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An expat's guide to understanding the property scene and settling down in Singapore

With a landbank surface area of about 700km2 and population count of over 5 million residents and rising, accommodation in Singapore doesn’t come easy. The property market trends show bubbling prices, in part, due to the influx of foreign residents and growing interest of affluent investors in the tiny dot of an island with huge prospects!

Expatriates who seek living costs that are similar to that of their home country will find that property prices are rather costly here (a survey conducted by Mercer in 2012 showed that Singapore listed among the top ten most expensive cities in the world to live in).

Thankfully the local government had taken measures to prick the “property bubble” and control costs years back, one effort being: incurring higher stamp duties on companies and foreign buyers wishing to buy property in Singapore (year 2013). Singaporeans buying a second home face added stamp duty too.

Due to its tiny stature, Singapore has always had to grow upwards. A majority of the population (over 80%) today live in public housing called HDB – managed by the government in charge of real estate planning and satellite towns. Expats looking for more affordable accommodation in Singapore can either move into an HDB, the cheapest housing option available, or consider renting a room in a shared apartment.

Now government-sponsored housing estates in some countries may suffer from bad reputation (e.g., poor management, living conditions and all), but Singapore is an exception. HDB hubs are well-planned, clean, self-contained neighborhoods, situated close by shopping conveniences and medical facilities and served by a well connected public transport network.

Expats looking to rent HDB accommodation should do so ahead of time as there’s limited availability. HDBs remain the most popular housing choice in Singapore so waiting lists can be long, and locals/permanent residents are always given first preference – which accounts for many high-earning foreigners preferring to go for private apartments, condominiums or bungalows, instead.

Singapore is largely divided into the following types of housing:
  • Condominiums: This is the top choice for most expats, offering facilities like a gym, a pool, tennis and squash courts, and 24/7 security.
  • Bungalows: Bukit Timah is a prime favourite for affluent expats looking for the luxury of more space, but do be warned: Bungalows in Singapore are a rare commodity and very pricey.
  • Semi-detached houses: Available in small residential clusters, with more living space when compared to apartments.
  • Black and whites: Originally built for British officers way back during the British occupation, black and whites are now occupied by affluent expats and locals who garnered the exclusive houses through a special bidding process.
  • Shophouses: For expats looking for more history, shophouses are their best bet – with some receiving impressive multi-million dollar renovations! Most shop houses are clustered around the city area, while a few others can be found on Emerald Hill near Orchard Road. ‘Peranakan-style’ shophouses by the way don’t come renovated and could mean zero air conditioning or modern facilities.
Expats looking for houses with more character would be in for quite a search though, as Singapore is known for replacing old structures with newer, gleaming glass and marble ones. The threshold? 10 years, and it’s time to rebuild!

Costs for accommodation vary according to type and location. The more centrally located the housing is, the higher the prices will be. Here are some rental price estimations expats can expect, in order of most exclusive to most affordable:
  • Garden Bungalows, Terraced Housing & Villas: SGD 8,000/month and above
  • Private Flat – SGD 3,000/month to SGD 7,000/month
  • HDBs – SGD2,200/month to SGD3,000/month
Expat Neighbourhoods in Singapore:

Post created by Lisa


I’m Lisa and I have travelled extensively across Asia for over 17 years, I have also worked and lived in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur.

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