Are you considering moving to Singapore? Expats in Singapore may struggle to afford the Singaporean lifestyle. Here are 12 ways for expats to save money while living in Singapore.
HSBC's Expat Explorer Survey 2018 ranked Singapore the number one destination among expatriates worldwide. That's a huge compliment! People are choosing to leave their country of birth to live in our country! Unfortunately, the Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) Worldwide Cost of Living 2018 survey ranked Singapore as the world's most expensive city to live in for the fifth year in a row.
Singapore can draw people from around the world. However, expats may run into financial difficulties as they tighten their budgets to afford to live here. Here are 12 ways for expats to save money in Singapore.
1. Do Not Rent in the Main City Center
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Your most significant bill is likely for your accommodations. When searching for an apartment, rent prices are the most expensive in the city center. As you expand your search further outside the city area, it gets more and more affordable.
If you're on a budget, you'll likely avoid communities such as Orchard, Bukit Timah, Tanglin, and River Valley. Additionally, unless you can afford an S$9,000 monthly rent cost, you'll probably avoid the high-end luxury waterfront apartments at Sentosa and Keppel Bay.
Instead, opt to rent a room or have roommates in a private apartment or an HDB flat in the heartlands but near public transportation.
2. Don't Store Things in Your Apartment
Square footage is extremely valuable in Singapore. As a result, you won't want to pay more rent for a larger place just to store your possessions.
If they are not things that you need every day, opt for a smaller apartment and store your belongings in a storage unit.
3. Use Public Transportation
Singapore has one of the best public transportation systems in the world. You can quickly get around and explore the city through its extensive network of bus and MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) routes.
Owning a private car in Singapore is much more expensive and considered a luxury. The Singaporean government imposes heavy government taxes to deter traffic and air pollution. For example, besides the Open Market Value (OMW), which is the baseline price of the car, there is also an Additional Registration Fee (ARF), an Excise Duty, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) as well as the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) fees.
After you purchase the car, don't forget to factor in the cost of petrol, road tax, auto insurance, parking, and the overall cost of maintaining a vehicle.
On the other hand, public transportation is much more economical. Plus, what you save for not having a car, can be spent on taxi rides when you need it or download the Grab app for ride-sharing options. However, be aware of the surcharges during peak times and late nights.
4. Avoid Expat-Friendly Grocery Stores
You know you are in an expat-friendly grocery store if the price is significantly higher and you recognize some brands. Supermarkets like Tanglin, Cold Storage, and Market Place have ingredients and brands that cater to more international clientele, and the cost reflects it.
Instead, shop at grocery stores and wet markets where the locals shop, such as Fair Price Finest and Giant. Moreover, you may want to give up the idea of sourcing organic foods on a budget.
5. Embrace Local Food
Meals in Singapore can be relatively inexpensive but also quite extravagant, depending on your palate. Some locals can eat out for all three meals for about S$9 a day.
If you really want to save money, eat at the hawker centres and food courts. Of course, you can also cook budget-friendly meals at home.
6. Bring Your Wardrobe
Singapore is known as a shopping paradise. However, shopping in Singapore comes with significant mark-ups. Even locals sometimes prefer to hop over to Hong Kong to get their designer bags, clothes, or shoes.
Additionally, Singaporeans have a different body type than some medium-sized Westerners. As a result, finding clothes in your size may be a challenge.
With the price and size differences, it is recommended to bring your wardrobe from your home country. If you need to shop in Singapore, be sure to double check the prices online before checking out.
It's usually best to avoid the local cable TV subscription. You'll likely pay about S$28 per month, excluding international channels. Expats would probably opt for the expanded subscription, which costs between S$50 to S$80.
However, if you are already paying S$50 for broadband Internet, you should opt for an online streaming service like Netflix that will only run you about S$9 extra per month.
While it may be tempting to add international calls on your cellphone to communicate with family and friends back home, some apps can ease the cost.
Instead, subscribe to a mobile phone plan with sufficient data. Use apps like WhatsApp or FaceTime to communicate with other smartphones back home. Of course, whenever possible, use video or audio communications over WiFi, instead of your smartphone's data to avoid overage fees.
9. Choose Two Banks
There are well over 100 banks in Singapore. Don't choose the first bank that sounds familiar because you have it in your home country. Terms, fees, and conditions may vary depending on the country of origin.
The first bank you may consider is an international bank where you can send and receive money from home. This option is typically cheaper than a non-bank remittance service, and the exchange rate may work in your favor.
The second bank you should apply for is a local bank. This is the central hub where you should deposit your salary and where you can have access to withdrawals and deposits at the local branch and ATMs.
Be sure to review the requirements to open an account from a few different banks. You may need to produce various documents as well as meet specific financial qualifications depending on your legal status, such as a Permanent Resident or a foreigner.
10. Get a Singaporean Credit Card
After you open your bank account, consider a local credit card. You may lose money on the foreign transaction fee and poor currency exchange rates on every credit card transaction if you use a credit card from your home country.
Besides avoid these fees, Singaporean credit cards can also help you save money in the form of cash back rebates, earn air miles, or immediate discounts at your favorite retail stores or movie theatre.
11. Drink Less Alcohol
While this may be a deal breaker for some expats, you may consider drinking less alcohol in Singapore when you learn about the "sin" tax.
The Singapore Government levies an excise duty of S$88.00 per litre of sparkling wine, S$60.00 per litre of stout or porter, and S$88.00 per litre of whisky to name a few. See the Singapore Government's website for the full list of dutiable goods.
Because of these high "sin" taxes, people would visit the Duty-Free stores in airports. However, effective 19 February 2019, the Singapore Government reduced the duty-free alcohol allowance for returning travelers from three to two litres.
Now, when you see the price, you may second guess that occasional glass of wine or beer at the pub.
Singapore has a wide array of insurance options, such as government medical, private medical, critical illness, and hospital cash. For expats, only purchase insurance for what you cannot afford to pay out of pocket in the event of an emergency.
In general, employers do not provide health insurance benefits. However, you should still confirm whether or not your employer offers a compensation package.
Fortunately, healthcare costs in Singapore are fairly reasonable even if you don't get health benefits from your place of employment. Straightforward doctor visits run about S$40 and twelve doses of antibiotics may cost you around S$24. As a result, you'll likely only need hospital and surgery insurance in case of an emergency.
Additionally, if you are a Permanent Resident, be sure to make use of all the government schemes for health insurance available to you.
While living in one of the most expensive cities in the world may be intimidating, it is not impossible. Singapore is ranked as the number one destination for expats for a reason. Remember to avoid competing with other expats for the same lifestyle and strive to live like a local. If you can budget your money well and reduce your spending, you'll likely never want to leave!