There seems to be a lot to figure out and put into place when moving your family abroad, so here is a guide for all the key components you will need to organise in order to make the process as smooth as possible.Visas
Firstly, either yourself or your spouse will require an “Employment pass” (work visa).
This visa is for foreign professionals who have a job offer in Singapore. To gain an employment pass you must meet the eligibility criteria (generally based on type of job offer, salary and qualifications) and the employer will apply for the visa on your behalf.
For a first time candidate, the visa will last for two years. Upon renewal it will go up to three years of validity.
The employment pass is open to all nationalities.
Subsequent family visas:
The spouse must be a legally married spouse, and dependent children are defined as unmarried and under the age of 21.
Long term visit pass
For parents, common-law spouses, step children or handicapped children who are unmarried and under the age of 21.
The eligibility of some family members obtaining a dependant or long term visit pass will often be based on your income and it is highly recommended to check the exact criteria in comparison to the salary you will be earning.
The application for these passes will be conducted by your employer.
An Entrepass is for those looking to start a business in Singapore, providing they meet the correct criteria and can provide all the evidence necessary for the application.
Entrepass holders are only entitled to dependant privileges after they renew their passes, and the family members that are able to obtain dependant passes will depend on the company meeting requirements of business spending and number of local jobs created.
For those not in the corporate sphere of work, mid-level skilled foreigners can apply for an S pass. S pass eligibility is judged by a point scheme.
The number of positions is subject to a foreign work quota.
S pass holders may apply for dependant passes but will not be able to obtain them if their salary is below a certain level.
Visa/work pass process
All visa and pass applications should be arranged prior to arrival in Singapore. Upon arrival the passes will be issued, and you must also register your fingerprints and photo within two weeks of arrival.
This should be done by way of appointment with the EPSC (Employment Pass and services centre) and you should also bring along your passport, appointment letter, notification letter and any other documents listed in the letter.
Healthcare and medical insurance in Singapore
The healthcare system in Singapore is excellent. According to the WHO (World Health Organisation) ranking of world health systems, Singapore ranked at number six and is number one in the Asia-Pacific region for healthcare.
Employers can choose whether to provide medical insurance but since it is down to their discretion, you may need to purchase your own health insurance package to cover you and your family.
When considering an insurance package you will want to factor in what cover will be suitable for your current and future plans as a family.
For example, inpatient cover and dental cover will certainly be needed but what about additionally considering maternity cover? If this is something on the cards for you then you will also need to make an “Application to deliver” in Singapore.
It is a good idea to use insurance comparison sites for expats to find a vetted insurer that will meet your requirements.
Be vigilant in declaring any pre-existing conditions to your insurance company when purchasing cover; even a condition such as mild asthma should be declared in order to fully assess and provide adequate cover.
Additional cover can be purchased to include outpatient care, although many expats choose to pay this fee themselves as the cost is quite affordable, as opposed to a premium package.
Long term residency options
All Singapore citizens and permanent residents are lawfully required to contribute to “Medisave”, the funds of which can be used by you or your dependants to pay for medical expenses.
Another aspect of the healthcare system and insurance to consider if you are likely to become a permanent resident is “Medishield”, which is a low cost insurance for financial protection in the event of a serious/prolonged illness. The premiums can be paid with Medisave funds.
You do not need a tourist visa or even an employment pass to open a bank account in Singapore and therefore this can be arranged prior to your arrival if preferred.
If you are a foreigner who lives outside of Singapore but still wishes to open a bank account for the purposes of saving, trading or investment then this can be done online, or in a branch once you arrive.
“When going to the bank, a cheque book is needed in Singapore, they are phasing them out in the U.K, but they seem to be used widely here. Also we thought we had to wait for our actual employment pass to open an account, but you just need to get a number. We opened the account in our uk address as we hadn’t got a tenancy agreement yet. Bring bills for proof of address from home.” – Expats in Singapore member Emma Stratford.
One aspect to bear in mind though, is that if you are on a dependant spouse visa, you will not be able to open a separate bank account (only a joint account with your spouse who holds the working visa/employment pass).
Local banks are a good option for free ATM withdrawals or alternatively the “ATM5” network of international banks such as HSBC, ANZ, Standard Chartered or Citibibank and Maybank AMTS that display the ATM5 logo.
Other factors to consider when choosing a bank account should be services offered such as online banking and cashless transactions, local and international transfer charges, minimum bank balance requirements and any age limits.
To apply for a credit card you will need to make an appointment with the bank and bring your passport, employment pass and company ID.
It is also possible to open a corporate bank account in Singapore, though often the directors will need to be physically present and various pieces of company paperwork will be required.
For foreigners looking to rent in Singapore it is usually best to choose a reputable agent who can use their knowledge of Singapore to secure a good deal for you and who will protect your interests.
Research the areas that will be most suited to you, such as nearby schools or public transport systems like the MRT.
For the rental process you will need a photocopy of your passport and employment pass as well as an LOI (letter of intent). This will be a letter outlining your intentions for the property and requirements from the landlord.
The landlord should sign the LOI (ensure you make a copy for yourself to keep) prior to producing the tenancy agreement.
Check the tenancy agreement for a Diplomatic / Escape clause / Reimbursement clause which will protect you in the event that your contract of employment is terminated or you are relocated to another country.
In Singapore the tenancy is subject to stamp duty and will need to be “stamped” by Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore to be considered valid. The costs incurred (which are dependant on the length of rental period) are usually covered by the tenant.
Up front costs
It is best to be prepared for the numerous up front costs that can be incurred during the first stage of your rental process in Singapore.
“We had to pay 3 months’ rent in advance (1 month advance rent and 2 months’ security deposit).
Also Singapore power ask for a 500 dollar deposit in the account as well.” – Expats in Singapore member Emma Stratford.
As with rental, it is wise for foreigners looking to purchase a property in Singapore to use a reputable agent.
Due to the Residential Property Act or “RPA” there are some restrictions on foreigners buying property in Singapore which mainly pertains to vacant land, “landed” properties (such as terraced houses, semi-detached houses and bungalows), shophouses, HDB apartments, executive condominiums or residential property in a building with fewer than 6 levels. Purchasing such properties will require prior approval and an application must be made via the Land Authority of Singapore.
Foreigners are able to purchase apartments without prior approval, such as a condominium (if approved under the planning act) or an apartment in a building of six levels or more.
Aside from agency and solicitors’ fees there are some additional costs for purchasing property in Singapore which should be taken into consideration.
Option to purchase
Prepare 1% of the purchase price for the option to purchase from the seller. This will usually be prepared by the seller’s solicitor or agency and will be presented to you with the option to proceed.
This can often be followed by a further 4% – 9% before finalising.
Stamp duty (BSD)is based on the market value or purchase price of the property, depending on which is the greater amount.
Additional buyers’ stamp duty (ABSD) is an additional stamp duty which for foreigners would be 15% and for Singapore permanent residents would be 5%. It is payable at a fixed rate of the price paid or market value of property, whichever is the greater amount.
Types of property
Private apartments and condominiums
The most common type of rental property for expats in Singapore is a “Private Condominium”, which is a serviced apartment that often includes facilities such as a swimming pool, gym or tennis court.
Private apartments are very similar though without the additional facilities. Apartments range from studio apartments to five bedrooms with a separate dining room.
Shared accommodation is also popular in Singapore and readily available. You can explore this option via private expat forums or local newspapers.
Other property types in Singapore include:
Apartments built and maintained by the Housing Developments Board. HDB apartments are on the restricted list for purchase by foreigners.
Foreigners can rent a room in an HDB flat given that they have an valid employment or long-term visit pass.
It is more difficult for a foreigner to rent an entire HDB flat due to the non-citizen subletting quota.
Executive Condominiums are similar to private condominiums and are in between the public housing (such as HDB) and that of the private apartments.
The situation for foreigners is similar to that of above. It is easier to rent a room than it is an entire flat as the HDB and EC apartments were designed to cater to Singaporeans as affordable living.
Also launched by the Housing Developments board but are specifically designed to be “multi-generation flats”. They are catered to Singaporean couples or families that will also have extended family members such as their parents living with them.
Due to the nature of these flats, they are not particularly a viable option for foreigners unless you are a permanent resident or married to a Singaporean citizen and require such an apartment.
For application you will need to be married or engaged, or divorced with children, and will be having at least one parent (who is also a citizen or permanent resident) residing with you.
This is on the restricted list for purchase by foreigners. Due to the lack of space in Singapore, “landed property” (i.e. residential property where the owner has title to the land) is highly coveted and Singaporean citizens are put into consideration first.
Landed property also encompasses other types of property in Singapore such as town houses, terraced houses, bungalows, detached houses and semi-detached houses.
As mentioned earlier in this article, specific applications have to be submitted in order to be considered eligible to purchase such properties.
They are available to be rented by foreigners.
Cluster houses are still a bit of a rarity and a hybrid of sorts between landed and condominium properties. They come in various forms of bungalows, terraces and semi-detached dwellings but offer condo-style facilities.
Conversion houses are historically significant properties in Singapore which have been renovated.
Not dissimilar to terrace houses, these also come under the same band as conversion houses. These distinctive above-shop dwellings are usually two to three stories up and do not tend to come up in the market very often.
As with other types of landed property, cluster, conversion and shophouses will be restricted for foreign purchase and will need specific applications, though they should be available to be rented.
Whilst there are specific kindergartens to choose from, many international schools are inclusive of pre-school age, starting from 18 months sometimes up until the age of 18 years old.
The general consensus among the expat community is that it can be quite difficult to get your children into the government schools.
To be accepted into a public/government school children will need to take the AEIS exams.
The exams will need to be paid per child, this is a non-refundable amount and a school placement is not guaranteed.
Most international schools have a waiting list and have individual policies regarding applications and admissions.
It is best to get in touch directly with the schools, arrange tours and discuss applications with the schools Admissions Officer to have a better insight to their procedure.
When enrolling your children at school (be it public or International), it is a good idea to bring any previous school reports which their new school will want to look at. On occasion and depending on the school, the children may be interviewed.
What’s the difference?
The most obvious difference between public and international schools are the fees. Fees depend on your status (such as whether you are a permanent resident), the age of your child and the school at which they are enrolled/applying to.
As a general rule of thumb, the international schools tend to be two to three times the amount of public schools, with additional costs such as one-off registration and confirmation fees.
They also have different approaches in terms of learning style. The public schools are typically regarded as more regimental and structured whereas a large portion of international schools focus on holistic learning approaches and creativity. Additionally, international schools usually provide support for those with learning difficulties.
All public schools follow the same curriculum, whereas international schools vary.
There is also a difference in the school hours and breaks. Most public school hours usually start around 7am – 7:30am and end just before 2pm, with a 30 minute lunch break. The international school hours usually start around 9am and finish at about 3pm with a 60 minute lunch break.
All public schools follow the same holiday calendar but holiday dates can vastly vary between international schools.
A few other tips to help you on your way in your everyday life in Singapore:
• When buying a phone, first check whether your employer gets a corporate discount. Take your passport and employment pass.
• You can use your home country’s driving licence for up to the first 12 months of your stay in Singapore before you will be required to convert it.
• Apply for a “Singpass” which is a common password that allows you to transact with different government agencies online. This will be useful for filling taxes.
• Buy an “EZLink card” for public transport.
All the best for your new life in Singapore!
Do you have any tips for other readers? Share them in the comments below!