Top 5 things expats have to know about managing finances in Singapore

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In Singapore, expats have great access to a full spectrum of around 700 local and foreign banking and financial institutions. The unit of currency is the Singapore dollar (SGD). One dollar equals 100 cents; notes come in 2, 5, 10, 50, 1,000 and 10,000 denominations; and coins in 5, 10, 20, 50 cents, and 1 SGD. Singapore also has a universal cashless payment system called NETS for making convenient purchases, which is activated automatically on most banks’ ATM cards.

While managing your finances in a new financial landscape can be daunting, the following pointers provide essential tips and know-how on how to make the most of your expat budget and conduct your monetary affairs in Singapore:

#1. Find a Trustworthy Independent Financial Advisor (IFA)

Beyond finding a reputable IFA to assist with your financial planning, you need to make sure he or she is compatible. An IFA will delve deep into your financial affairs so it’s best to get one you trust and get along well with. To what extent can an IFA assist you with financial planning?

  • Wealth Management
  • Planning for Expats’ Private Pensions
  • Investment Management of QROPS, SIPPs and IPPs
  • School or University Fee Planning
  • Insurance and International Wealth Protection
  • Real Estate Planning
  • Asset Protection
  • Trusts and Wealth Distribution (Getting a Will)
  • International Medical Coverage / Health Insurance
  • Alternative Investments for Accredited Investors

To connect with reputable IFAs, do check out our listed financial experts in our Expert Directory section for a head start, or ask other expat peers for references.

#2. Banking and Making Money Transfers In Singapore

To save cash on money transfers, plan in advance (as fees will add up) or consider using a money transfer company after comparing the market. Here’s a smart website that helps you independently compare top international money transfer companies. As a quick fix, some expats choose to withdraw cash from an ATM in Singapore using their foreign debit card. This should be avoided due to expensive fees, and be used as a temporary measure only.

It’s easier for expats to set up an account in Singapore before conducting an international wire transfer. You can set up a savings account easily within a single day. Before you make transfers, do check the applicable fees and restrictions applied by your bank. Expats will need the following documents ready:

  • Copy of passport
  • Employment pass
  • Minimum deposit amount

Unlike savings accounts, opening a current account in Singapore will take some time and proof of residence in Singapore is required. If you’re ready to part with at least SGD100,000 though, another option is private banking. Singaporean private banks offer non-residents all the conveniences of global currency accounts and checking accounts, though at a much pricier scale.

#3. Paying Taxes in Singapore

Expats working in Singapore are liable for income tax payment. Regulated by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS), you can file taxes by submitting paper tax returns or e-filing. If you’re from the UK, the US or Australia, do check if Singapore has made a double taxation avoidance treaty with your home country to avoid paying extra to your home country. Basic tax rules apply, as follows:

  • Expats – Must pay taxes if your period of stay is equivalent to or more than 183 days per year, of if you have Singapore Permanent Residency (SPR).
  • Non-residents – Pay taxes only on income derived from or accrued in Singapore, and not on foreign income received.
  • Filing due date – by mid-April, annually, based on the calendar year.
  • Personal income tax rates—Generally lower than in other developed countries; between two and 20 percent based on one’s income bracket.

#4. Investment for Expats in Singapore

Whether you’re thinking of investing in securities, overseas assets, property or foreign currency, it is wise to seek the advice of wealth management experts. Do check out our listed financial experts in our Expert Directory section for a head start, or ask peers for reliable references. Many of our professional consultants come with a wealth of experience in assisting expats, and are expats themselves with first-hand knowledge.

The investment climate in Singapore is relatively strong and leveraged investments (e.g., through CFDs) are available from Singapore stockbrokers. A recent Expat Explorer survey conducted by HSBC reported that expats in Singapore earning over $200,000 have moved away from their old investment patterns of investing mostly in cash investments to going for a more balanced portfolio of investments. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” as the adage goes. Over the years, Singapore is seeing nearly a quarter of expats hold the highest concentration of investments in real estate, as well as an increase in equity investments.

#5. Insurance for Expats in Singapore

Singapore offers a wide range of coverage options and expats should consider an international cover if they are the frequent globetrotting sort. An international cover can be obtained from a Singapore insurance provider and is considered pricier, but they are less complicated and can eliminate the need to have two separate insurance policies (i.e. one in your home country and one in Singapore).

Aside from health insurance, other key considerations include home insurance, motor insurance (compulsory in Singapore), and personnel insurance and public liability insurance for expats running businesses in Singapore. The rule stipulates that if you hire any worker in Singapore, you are responsible for any injury or accident related to their area of work, so best check this area out if you’re planning to hire employees. Public liability insurance covers you against certain third party claims made against your business.

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