The Cost of Living in Singapore
By Lim Yan Wen

Let us count the dollars and cents of living and working in Singapore.

You have made a choice to relocate to Singapore for your career, and chances are you've heard all sorts of good things about living and working here. It sounds like a grand adventure, full of exciting new things to see and do.

While you rejoice in your new-found life in this part of the world, you also need to remain grounded in reality, which means making sure that you have enough funds to support yourself here. Here's when you need to crunch numbers to figure out how to live within your means in Singapore for an extended period of time.

Consumer price indices
The best place to start your research is to look up a relevant consumer price index. There are two types of consumer price indices that you should be aware of – the Consumer Price Index (CPI) compiled by Statistics Singapore, and the Expatriate Consumer Price Index (ECPI) compiled independently by the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC).

The CPI is compiled on a monthly basis and is freely available from the Statistics Singapore website, while the ECPI is updated annually and compiled together with the SICC's comprehensive publication of expatriate living costs in Singapore. Unfortunately, gaining access to the ECPI requires you to buy the publication from SICC.

The difference between the CPI and ECPI arises mainly from the different basket of goods used to calculate the cost of living. The CPI reflects the spending patterns of local Singaporeans and reflects trends in food prices, while the ECPI takes housing rental into consideration – a more accurate reflection of an expatriate's cost of living in Singapore. As such, the index of accommodation prices alone accounts for 40% of the ECPI.

Nonetheless, for the sake of illustration, take a look at the latest CPI available at time of print.

Consumer Price Index (2004 = 100)

Group

Weights (%)

Feb 2007

Jan 2008

Apr 2007

Feb 2007 to Feb 2008

% change from Dec 2007 to Dec 2008

All Items

100

16.6

112.3

112.0

111.3

4.3

Food

23

109.3

115.9

116.2

116.5

6.5

Clothing & Footwear

4

100.7

103.0

102.5

1.8

Housing

21

107.3

124.4

124.2

122.8

14.4

Transport & Communication

22

102.3

100.8

99.1

96.5

-5.7

Education & Stationery

8

106.2

108.7

108.6

108.6

2.2

Health Care

5

108.1

109.5

110.1

7.4

Recreation & Others

17

108.3

110.8

110.5

111.2

2.6


Singapore Department of Statistics, Mar 2008

Singapore has consistently enjoyed a very low rate of inflation of about 0.5% to 2.0% over the last 10 years. As a result of imported inflation due to higher global prices, however, inflation reached a high of 6.5% in 2008.

Nevertheless, there is no major cause for concern as the Singapore Government has been prompt in adopting a multi-faceted approach to tackle the economic problem. A few strategies are already in place to help Singaporeans cope with inflation and to ensure that Singapore continues to have a lower inflation rate than the rest of the world over the medium term.

Accommodation matters
What the CPI doesn't adequately reflect, however, is the impact of fluctuations in property prices and rental rates in Singapore over the past year. At press time, rental rates range from S$2,000 to as high as S$19,000 a month, for private apartments of 900sqft to 5,000sqft in District 10, one of the prestigious residential areas in Singapore.

Of course, these figures merely give a gauge of the costs involved. In practice, rental rates and property prices are affected by many other factors such as location, number of rooms, amenities, vicinity to malls or train stations, and so on.

For a glimpse of current property rates in Singapore, visit the websites of local realty companies such as PropNex (www.propnex.com), Knight Frank Singapore (www.kf.com.sg), and iProperty.com (www.iproperty.com.sg) which also has a resource guide for expatriates.

Generally, recent reports indicate that private property prices decreased in the fourth quarter of 2008 due to waning demand. During that time, the prices of private residential properties fell 6.1%, while rental rates decreased 5.3%. On the whole, private property prices fell 4.7% in 2008, while rental rates increased by 2%, paling in comparison to the 41.2% increase enjoyed by landlords in 2007.

Other major costs
Besides accommodations, other major expenditures would include transport and food.

Inflationary conditions and rising costs of raw materials have seen prices of transport and food increase significantly over the past year. However, price hikes are never unreasonable, as public transport services are run by commercial public-listed companies. Their fares are regulated by the Public Transport Council (PTC) which has the power to block any unjustifiable proposal for fare increases.

The most recent price hike for taxis took place in December 2007, which saw a 12% increase in starting fare from $2.50 to $2.80, and the tripling of a surcharge to (from S$1 to S$3) for taxis entering Singapore's downtown area after 5pm. The last increase for bus and Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) trains – a mere increase of 1 to 3 cents per trip – took place on 1 October 2006 after extensive consultations with PTC. 

Public buses and MRT trains accept payments via ez-link cards, which are stored-value cashcards. There is a good reason for this – fares are cheaper across the board when paid through ez-link cards.

Fares for Air-Conditioned Public Buses

Fare Stages

Ez-link

Cash

4 and under

$0.71

$1.00

4.5 to 7

$0.93

$1.20

7.5 to 10

$1.13

$1.40

10.5 to 13

$1.23

$1.50

13.5 to 18

$1.33

$1.60

18.5 to 23

$1.43

$1.70

23.5 to 29

$1.52

$1.80

29.5 to 35

$1.62

$1.90

>35

$1.67

$1.90



Fare for MRT Trains

Distance (km)

Adult Fares

ez-link card

Standard Ticket

Up to 3.2

$0.70

$1.00

3.21 to 4.4

$0.82

$1.20

4.41 to 5.6

$0.92

$1.20

5.61 to 7.2

$1.02

$1.30

7.21 to 8.0

$1.12

$1.40

8.01 to 10.4

$1.12

$1.40

10.41 to 12.4

$1.32

$1.60

12.41 to 14.4

$1.37

$1.60

14.41 to 16.5

$1.43

$1.60

16.51 to 18.6

$1.47

$1.60

18.61 to 21.1

$1.54

$1.80

21.11 to 23.6

$1.55

$1.70

23.61 to 26.0

$1.64

$1.80

26.01 to 28.0

$1.69

$2.00

28.01 to 30.0

$1.74

$2.00

>30.0

$1.79

$2.00

By using an ez-link card, your bus fare would range from $0.71 to $1.67 per trip, while the train fare would cost from $0.70 to $1.79. However, commuters also get to enjoy transport rebates of 40 cents per trip (for adults), when using the same ez-link card for two or three successive portions of their journey, such as transferring from one bus to another, or from bus to MRT or vice versa. (The fourth transfer does not qualify for a rebate.)

As for food, eating out in Singapore is generally cheap. That is, if you eat regularly at food courts or hawker centres like most Singaporeans do. Generally, the cost of a meal at most food courts and hawker centres ranges from as low as $2.00 to about $8.00.

If you prefer dining in for a home-cooked meal, you can buy groceries from several supermarkets in Singapore, namely Cold Storage, NTUC, Shop N Save, Carrefour, and Giant. The range of supermarkets available guarantees you can find what you’re looking for.

Sample prices of groceries
Groceries Prices

Minced beef

$20.30 / kg

Fresh milk

$$3.00 / 1L

Eggs (large)

$0.30 each

Butter

$3.15/ 250g

Local tomatoes

$2.90 / kg

Local lettuce

$5.90 / kg

USA apples

$0.99 for 3

Green seedless grapes

$9.90 / kg

Coffee

$7.35 / 200g

Sugar

$2.75 / 2kg

Plain bread

$1.50 / 400g

Wholemeal bread

$3.09 / 600g

Once again, these numbers are not necessarily representative of current supermarket prices in Singapore. However, these estimates certainly show that food is relatively cheap here.

Medical costs
Singapore has world-class healthcare facilities, making it a popular destination for medical tourists from all over the world. Both government and private hospitals are well-equipped and charge fees based on the type of ward chosen. Rates in private hospitals are generally higher than that of government hospitals. Note that fees for tests, medication, doctors' consultation and operations are charged separately from ward fees. Foreigners pay more for treatment at government or government-restructured hospitals, and can only stay in Class A and B1 wards, unless they are willing to pay double the fees charged for staying in B2 and C wards.

Most housing estates in Singapore have private clinics where General Practitioners (GPs) operate from. Their fees depend on your illness and the costs of treatment or drug presciptions. Basic fees for a short consultation cost anything from $18 to $30.

Polyclinics are one-stop, government-run medical centres that offer services for outpatient care. Located in most housing estates and town centres, consultation can cost up to $9.00 for Singaporean adults, or about $20.00 for non-residents. A week's supply of medicine can cost up to $10.00.

In Singapore, you can pay for healthcare costs through medical insurance policies. Other than taking up medical policies by insurance companies, you can also pay for hopitalisation bills using your Medisave or MediShield accounts which are part of your Central Provident Fund (CPF). CPF is a compulsory comprehensive social security savings plan which aims to provide working Singaporeans with a sense of security and confidence in their old age. If you have an existing insurance policy, check with the insurance company to see if they have a branch in Singapore so that you can continue to service your policy here.

Two healthcare institutions – SingHealth Group and National Healthcare Group – run the public hospitals and specialist centres in Singapore. SingHealth runs Changi General Hospital, KK Women's and Children's Hospital and Singapore General Hospital, while National Healthcare Group runs Alexandra Hospital, National University Hospital and Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

Ward/Class

SingHealth Group

National Healthcare Group

A (Single bed)

$267 to $314

$239 to $248

B1 (4 beds)

$160 to $203

$160

B2 (6 beds)

$50 to $182

$50

C (Open ward)

$25 to $160

$25

Recreational costs
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

For the young and adventurous, Singapore offers a great variety of entertainment, from karaoke to movies to a range of nightspots. Prices vary based on locations, day and time, so it's best to visit the outlets for an accurate feel of how much they cost.

The cover charge of most clubs in Singapore ranges from $20 to $50, depending on the establishment and the day (on Ladies' Nights for example, women get in for free or at heavily discounted rates). A jug of lager beer (enough to fill about five to six mugs) costs between $30 and $40 at most pubs in Singapore. Wine and hard liquor vary greatly in price depending on the establishment and vintage, with the best bottles costing easily $200 or more.

Movie tickets for adults cost $7.50 or $8.50 on weekdays and $10.00 or $10.50 on weekends (which includes Friday evenings). Snacks sold at the cinema cost between $6 to $15 for hot dogs, popcorn or nachos.