Famous for its low taxes, high living costs and wonderfully inexpensive food stalls, this city is nothing if not extreme.
A city of extremes
With an income tax cap of 20%, Singapore tempts overseas workers looking to increase their savings while living it up in the tropics. This is a city of superlatives and in 2014 it added the world’s most expensive city.
Playtime on this fun-park of an island puts a notorious strain on workers’ wallets, but a lot of it’s down to our own doing. High salaries and low tax bills allow people to live luxurious lifestyles in expensive properties, with wardrobes and cars to match. Driving is expensive thanks to the city’s unique road laws that dictate high taxes and newish cars; and no matter how much the wine costs people keep drinking it – and so costs continue to rise.
Conversely, every mall has a food court with inexpensive and (usually) delicious plates of steaming noodles, and hawker markets cost even you less. Travel can be cheap if you know where to book and when to go. Public transport is a steal, cinemas tickets cost far less than in other cities, and there are plenty of government-funded play areas for kids to spend summer. You’re going to need a flexible abacus…
It all adds up
We don’t know precisely what you spend your money on, but it will more than likely go something like this:
– Will you rent or buy? What do you currently spend on taxes, utility bills, groceries and going out?
– Can you walk in the heat, will you take the bus or a train, is your “other car” a cab?
– When we say Thrift Shop do you think of a popular song, or are we talking cut-priced vintage chic? Second-hand shops are still not the norm but seek and ye shall find, for example the New2u thrift shop.
– Weekend trips, nights out, gym memberships and sports activities all add up, especially when you throw children into the mix. Jot it all down – it may be just for the kids but you’ve still paid for it. Schools, family pets and the odd trip overseas all need marking up, whether you’re trying to ignore the extra cost or not.
At just 50km wide and 26km from tip to tip, Singapore is a small city-state split into districts radiating out from the buzzy centre to the less densely populated suburbs. Districts one to 10 are most central and therefore most popular. Districts 11 to 15 are on the central periphery, and the rest are increasingly further out.
Like anywhere, costs are determined by factors such as proximity to the city centre, location of popular schools, surrounding environment, and access to transport routes. That said, high-end locations are not restricted to just one place but are scattered island-wide, from Orchard’s flashy condos to spacious new builds on Sentosa Island. Bargains are equally spread out from east to west, especially if you’re OK with living a stroll away from transport and shops.
As with other major cities, renting a room can be the answer to getting the area you want for a price you can afford and there are plenty of websites to help you look, such as Rooms DB or Easy Roommate.
A low-budget housing solution can be to rent a room in a Housing and Development Board (HDB) property. Apartments in these densely populated blocks can only be owned by Singapore Citizens or Permanent Residents, but foreigners can rent rooms, and a good HDB block can have a wealth of facilities, such as food courts, shops and clinics, as well as easy access to MRT stations and bus stops.
See our Property section for details on all accommodation options.
Your gas and electricity are neatly bundled into one package from Singapore Power, which greatly simplifies the task of tracking what you use (and then paying for it). The website itself has a natty little utility where you can work out which electrical appliance is costing the most to run, putting an end to any disputes over which household member is spending the most.
Look out for thrifty bundle packages and only take what you think you’ll use. If you’re out all the time and don’t watch movies, ditch the film subscription. If you have small children then it’s worth shelling out on all those kids’ channels for the sake of a quiet Sunday morning. Keep an eye out for deposit costs and check online for details.
Many people moving to Singapore won’t have had much experience of dealing with air conditioning, apart from on holiday or in the car. It’s not just the expense of keeping your house at a normal temperature, you will also be responsible for the upkeep of the units and the more you use them, the higher the risk of them needing essential maintenance. You can get around this by choosing a place fitted out with fans, which are often less expensive to run, or by living in a high-up, breezy apartment where you can leave windows open at night and cool down naturally.
More money-saving tips can be found at Energy Efficient Singapore.
The city is covered in supermarkets, but heading to a wet market can be a bit easier on the wallet. These are the city’s best grocery options, stuffed full of everything from exotic fruit like rambutan and mangosteens, to fish, beef and all the other essentials. Imported items like strawberries, top of the range beef, certain cheeses and your favourite cereals from home will push up the costs, so acquire a more local taste, and learn where to buy what.
By all means eat out every night, there are more than enough eateries here to give you something new every night, but don’t say we didn’t warn your bank manager. Yes this is Asia and yes you can find street food in abundance, but then it’ll be your waistline paying the price. Look for places that offer a compromise, like yummy Thai restaurant E-sarn, which allows you to bring your own booze and won’t charge an arm and a leg for food. Or book into a cookery course tomorrow.
See restaurants in Singapore for a plethora of choices.
No wonder you’re getting through the notes, those nice cars with the green lights aren’t as cheap as buses, but you can lessen the blow by wising up about taxi costs.
All taxis are metered, based on flag-down fare and distance traveled. Different areas have different surcharges – in the city it’s $3, at Changi it can be as much as $5. The time of day also affects costs, for instance from midnight to 5.59am you’re charged a whopping great 50% of the metered fare.
Booking can be expensive too, walk to a taxi rank and you’ll get no booking charge, call for a cab by phone and you’ll pay around $3 before you’ve even gone anywhere, going up to $8 for an advance booking.
To draw commuters away from peak hours, and thus ease the rush-hour crush on the city’s network, the government is offering free travel to certain MRT stations between certain hours, but you have to get up early. If you exit at any of the 18 stations on the list before 7.45am on weekday mornings your journey will be completely free; before 8am and you’ll get 50c taken off your ride. To see full details check here.
One of the biggest attractions of moving to Singapore is its proximity to the rest of Asia. Here’s a few canny rules that’ll keep your travels on budget:
– Anything booked on a public holiday will instantly lift the price, but go a day either side and the booking fee magically lessens.
– Reduce long-haul costs by adding a stopover – longer but cheaper.
– Off-season may translate as “rainy”, but if you don’t mind a few wet Mondays then you’ll save dollars on the peak time costs.
– Use our flight hacking guide for more money saving tips.
Cab calculator – Play with this and learn to be cab-savvy.
Cost of Living calculator – At the risk of confusing yourself, tap in your expenses (then have a little lie down).
Tax calculators – Beat the bean-counters by putting your details into this tax whizzamajig.
Images: Choo Yut Shing, Lightfoot Travel