10 Tips for Settling in Singapore

What’s the best way to get around? Should you hire a domestic helper? And do you have to speak Singlish?

By SGN | 30 May 2023

Photo: Angie & James Do Stuff

Moving to a new country is an exciting and transformative experience, but it can also be a daunting and overwhelming process. If you’re considering relocating to Singapore, you’re in for a treat! As one of the most popular destinations for expats in Asia, the island offers an incredible blend of modern city living, cultural diversity, and high-quality education and healthcare.

In this article, we’ll provide you with a comprehensive guide to settling in Singapore, covering everything from visa requirements and cost of living to housing options and cultural norms.

Here are 10 tips to get you ready for your new life in the city.


Secure a job to qualify for a work visa

You’ll need to obtain at least a job offer before a work pass can be granted for your stay in Singapore. As an example, a typical Employment Pass requires a minimum salary of SGD5,000 (USD3,700). For more on the various pass types and requirements, as well as passes for your accompanying family members, read our guide to work passes.

At the same time, do note Singapore’s income tax system, which taxes non-residents at a flat rate of 15% or 24%*. Tax rates for residents are progressive, ranging from 0% for the first SGD20,000 (USD15,000) to 24% for income beyond SGD1,000,000* (USD740,000).

*From 2024 onwards


Open a bank account

The Singapore dollar is the country’s official currency, and credit cards and contactless payment are widely accepted for everyday transactions. Cash still comes in handy at local markets and hawker centres.

A local bank account is essential to getting settled in Singapore. You can use it for bill payment, salary crediting, cash withdrawal, and instant fund transfers using only your smartphone (known as PayNow). The three major local banks, DBS, UOB and OCBC, are equally respected.

While each bank’s submission requirements vary slightly, you will generally need to prepare:

  • Identity Card (for Malaysians) / Passport (for all other nationalities)
  • Proof of Employment / Study in Singapore / Dependent or Long Term Visit Pass
  • Proof of Residential Address
  • Proof of Tax Residency
  • Proof of Mobile Ownership (if registered mobile is used)

For children below 16 years old, you’ll need to create a joint account. To open a corporate bank account, refer to the guide here.

Tip: To simplify the application process, sign up for a Singpass account, which is available to citizens, residents and passholders. This is the same account you’ll use for all tax matters in Singapore, as well as to renew insurance policies, sign documents digitally and more.


Take advantage of public transport

Singapore’s extensive and efficient public transport makes getting around the city a breeze. This means that there’s no need to rent or purchase a car to get around the city.

Transport fares may be paid via EZ-Link cards purchased at ticket offices within train stations (also known as MRT stations). Alternatively, the SimplyGo system offers an even easier option, whereby mobile payment methods and contactless bank cards can be used to conveniently tap in and out of your journeys without the need for a separate card. Arm yourself with an app like Citymapper for directions and arrival times, and you’re good to go.

If you need to hail a ride, download popular apps such as Grab, Gojek and Zig. There is also BlueSG, a short-term electric car rental service.


Learn the quirks of local language

Singlish is the beloved English creole that unites Singaporeans across their multilingual society. In this language, speech is generously peppered with particles like lah, leh and lor, and vocabulary is heavily borrowed from tongues such as Malay and Hokkien.

Since most in Singapore speak English, mastering Singlish isn’t strictly necessary (though it will earn brownie points with locals). Yet there are subtle quirks to English in Singapore worth noting.

For instance, a ‘bungalow’ refers to any standalone house, not necessarily a single-storey one. A ‘coffeeshop’ is not a Starbucks (which many Singaporeans might term a ‘cafe’) but a direct translation of kopitiam, a type of local food court usually found in public housing estates. You might also hear ‘keep’ to mean ‘put away’ and ‘pack’ to mean ‘tidy’.


Know your housing options

Professionals relocating to Singapore often favour condominiums for their modern design and fitness facilities or landed houses for a more spacious family home.

For the true Singaporean experience, consider public housing apartments – also known as HDB flats – which more than 80% of locals live in.

Some renters dress up their rental homes to create a home-away-from-home. (Photo: Stacked Homes)

Bear in mind that HDB blocks vary widely in terms of age and design, and certain classes are even built by private developers. Cost savings aside, HDB flats are generally more spacious, more accessible by public transport, and they offer a more immersive local experience.

In deciding which area to settle in, you might consider proximity to MRT stations, park spaces, schools for the kids, as well as your food and grocery needs. Singapore offers local and international supermarkets, as well as traditional wet markets, usually co-located with hawker centres.

If you’re not engaging a property agent, you may personally hunt for potential homes on PropertyGuru and search for housemates on Roomies. Looking to furnish your new abode? Besides Ikea, visit furniture hub Tan Boon Liat Building or browse Carousell and expat Facebook groups for pre-owned pieces.

Some useful resources:

A walk-up apartment block in Tiong Bahru. (Photo: Stacked Homes)

Get covered by private health insurance

Singapore offers stellar healthcare. While the country’s universal healthcare doesn’t cover expatriates, your company should include health insurance as part of its medical benefits.

On top of company insurance, many expats opt for add-ons or take out a separate health insurance policy. Take a look at MoneySmart’s comparison of leading providers in Singapore, then contact individual insurers to learn more or purchase.


Sign up for a local number

The most practical way to register for a +65 mobile number is a SIM-only plan, i.e. one that doesn’t come with a device or tie you down to a contract.

Singtel, Starhub, M1 and MyRepublic are good options if you’re looking for a bundle with home broadband. Alternatively, other brands with competitive rates include Circles.Life, GOMO (under Singtel), giga! (under Starhub) and Maxx (under M1). Visit Seedly’s website for a comparison by price range.


Consider hiring a domestic helper

In Singapore, there are 250,000 live-in domestic helpers, hired by roughly one in five households to fill the role of housekeeper, cook and caretaker. This may seem novel to newcomers, but helpers are part-and-parcel of many Singaporean families’ lives.

If you’re moving to Singapore with family, hiring a domestic helper – through an agency or digital platform – is an affordable way to relieve the burden of household and childcare responsibilities.


Explore the city – there’s lots going on

From weekend events to outdoor activities to new restaurants and bars, there are endless experiences to discover in Singapore. To stay up to date on all the happenings in the city, connect with outlets such as TimeOut, Lifestyle Asia and City Nomads via email or social.

When in doubt, you can always indulge in Singaporeans’ favourite pastime: eating. Singapore is a food paradise for every palate and budget – from the finest dining experiences to the most scrumptious hawker fare – as Instagram foodies like Veronica Phua and Evelyn Chen will readily attest.

Do note that while Michelin-starred restaurants require early bookings online, seat reservation at a hawker centre entails a different strategy. To chope (reserve) a table, patrons simply place tissue packets (umbrellas and other miscellaneous belongings work too) before trotting off to order their food.


Make friends with locals

Your Singapore experience is greatly enriched when you connect with locals or get plugged into local communities. There are many ways to do this: going to local markets and eateries, volunteering, participating in community activities and festivals, joining art, fitness or business interest groups, etc.

Photo: Yoga Movement

And if you’re unsure where to start, you’ve come to the right place. Join the Singapore Global Network for exciting glimpses into Singapore life and opportunities to connect with our 100,000-strong network! You can also browse a list of online expat groups on our Communities page.

Now that you’re all set, let’s get moving

Here are a few international moving companies that can help manage your relocation. Ask for quotes to make a comparison and be sure to let them know your specific moving needs:

Guide to Life in Singapore

Curious about culture, education or things to do in Singapore? Check out our free guides to get started.

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