Organise a visa
The visa process for Singapore can be quite complex, but it's actually surprisingly straightforward compared to a lot of countries. Regardless of whether you have a job before you move, Australian citizens don’t need to apply for a visa prior to flying to Singapore. The rules then change depending on whether you have a job already lined up, or if you’re unemployed when you arrive.
In theory, there are three types of pass: Employment Pass, S Pass and Dependent’s Pass. In all cases, it’s best to check with the Ministry of Manpower and use their self-assessment tool to check which pass you need www.mom.gov.sg/eservices/services/employment-s-pass-self-assessment-tool
- Employment Pass
The Employment Pass is for professionals, managers and executives. You’ll need to be earning SG$3,300 per month and show examples of acceptable qualifications. These fall under professional qualifications taken and also a good university degree.
- S Pass
This is aimed at mid-level skilled workers earning over SG$2,200 per month. Again you’ll need to show proof of a relevant degree or diploma, plus your relevant work experience.
In both cases your employer should assist with the application process, making the initial application on your behalf as they need to provide evidence that you will be working for them.
Both passes are for an initial two-year period and can then be renewed via the Ministry of Manpower. After the initial application is approved, you’ll be given a temporary 30-day pass, this must be endorsed by your company before your official pass will be given to you.
- Dependent’s Pass
If you’re travelling to Singapore on either of these pass types, and plan on bringing a spouse and/or children, then they are able to apply for a Dependent’s Pass. This is only valid for your husband/wife and biological children under 21. If you’re unmarried or have step-kids then they’ll need to apply for a Long Term Visit Pass. Please note, if you’re relocating with disabled children – even biological – they can only apply for this pass.
Arriving without a job
If you’d prefer to look for a job when you arrive, you’ll have to apply for a short term visit pass, which Australians can apply for a further extension of 89-days. The pass will entitle you to attend interviews, however engagement in any form of employment (paid or unpaid) is not permitted during this time.
TIP: Make a number of certified copies of passport pages, degree certificates or other qualifications to use for applications.
Have a valid passport
It goes without saying really, but just because you’re only a hop, skip, and a jump from Oz, it doesn’t mean you can turn up without valid documents. If you’re worried your passport is due to run out, don’t leave it until the last minute, head over to the Australian Government Passport Authority for all the details you’ll need about renewing – or applying for – a passport.
TIP: Have at least six months validity on your passport before you travel. You don’t want to have to leave quickly – or arrange for an emergency replacement – just as you’re getting settled.
If the family pet is as close to your heart as your iPhone, you’ll want to bring them with you, obviously. There are rules about bringing animals in to Singapore and even how you bring them in. You’ll need to use an approved carrier and check if the breed is allowed not only in Singapore, but also where you’ll be living. There are a number of strict rules regarding the size and number of pets allowed in houses. Check out the governments AVA website www.ava.gov.sg/explore-by-sections/pets-and-animals for all the information regarding how to bring in your favourite feline.
As Australia is free of rabies, provided your pet meets all the other veterinary conditions, you’ll not need to put him or her into quarantine upon arrival.
TIP: Contact King & Wilson to arrange a quotation for pet transportation and advise you on documentation you may need.
To give you a rough idea, Singapore regularly ranks in the ‘top 10 most expensive places to live’. The biggest expenses you’re going to have are rent, school fees if the kids are at an international school, and if you buy a car – transport. Oh and your social life. Alcohol is seriously expensive thanks to a pretty large government ‘sin tax’.
The good news is, though, that there are relatively low levels of tax in Singapore, so your earnings may see a little boost. Companies often offer a relocation package to help entice you here, but do make sure that you can still afford the quality of life you’re used to at home before you say yes and start packing.
Singapore uses dollars. That’s easy. They’re not the same as Australian dollars though, so you will have to change your cash before moving. Although rates do fluctuate, and it’s an idea to keep an eye on currency converters such as www.hifx.com.au to ensure the exchange rate is pretty similar.
TIP: Use a currency converter to see how much the cost of living stacks up compared to Australia.
Singapore is one of the biggest financial hubs in the world, so there is no shortage of banks to choose from. In addition to local institutions, many of the biggest names in banking from all round the world have outposts here including most Australian banks, so there may well be a name you recognise.
Opening a bank account is easy, and can be done at any branch of any bank. You’ll need your passport, employment pass and a deposit to open the account with. Deposits vary, so check before you go.
TIP: Speak to your bank in Australia before you leave and see if they have any branches in Singapore or any reciprocal arrangements for transferring money between countries.
No, they’re not fun, but they are inevitable. Thankfully the tax system is capped at 20% on earnings, but depending on your job, it might be as low as 2%. Equally, Singapore have a taxation agreement with a number of countries – Australia being one of them – meaning if you’re paying taxes in Singapore, you won’t have to pay taxes at home.
To be liable for tax, you’ll need to be staying in Singapore for over 183 days of the year.
Healthcare in Singapore is among the best in the world. And that’s for both public and private. Most expats use a mixture of both – emergency treatment (which hopefully won't be necessary often) is public, while routine healthcare is often from a private practice. Some argue the extra price is worth the increased comfort and shorter waiting times, but depending on the practice, that isn’t always the case.
Permanent residents have access to heavily subsidised healthcare, however this isn’t on offer for those on a work permit. For this reason many expats chose to take out private healthcare insurance as there is not much difference in price. In some cases, your company may provide this for you. The health insurance system is a little unusual in that patients often have to pay for their care in addition to monthly premiums. And depending on the insurance provider – and medical facility you attend – you may need to stump up all the costs upfront. This can obviously be very costly. Shop around for a provider that offers direct settlement agreements, which will avoid the upfront costs for treatment – and the nasty shock.
Whether you attend a private clinic or a public hospital, practically all staff speak fluent English and the facilities are always to a high standard.
TIP: Make sure both your insurance company and medical centre offer direct settlement agreements to avoid paying lump sums upfront for medical care.
City or suburbs ?
First of all, say goodbye to a garden. That is, unless you want to live out in the suburbs. Homes with gardens are practically non-existent in the centre, So if you’re still thinking of the traditional home and garden set-up, you’re going to have to more further out. Look out for the phrase ‘landed property’ which basically means a detached house with a garden, as does the term ‘bungalow’ – which doesn't mean single level housing. If you’re looking further afield, take in to account the location of your office/place of work and how long the commute will take – particularly the increased cost of driving toll roads at rush hour.
If you decide to be in the heart of the action, then your choice of location will probably be influenced by where you work. And how much you can afford. Buying a home is probably out of the question. Not simply because of astronomical pricing, but because there are rules, lots of rules, governing who can buy property (or land) in Singapore. If you’ve just arrived, then put the idea to bed straight away – there are simply too many hoops to jump through.
Renting is the norm here, there is such a large – and transient – expat community, it’s the easiest way to find somewhere to live. If you already have a job secured, start looking at nearby neighbourhoods. Search through property databases, like this one www.8links.com to search by district and proximity to public transport links.
Condo or Serviced Apartments?
The next decision is to think about what you want to live in exactly. Most housing options in Singapore city are high-rise apartments or condo blocks. This may sound seriously urban, but there are so many vast, green spaces in Singapore that you honestly won’t mind. New build condos often have cool extra features like gyms, pools or even kids’ playgrounds. But – and this is a big but – you will pay for these features. And you’ll pay a lot. Think about it: are you really going to be hitting the gym every night or doing laps of the pool? That’s if the pool is big enough. So while these added extras may sound great, think about how much use you’ll get out of them before you sign the lease.
If you’re not sure how permanent your move is, or if you need somewhere when you initially arrive, you might want to think about a serviced apartment. Basically a plush hotel room, with limited kitchen facilities, but with all the housekeeping of a hotel. This might be ideal for the first few weeks or month when you’ve not got space to unpack all your belongings.
TIP: The rental process can be very confusing as well as expensive so you might want to consider a letting agent. Factor in a possible 50% extra in savings to cover any associated fees.
How to get your apartment
There is a lengthy process to securing your new home. Although you can house hunt and do all this solo, you might want to let professionals take care of it. There are a number of property letting agents in Singapore, a Google search will throw up plenty of results. However, there is one big downside to using an agent and that’s commission. The standard rate of commission for an agent is 50% of the rent – for a year, which let’s face it is a heck of a lot.
Whether you’ve found a place yourself, or an agent is working on your behalf, the first step is a letter of offer. You can also include any furniture or appliances you would like installing or removing from the apartment. This, plus one month’s rent is preliminary to state your interest in the property. If this is accepted, the landlord will create a tenancy agreement. Boring, but you must read it. If you’re renting for longer than 12 months, make sure you have a so-called ‘diplomatic clause’ included in the rent. This is a brilliant safeguard that means if you should lose your job for whatever reason or need to return back to Australia, you can terminate you contract early, with 2 months notice – and you should get your security deposit refunded.
TIP: If your lease is over 12 months do not sign it unless the diplomatic clause is included, saving you money if you need to go home – or elsewhere – sooner than expected.
After rent and utilities, the biggest other cost associated with housing in Singapore is the stamp duty. This payment is dependent on the number of years you sign the lease for and how much rent you’re paying.
You’ll also need to pay a deposit for your utilities. In addition to monthly running costs, you’ll need to pay around AUD $250 upfront. This fee is higher if you live in a landed property/bungalow.
You might also need to cover the cost of your air-con service and there may be a minor repairs liability (often any repairs below SG200 will be for the tenant’s responsihility) – check this with your landlord. Often in new buildings any maintenance cost is included in the rent. If you have a maid, as many expats do, you’ll need to figure in an extra salary, too.
Your electricity, water and gas supply will be arranged by your agent, if you’ve used one. If not, you can apply here www.singaporepower.com.sg
In each case you’ll need to fill out an application form, supply a copy of your passport and the signed tenancy agreement, plus a copy of your employment pass.
TIP: You’ll need to have your employment pass before you can register for any utilities. If you’ve arrived with no job, hold off on the house hunting and stay in a hotel/serviced apartment until you have one.
Singapore is technology crazy, and mobile phones are an integral part to everyday life. Both contract and pre-paid phones are widely available. Contract plans are often for a minimum of one/two years and they usually come with a heavy penalty charge for terminating early.
For initial ease, and if you’re not sure you’ll be in Singapore that long, pre-pay means not having to sign up for a contract, you’ll find they often have a free or discounted handset – what you’re offered will very much depend on the type of plan you’re looking at.
The main phone providers are:
English language media
Although English is the language for business and schools, it’s not the official language of Singapore. There are a number of media outlets on TV and in print that are geared up to English language natives. A few newspapers are printed in Singapore, plus international papers are available, but you’ll have to pay a bit more for those. What’s more, there are a number of dedicated English-language TV channels.
The media is censored for suitability, and while content of foreign websites is monitored, you shouldn’t have any problem accessing international news sites or online versions of your favourite paper back home.
Bringing your car with you
This is probably to be avoided at all costs. Firstly, you’re not allowed to import left-hand drive cars. At all. So if you’ve got a specially imported leftie car you’re going to have to leave it with a very good friend. You also can’t import a car that’s over three years old. Then there’s the fees – there’s a 20% customs charge based on the market value of the car. Oh, and then there’s the registration fee, which is 110% of the market value (yes, you read that correctly).
Buying a car
Again, this is something to think twice about, mainly due to the massive costs. You’ll need to pay for a certificate of entitlement, customs duties, taxes and insurance. Cars have a huge import tax, and that gets passed on to you if you decide to buy. Plus the car itself won't be cheap, you’re talking roughly twice the cost price. Then once you’re actually driving, you’ll need to think about the toll roads. ERP, or electronic road pricing is in force throughout the city. The toll cost fluctuates during the day, and there’s no set pricing as it depends on the amount of traffic on the roads. You’ll pay more at peak times of the day. Plus you’ll pay more the more you use your car. Free parking is practically non-existent in Singapore, even in public spaces like shopping centres.
Thank goodness for cheap, reliable public transport. Buses – and surprisingly taxis – are very affordable. You’ve also got the MRT, or Mass Rapid Transit. This high-speed rail network connects almost everywhere on the island. In peak times, you’ll only have a three minute wait for a train. Even off-peak the maximum you’ll wait is seven minutes. The service is not only quick, but it runs from 5.30am until around midnight – longer during festivals. In addition, there’s a LRT, or light rail transit that connects the city hub to the outskirts of the island, meaning commuters needn’t worry about multiple connections or sitting in traffic for hours.
TIP: Buy a stored value smart card for use on the MRT and LRT. Top-up and you’ll not have to fumble for change/buy tickets each journey.
Singapore prides itself on its education system. There are two main options for schooling: Public schools or Private-international schools.
Public schools are affordable, though you will pay more than locals, unfortunately. For primary you’re talking roughly AUD $500 per month, and for secondary, $750. This doesn’t include miscellaneous fees which get added on very month. Every student will learn a foreign language, which is a brilliant bonus point in the global marketplace. Plus, when the kids reach secondary school, they all have to take part in an extracurricular activity, such as performing arts or sport.
Both primary and secondary students will need to sit an exam to assess their ability to cope with the schooling system. They do not need a separate education pass if one of the parents or guardians is the holder of a Dependent’s Pass. Priority placements for local schooling are often given to Singaporean locals and there are limited spaces available for foreigners.
Private-International schools on the other hand, follow international curriculums, ideal if you want your child to continue with a similar education system, or even follow the British/American schooling systems. Private-international schools have long – very long – waiting lists and the best schools are notoriously difficult to get in to. What’s more, you’ll be paying $1,000s more in fees than at a public school.
It might be a good idea to start researching the schools you like well in advance of your move. And to see if there are any vacancies, or how long the waiting list is. This may well have an impact on your house-hunting decisions. Also check what other registration documentation you may need – some schools require vaccination records, or previous school reports from their current school.
For more information about the public school system, we recommended grabbing a flat white and having a read of this website www.sis.moe.gov.sg
TIP: If you’re a permanent resident permit holder and you have teenage boys, please be aware that by law they are subject to national service enrolment.
Younger children have the option of kindergarten, though they will also need to take part in an assessment. You’ll need to contact the school directly, rather than going through the Ministry of Social and Family Development. For details of nearby schools, and other childminding options, the Ministry’s website is a useful starting place
After secondary school
If the kids have finished legal schooling and they’ve decided to shun travelling round Malaysia, they might be thinking about continuing their education. There are multiple pathways students may wish to take, from arts schools, to junior college, right up to university. Each option covers academic or more vocational-based routes. The Ministry for Education has a really useful booklet explaining the options and pathways. You can download the PDF here www.moe.gov.sg/docs/default-source/document/education/post-secondary/files/post-secondary-brochure.pdf and get them to have read it with you to discuss their options.
Even though the government has tried to cap the number of expats working in Singapore, it still attracts highly skilled workers from all over the world. As one of the biggest financial hubs in the world, it naturally attracts workers in the banking world. In previous years potential employees would be lured over to the island with comfortable relocation packages that included a good salary, housing, school fees and healthcare. These days, however, companies are not as generous. Well, not all of them. While good relocation packages still can be found, they’re usually reserved for the highest earners. It’s more common to offer a very good salary in the hope that the tropical weather and low taxes might be enough incentive.
Finding a job
Most expats arrive with a job, if only because you really can’t get anything done like renting a house, opening a bank account, without holding an Employment Pass.
If you're in the logistics, technology or finance sectors, it should be relatively easy to find work once you arrive, that is compared to other industries. There are a number of employment agencies that can do the scouting for you, or it’s also becoming popular to advertise in the English language newspapers – Saturdays are often best. The Ministry of Manpower has a good listing of all the agencies www.mom.gov.sg.
Needless to say, competition is fierce in these areas, with employers still looking to recruit outside the island. However, you do have one advantage and that’s you’re already in the country. This means setting up interviews is easier and you’re availability to start should be quicker. The only downside is that you might not get offered the same kind of ‘package’ that those recruited outside Singapore might get offered.
TIP: Spend some time really polishing your CV, particularly if you’re looking for a job in the finance or technology industries.
Working on a Dependent’s Pass
If you’re relocating with your partner who has been offered a job and Employment Pass, this doesn’t mean you have to sit around all day waiting to welcome your partner home after a long day. If you’re living in Singapore on a Dependent’s Pass you're eligible to apply for work permit through the Ministry of Manpower.
Book your flight
The earlier you can book your international flight the better price-wise. If you can travel outside the school holiday peak season, you’ll save money too. This usually means travelling around February to March, May to June, late July to mid-September, or mid-October to mid-December. The sooner that you can lock down your moving date the better so you can plan ahead and save. Check out this Australian Government education resource for school holiday dates.
Cull the clutter
Packing up your life and starting a new one is a good chance to cleanse. Don’t stick everything you own into boxes and transport the lot to your new home. Take the time to cull! There are a few good reasons for this.
You may have been hanging on to old heirlooms from a previous life that don’t need to make the journey with you. If the planned move is unlikely to be forever, then look into storing a few old boxes with a friend or relative or utilising King & Wilson’s long term storage services. You can revisit your old university text books again one day when you resettle back home. Or if the move to Singapore might be indefinite, ask yourself whether you need eight boxes of old cassette tapes from the early '90s before you realised that CDs weren’t a passing fad…and while you’re there, how about that CD collection?
For more on minimalist packing check out this interesting perspective from Forbes.com.
Tip: Leave any dodgy DVDs behind, as they’re also subject to strict customs rules – USD $4 per hour of screening to check they’re suitable viewing and are not pirated of pornographic in nature. Kids cartoons are usually exempt from this, meaning the little ones can settle in to their new environment with their favourite Disney characters.
10 Weeks Before Moving Day
Give yourself plenty of time to plan the logistics of packing. A good international removalist, like King & Wilson will be your best friend in this regard -- they won’t want you leaving this to the last minute either. A few things to think about 2-3 months out from the big day:
- Put together a folder or box for all documents and receipts relevant to the move.
- Start a conversation with an international shipping company such as King & Wilson to get an estimate.
- Create a floor plan for your new home to get a sense of how many of your large sized furniture or appliances you may need to get rid of.
- Your belongings will be arriving by sea, however it only takes a couple of weeks for your boxed up life to arrive in Singapore. You may therefore only need to pack some additional clothing, linen, towels and key crockery and key kitchen utensils in your flight luggage. You may also consider pre-arranging excess baggage as it is much cheaper to book in advance than turning up on departure day with more than your baggage allowance. King & Wilson offers a smaller air shipment service to cover off this need as well.
Tip: Start a conversation with international movers now rather than later
6 Weeks Before Moving Day
Now you are edging closer to the big move, you want to start ticking off what will and won’t make it on the journey. For example:
- Take an inventory list of all items around your home that will need to come with you.
- Start selling off large or redundant items via Gumtree or ebay that you don’t want to take with you.
- Hold a garage sale or take advantage of any local market stalls or jumble sales
- You will probably not want to ship your car to Singapore, so start the process of selling your vehicle on Carsales or a similar online classifieds service
- Start to compile your paperwork: things like CV copies, letters of recommendation, health certificates, medication lists.Basically anything you might need to register for a service, or secure a house/job. Keeps these documents separate so they do not get packed, as you will need these as soon as you arrive into Singapore.
- Begin getting any paperwork you need for bringing your pet, make any necessary vet appointments and have any vaccinations your animal needs.
- Scan you passports and driver’s licence and upload to a secure cloud service, just for safe keeping in case they are lost.
4 Weeks Before Moving Day
With less than a month to the move, you need to start getting your hands dirty and actually packing a few things away, particularly items you are not using day to day:
- Collect moving boxes and packing supplies. Or if you move your home with King & Wilson, simply use the international shipping cartons provided.
- Start by packing things you don't use much currently like extra dining or kitchen utensils and seasonal clothing. Visit this resource from Energy Australia on the right way to pack when moving house or this interesting blog post on the subject by Frugal Mama.
- Donate the things you don't need (or that you haven’t been able to sell off).
Think about consuming your pantry stocks and frozen goods as well as home cleaning products, shampoos and soaps.
Tip: Start by packing the things you do not use day to day
1-2 Weeks Before Moving Day
Eek! You are merely days away from the move now and need to be thinking about leaving behind a clean, empty home for a new inhabitant. You also need to think about tying up loose ends at home, the flight and what you need for your first days in Singapore:
- Confirm all your travel arrangements.
- Finish packing your essentials. Its advisable to keep all medications in your hand carry luggage rather than in the shipment or checked-in luggage.
- Clean and defrost your refrigerator 24 hours before you move, turn off all the pipes and make sure you didn't leave any appliances on.
- Cancel the newspaper subscription, contact Australia Post to redirect your mail to your new address in Singapore, disconnect your utilities like the electricity, gas and internet.
- If you know your new address in Singapore, you may wish to pre-arrange your utilities connection. A specialist international moving company like King & Wilson can arrange this for you.
- Give away any houseplants and any food you’re not going to be able to eat. Singapore is just as strict about what you can import as Australia, and unfortunately your beloved potted fern isn’t one of them.
- Say your goodbyes, provide your new contact details and travel itinerary to your family and friends.
Tip: Don’t forget to redirect the mail to your Singapore address.
On Moving Day
You’ve made it to the big day. The job now is mainly to get out of the way of the professionals and focus on your breathing:
- Let the professionals do their thing. A good removalist will take care of packing your belongings carefully and thoroughly.
- A good international shipping mover will also cover off all the necessary shipping documentation to facilitate prompt customs clearance and quarantine inspection once your belongings arrive in Singapore.
- Get to the airport, put on those noise cancelling headphones and relax for 9 hours or so in anticipation of your new adventure!
There really is so much on offer in Singapore, from rich and varied cultural history, to a futuristic landscape mixed with amazing green spaces. But we’ll let you discover that for yourself…