Moving to Singapore from the US? 6 things you need to know!

So, you’re thinking of relocating/moving back to Singapore. Whether it’s because of personal reasons or career opportunities, we have prepared this list to address the 6 important things you need to know before you start packing your bags!

20 February 2020 / By SGN

1. Jobs: How do I find opportunities in Singapore?

Jobs in Singapore continue to be marked by digital transformation and automation. Demand for digital professionals in the areas of software engineering, user experience, cloud engineering, and data analytics continue to be high, but recruiting firm Hays has also identified a rise in hybrid roles such as business intelligence/analyst positions that merge insights, analytics, and marketing functions; or data science evangelist positions that require a blend of data science and strong consulting experience. Another report we liked was LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging Jobs Report Singapore, which shows that Singapore’s top emerging jobs are dominated by tech. However, there are other opportunities as well.

Information for non-Singaporeans: EntrePass, Employment and Dependent passes

For serial entrepreneurs, high-calibre innovators or experienced investors who want to operate a business in Singapore, EntrePass would work best for them. EntrePass is open to all nationalities. You can check if you are eligible.

The employment pass allows foreign professionals, managers and executives to work in Singapore. Candidates need to earn at least S$3,600 (US$2,667*) a month and have acceptable qualifications.

Unlike the US where candidates looking to get a work visa need to attain sponsorship, in Singapore, an employer or appointed employment agency needs to apply for the pass on behalf of the candidate. The duration of the pass is up to 2 years for a first-time candidate while renewals are up to 3 years. You can find out more here and/or check if you qualify.

Eligible candidates can apply for a variety of passes to bring their family to Singapore. You can see an overview of the different passes available and eligibility requirements here. To apply, the employer needs to submit a separate application for each family member. You can also find out more about the requirements and application process for a Dependent’s Pass and Long Term Visit Pass.

2. Salaries: What can you expect?

On the topic of salaries, you might also be interested to check out this Salary Guide by Kelly Services or Singapore Salary Benchmark 2020 by Michael Page. The top-paying industries in Singapore include accounting, banking & finance, healthcare & life sciences, and information technology.

**Central Provident Fund (“CPF”) is Singapore’s equivalent of social security. CPF contributions are applicable for Singapore citizens and Singapore permanent residents. You can read more about this here.

Taxes

In the U.S., federal income tax has progressive marginal rates of up to 37% of taxable income (above US$518,400 for single filing), while taxes for federal social insurance programmes (i.e. Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare) are assessed separately. In Singapore, the progressive tax rate for personal income ends at 22% (above S$320,000 or about US$237,000*) for residents and a flat rate of 15-22% for non-residents.

In Singapore, whether or not you have to pay tax depends on your tax residency status. The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) has an individual income tax calculator that you can use to gauge how much tax you would have to pay. The page also has tax rebate eligibility tools, such as a parenthood tax rebate, and personal relief. IRAS also has a comprehensive guide for new individual taxpayers (foreigners).

For US citizens, the US Embassy in Singapore has a IRS Free File and a list of tax preparers in Singapore. You can also look at additional tax information on their site.

3. Cost of Living: How much is enough?

Singapore tops most quality of life lists. Mercer’s 21st annual Quality of Living survey found Singapore to have the highest quality of living in Asia-Pacific. At the same time however, the Economist Intelligence Unit has named Singapore as one of the world’s most expensive cities.

How much might you need to live in Singapore? This number depends on your lifestyle and we’ve created a short questionnaire for you.

Make sure to also check out our 2020 Guide to Living in Singapore. For instance, how much does a meal at McDonalds in Singapore cost compared with other countries around the world? Or how does a bottle of imported beer cost?

4. Housing: Where should I live?

There are two main types of housing in Singapore.

(1) Public Housing

Unlike in the US, almost 80 percent of the resident population live in public housing in Singapore. These public housing units, or HDB as they are called colloquially, are located in housing estates which are self-contained satellite towns with schools, supermarkets, clinics, food centres, and sports and recreational facilities. While foreigners cannot buy HDB flats, you can rent.

(2) Private Housing

Non-Singaporeans are eligible to buy private housing, such as:

  • An apartment or condominium unit
  • A strata landed house in an approved condominium development
  • A leasehold estate in a landed residential property for a term not exceeding seven years, including any further term which may be granted by way of an option for renewal
  • A landed property on Sentosa Cove

Some of the websites which you can use to buy, rent or sell property include:

  • PropertyGuru: Thorough listing of residential and commercial properties and a financial calculator which takes into account buying costs. PropertyGuru also provides comprehensive details and reviews on the latest condo launches, executive condominiums, and HDB BTOs
  • 99.co: Agents pay to list their properties on this platform and the company promises relevant and high-quality listings
  • iProperty: A popular search portal across Asia for private and commercial properties. The site also provides a blog and guides
  • Something else to consider when you’re purchasing a house is Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty. ABSD generally applies only if you have more than one property in Singapore. This guide provides a breakdown of the different tax rates

Additional information for Singaporeans

  • HDB portal: There are different eligibility conditions when you purchase a new HDB flat or an executive condominium. There are also different schemes to help buyers, especially first-timers. You can check all the eligibility details here
  • If you’re using your Central Provident Fund to finance your purchase this might be a useful site

Short-term options

If you decide you don’t want to rush into the decision, there are many short-term options available.

  • Airbnb is thriving in Singapore. Peruse a wide range of properties here
  • Singapore also has a wide range of hotels and serviced apartments that cater to every budget. Many of the hotel chains have their own version of serviced apartments. Some examples can be found on this expedia page
  • Co-living is picking up as a trend. They are similar to regular rentals with the added benefit of being designed to promote interactions among residents. Examples include: Hmlet and Lyf Funan

5. Healthcare: What is the healthcare system in Singapore?

In the US, health insurance for employees is primarily provided by their employers. Others can get health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In Singapore, Singapore citizens and permanent residents (PRs) are eligible for a mandatory health insurance plan (MediShield Life) and employers contribute a portion of Singaporean/ PR salaries to a mandatory program (MediSave), similar to a Health Savings Account (HSA) in the U.S. This moneysense guide put together by the government goes into more detail and is a useful reference.

Non-Singaporeans/PRs don’t qualify for either though, so it’s important to obtain insurance from a private company or through an employer provided group policy. There are many different insurance companies in Singapore so while we’re unable to provide an exhaustive list, these are quotes for the top three insurance companies in Singapore, as shortlisted by MoneySmartNTUC IncomePrudential, and AIA’s HealthShield Gold Max A

6. Education: What is the school system in Singapore?

Singapore’s education system is consistently ranked at the top of the OECD’s Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) in three main categories: math, reading, and science.

Singapore’s public education system is divided into primary (six year programme, from the age of 7 to 12), secondary (four to five year programme, from the age of 13 to 16/17) and post-secondary.

Broadly speaking, there are four national exams:

  • Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE)
  • The Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (GCE O-Level)
  • The Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Normal Level (GCE N(A)-Level or GCE N(T)-LEVEL)
  • The General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (GCE A-Level)

A new common national examination will be introduced by the Ministry of Education in 2027 to replace the current GCE O- and N-Level examinations.

If you are coming to Singapore with your children, you might be trying to decide between an international school vs a local school for your children. Here is an interesting read that might be helpful. We also found this guide user-friendly. Or, if you prefer to just get straight to the list of schools, you might find this International Schools Database useful.

Singapore citizens are not allowed to attend international schools unless they have a special dispensation given to them by the Ministry of Education. Many support mechanisms are in place, and you can find out more about the different schemes available for all returning Singaporeans and Singapore permanent resident children.

Information for non-Singaporeans

International students who wish to seek admission to Singapore’s mainstream primary schools, secondary schools and junior colleges are advised to go through the International Students Admissions process.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are a myriad of other complex issues such as immigration and taxes but as these are unique to each individual, it is best to speak to experts who can provide tailored advice.

If you have more questions, please contact:

  • David Ho, SGN Regional Director for West Coast (david_ho@edb.gov.sg)
  • Michelle Loh, SGN Regional Director for East Coast (michelle_loh@edb.gov.sg)

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*Currency exchange at US$1 =S$1.35 (as of January 23, 2020, on Bloomberg.com)