Singapore Housing Guide for Foreigners – Finding your New Home in Singapore

As you’re embarking on your new journey of setting up your Singapore business as a foreigner, chances are you’ll need to look for an apartment for rent long-term. In this guide, we introduce some key information about the local Singapore housing landscape, popular options for foreigners, and share some quick tips for your house search process.

Housing landscape in Singapore

singapore-residence-for-expat-condo-apartment-hdb

There is a wide range of housing options in Singapore. These range from landed properties to private and public housing. Currently, the population of Singapore is around 5.5 million (as of March 2016), of which about 3.3 million are citizens, half a million people are permanent residents, with the rest being expats. The majority of local Singaporeans live in public housing built by the Government, commonly known as the HDBs being constructed by Housing and Development Board. The rest of local population resides in private housing like apartments, condominiums, and landed properties.


Regions of Singapore

Based on your needs, you can choose to live in Central, East, West or North of Singapore. These regions (for details you may refer to URA’s regional boundaries and Master Plan here) have different forms of accommodation and neighborhoods to offer. Popular considerations among expats besides nearby amenities are the availability of schools for children, and the distance from your place of work.


1. Central Singapore has always been favored by expats. Common residential area for foreigners in the centre includes Novena, Orchard, River Valley and Dhoby Ghaut. All provide instant access to shopping, recreation, food and you could expect to reach a centrally-located workplace with a 20-minute commute from these areas.


2. The West is well known for having a good number of reputable schools in the area, accompanied with plenty of educational centres. Among these are international schools like the Tangling Trust School International School in Singapore, United World College and the National University of Singapore. Expats are mostly concentrated around Holland area, Bukit Timah, Buona Vista or West Coast.


3. The East is located in close proximity to the coast and is a preferred location among Caucasian and Indian expats alike. There are also large pieces of recreational areas like the East Coast Park, a tennis center, and a golf course among others. Being close to the city center makes it an ideal location for those who often frequently travels to, or has an office based out of the CBD.


4. The North is known for its large density of HDB housing and is a favorite for expats with more economical budgets. Thanks to Singapore’s small land mass and efficient public transportation system, you could reach out to the CBD and city-centre by bus and MRT (local metro) with ease. For instance, a commute from the northern area like Woodlands in Singapore to the central shopping region of Orchard Road would take approximately 45 minutes on metro.

 

Getting around in Singapore

Singapore-expressways

Singapore has plenty to offer in terms of transportation options. Those who prefer driving would find the city well connected by major expressways (see picture below) but the Government has imposed high COEs (Certificate of Entitlement) on vehicles that ranged from USD 30,000-50,000 in the past 5 years to encourage greater use of public transport.

Fortunately, given Singapore’s relatively small land-mass, it is easy to get around with public transport, like taxis, buses and the MRT (metro / train). Extensive urban planning by the URA has created self-sufficient towns and districts, each with their own amenities and recreational facilities such as hospitals, schools, supermarkets and playgrounds.   


Accommodation in Singapore for expats

You have a wide range of options available for housing in Singapore. While a good number of expats go for private condominiums, public housing is also available for renting in Singapore for foreigners.


1. Private condominium

Private condominiums are popular choices among expats. Most condos come with full facilities including private parking, swimming pools, children playground, indoor sport grounds, tennis court, gym, and a barbeque area among others. Basic appliances are usually provided in partially-furnished units, including cookers, fridges, washing machines and microwave ovens. Rental units may come as fully furnished or partially furnished, so you shall remember to negotiate with your landlord with the help of an agent. The location and size of the condo dictates its rental cost but typical a 2-bedroom condominium would cost you around $4,000 per month right within CBD and $3,000 for city-fringe.


2. Landed property

Landed properties are houses sitting island-wide owned by landlords and not by the Government. Rental for a landed property typically comes on the higher end of the spectrum, which would cost $ SGD 8,000 to $30,000 per month. Besides good privacy and size, you shall equally expect higher maintenance fees. Expats can rent these properties but are not eligible to purchase since ownership is reserved for citizens or Permanent Residents. Examples of Singapore landed properties include bungalows, cluster houses, terrace houses, town houses and shop houses.


3. Serviced apartments

Serviced apartments are ideal for a short-term stay for less than a year. These are hotel-like accommodations furnished to provide a home-like environment. Many expats who’re on a short term stay go for this given flexible tenure of as little as one month, while condominium or public housing rental contracts typically span for 12 months or longer.


4. Public housing: HDB

Public housing, also labeled as HDB houses (Housing and Development Board) are built by Government and owned by residents under leasehold agreements. The majority of Singapore’s citizens live in these houses. HDB estates are actually ideal homes for Singaporeans, and not considered as housing for the poor as is the case in some other countries. As a core initiative from the Government to encourage home ownership, the Government has developed HDB houses island-wide, often near to key transportation networks with full amenities, schools and hospitals nearby.

Flats from HDB vary in size and are priced to accommodate different society segments in Singapore. They range from studio apartments to 4 bedrooms units of size more than 1,500 sq feet. Additional types of HDB housing are the executive flats and DBSS flats.

The HDB estates come with basic facilities including children playgrounds, community centres, wet markets, and are typically close to neighborhood banks, shopping malls, and completed by nearby bus and MRT stations.  In terms of prices, renting an HDB flat in Singapore would cost you 20%-25% less than a condominium in a similar location nearby.

 

Your rental budget & other quick tips

Renting in Singapore is rather easy, particularly with the assistance of an agent. Besides making sure (in case of HDB flat rental) the landlord has sought relevant approvals from the authorities to rent, it comes down to your preferred location, budget, tenure and what’s included in the deal. Below are a few quick tips in each area to get you started:


1. Eligibility – Expats rental for HDB flats in Singapore are allowed provided that your landlord has fulfilled the subletting eligibility as stipulated by the HDB. Your property agent shall be able to assist with this and you are advised to do so before making payment and moving in. An approval letter is usually provided to the owners and they can show it to you as you go to view the unit.


2. Pricing – Condo vs HDB - A private housing rate for a 3 room apartment in Singapore in prime regions like Orchard Road, Holland Road, Tanglin Road, Bukit Timah, and River Valley would cost between SGD $4,000 to 6,000 per month SGD. (2014-15 prices). On the other hand, the same form of accommodation at fringe areas would cost about $2,500-3,500 SGD. A public housing rate for a 3-bedroom (in Singapore it’s called 4-room flat) HDB flat is at $2,500-3,500 in town area. You may check out common pricing for rental flats in property portals like Property Guru.


3. Tenure – Typical condominium rentals are for 1-year, or 2-year leases, with half a month commission payable for 1-year lease and one month commission for 2-year leases. You may wish to negotiate a diplomatic break-clause for long-term rentals in your tenancy agreement with your landlord directly.


4. Location – Recreational or transport connection would be among your other considerations. However, you may also wish to consider the dynamics of different neighborhoods in Singapore – For instance: Orchard is full of shopping malls. Novena is popular among expats. The very far West may be dense with industrial areas. The Geylang area is closer to Singapore’s red-light district, etc. Your property agent or consultant shall be able to advise you.


5. Online portals – Finally, if you company provides a relocation consultant and a rental subsidy that’s all great. But if they don’t, you could always search up and reach out to agents online. Popular property portals for Singapore include PropergyGuru and STProperty. The bigger real estate agencies in Singapore are ERA, Propnex, Huttons Asia, Orangetee and DTZ.


The above are based on our personal experience when helping expats settle in Singapore. It does not represent any opinion in future prices or recommendation on a particular area. You are strongly advised to engage an agent licensed with the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) for your house-search but we trust it gets you started!

 

Piloto Asia is a Singapore-based Corporate Service Provider.

We are specialised in company incorporation, tax and accounting, work visa application etc.