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Singapore - Property Legal Issues

Rather than renting, some foreigners decide to buy property in Singapore. While this is possible, and many permanent residents and foreigners enjoy their status as homeowners on the island, the process can be a complicated one and does come with some red tape and restrictions.

When it comes to purchasing private property on the island, foreigners and permanent residents are restricted to buying apartments (1) in buildings that are at least six stories high, or (2) any flat in a development approved as a condominium development, or (3) any non-residential, commercial or industrial property. For all other types of property, such as a landed residential property (e.g. detached or semi-detached house), or any vacant land zoned for residential use, foreigners and permanent residents must seek prior approval from the Controller of Residential Property Land Dealings (Approval Unit). The office is at:

Shenton Way #27-02
Temasek Tower
Singapore 068811
Tel: (+65) 6323 9853

The entire approval process takes about 3 months. For more information, you may wish to contact REDAS (Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore) at (+64) 6336 6655.

The Singapore government has placed these restrictions on foreigners so that property is kept affordable for Singaporeans.

Restrictions apply to the following: vacant residential land, landed property, and landed property in strata developments that are not approved condominium developments under the Planning Act. In some cases, townhouses, semi-detached houses and bungalows can be found in condominium projects such as Casabella and Duchess Crest. In these instances, foreigners do not require special approval for purchase.

It is possible for foreigners to purchase freehold and leasehold properties. While you can buy apartments and condominiums without special permission, permission is required to buy all the units in a particular condominium or apartment block. Foreigners are also restricted to buying a maximum of 15,000 sq. ft. of vacant residential land.

Anybody who is not a Singapore citizen, a Singapore company, a Singapore limited liability partnership or a Singapore society is defined as a foreign person.

If you wish to file for permission to purchase a restricted property, you must seek it from the Land Dealings Approval Unit under the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). It takes around 30 working days to process the application and a non-refundable fee of $520 is levied. On the application, they will want to know that you are a PR (permanent resident); if you make an economic contribution to Singapore (including any academic, technical and professional qualifications you might possess), and if you have any investments in Singapore.

If you don’t know which property you want yet, or if you haven’t started your search, you should go ahead and apply for Approval in Principle (AIP), which is good for six months. Sometimes sellers won’t accept your Option to Purchase (OTP) a landed property until you possess an AIP. In addition, you can also protect your interests by inserting a clause stating that the offer is subject to government approval.

Once you have purchased the property, you can’t sell it for at least three years. During those three years, you can only use it to house yourself and your family.

As a foreigner, if you are interested in purchasing a restricted residential property, you can download and complete the approval form from the Land Dealing’s Approval Unit web site.

Land Dealings (Approval) Unit
Singapore Land Authority
55 Newton Road
#12-01 Revenue House
Singapore 307987

However, keep in mind that foreigners are not restricted from purchasing a leasehold estate in restricted residential property, developments that have been approved as a condominium development under the Planning Act, or a flat in a building of 6 levels or more.

More than 80% of Singaporeans live in HDB Flats-apartments built and maintained by the Housing Development Board (HDB). Only Singapore citizens and permanent residents are allowed to purchase a flat directly from HDB. You must also be either a citizen or a Singapore resident to purchase a flat from the resale market. More information can be found on the HDB website.

Housing and Development Board
480 Lorong 6 Toa Payoh
Singapore 310460
Tel : (65) 6490 1111
Tel : (65) 6397 2477

Lastly, when you’re buying a property, you’ll want to ensure that there is not any outstanding tax on it. If there is, enforcement action can be taken against you to recover it. When IRAS is notified of the property transfer, all of the property tax related correspondence including property tax bills will be sent to you. Your attorney should enquire if there are any outstanding or future property tax liabilities. If there are, provisions for the seller to reimburse you for the property tax amount that is to be abided by him should be made so that you are not responsible for his debts.

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