Expatriate Living

Introduction

When moving to Singapore for the first time, an Expatriate would normally rent an apartment or a landed house. Expatriates are generally concentrated in certain areas that have a wide variety of condominiums to choose from. Typically you would consider the following factors when looking for a property for the first time in Singapore:

  • > Budget for rental
  • > Type and size of property you want to live in
  • > Distance to work and transportation links
  • > Proximity to international schools, if you have any children of school going age.
  • > Restaurants and entertainment and other free time options in the neighbourhood
  • > Distance to the Airport, if you or your partner plan to travel a lot
Let's have a look at the regions in Singapore first and then tackle the main factors in detail. 

Map of Singapore island


District map of Singapore

Regions in Singapore

Singapore is approximately 50km wide and 30km long, and the city centre is located in the central southern part of the island. The main office area that is in the city centre is also referred as Central Business District (CBD), and the main shopping area is around Orchard road, as well in the city centre. As most of the entertainment options are also concentrated in the central area, it is not surprising that the most popular areas for expatriates to live in are in and around the city centre - but there are other attractive options as well. Singapore is divided into 27 districts starting at '1' in the central area as shown below

Central Area (Districts 01 – 09, 11)

Central areas offer some of the most luxurious and expensive living in Singapore. Tanglin area and the road towards Holland Village at the end of Orchard Road is probably the most prestigious - and most embassies are located around here as well. Newton (north of Orchard) and River Valley (south of Orchard) are more popular among single professionals and young couples. The Singapore river area (Robertson Quay, Clarke Quay & Boat Quay) has especially been rejuvenated in the recent years and boasts now numerous restaurants and bars. On the other hand, there are few condominiums in the CBD and the activity can be somewhat quiet during the evenings as it is mostly offices. Central areas offer very short distances to most free time attractions and are also well served by public transportation to and from to various parts of the island.

Holland Village and Bukit Timah (Districts 10, 21, also parts of District 05)

Bukit Timah area has many landed properties, but there are also some condominiums to choose from. It would be a good choice if you want a landed property and/or live in a quieter neighbourhood. It also has many good schools and is popular among families. Many well-off Singaporeans also live in this area. Holland Village is popular hang-out place among expatriates living in the area and it has quite a few restaurants and bars, as well as some shopping amenities for daily needs. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and water reservoir areas are also nearby. They are the biggest green spaces in Singapore and are very popular for outdoor activities.

East Coast (Districts 14, 15, 16)

The road from CBD towards Changi Airport, know as East Coast, has numerous Condominiums to choose from - some with a very nice sea view. The condominiums tend to be more expensive closer to the city centre (known as Tanjong Rhu area). Apart from the attraction of living close to the sea, there is also East Coast Park that stretches along the coast and gives numerous free time options for the outdoor types. Parkway Parade offers some large scale shopping in the middle of East Coast. The biggest downside in the east coast is probably the distance to the MRT line. The Eastern MRT line does not go along the coastline, and you would have to take a bus to the MRT station, or just use a taxi, if you do not opt for own car. However, a new Circle Line due to be completed by 2010 will add 4 new stops to the West side of the East Coast area.

Other Areas

It is not to say that there are no other options for expatriates. There are condominiums and private housing on offer all around the island and you may also get more for your money than in the most popular areas. Notably Woodlands is popular among American Expatriates, because of the American school and the spacious housing offered there - preference among them being for landed properties.

Budget and Property Prices

The rental prices fluctuate heavily depending on the supply and demand of the available units. The rental prices for private properties have in many places doubled in the last two years, as also happened during the 90's property boom. The following table gives you a rough idea what you can expect with what kind of budget currently:

Location Property Type Rental Range
Central (Newton, Holland Village, River Valley, Orchard, Tanglin) 1-bedroom apartment
2-bedroom apartment
3-bedroom apartment
Penthouse / 4+ bedrooms
Terraced House
Bungalow
S$3,000 – S$7,000
S$3,500 – S$8,000
S$4,500 – S$10,000
S$6,000 – S$20,000
S$6,000 – S$25,000
S$15,000 – S$60,000 
East Coast & Bukit Timah 1-bedroom apartment
2-bedroom apartment
3-bedroom apartment
Penthouse / 4+ bedrooms
Terraced House
Bungalow
S$2,500 – S$4,000
S$3,000 - S$5,000
S$3,500 - S$7,000
S$5,000 - S$15,000
S$7,000 – S$10,000
S$12,000 – S$40,000
Other Areas 1-bedroom apartment
2-bedroom apartment
3-bedroom apartment
Penthouse / 4+ bedrooms
Terraced House
Bungalow
S$2,000 – S$3,000
S$2,500 – S$4,000
S$2,800 – S$5,000
S$3,200 – S$8,000
S$5,000 – S$10,000
S$8,000 – S$20,000

Property Type – House vs. Apartment

Expats typically live in either an apartment/condominium or a landed house. This is a matter of preference and budget. Typical condominiums in Singapore have multitude of facilities - e.g. swimming pool, gym, tennis courts, children playground, and BBQ pits. And they are usually within a walled compound with security guards around, although Singapore is not a dangerous place at all. Because the plot sizes are relatively small in Singapore, only the very luxurious landed properties have pools and other facilities. For somebody moving from a colder climate, you have to also remember that Singapore is in the tropics and there are more small animals (insects, geckos) around than you may be used to. These tend to cause more problems in landed properties, especially close to green areas. But if you have the budget, there are some very nice bungalows to live in that will give you the luxury and privacy that a condominium would not be able to do.

Transportation

Singapore has one of the most modern and best functioning transportation systems in the world, and travelling from any point in the island to another does not take very long in normal conditions. Car ownership can be expensive in Singapore, but on the other hand the roads are good and less congested than in many other cities of similar population density. Public transportation is also very good, but tends to be more concentrated in areas where the Singaporeans live (close to HDB estates). In any case, unless you really live at the edge of Singapore, your commuting time would rarely exceed one hour.

Your main options for moving around are described below

Mass Rapid Transport (MRT)

The MRT system is an indispensable mode of transport in present-day Singapore. An average of 2 million people travel using the MRT network daily. Singapore’s metro/ underground system, currently has 3 lines (4th being built currently).

Map of Singapore’s MRT links


Bus

Singapore also has extensive bus network that covers much larger area than MRT. You can find bus routes here. It's not possible to show the entire bus map on a single map however you can find details at http://sbs.streetdirectory.com.sg/sbs/sbsindexsn.jsp?map=1

Taxis

Taxis are generally plentiful and cheap compared to many other countries. This would probably be the transport of choice for most single professionals living close to the city centre. Sometimes it can be difficult to get one during peak hours, and extra charges apply for calling one and during peak hours.

Private Cars

Owning a private car is expensive relative to many other countries and is not really necessary in Singapore. Most people would save money by using taxi rather than owning a car. However, owning a car gives you freedom to move around - and popping to Malaysia every now and then to have a round of golf might be a big enough reason to get one.

Traffic conditions are generally good in Singapore. But be aware of all the charges that you have to pay when owning a car:

  • > Purchase price – Cars are probably one of the most expensive in the world to buy in Singapore due to import duties and Certificate of Entitlement (COE – a permission to own a car for 10 years, after which it has to be renewed).
  • > Road tax – depending on the size of the engine, you need to pay road tax every year. This can vary from a few hundred for a small car to thousands for an SUV.
  • > Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) – during peak hours you have to pay fees (S$0.50 to a few dollars) to enter through certain roads and areas (mostly in central area). ERP locations can be found at www.lta.gov.sg/motoring_matters/motoring_erp_location_cbd.htm
  • > Parking – parking may or may not be offered for free at your office. Especially, in CBD it can be quite expensive. Also, typically you would have to pay for parking in most locations when out in town. Condominiums usually have parking included in the maintenance fee (which is paid by the landlord).
  • > Petrol – it may come as a surprise, but petrol is probably the smallest component of you car ownership costs. It is currently around S$2.10 / litre.

You will also need to convert your driver's license into Singaporean once within a year. This is relatively straightforward process, but will require you to sit the basic theory test. The road traffic in Singapore is on the left side of the road (as in UK and Malaysia).

International Schools in Singapore

There are many international schools in Singapore to cater for the needs of expatriates. For most large groups of expatriates, you have a choice of sending your children to a school which follow your national curriculum and teaching is in your native language. These are the main international schools in Singapore – please check their websites for more information.

Australian International School
1 Lorong Chuan, Singapore 556818
http://www.ais.com.sg/

Bhavan's Indian International School
11 Mt Sophia Blk E, Singapore 228461
http://www.biissingapore.org/

Canadian International School
5 Toh Tuck Road, Singapore 596679
http://www.cis.edu.sg/

Chatsworth International School
37 Emerald Hill Road, Singapore 229313
http://www.chatsworth-international.com/

Dover Court Preparatory School
301 Dover Road, Singapore 139644
http://www.dovercourt.edu.sg/

DPS International School
36 Aroozoo Avenue, Singapore 539842
http://www.dps.com.sg/

EtonHouse International School
51 Broadrick Road, Singapore 439501
http://www.etonhouse.com.sg/

German School
72 Bukit Tinggi Road, Singapore 289760
http://www.gess.sg/

Hollandse School
65 Bukit Tinggi Road, Singapore 289757
http://www.hollandseschool.org/

International Community School
514 Kampong Bahru, Singapore 099450
http://www.ics.edu.sg/

ISS International School
21 Preston Road, Singapore 109355
http://www.iss.edu.sg/

Japanese Kindergarten
251 West Coast Road, Singapore 127390

Japanese School (Primary)
95 Clementi Road, Singapore 129782 (Clementi Campus)
11 Upper Changi Road North, Singapore 507657 (Changi Campus)
http://www.sjs.edu.sg/

Japanese School (Secondary)
201 West Coast Road, Singapore 127383
http://www.sjs.edu.sg/

KGS International Pre-School (Japanese)
16 Ramsgate Road, Singapore 437462
http://pachome1.pacific.net.sg/~yoko/kinder/kgs.html

Lock Road Kindergarten
10 Lock Road, Singapore 108938

Lycee Francais De Singapour
3000 Ang Mo Kio Ave 3, Singapore 569928
http://www.lyceefrancais.edu.sg/

Norwegian Supplementary School
c/o Royal Norwegian Embassy, 16 Raffles Quay #44-01 Hong Leong Bldg, S048581

Overseas Family School
25F Paterson Road, Singapore 238515
http://www.ofs.edu.sg/

Rosemount Kindergarten
25 Ettrick Terrace, Singapore 458588
http://www.rosemount.com.sg/

Rosemount International School
461 Telok Blangah Road, Singapore 109022
http://www.rosemount.com.sg/

Sekolah Indonesia
20A Siglap Road, Singapore 455859

Singapore American School
40 Woodlands Street 41, Singapore 738547
http://www.sas.edu.sg/

Singapore Korean School
74 Lim Ah Woo Road, Singapore 438134
http://www.koreansingapore.org/

Swedish Supplementary Education School
c/o Swedish Embassy, 111 Somerset Road #05-01 Singapore Power Building,
Singapore 238164

Swiss School
38 Swiss Club Road, Singapore 288140
http://www.swiss-school.edu.sg/

Tanglin Trust School
95 Portsdown Road, Singapore 139299
http://www.tts.edu.sg/

United World College of South East Asia
1207 Dover Road, Singapore 139654
http://www.uwcsea.edu.sg/

Waseda Shibuya Senior High School
57 West Coast Road, Singapore 127366
http://www.waseda-shibuya.edu.sg/

We have provided some other useful websites for schooling matters: