The Cost of Living in Singapore: A Comprehensive Guide for the Foreign Business Owner

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cost of living in Singapore for foreigner foreign business owner

As one of the world’s leading financial centers and a gateway to Asia, Singapore is an attractive destination for foreign businesses looking to expand their global footprint. However, understanding the cost of living and doing business in a new country can be a daunting task. This article aims to explore the various expenses that a foreign business owner may encounter while living and doing business in Singapore (Access to the living cost calculator). From accommodation and transportation to food and groceries, we delve into everyday cost of living in Singapore for foreigner. Additionally, we explore business-related expenses like staff hiring, office rent, and operational costs. This comprehensive guide will also provide insights into the benefits and process of setting up a business in Singapore.

Setting Up a Business in Singapore

Setting up a business in Singapore is an enticing prospect due to several key benefits. The city-state is strategically located at the heart of Southeast Asia, providing excellent connectivity and a gateway to a vast market. The regulatory environment is transparent and conducive to business, with robust laws ensuring intellectual property protection. In terms of taxes, the corporate tax rate is competitive, and there is no capital gains tax, which proves attractive for growing businesses. Moreover, Singapore’s workforce is highly educated, and the quality of life is second to none, making it a desirable destination for both business owners and talent alike.

Starting a business in Singapore involves several fundamental steps (Access the comprehensive guide). Initially, a solid business plan is essential, defining your business model, strategies, and financial forecasts. You’ll need to decide on the appropriate structure for your business, whether it’s a sole proprietorship, partnership, or company. Registration of your company with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) is the next step, requiring the selection of a business name and detailing your business activities, directors, and shareholders. Once registered, you can proceed to open a corporate bank account.

Depending on your business nature, you may need to acquire certain licenses or permits. If you intend to employ staff, ensure you’re compliant with Singapore’s labor laws, including making necessary contributions to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) for Singaporean and Permanent Resident employees. Lastly, establishing a physical presence, whether in a traditional office, a coworking space, or a virtual office, is vital to begin operations.

While setting up a business in Singapore is relatively straightforward, the process’s specifics can vary. Therefore, consultation with legal and financial advisors is recommended to navigate the process smoothly.

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Cost of Living in Singapore for Foreigner

Accommodation & Utilities

Accommodation is one of the significant factors in the cost of living, and it’s no different in Singapore. The cost varies significantly depending on the type of accommodation, its location, size, and various other factors. 

  • Public Housing (HDB Flats): A large proportion of Singapore residents live in public housing flats known as HDBs (Housing and Development Board flats). They are a more economical choice and provide comfortable living spaces. While most HDB flats are owner-occupied, a number of them are available for rent. A 3-room (2 bedrooms) HDB flat can cost around SGD 1,500 to 2,500 per month in rent depending on the location and condition of the flat. Purchasing a resale HDB flat can range from a few hundred thousand to over a million SGD depending on similar factors.
  • Private Apartments and Condominiums: If you’re seeking a more upscale living environment, private apartments and condominiums are plentiful in Singapore. These properties often come with a variety of amenities like a swimming pool, gym, security services, and more. Rental costs can vary widely. In less central areas, you might find a 2-bedroom condominium for around SGD 2,500-3,500 per month, whereas in the prime districts, a similar property can easily cost SGD 4,000-7,000 per month or even more. Purchasing such a property would be in the million-dollar range, depending largely on its location, size, and the facilities it offers.
  • Landed Property: For those desiring the highest level of privacy and space, landed properties such as bungalows and terraced houses are available. However, they come with a steep price tag. Rents can range from SGD 5,000 per month for a small terraced house in an outlying district, up to SGD 15,000 or more per month for a large bungalow in a prime district. Prices for purchasing these properties can easily range from a few million to tens of millions of SGD.
  • Serviced Apartments: Serviced apartments are fully furnished apartments available for short-term or long-term stays, which provide amenities such as utilities, housekeeping, a gym, pool, etc. They can be a good option for business owners planning to stay in Singapore for short durations or as a temporary accommodation when they first move. Prices can vary from SGD 4,000 to SGD 15,000 per month, based on the location, size, and level of service provided.

Utilities The cost of utilities such as water, electricity, and the internet depends on usage and the size of your accommodation. Expect to spend around SGD 150-250 per month for utilities in a standard two-bedroom apartment. Mobile plans can range from SGD 20-100 per month, depending on the provider and plan details.

cost of living in Singapore for foreigner foreign business owner

Transportation

The cost of transportation in Singapore is significantly shaped by the city-state’s emphasis on public transportation, limiting the number of private vehicles on the road through policies such as the Certificate of Entitlement (COE).

  • Public Transportation: Singapore’s public transportation system is known for its efficiency and extensive coverage. It includes the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train system, buses, and taxis. A journey on the MRT or bus usually costs less than SGD 2, with exact fares depending on the distance traveled. For frequent commuters, a monthly travel pass costs SGD 120 for unlimited travel on basic bus services and trains. Taxis, while more expensive, are still affordable by international standards, with fares starting from SGD 3.20 and increasing based on distance and time. Ride-sharing services like Grab are also popular and prices are comparable to taxis.
  • Private Cars: Due to land constraints and environmental considerations, owning a private car in Singapore is a luxury. Costs include the COE (which can range from SGD 30,000 to over SGD 50,000), the car’s price (often higher than in other countries due to heavy taxes), insurance, road tax, parking, Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges during peak hours, and regular maintenance. A budget car can end up costing over a thousand SGD per month taking all these into account. As such, many Singapore residents choose not to own cars.
  • Bicycles and Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs): For short commutes, bicycles and PMDs are a popular choice among Singapore residents due to the island’s increasing number of cycling paths. A good bicycle can cost a few hundred SGD, and electric scooters can range from SGD 500-2,000.
  • Car Rental and Car Sharing: For those who need to drive occasionally, car rental and car-sharing services are available. Daily rental rates can range from SGD 70-200 depending on the car model. Car sharing services such as BlueSG and Tribecar allow you to rent cars on a per-minute basis, starting at SGD 0.50 per minute.
cost of living in Singapore for foreigner foreign business owner

Food and Groceries

The cost of food can vary widely. Dining at hawker centers, a staple of Singaporean culture, can cost around SGD 3-6 per meal. A meal at a casual restaurant may cost around SGD 20-30, and dining at a high-end restaurant can be SGD 50 or more. Grocery expenses can be around SGD 200-400 per month, depending on your dietary preferences and the supermarket you choose.

  • Hawker Centers and Food Courts: A crucial part of Singapore’s culture, hawker centers and food courts provide a wide array of affordable and tasty local foods. Meals here can range from SGD 3-6 per dish. Popular dishes like Chicken Rice, Laksa, or Roti Prata can be enjoyed without burning a hole in your pocket.
  • Casual and Mid-range Restaurants: For a sit-down meal in a casual or mid-range restaurant, expect to pay around SGD 15-30 per person. These restaurants offer a variety of cuisines, from local to international. 
  • High-end Restaurants: Singapore is also home to numerous high-end dining options, including several Michelin-starred restaurants. A meal at these establishments can cost anywhere from SGD 50 to over SGD 200 per person, depending on the restaurant and the type of cuisine.
  • Groceries: The cost of groceries will depend on the supermarket and the kind of food you purchase. Local markets and mid-range supermarkets like NTUC Fairprice and Sheng Siong offer fresh produce, meat, and staple goods at reasonable prices. A monthly grocery bill for a single person might range between SGD 200-400. High-end supermarkets like Cold Storage and Jasons offer a wider range of imported goods but at a higher price.
  • Drinks and Beverages: Coffee from a local kopitiam (coffee shop) can cost as little as SGD 1.5, while a drink at a café may be around SGD 5-6. Alcoholic beverages can be pricey due to high excise taxes. A pint of beer at a bar can cost around SGD 10-15, while a bottle of wine at a supermarket starts at around SGD 20.

Healthcare, Leisure & Children’s Education

Healthcare in Singapore is world-class, with both public and private healthcare options available. The cost of healthcare can vary based on whether you have insurance and the type of treatment required. Routine GP visits can cost around SGD 20-40, while a visit to a specialist can cost over SGD 100. Private insurance can cost a few hundred to several thousand SGD per year, depending on the coverage.

Leisure and entertainment costs vary widely based on your lifestyle. Movie tickets cost around SGD 13, a gym membership can be SGD 100-200 per month, while membership in a high-end sports club can cost several thousand SGD per year. Costs for other activities such as theatre, concerts, or sporting events can vary significantly.

Children’s Education: If you have children, education can be a significant expense. International schools in Singapore can cost from SGD 20,000 to over SGD 40,000 per year. Alternatively, public schools are significantly cheaper but may not always be an option for non-residents. Other costs such as uniforms, extracurricular activities, and transportation can add to the overall expense.

cost of living in Singapore for foreigner foreign business owner

The Business Environment and Operational Costs

Staffing Costs: The cost of hiring staff in Singapore depends on the industry, the job role, and the candidate’s experience. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, the median gross monthly income from work, inclusive of employer’s CPF contributions, was SGD 4,534. You should consult updated resources for current average wages. Employers are also responsible for contributions to the Central Provident Fund (CPF), which is around 17% of an employee’s wages for those under 55. Employee benefits such as insurance, bonuses, and allowances can also add to the staffing costs.

Office Rental Costs: The cost of renting office space in Singapore can vary widely based on the location, size, and type of the property. In prime locations like Marina Bay, Raffles Place, and Orchard, the rental can be as high as SGD 10-20 per square foot per month. In suburban locations, the cost can be much lower, around SGD 4-8 per square foot per month. Co-working spaces, which offer flexible desk spaces and facilities, have become increasingly popular and can cost from SGD 200-800 per month depending on the package.

Operational Costs: Other operational costs to consider include utilities such as electricity, water, and internet, which can vary based on the size of your office and usage. The cost of necessary equipment, maintenance, and software also depends on the nature of the business. For instance, a tech startup might spend more on software and hardware, while a retail business might have more costs associated with inventory and storefront maintenance.

Tax Environment: Singapore is well-known for its business-friendly tax environment. As of 2021, the corporate income tax rate is capped at 17%, with various tax exemptions and incentives available for newly incorporated businesses, resulting in an effective tax rate that can be much lower. Additionally, there is no capital gains tax, and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) stands at 7%. However, it’s worth noting that tax laws can change, and it’s essential to consult with a tax advisor or accountant for the most accurate information. Related article: Why Singapore’s A Tax Haven For Business

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Simplifying Your Business Expansion with TopFDI

Incorporating the discussion points throughout this article, it’s clear that while setting up a business in Singapore can be straightforward, navigating the various costs, regulations, and requirements can be complex, especially for foreign businesses. This is where TopFDI can make a significant difference. 

TopFDI is a leading service provider catering specifically to foreign businesses looking to establish their presence in Singapore. Their comprehensive suite of services is designed to simplify the process and provide crucial support in key areas of business operations:

  • Company Formation: TopFDI can guide you through the entire process of setting up your business in Singapore, from business planning to company registration with ACRA.
  • Tax Filing Service: Navigating the tax environment of a new country can be complex. TopFDI’s tax services help you understand your tax obligations, ensuring timely and accurate tax filing.
  • Accounting Service: TopFDI offers expert accounting services tailored to your business needs, keeping you compliant with Singapore’s accounting standards and helping you make informed financial decisions.
  • Company Secretary: As per Singapore’s regulations, every company must appoint a secretary within six months of incorporation. TopFDI’s company secretary service ensures adherence to all statutory requirements, allowing you to focus on growing your business.

Conclusion

In conclusion, setting up a business in a new country is an exciting venture. However, the cost of living, business expenses, and regulatory requirements can be overwhelming. Partnering with a service provider like TopFDI can simplify the process, leaving you with more time and energy to focus on what truly matters – growing your business and succeeding in the dynamic market that is Singapore.

Expanding your business to Singapore as a foreigner comes with its own unique set of challenges and opportunities. From the cost of living considerations, such as accommodation, transportation, food, and utilities, to the business environment and operational costs, there’s a lot to understand and manage. However, with its strategic location, supportive government policies, and vibrant business ecosystem, Singapore remains one of the world’s top destinations for business expansion.

The process of setting up a business in Singapore is relatively straightforward, yet involves careful planning and a deep understanding of regulatory requirements. This is where partnering with an experienced and dedicated service provider like TopFDI can prove invaluable. With their expertise in company formation, tax filing, accounting services, and company secretarial duties, they can streamline the setup process, ensuring compliance and efficiency.

In conclusion, while the cost of living and doing business in Singapore might be higher than in some other countries, the potential rewards – access to a growing market, a skilled workforce, and a stable business environment – make it a worthwhile investment for many foreign business owners. With proper planning and the right partnerships, your business can thrive in this bustling city-state.

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