When I first moved to Singapore, I didn’t really know much about the landscape here in terms of living and working. I had only visited the country via transit, so Changi airport was all I knew! Of course, the reason I chose to move to Singapore was because the pay was a lot higher than what I can get in the UK. However, I wish I did understand things before I moved here so I could make more of an informed decision. So, I’ve come up with this list, hopefully I can help some newbies who are considering to move here.
Of course, if a company is willing to relocate you over here, then they should try and cover some of the moving costs. When I first accepted my job offer, my company did in fact offer to reimburse my flight ticket. However, this was not enough to cover the full flight cost. If I remember correctly, I had to book with a budget airline direct from London; there are no direct flights from Birmingham, so that was an extra hassle for me to try and travel down there. We all know they’re a lot more expensive than they were pre-Covid, so look out and make sure that your company’s reimbursement is sufficient to cover these inflated flight costs!
2. Housing Costs
I’ve written a few articles now regarding how expensive housing has gotten in Singapore. In fact, a couple of days after I broke my last article, the government raised the additional stamp duty for foreigners from 30% to 60%! Not only that, rental has skyrocketed over the past year or so; so even though your salary might be higher here than your home country, your outgoings might be a lot more too. If you are offered a package that covers some or all of your rental costs, then I think that is ideal! Rental costs are the bulk of my outgoing expenditures each month.
I know I always go on about this, but it’s very important! I spend a lot of my personal insurance each month. When I first arrived in Singapore, my previous company gave me an allowance of $200 annually to cover insurance…let me tell you now, this is not enough. This only covered a fraction of the very basic hospital & accident insurance I purchased, let alone the additional life & critical illness insurance I later purchased. If a company offers an allowance to purchase insurance, make sure it’s at least in the thousand dollar range. But ideally, a company should provide you with a corporate insurance plan, that way you may have an opportunity to be covered for GP, specialist and dental, coverage that is normally not claimable on a personal insurance plan. Also, it’s good to know that it is mandatory for companies to provide foreigners on work permits and S passes with insurance coverage.
4. Annual Leave
I didn’t factor in how important this was when I accepted a job offer. In my previous company, when I was an English teacher, I enjoyed a lot of days off, because of school holidays et cetera. The tuition centre simply refused to open, meaning that we were unable to work. However, these days off went over our 14 days annual leave, meaning that we actually had to pay back the company the days that we did not work! This basically ate away into our bonuses. I wish I’d have found a better offer that didn’t absorb our days off in lieu this way!
5. Shares & Taxes
A lot of companies offer shares as part of their incentive. I think this is a great idea, as you basically have access to stocks (maybe even blue chips) that you wouldn’t normally have access to. However, a word of caution- and this has happened a few times with my clients; IRAS will tax you on these shares even if you haven’t cashed them out. Quite often, you are taxed when the shares are doing well and price high, then, the shares may plummet, especially during this economic uncertainty. So, you may be taxed on assets that are actually a lot higher than their current value! This could push you into different tax brackets altogether, meaning that your tax for that year will be quite costly!
6. Education Costs
As a foreigner, it is often incredibly difficult to get your child into a local school, they have to take several exams on a syllabus that they probably are not familiar with. So, for most expats in Singapore, their kids have to go to international schools. The fees for these schools can be very pricey, easily $50,000 or even more a year for some! So, factor this in before you make the move. Ideally, you can find a package that will cover some of these educational costs for you.
7. Dependent’s Pass
A lot of foreigners here are in fact trailing spouses, following their husband or wife for work. In the past, this was not so much of an issue, but over Covid, the government made it a rule that those on a dependent pass could not get a letter of consent to work. This means that if you are on a dependent pass, you may have to work remotely for your previous company overseas, or simply not at all. I do know some who have set up their own company to bypass this, but then another problem arises in having to hire a local and pay their CPF, regardless of how well your business is doing.
Some argue that Singapore is becoming less attractive for foreigners to live and work. I don’t necessarily agree with this statement, however, I think it’s key that you know all of these things to look out for and make an informed decision.