Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world; in fact, it is the second most expensive after Hong Kong, according to Mercer's 2023 Cost of Living Survey.
The good news is that taxes in Singapore are low, and professional salaries generally match the high cost of living. Expat packages also often include benefits such as transport, school fees and accommodation allowances.
That said, amid increased competition for jobs, expats interested in working in Singapore may need to accept a salary without many of these additional benefits – although they should always at least try to negotiate with their prospective employer. If no benefits are forthcoming in contracts, expats must ensure they budget for Singapore's high cost of living.
Cost of accommodation in Singapore
Accommodation is the highest expense expats in Singapore will have to shoulder, but they can relieve some of this burden by opting for a private apartment or a government housing flat (HDB) rather than a lavish condominium. Although these homes frequently come with enticing recreational facilities such as swimming pools, tennis courts and playgrounds for children, there is usually a matching price tag.
Expats who choose to live in houses and bungalows can also expect to pay hefty costs. Costs vary wildly depending on the age, condition and location of the housing, and of course, expats will get more bang for their buck the further they live from the city centre.
Cost of transport in Singapore
Public transport in Singapore is efficient and significantly cheaper than driving private vehicles, with EZ-Link travel cards providing good value for money. Owning a car is a luxury rather than a necessity in Singapore, and owing to the heavy taxes cars are subject to, plus parking costs, it can become a costly luxury.
Cost of groceries in Singapore
Depending on personal spending habits, shopping for groceries can be a modest or exorbitant expense. Expats fond of purchasing imported products from back home may be startled by how quickly costs can stack up.
Supermarkets in Singapore offer a wide range of products, but imported goods, such as cheese, wine or specific brands of cereals and snacks, can be particularly pricey. For instance, the cost of everyday items like milk, bread and eggs is higher compared to prices in the US, Australia, or Western Europe. To save on groceries, expats can shop at local markets or consider switching to local brands and produce.
Cost of entertainment and eating out in Singapore
Singapore offers a variety of entertainment options, from cinemas and theatres to bars and nightclubs. However, the cost of entertainment is relatively high. A night out at a mid-range restaurant can cost as much as a fancy dinner in Western Europe or the US. The cost of alcohol is also notably high due to heavy taxation, with prices at bars and restaurants being significantly pricier than in many other countries.
Although Singapore offers many tempting choices of delicious cuisine, eating out can be an expensive exercise. There are alternatives though, and if expats stick to hawker centres rather than restaurants, sampling the local fare will be way more affordable. Hawker centres are open-air food courts that offer a variety of local dishes at reasonable prices, and they can be found all over the city.
Cost of education in Singapore
The cost of education in Singapore is another significant expense for expats with children. Public schools, while less expensive than international schools, often have long waiting lists for non-residents, and the process to get a spot can be quite competitive. On the other hand, international schools offer a high standard of education, but tuition fees can be comparable to university tuition in some Western countries.
Many expats choose to send their children to one of the many excellent international schools in Singapore, and these fees are sometimes included as part of their employment package. If the employer does not cover the cost of education, expats should be prepared for high fees, which can vary widely from one school to another. In addition to tuition, there may also be additional costs for enrolment, uniforms and extracurricular activities.
Cost of healthcare in Singapore
The standard of healthcare in Singapore is exceptionally high, and it is home to some of the best medical facilities in the world. This comes with a corresponding price tag. Medical costs in Singapore are among the highest in Asia and can be comparable to or even exceed those in the US or Western Europe. Expats should ensure they have comprehensive health insurance to cover medical expenses, as even a simple consultation with a general practitioner can be costly.
Prescription medication is also expensive, and over-the-counter medicines often come with a higher price tag than expats may be used to. Dental care is not covered by the public health system and can be particularly costly, so expats should secure dental insurance as well.
Cost of domestic help in Singapore
The average cost of a live-in maid in 2023 is between SGD 600 and SGD 1,000 a month, excluding the SGD 300 government levy. The employer will also provide accommodation and food as part of the package. It's also possible to hire part-time domestic workers for between SGD 10 and SGD 30 per hour.
Cost of living in Singapore chart
Prices may vary depending on the product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for December 2023.
|Accommodation (monthly rent)
|Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre
|Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centre
|One-bedroom apartment in the city centre
|One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre
|Food and drink
|Milk (1 litre)
|Loaf of white bread
|Chicken breasts (1kg)
|Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)
|Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant
|Big Mac Meal
|Bottle of beer (local)
|Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)
|Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)
|Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)
|City-centre public transport fare
|Gasoline (per litre)
What do expats say about the cost of living in Singapore?
"Singapore on paper is very expensive. However, due to expat salaries and the low tax, I find it quite affordable (do note I don't have kids, which makes a massive difference to budgeting as education can be exorbitant)." Read more about Scott, a South African expat, and what he has to say about life in Singapore.
►For more about money matters, see Banking, Money and Taxes in Singapore
Are you an expat living in Singapore?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Singapore. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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