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Understanding the cost of living

Singapore was ranked as the world's most expensive city for its second consecutive year in 2016.

According to the latest data by The Economist Intelligence Unit, an annual report which compares, twice-yearly, the cost of a basket of goods across 133 cities. The overall cost of living, however, is currently 8% lower than living in London and 13% cheaper than New York. You can check the up-to-date cost-of-living comparisons of your current city with Singapore Numbeo or at Expatistan.

Expat Insider’s InterNations Survey 2017 found that incomes in Singapore tend to be above the global average — more than two in five respondents have an annual household income of over $100,000. But along with the high wages comes a high cost of living. Singapore ranks in the bottom ten for the survey’s Cost of Living Index.

Food and groceries

Eating out in Singapore depends on where you choose to go and value for money can be found if you’re prepared to be adventurous, with so many cuisines and destinations on offer. Hawker centres have a vast array of small food stalls that serve a variety of food and desserts, almost always prepared to order, and you can grab a bargain lunch for just a few dollars if you can cope with the lack of air-conditioning and the crowds. A basic lunchtime meal including a drink in the business district will cost you SGD $12 (USD $9) whereas a three-course dinner for two at an Italian restaurant in the expat area, including wine, is around SGD $115 (USD $87). For basic groceries, Singapore is cheaper than Seoul, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. One kg of tomatoes in Singapore costs SGD $2.89 while one litre of whole milk costs SGD $2.46.

Travel and transport

The standard of public transport in Singapore is extremely high, and expensive, with transportation costs 2.7 times higher than New York — a monthly ticket for public transport in the city costs SGD $92 (USD $68). A five-mile taxi ride on a business day will set you back SGD $13 (USD $10) and will be impossible to flag down during the rainy season. Singapore is also the most expensive place in the world to buy a car, with road space at a premium, and its complex Certificate of Entitlement system gives you the right to own and operate a vehicle for ten years. After that, you can pay to renew the COE for another 5-10 years. But you’ll have to bid for it in an open auction, and the eventual cost is often more than the price of a new car. Singapore is the ideal location to explore the rest of Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. And with an abundance of budget airlines, you’ll be able to take advantage of seasonal deals and promotions to a variety of destinations.  Ensure you book as early as possible for peak holiday periods.


For parents, securing an international standard education for your children is likely to be your most expensive outlay after housing and is the most appropriate form of education if you want your child to receive their International Diploma, or you’ll only be living in the country for a relatively short period. With costs ranging from USD $10,000 to $15,000 per semester, you’ll also need to budget for the initial application fee, which ranges from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars, and factor in a one-time enrollment fee, which is usually a few thousand dollars. Private schools may require additional expenses for extracurricular activities. If you’d like your children to attend mainstream schools, which pride themselves on their high standard of education, you can apply for admission to Primary 2 to 5 or Secondary 1 to 3 by completing the Admissions Exercise for International Students (AEIS). See the Ministry of Education Singapore for more information.

Renting property

With 28 different property districts, the prime locations closest to the centre will cost more than a place in the suburbs. The Mass Rapid Transit system makes commuting to the centre very easy, and expat families often choose areas to live in districts based on a favoured international school. High-rise apartments are the most popular form of living, with blocks of apartment buildings offering one to five bedroom properties sharing amenities like a park and play area for children. Monthly rent for an 85 m2 (900 Sqft) furnished accommodation in a prime area is around SGD $3,491 (USD $2,638) compared to SGD $2,621 (USD $1,980) per month for an 85 m2 (900 Sqft) furnished accommodation in the suburbs. Utilities are also high, costing around SGD $152 (USD $115) a month for two people.

For the cost of purchasing a property, see our article ‘Buying and renting property.’

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