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Are you moving to Singapore from Germany as an EU citizen? This checklist guide was written just for you.
Singapore frequently tops the rankings of most desirable global destination for expatriate work and, while the cost of living can be high, it really does have so much going for it in terms of jobs, environment, arts, culture and entertainment. In the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey, it ranked first overall for ‘Little Expats’, reflecting how easy it is for kids to make friends, learn at school and find entertainment – reassuring if you are moving with children. This guide dives into what to expect if you are an EU citizen looking to move from Germany to Singapore.
Make sure you check out this guide on how to move to Singapore. It explains everything you need to know about the international removals process.
If you want to move to Singapore from Germany, you can get a free international move quote here.
EU citizens moving to Singapore from Germany will find a sizeable German diaspora. The number of German companies based in Singapore has been steadily growing in recent years, as has the number of EU residents from Germany. There are now around 1,850 German firms in the city, involved in everything from chemicals to chocolate, and some 10,000 Germans living there – composed mainly of company employees and their families, but also students and scientists working at the city’s universities. EU and German employers usually see Singapore as a regional hub or headquarters to oversee the Southeast Asia operations and take advantage of the city’s numerous free trade agreements with ASEAN partners.
Germany is Singapore’s largest trade partner in Europe; Singapore is Germany’s largest trade partner in ASEAN. Bilateral trade is growing quickly – in 2019, Singapore’s exports to Germany were worth approximately €5.7 billion, German exports to Singapore around €87.3 billion. Technological collaboration has grown significantly in recent years, with German firms setting up R&D units in the city state. Deutsche Messe’s Industrial Transformation Asia‑Pacific (ITAP) trade fair took place in Singapore for the second time in 2019.
Singapore has strong bilateral relations with Germany. With a strong British influence, EU citizens moving to Singapore from Germany should expect the use of English as the main national language, left-hand driving and a thriving EU expatriate scene. Germans will also appreciate high levels of safety, cleanliness and order, a highly efficient transportation system and good all round disability access. German nationals will also be happy to find traces of home in the bustling German biergartens and restaurants dotted around the city.
Germany and Singapore have had a bilateral cultural agreement since 1990. The Goethe Institute has an office in the state and there is a German Academic Exchange Service Information Point. The Technical University of Munich set up Singapore’s first German university campus in 2002, while research giant, Fraunhofer‑Gesellschaft, launched an affiliate in 2017- Fraunhofer Singapore.
Singapore gained autonomy from the UK in 1963 and two years later separated from the Federation of Malay States (proto-Malaysia) to become an independent and sovereign state in 1965. One of the catalysts for this was racial tension among the ethnic groups – something Singapore has actively avoided since then.
The republic has a racially diverse population of 5.3 million, composed mainly of ethnic Chinese, Malays and Indians, with around 43% of the population born abroad. This makes it one of the top cities for foreign born inhabitants. Mandarin is the second most widely spoken language and the country is an excellent place to learn both English and Mandarin. ‘Singlish’ – an elaborate blend of English, Mandarin, Hokkien, Malay and Tamil - is also commonly used.
Singapore is a wealthy country with the sixth highest GDP per capita in the world. Without many natural resources, this has been built on shipping, banking, finance, accounting, technology, healthcare and life sciences. Its location makes it an ideal travel hub for the whole of South East Asia.
Germans will appreciate the high level of racial harmony in Singapore - something that Germany and the EU in general strives to attain. It is not uncommon that within several hundred metres of your apartment, you’ll find a church, a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple, and a mosque and the followers of each faith can be commonly found eating together at the nearby food court. This is simply accepted and not questioned in Singapore, and proactive policies by the government, such as racial quotas for housing complex inhabitants, ensure that communities remain integrated and mixed. Singapore is keen to avoid the issues of the past.
Singapore has a fast-moving and competitive job market. Traditionally important sectors have been banking and finance, trading, technology and healthcare. However, business services and R&D are becoming increasingly important. The republic exercises some stringent employment laws with regards to foreign nationals to help safeguard local employment rates, and the bar for attaining visas is set reasonably high. An ‘offer in principle’ from an employer will be required before arriving in the city. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will then issue a visa for work – the two most popular of which are the Employment Pass (earnings threshold SGD 3,600/EUR 2,260 per month) or the S-Pass (threshold SGD 2,400/EUR 1,500). For more information on Visas and to check whether you qualify – visit Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) website. Alternatively, contact our immigration team for visa support.
Many expats choose to employ Singapore recruitment firms to propose job openings and assist with the visa and onboarding process. They can advise on how best to present and market your profile locally, and provide details on the working conditions and expectations in-country, such as holiday entitlement and work-life balance, which can different from the EU depending on the global standards of the employer.
So, you’ve heard about how expensive Singapore is. Can you afford to live there?
Many Germans used to paying high taxes, will be relieved to hear that taxes in Singapore are lower. However, the cost of living is still high. Singapore consistently tops the rankings of the most expensive city, as compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual worldwide cost of living report. With that being said, it also has some of the highest salaries and lowest taxes. There is also a much greater diversity of prices than you might typically find in the EU, while day-tripping across the causeway to much-less-expensive Johor Bahru in Malaysia is common practice. Expatriate relocation packages – with allowances that often include accommodation and schooling, result in a much higher take-home pay.
Housing is the greatest financial outlay in Singapore – this page covers the types of housing and locations below. On tip of that are utilities and food, let’s break those down first.
Compared to Berlin, for example, utility costs tend to be significantly lower in Singapore for the same usage. While heating isn’t required, aircon and ceiling fans use a lot of electricity. Costs for cell phone and internet usage are fairly comparable to Germany. Note that the default communication in Singapore is through What’s App or Facebook Messenger, driven by an entrepreneurial culture of small business with no websites but active Facebook profiles. Billing is generally more straightforward than in Germany and settled through a mobile app.
Groceries tend to be more expensive in Singapore than in Germany – although this depends largely on whether you are looking for German, EU, American or Australian products in supermarkets. Buying local Asian produce from ‘wet markets’ is significantly cheaper, plus there tends to be a much greater variety. You’ll be amazed by the different types of bananas on sale! Elsewhere, eating out is expensive in restaurants but cheaper in the food courts and at the hawker stalls – more on that later.
Imported European cars can cost more than double what they would in the EU – making German car brands a real status symbol in Asia. The government also regulates the number of cars by limiting the number of (very expensive) permits, or “certificate of entitlement” it issues each year. In addition, every car must install an IU (in-vehicle unit) - a prepaid toll device that automatically deducts fares when you drive under the ERP system. Overall, it’s best to avoid owning a car, unless covered under a package deal, and stick to the world-leading public transport.
Public transport in Singapore is the best way to get around. It is clean, efficient and safe and will take you to every corner of the island, via buses, ferries, Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) trains or taxis. On the trains and buses, you pay for the exact trip length, checking in and out at each end of the journey. This payment is taken off your pre-paid NETS card (cashless payment system) or you can use tap-and-pay with your credit card if you are resident. Taxis are heavily regulated, and most people use the Grab app to book a ride.
Singapore is a small city-state and so land value is at a premium. Singapore is actually increasing its land mass through extensive land reclamation projects, but these tend to be for industrial and commercial use. This means that Singapore builds upwards, with most people living in apartment blocks or condominiums – known as ‘condos’ for short. Unless you are on an expatriate package that includes accommodation, this will be your biggest financial outlay.
Condos offer flexibility and convenience, as well as pools, gyms and multi-level security. Public housing under the Housing and Development Board (HDB) is also an option and 80% of Singapore’s population live in HDB units but locals have a much higher priority over foreigners for units. When moving to Singapore initially, one option is to rent temporary accommodation before you find the best fit for your personal/family requirements.
Singapore is divided into 28 districts, read our guide to the main districts of Singapore where expats and their families like to live.
The search for schools needs to start quickly after receiving confirmation of a job offer in Singapore. The schools tend to be expensive and overly subscribed. Singaporeans place a premium on education, and the local schools have a different culture to German or European schools in general. Public schools are much more affordable than private or international institutions and lessons are generally conducted in English, with German as an add-on option. But places at local schools are generally reserved for locals and foreigners may have difficulties adjusting to the high expectations, parental pressure and competitiveness that local students are used to from a very early age. Singaporean kids put in long hours of extra study and take private lessons outside of school to gain an advantage. Furthermore, corporal punishment is legal and encouraged by the government for disciplinary purposes with boys – something frowned upon in the EU.
The best private and international schools have long waiting lists and the prices are steep - school fees should certainly be part of the negotiation at employment offer stage. Many expat packages will fund one child, some may partially fund two, but this varies greatly between employers.
International schools are usually the best option for expats who can afford it. The German European School Singapore is the largest German school in Southeast Asia and caters for those seeking the German curriculum. Other schools adopt either the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum or the British system. Children in these schools learn alongside other foreign students living under similar circumstances. Some schools don’t have waiting lists, and these present an option for your children while you wait for an opening at your first-choice school.
Singapore has world leading healthcare standards. 20% of primary healthcare facilities are government run, the rest being private, but all hospitals and clinics offer a mix of subsidised and paid treatments. Foreign nationals can’t benefit from subsidies, so medial insurance is an essential for expatriates, otherwise costs become astronomical. Many international employer benefits packages cover medical costs via a preferred supplier under a group insurance plan – it’s important to check what this will cover. If you need to choose your own plan, there are two main options:
Plans are issued by local providers to residents for use with MediShield Life (the basic national health insurance provision). Expats don’t qualify for Medshield Life but can purchase Integrated Shield plans. These lower-budget options mainly cover hospitalisation (not outpatients, procedures, dental costs, etc.). There is usually a cash deduction (5% or more of your hospital bill) when you claim, and the policies only cover Singapore.
Some local insurance firms offer international health insurance plans specifically for expats. Unlike the Shield plans, these will usually offer coverage for travel outside of the country. Global insurance providers usually offer fully comprehensive insurance plans for individuals, with options to include family members.
The life in Singapore, much like Germany, revolves around food and festivals. Singapore is ahead of many countries in the way it has developed its tourist and cultural attractions with modern buildings and facilities – the fantastic National Art Gallery being a prime example.
Food is at the very heart of Singaporean life and the ethnic mix has created a wild and wonderful melting pot of flavours and colours. With 107 hawker centres (food courts) throughout the city, there’s no shortage of places to sample these and you are never very far from a place to buy food. National favourites include Singapore Chili Crab, Cendol and Char Kway Teow.
Alongside the food are a wide variety of drinks, from a bewildering variety of fruit juices to local teas, coffees and cocktails. Note that alcohol is very expensive, with Singapore ranking highly as one of the most expensive places in the world to buy a beer!
Due to the expatriate scene, there are a number of German biergartens and eateries in Singapore, such as Der Biergarten on Princep Street and a Brotzeit – a chain of German-European restaurants. Paulaner Bräuhaus claims to be Singapore's only German microbrewery and restaurant in-one.
Singapore has a superb array of arts and cultural attractions – from galleries to museums to historic landmarks to resorts - it’s all there and attracts tourists from all over the world. Highlights include Singapore Art Museum, the ArtScience Museum, Maria Bay Sands and even Changi Airport, consistently voted the world’s best international airport and a cool destination in itself, hosting a jungle garden with a huge waterfall and a trampoline park in its roof!
Buildings in the city are a wide mix of British colonial-era mansions, traditional shophouses, religious buildings reflecting the huge spectrum of faiths in the city and modernist skyscrapers and vine-covered eco-hotels. Take a walk though Chinatown’s street market, the Malay-Muslim Kampong Glam or Little India to get a feeling for each community.
Singapore’s excellent zoo hosts night safaris while the Jurong Bird Park houses one of the widest collections of tropical birds in the world. The well-kept activity parks, walks and gardens range from kids-activity parks to the more serious jungle trekking trails at Bukit Timah.
German culture is also represented. The German Association is a welcoming club of expatriates and local German culture enthusiasts – the German option in school having created a pool of German-speaking Singaporeans who are exposed to the German language and culture from a young age. The association organises many social, sports and networking events, enabling members to make friends easily. Oktoberfest is also quite big in Singapore and there are even German-speaking Protestant and Catholic churches that allow German families in Singapore to continue family traditions from back home.
Once you are ready to make the move to Singapore, you will need to find a reputable international removal company. Sterling Lexicon can help you with every step of the move process, covering international removals, Singapore visa and immigration advice, home finding and school search. Get a move quote today!
Why not check out the Sterling Lexicon ‘know before you go’ Moving to Germany guide!