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How much does it cost to live in Singapore?

Tatiana Sheremetieva, Director and founder of RSBU:
It will soon be 10 years since I moved to Singapore, and I know the local prices firsthand. Just recently we told about the cost of housing in Singapore.

In the following articles I would like to talk in detail about the prices of food, transport, medicine, clothing, education of children and taxation - the main expenses for any family in any country.

So what should you prepare for if you are thinking of moving to Singapore?
Singapore offers a wide variety of restaurants at different levels, from diners like food courts and coffee shops to haute cuisine restaurants. About 2 new restaurants open every day, so you won't go hungry.

Restaurants also vary in their level, from small and cheap coffeeshops selling local food and international fast food restaurants like McDonald's and Burger King to Michelin-starred restaurants.

Singaporeans take great pride in their cuisine. And indeed, the variety of food in Singapore is amazing: all Asian cuisines (Chinese, Indian, Malay, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai and others) and all European cuisines (Italian, Spanish, French, German and so on) are represented here. Speaking about the food budget, a simple rule applies here - if you plan to eat at home or in local coffee shops or food courts, food expenses can be quite moderate; but if you do not admit anything but expensive cafes and restaurants, food expenses can be quite comparable with the rental costs.

Cafes and Restaurants
Food prices vary widely depending on the type of establishment - for example, at a local coffee shop or food court you can eat modestly for 7-10 SGD (5-7 USD). But even in coffee-shops and food courts the average bill per person together with drinks, as a rule, will not be less than 10-12 SGD (8-9,5 USD).

A lunch at McDonalds will cost on the average 7 SGD (5,5 USD) per person, and a small cup of coffee at Starbucks will cost the same 6-7 SGD (5-5,5 USD).

A snack at a mid-priced restaurant will cost you between 20 and 40 SGD (16-32 USD) per person.

Restaurants in the full sense of the word will cost an average of 90 SGD (71 USD) per person. The choice is up to you. Anyway, if you plan to eat out, even if you choose inexpensive food courts and coffee shops, the average bill per month per person is unlikely to be less than 800-1000 SGD (590-800 USD) per person.

Don't be seduced by the idea of a lemon-banana Singapore - there is no agriculture or farming here. All meat, dairy products and fruits are imported from nearby countries - Malaysia, Thailand, as well as Australia and New Zealand. Since most of the products are imported, food prices are not cheap at all.

Your food budget will very much depend on what you plan to buy - as you understand, Doshirak noodles are inexpensive in any country in the world. It's quite different if you buy meat, sausages, cheeses, fruits and berries. If you plan to eat exclusively at home, the average budget for a family of two or three adults and a child for groceries will start at 800 SGD (640 USD) per month.

Like any major metropolis, there are three main modes of transportation in Singapore:
Public transportation
Private cars

Due to the country's compact size and huge population density, the authorities try to make public transport as comfortable as possible. At the same time, the government imposes high taxes on private cars, which turn cars from a means of transportation into a luxury.

Public Transport
Singapore boasts one of the best, most comfortable, and least expensive public transportation systems in the world. Public transportation includes buses and the subway (MRT).

The minimum fare for a bus or subway ride starts at 1.6 SGD (1.2 USD). The final fare depends on the number of stops/stations. If you plan to use public transportation exclusively with a standard home-office-home route and also go out on weekends, you need to budget about 150 SGD (120 USD) per person per month for transportation. For a working couple, respectively, the cost of public transportation per month would be ~ SGD 300 (240 USD).

Singapore has a very developed cab system. In total, the city-state is served by more than 40,000 cabs. Plus there are private cabbies in Grab and Gojek.

On the average, the waiting time for a cab is 3-5 minutes (excluding rush hours such as early morning, end of business day, and Friday evening and holidays, when it is advisable to order a cab in advance).

Basic cab fares start at SGD 3.40 (USD 2.7) for a standard cab and SGD 3.90 (USD 3.1) for more upscale vehicles. The fare is made up of a base fare + SGD 0.22 for every 400m ride + surcharges* + ERP (toll roads) +10% service charge.

There are also surcharges added to the price:
  • morning and evening rush hours weekdays from 6:00 am - 9:30 pm) - 25% of the fare,
  • a surcharge for cab booking (2.30 - 3.30 SGD),
  • night surcharge (midnight to 6:00 am) - 50% of the base fare,
  • surcharge for certain locations - such as Central Business District, Marina Bay Sands, Changi Airport (SGD 3).

A mid-range trip (15-25 min) will cost an average of SGD 20 (USD 16).

Private cars
Unlike relatively inexpensive options like public transport and cabs, owning a private car in Singapore is very expensive.

The government is committed to reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, so it is taking all possible measures to shift more residents to public transport.

When thinking about buying a car, you need to take into account not only the initial significant costs of buying a car, but also the daily costs of maintaining it. One of the most significant expense items when buying a car, especially a mid-priced car, is the purchase of a Certificate of Entitlement (COE), which gives you the right to own and operate the vehicle for 10 years.

In addition to the high cost, the procedure for buying a car in Singapore is not so simple. Before you buy a car in Singapore, you have to bid for a COE to get into predetermined quotas. More often than not, the demand for COEs exceeds the allowable quotas. This imbalance leads to huge COE prices.

The cost of COEs fluctuates constantly - for example, in October 2013, the price of a certificate for cars over 1600cc went up to 93,500 SGD (74,600 USD), dropping slightly by March 2014 to 83,504 SGD (66,800 USD).

In addition to COE, you will also have to pay the goods and services tax of 7% of customs duty, registration fees of SGD 140, as well as additional registration fee of 100% of the market value of the car (the value of the car is determined by the Singapore Customs), and excise tax (20% of the market value of the car).

A liter of gasoline costs an average of 2.30 SGD. Parking in the city will cost from 2 SGD per hour. And the passage of sections of toll roads (city center) will cost you from 1 to 4 SGD. On average you will spend SGD 800 per month to maintain your car - for petrol, parking and toll roads.

So the cost of a new mid-priced car starts at about SGD 120,000 (88,200 USD)!

Add to that the cost of obligatory insurance, petrol, tolls, parking fees, toll roads (ERP) and car maintenance, and you have a golden car.

Singapore's health care system is the best in Asia and one of the best in the world. All clinics are equipped with new medical equipment, and the profession of a doctor is considered extremely prestigious.

The state imposes strict requirements in matters of transparency, safety, and cleanliness in medical establishments. Nevertheless, there is no free medicine in the country, only state subsidies for certain categories of patients - for example, the cost of services for citizens of Singapore will be the lowest, in second place PR, tourists and work visa holders pay the full cost of services.

Keep in mind that medicine in Singapore is expensive.

Prices for doctors' appointments in clinics generally range between SGD 80-140 (USD 63 -112) per consultation, and prices for hospitalization and surgery can easily reach SGD 30,000 (USD 22,000) in public and private hospitals.

The main tip is to take care of your health, it will definitely be cheaper than getting treatment in Singapore. And to be on the safe side, it is better to buy insurance. The price of insurance depends on the company, the package and the risks it protects you from, as well as the sum insured. On average the insurance will cost you 2,000 - 3,000 SGD (1,600 -2,400 USD) per year.

Medical insurance is mandatory for low-wage employees on Work Permit, S Pass.

For foreigners earning over 2,600 SGD (1,900 USD), insurance is optional. As a general practice, most local companies do not provide health insurance for their employees, since their costs are partially covered by the local MediSave insurance fund.

In the next article I will continue to talk about the cost of clothing, education for children and taxation;