Singapore, a city-state in Southeast Asia, is one of the world’s largest financial and cultural centers. It’s also one of the most expensive cities in the world for expats, according to consulting firm Mercer’s 2020 Cost of Living Survey, published by global human resources consulting firm Mercer.
In fact, according to Mercer, Singapore is the fifth most expensive city to live in for expats. While a low cost of living is often a primary driving force behind the decision to retire abroad, it’s certainly not the case for this archipelago of some 60 islands.
Retiring here is more about enjoying the cosmopolitan culture and less about trying to make your savings last longer. And then there’s the visa issue: Singapore does not offer a retirement visa to foreigners. Still, despite the financial and diplomatic issues, many people are drawn to the “Switzerland of Asia” for their retirement years. Here’s what it might cost.
A Good Starting Point
There’s no doubt that Singapore has a high cost of living. According to Numbeo, a database of user-contributed info about cities and countries across the globe, as of 2020, you can expect to pay about $2,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center or about $3,857 for a three-bedroom unit. You can save money if you live outside the city center, where rent is closer to $1,376 for a single bedroom and $2,308 for three. It’s possible, of course, to spend a lot more.
While rent will undoubtedly be a big part of your monthly budget, you will have other expenses, too, which might average:
- $300-$500 for utilities, including internet, mobile, electricity, water, and conservancy fees
- $450-$750 for meals, based on breakfast and dinner at home, lunch at "hawker centers" (cheap, open-air food courts with a variety of stalls)
- $87 for transportation (using the Mass Rapid Transit system)
- $75-$150 a month for routine healthcare needs
- $100-$200 a month for health insurance that covers surgery and hospitalization
This works out to a monthly budget that starts at about $2,500 for a one-bedroom apartment outside the city center at the lower end of the other expenses, or up to about $5,000 if you rent a three-bedroom apartment inside the city center and spend at the lower end of the other expenses. Of course, your monthly expenditure can run upwards of $10,000 if you live in one of the ultra-luxurious properties in the city center or on the coast.
In addition to housing and meals, local transportation, and healthcare, you may have other expenses to plan for. If you would like a domestic helper, for example, you should plan on an extra $700 to $800 a month. And, depending on your lifestyle, you could end up spending significantly more on meals (especially if you frequent the city's many fine-dining establishments) and entertainment (a premier seat at the Singapore Symphony Orchestra typically fetches more than $100).
Traveling could add to your monthly expenses. Headed back to the U.S. for a visit? Round-trip fares from Singapore to New York City run from about $900 to $1,500 for economy class (depending on your travel dates) to more than $10,000 for first class. Singapore is a major aviation hub, so travel to other destinations to Asia and beyond is temptingly easy but, of course, will cost you.
Although Singapore doesn’t offer a retirement visa, foreigners who meet strict requirements can apply for permanent residency through one of three programs:
- Professional, Technical Personnel, and Skilled Workers (the most popular category)
- Global Investor Program
- Foreign Artistic Talent
Each category has its own requirements, and you’ll either have to work or invest in Singapore to qualify. For the former, you have to be employed and actively working in the city-state before you apply, and before you turn 50 years old. Otherwise, foreigners are required to invest at least $2.5 million Singapore dollars (about $1.8 million at current rates) in the local economy by opening a new business or by expanding an existing business.
The U.S. State Department provides up-to-date information regarding the safety and stability of various countries, including any travel warnings and alerts. While Singapore is generally considered safe, the State Department notes that “extremist groups in Southeast Asia have launched attacks in neighboring countries. U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Singapore and neighboring countries should, therefore, exercise caution and remain vigilant about their surroundings, particularly in areas where U.S. citizens and other Westerners live, work, congregate, shop, or visit.” U.S. citizens traveling or residing abroad are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which provides security updates and makes it easier for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you or your family in case of an emergency.
The Bottom Line
Because so many people looking abroad for retirement do so (at least in part) to enjoy a lower cost of living, Singapore is not a popular spot for expat retirees in Southeast Asia. It’s possible to retire in Nha Trang, Vietnam, for example, for as little as $650 a month.
Also, the visa situation in Singapore is challenging. Other countries in Southeast Asia make it much easier for expat retirees. The Philippines, for example, offers both a retirement visa and a number of financial benefits, including discounts for the 60+ crowd, a duty-free import of up to $7,000 worth of household goods, and no airport travel taxes.
Still, it is possible to settle down in Singapore, especially if you have an established work history in the country and a jumbo-sized nest egg.