than condo buildings.
I go into great detail about my apartment hunting experience in Singapore and exactly how much I pay for rent. In the end,
Mobile Phone Plan – $10
For a country as small as Singapore, you have a plethora of mobile sim plans to choose from. Data in Singapore is cheap so you won’t need to spend much of your monthly budget on this.
The largest mobile providers in Singapore are Singtel, M1, Starhub, and TPG (now called Simba). Within the main providers there are many smaller companies that lease bandwidth from one of the big providers and provide discounted services like Vivify or Circles.
Singtel is the largest mobile provider in Singapore with the most comprehensive network and coverage. I would normally put a lot of value on this in a normal sized country but Singapore is as small as they come. Given that Singapore is so small, I think all of the mobile providers have very good coverage in the city simply because they don’t need much infrastructure to cover the whole island.
Additionally, I wanted a plan with at least 15 GBs of data which isn’t hard to come by in Singapore. Most plans in Singapore come with a good amount of data unlike the mobile plans in Germany that were horrible. After a few months of use, I realized you don’t need much data in Singapore because the country is small and you’re not going to travel much around the island besides from your main points of interest which will always have Wifi. Work, home, the gym etc. are all places that have wifi so you don’t really need much mobile data. Even some of the hawker markets have wifi!
For that reason, I decided to choose the cheapest plan and that is with Simba. Simba (which was formerly called TPG) is the funniest mobile provider name I’ve seen. It would be appropriate in Tanzania but I have no idea how it made to Singapore. They have a standard plan that offers 50 GBs of data for just $10 a month. Yes you read it right, for only $10 SGD, you can have 50 GBs of data. They even added an additional 50 Gbs for the first few months just to sweeten the pot. The $10 plan includes $1gb of roaming data which some of the more expensive plans out there do not include at all.
Perhaps the main reason I went with Simba was the lack of paperwork. The activation process is very easy. All they ask you for is a passport and cash. There is no fee for the SIM card or activation and no extra paperwork. This is perfect for tourists and locals alike!
Home Internet – $30
Broadband internet at home is also very cheap in Singapore. The main providers for broadband are Singtel, M1, Starhub, and ViewQuest. Singtel is again the biggest provider of data but not the cheapest or the fastest.
Broadband in Singapore is extremely fast. The slowest speeds you’ll find are 500 Mbps which is already insanely fast. 1 Gbps and 2 Gbps are readily available at extra cost. I went with a $30 per month internet plan at 500 Mbps with Viewquest. This is on a 2 year contract which reduces your monthly rate. Since the Singapore apartment rental contracts are 2 years, it makes sense to also lock in 2 years of an internet provider.
In comparison, Singtel’s plans were more expensive but still not enough to really break the bank at $48 per month for the 1 Gbps plan. I think even 500 Mbps is way too excessive for day to day use and if they had a 100 Mbps plan for a significantly cheaper price I would have gone that route but that isn’t the case.
Healthcare – $250
In general, healthcare in Singapore is relatively expensive compared to other countries, and this is especially true for foreigners who do not have insurance coverage. However, there are several options available for foreigners to help reduce the cost of healthcare, such as purchasing private insurance or enrolling in a government-sponsored health insurance scheme.
Most expats that I meet have their healthcare covered or partially covered by their employers. Depending on your employer, they will enroll yourself into private coverage plans ranging from basic coverage to the best of the best. It really just depends on how lucky you get. My healthcare costs are mostly covered by the employer with my out of pocket expense per month at $250. This is top of the line coverage with no deductibles, no copays, and huge coverage amounts for outpatient treatments.
I’m not an expert on Singapore healthcare yet but so far, the insurance is relatively easy to use and straight forward to get my expenses reimbursed.
Gym membership – $200
I visit the gym regularly so this is an essential part of my monthly budget. Gyms in Singapore are not so pricey in comparison to other big cities with similar industries like London or New York.
There are many gyms in Singapore and I’ve visited many of the gyms near the CBD. I go into detail about these gyms in my working out in Singapore post. I ended up choosing the Virgin Active. I’ve worked out at this gym in South Africa and absolutely loved the experience.
Singapore has six locations throughout the city with three locations in the CBD. I mostly frequent the Virgin in Tanjong Pagar as it is the biggest and includes an outdoor infinity pool with views of the city. Other options around the area are Pure Fitness, Fitness First, and numerous boutique style gyms.
In total, I pay about $200 per month at Virgin Active. There are no activation or maintenance fees to worry about. You can spend about half of this for a more basic gym in the CBD but I am definitely okay paying this much.
Dining Out in Singapore – $1,500
This next section is definitely the most variable of the cost of living categories in Singapore. Going out in Singapore is expensive. There is no doubt about it. Singapore is a work hard play hard city and because people make so much money in this country, going out is reciprocated.
Depending on your lifestyle and interests, you could spend much less or much more than what I spend. I do think when you first move to Singapore, this number will be much higher as you explore your surroundings and are excited about your new home. As you settle in, you won’t go out as much and this number will stabilize.
Like many other people in Singapore, I exclusively eat out and barely cook anything on my own. While restaurants are on the pricier side, eating out at Singapore’s famous hawker markets is very cheap. A typical meal at a hawker stand will be somewhere between $4 and $6. A chicken rice for example starts at $3.50 for a standard portion size. I’m a big guy so I typically get double or triple the meat which makes the total closer to $6-8 which is still very okay in my opinion. The beauty of the hawker markets is that there is so much variety that you’ll never get sick of it. You could spend a lifetime eating at Singapore’s hawker markets and still never eat everything.
Restaurants on the other hand are much pricier. Expect to pay at least double the price of hawker market for simple Asian food but this still won’t break the bank. It’s mostly when you dine out at fancier Western style restaurants where the bill goes up. You can expect to pay closer to $30 for a simple cacio e pepe at a nice Italian restaurant which kind of blows my mind since I had so much of this while traveling through Italy for nothing. But it’s all about novelty and what you don’t have in Singapore!
On a typical weekday, I’ll spend about $6-15 on a lunch depending on whether I’m feeling a hawker market or not. For dinner, I will spend $10-$20 on either hawker food or a take out type of meal. On the weekends, dinners out can easily be $100 per person and if you do this twice a week, this will get you to somewhere between $500 – $2,000 a month so I just estimate something in the $1,500 range.
Every now and then, a dining experience at Lavo for their bottomless champagne brunch will set you back $200 a person which will blow out any monthly budget. Nevertheless, it is totally worth it and an amazing experience!
Drinking and Entertainment – $500
Following up on the section above, drinking and going out is a common past time in Singapore that I split out purely because some people won’t have much to show here at all. Drinks are very expensive in Singapore as alcohol is heavily taxed.
A beer at a nice restaurant is typically between $13-$15, while a wine is between $14-20, and a cocktail is $18-25. If you fancy a very nice cocktail bar like at the world famous Jigger and Pony, expect to pay $28++ per cocktail (the ++ means you need to also add service and tax).
The best way to get around these high prices is to save your drinking for happy hour. Happy hour is pretty much at every bar and restaurant in Singapore and generally it lasts late (sometimes past 8pm!)
During happy hour, I’ve seen places with beer below $10 and good cocktails for as cheap as $15. Even world famous rooftop bars like Level 33 with stunning views of MBS will have beers for $15 which is more than worth it because of the view alone.
Ride Hailing Services – $50
Adding to the transportation, I do spend a little bit of money each month for ride sharing services. In Singapore, Grab, Gojek and ComfortDelGro are the largest players for ride sharing. Uber no longer operates in Singapore as it was bought by Grab.
Ride hailing services in Singapore are generally quite affordable even though prices have gone up a lot post pandemic. A typical ride from River Valley to Tanjong Pagar for example will be $13-18.
Since I live in the CBD, I do not ride hailing services much since most of the places I go are within biking distance. Every now and then I will take a ride somewhere out of convenience or if the weather calls for it. Therefore, I average about $50 in this category.
I know many others that spend much much more in this category. Most people do not bike so taxis become the main mode of transport. Some people even commute via these apps on a daily basis! That’s probably $30-40 a day which means it will be over $1,000 a month! However, this is still cheaper than buying a car!
Cost of schooling for children
As you probably are already aware, the cost of schooling in Singapore is atrociously high. The cost of private schools for kids in Singapore varies depending on the school and the level of education. Generally, tuition fees range from around S$25,000 to S$45,000 per year for primary and secondary education, and can exceed S$60,000 per year for pre-university and international schools. Other costs such as uniforms, textbooks, and extracurricular activities may also add to the overall expenses.
Furthermore, private schools may require additional fees for application, enrollment, and administrative charges, which can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Some schools may also charge for transportation, meals, and lodging, especially for students who are studying from overseas. Some schools like the German school will offer discounts of 50% off for German citizens which makes things much more manageable.
It’s not uncommon for expats to negotiate the cost of schooling for their kids into their packages. If you’re one of the lucky ones that have this extra wad of cash to be added to your salary, life will be fine. Otherwise, prepare to spend at least $2,000 a month per kid on schooling.
Cost of schooling is why many expats apply for the PR. Once you obtain a permanent residency, your kid can then attend Singapore’s public schools. You might scoff at sending your kids to public schools with the locals but you would be wildly ignorant in the case of Singapore. The public schools in Singapore are just as good, if not better than most of the private schools in the country!
Transportation – $0
Transportation in Singapore is a hot topic that is sure to have the widest disparity in prices that people pay. I do not own a car in Singapore and I think it’s the most stupid things to do in this country. The vast majority of people take the trains or buses to get around the city. The monthly MRT pass is $128 which will allow you unlimited rides on the MRT and the buses.
I do not take the MRT or buses because I live in the CBD so everything I need is close by. I also exclusively bike everywhere in Singapore which I much prefer to taking the trains. It’s a bit of a challenge to bike in Singapore but once you get the hang of it, it’s in my opinion the best way to get around.
Biking also means I pay no money to get around. I did pay a one time fee to buy the bike but I won’t factor that into my monthly expenses. Occasionally, I will take the MRT if I’m visiting friends who live far away but this is negligible and not a consistent expense.
Do you need a car in Singapore?
Singapore has been voted as the most expensive city to live in on more than one occasion. If not the most expensive, then definitely in the top few. This is always because these websites factor in someone owning a car. I’m here to say once and for all that you do not need a car in Singapore. In fact, having a car in Singapore is probably one of the most stupid financial decisions you can make. Not only is it stupid financially, but it is just stupid from a personal enjoyment perspective. Singapore is a small city with a great mass transportation system. I wouldn’t even know where to drive a car because sitting in traffic and then finding parking elsewhere would be a terrible experience.
In addition, Singapore is a tiny country so where would you even drive this car? The whole country is just 50km by 30 km with stringent speed limits. No one is taking their car on a road trip to Malaysia that’s for sure.
Singapore is extremely expensive when it come to owning a car. Not only is the price of a car more expensive than in other countries, but everyone must pay a huge one time fee called the COE (Certificate of Entitlement). The COE is essentially an additional license Singapore charges drivers who want to own a car. This tax is often times many times the value of the car. It’s primary use is to reduce the number of cars and therefore keeps the roads less congested. In addition to the COE is the ARF (Additional Registration Fee) which is a tax based on the value of your car. This is at minimum 100% up to 220% of the value of your car.
A Toyoto Corolla which would be about $20,000 SGD retail value costs over $100,000 SGD to own after factoring in all the additional fees.
The exception to this may be if you have a family and you’re living far out of the city center. Since I do not have a family or have any plans to move out of the CBD, I can’t comment on this but I still think it is probably a stupid idea unless you’re swimming in the cash (then you’re probably not reading this post).
Groceries – Negligible
Groceries in Singapore are not my forte. I don’t buy much groceries and I don’t cook on any regular basis. To be honest, I think cooking your own food will be much more expensive than just eating out at a hawker market or a local food center. Of course, hawker food isn’t the most healthy for you but there are options within hawker market that aren’t bad.
Groceries in Singapore are generally on the pricier side especially if you visit upscale grocery stores like Fairprice Finest. Imported goods like oat milk, cottage cheese, or peanut butter are way more expensive than in other countries. For example, a liter of Oatly oat milk is $6-$7 SGD which is about twice as much as what you’d pay in Europe.
Utilities – $150
The costs for utilities in Singapore, such as electricity, gas, and water, are generally lower than in many other developed countries. This is due in part to the country’s efficient and well-developed utilities infrastructure, as well as the fact that Singapore has a tropical climate, which means that residents do not typically need to use as much energy for heating and cooling as people do in other parts of the world.
The cost of utilities in Singapore is typically calculated based on a combination of factors, including the type of residence (e.g., apartment, condominium, or landed property), the size of the residence, and the level of consumption.
In general, most of the utilities expenses are from electricity as gas and water are usually included in the cost of rent. Electricity is your primary concern because your AC is electric. I don’t know anyone that can survive without AC in Singapore so you should prepare to run the AC constantly. In fact, you need to run the AC to reduce the humidity of the apartment so your clothes don’t go bad.
Generally, I pay between $100 and $150 a month in electricity to heat a 90 square meter apartment.
Cost of goods in Singapore
Here is a rundown of what things cost in Singapore. This is as of 2023 so with inflation, these numbers are bound to change. Note that, there is no such thing as one price encompasses all in Singapore which is why there all prices here will be with ranges
- Cost of a beer at a nice restaurant: $13-16
- Cost of a beer (not upscale craft beer) at a regular bar: $12-15
- Cost of beer at a happy hour: $8-11
- Cost of a glass of wine at a nice restaurant: $15-$20
- Cost of a glass of wine during happy hour: $10-13
- Cost of a cocktail at an upscale cocktail bar: $24-$28
- Cost of a cocktail at a regular bar: $15-20
- Meal for two at a nice restaurant with drinks: $130-$200
- Meal for two at a more casual restaurant: $80-$120
- Regular portion of chicken rice at a hawker market: $3.5-$4.5
- Nasi Lemak at a hawker market: $5-7
- One ride on the MRT Transportation system: $1.5
- Grab ride from CBD to Orchard: $14-$18
Online shopping in Singapore
There is no shortage of malls or retail stores in Singapore. In fact, the old saying goes that going to the mall is a sport for Singaporeans and I believe it. There is every store you can think of selling all clothes and designers you’ll want. Prices in Singapore are overall slightly on the higher end compared to other countries I’ve lived in.
However, Singapore is also home to some amazing online shops that provide goods for cheap as they come directly from China. Shopee and Lazada are the two biggest shopping websites and you’ll find everything (literally) here for prices that are sometimes questionably too cheap. I think overall, the quality of the good coming from these websites is not always the best but for the price, you just can’t beat it.
Travel around SE Asia – Variable
One of the top reasons to live in Singapore is using it as a base to explore the neighboring countries. Visiting beautiful places like Bali, Thailand, or the Philippines is without a doubt one of the biggest motivating factors.
The beauty of Singapore is that it is the ultimate bubble. The salaries you earn in Singapore will mean you will immediately become the king/queen as soon as you step foot into another country near to Singapore. The GDP per capita of Singapore is 10-20x that of neighboring countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines etc. Unlike when I was living in South Africa where this is also similarly the case, cost of travel in SE Asia is incredibly cheap compared to anywhere else in the world.
I don’t have an exact for my monthly travel costs because it just depends on where I want to travel and when. Flights around the region are also very cheap with discount airlines like AirAsia, Scoot, and Jetstar. For example, flights to Bali can be had for $150 SGD round trip!
However, I make sure to travel hack my credit cards to the maximum so I can travel for free around the world.
My total monthly cost of living in Singapore
Here is a summary of all the costs I had above. Again, these costs are just a baseline for what a monthly spend in Singapore can look like. Depending on your style and interests, you could spend much less or much more on certain categories than me.
These expenses also don’t include one off expenses like clothing, electronics, or other things that just accumulate during the month. I would add an extra $500 to $1,000 just to round out this number and make it slightly more representative.
- Rent = $3,500
- Utilities = $100
- Healthcare = $250
- Home Internet = $30
- Mobile Sim = $10
- Gym = $200
- Dining and Entertainment = $2,000
- Total = $6,090
Is Singapore really the world’s most expensive city?
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living report, Singapore was ranked as the world’s most expensive city to live in.
I’m not saying that Singapore isn’t expensive or without its income inequality problems, but I really think this study is flawed.
Singapore is without a doubt an expensive city. However, it simply is not more expensive than other cities I’ve lived in. Rent is high, but it is not more expensive than New York or San Francisco.
Restaurants and dining out are expensive but not more expensive than places like New York, Zurich, Geneva, and is about the same as London. However, the beauty of Singapore is you can eat very cheaply at hawker markets which has totally acceptable and tasty food which you don’t have in other cities.
The main reason Singapore ranks so high in these studies is because of the cost of car ownership. As I already mentioned above, owning a car is completely pointless and not something that most people do. However for the purpose of these studies, they need to be consistent in the categories they use to rank.
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