A Guide to Moving to Singapore

A friend in Australia was contemplating a move to Singapore and asked me about my experience. We discussed a range of topics — housing, transport, food, work environment, etc — and I’m sharing in this blog piece some practical tips and observations about Singapore while they are still fresh in my mind. Here’s the email to my friend:

“The first thing you would want to consider when moving to Singapore is whether to get a car, as that will largely determine where you want to live.

New cars are expensive. A brand new standard family sedan will cost well over $100k. (All monetary values are in SGD.) Around $60k of that is in the cost of the certificate-of-entitlement, which gives one the right to own a car for 10 years. However, you can easily get a second-hand 3-4 year old car for $35-50k, which is still good for use for another 5-6 years. (With few exceptions, cars are scrapped once they reached 10 years of use.)

If you decide to have a car, then you can choose to live pretty much anywhere in Singapore because it literally takes a maximum of 30 minutes to get anywhere from anywhere by car. (This is assuming there’s no traffic jam, which occurs rarely thanks to the high cost of car ownership.)

If you choose not to have a car — and that’s a perfectly sensible thing to do since public transport, including taxies, in Singapore is good and cheap —  then you would want to live close to one of the MRT stations. There are a few factors to consider, which I outline below.
  • HDB or Condo – HDB flats are public housing built by the Housing Development Board of Singapore. They are generally of good quality and are close to hawker centers, shopping areas, exercise spots, and sometimes parks. Condos are built by private developers and each condo sits in an enclosed area, with its own swimming pool and a small gym. A quality HDB flat (2 or 3 bedroom) in a good location will cost around $2400-3200 per month. A condo will start around $3000 per month for a 2-bedroom apartment and it goes all the way to $10,000 per month for something fancy. I have lived in both types of housing and my personal view is that the higher price for condos is only worth it if you (1) use the facilities frequently; and (2) want to enjoy a more diverse group of people as neighbours. One last thing to add — and this is an odd thing from an Australian viewpoint — is that there is a certain prestige with staying in a condo: people will treat you a little bit better and somehow there is an expectation that foreigners/expats live in condos.
  • Distance – Housing that are within a 10-min walking distance of MRT stations are ideal but slightly more expensive. Most housing are one bus trip away from a station, which is only an annoyance if you need to travel during peak hours. To show the difference, a 3-bedroom HDB flat within walking distance of a station may cost $3000 per month and one that is one-bus-trip away from the station may cost $2400 per month.
  • MRT Line – It would be useful to know which MRT line your work place is located. Here’s a map of the MRT stations: https://www.transitlink.com.sg/images/eguide/mrt_sys_map.htm. The green and red lines are the major lines and will get you to most of the office locations in Singapore. The yellow and purple lines are newer.
  • Location – If you want to experience the different sub-cultures within Singapore, I would recommend areas just outside the central business district. I have stayed in Tiong Bahru, which has some distinct architectures and a growing art and cafe culture. I have stayed at Farrer Park too, which is just north of Little India and also has interesting architectures and a vibrant food scene. If you are looking for something with a bit more greenery and space, I can recommend taking a look at the east side of Singapore, including Pasir Ris and Joo Chiat. Pasir Ris is a bit far away from everything else but it sits right next to a big seaside park. Joo Chiat is midway between CBD and Pasir Ris and is well-known for food, close to the East Coast Park, and popular with expats. The west side of Singapore (Clementi, Buona Vista, etc) tends to have younger crowds because that’s where the two major universities and a few science parks are located.

For market research, you can have a look at http://propertyguru.com.sg. You can typically slice $200 off the advertised price if you negotiate. Leases are usually 1-2 years, and it’s best if you can work with the owner’s agent directly. Each side will pay their own agent a commission (1/2 month’s rent for a 1 year lease and 1 month’s rent for a 2 year lease). If you work with the owner’s agent directly, you can save your agent’s fee. You have to decide whether getting your own agent is worth the price. The good ones will drive you around looking at places after you have told them your requirements and help you negotiate.

For moving within Singapore, I have used Faith Relocation and I can recommend them. http://www.faith-relocation.com For moving into and out of Singapore, I have used Arpin and Allied Pickfords. Both are good, but the latter is more competitive on price.

Eating in Singapore is in general cheap compared to Australia. You can easily get a decent meal (food + drinks) for less than $5 in a hawker centre. Restaurants cost slightly less than Canberra, but similar to what one has to pay in Sydney. Surprisingly, the quality of food in general is not great. Most of them are too oily, too salty, or too sweet. Singaporeans also have a tendency to confuse quality with quantity — this is a nation of buffet lovers! There are good quality restaurants. Two I particularly like are Putien and Dian Xiao Er. Two imported restaurants I enjoy are Tim Ho Wan (from Hong Kong) and Ding Tai Feng (from Taiwan).

Banking – It’s important to get an account with one of DBS, UOB or OCBC. Otherwise, you will have difficulty finding ATMs. (I suffered for six months before coming to my senses.) Many banks will have some kind of priority banking service. Don’t bother with those because relationship managers, the ones who are supposed to provide you with personalised services, are all overloaded and the churn rate in that profession is extremely high. My relationship manager in India will come personally to my house to have me sign documents and provide other services. In Singapore, I have a new relationship manager assigned every 2 months, and none of them ever give me a call. Trust me, I’m not the issue here.”

I hope some of the above save people time and/or money!

Ps: Here are some of the perks of staying in Singapore.

The view from my apartment at Farrer Park.

This stray cat acts as my occasional companion. She lives in our apartment block and she has a friend that my wife calls Benchie because she loves sitting on the wooden bench and greets everyone who comes by.

Air supply concert: A touching experience.

Live badminton at the 2015 SEA games.

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