Should Expatriates Buy or Rent a Property in Singapore?

5 min read

After paying $3,000+ for your 6th or 7th month in Singapore, you’ll inevitably start to wonder: is the low crime rate because property investment here pays more than selling crack? And also, given that you can buy a place for maybe a thousand dollars more, should you just do that? I’m here to help expatriates figure out the best option:

Consideration #1: Where are you from?

Most foreigners will pay taxes of up to 20% on the property

For most foreigners, there’s an Additional Buyers Stamp Duty (ABSD) of 20 per cent on property ownership. Given that the average condo costs around $1.5 million, that’s a $300,000 premium. That alone may not be a deal breaker, depending on your other investment alternatives; but it might mean renting is still the better option.

But here’s the thing: citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and the United States of America don’t pay this tax. If you’re in this category, you pay the same tax rate as a Singapore Citizen. That means zero ABSD on the first property you buy here, 12 per cent on the second, and 15 per cent on the third.

So buying is a much more attractive option if you’re of these lucky expatriates.

Consideration #2: Do you intend to sell when you leave?

Singapore doesn’t have a capital gains tax; but there is a Sellers Stamp Duty (SSD). This applies only to properties sold within the first three years of purchase (to discourage house flipping, see?)

Sell on the first year, and the SSD is 12 per cent. It falls to eight per cent on the second year, and four per cent on the third year.

For expatriates intending to leave on the second or third year and sell the house, it’s probably not the most cost-effective option. Buying works best when you’re prepared to hold for the long term. You can talk to property agents, for options on managing the property when you’re back home.

Consideration #3: Will you be taxed again back home?

Taxes chasing a man with a money bag
Property taxes are famously low here, but watch out for any double taxation.

There are property taxes in Singapore, although they’re relatively low. The tax is on a tiered system, and is based on the Annual Valuation (AV) of your property. This is the government’s estimation of how much rental income your property could generate:

Owner-Occupier Tax Rates
Annual Value ($) Effective 1 Jan 2015 Property Tax Payable
First $8,000
Next $47,000
First $55,000
Next $15,000

$   900
First $70,000
Next $15,000

First $85,000
Next $15,000

First $100,000
Next $15,000

First $115,000
Next $15,000

First $130,000
Above $130,000


Note that these tax rates are higher, if you start renting out the house:

Non-owner-occupier Residential Tax Rates
Annual Value ($) Effective 1 Jan 2015 Property Tax Payable
First 30,000
Next $15,000
First $45,000
Next $15,000

First $60,000
Next $15,000

First $75,000
Next $15,000

First $90,000
Above $90,000


You’ll want to check with a tax agent on whether you also need to pay taxes for the property back home (double taxation).

Consideration #4: Can this make a better legacy for your children?

Singapore has no inheritance tax. If you’re thinking of an asset for your children, then maybe it’s worth buying a property here instead of just renting. It’s quite common for expatriates to purchase properties here that are later put in trust, for future generations.

There are even foreigners who own a house here, but rent back home (even though they spend more time back in their own countries). This can be a way to optimise the legacy you’ll leave to your children; especially if you’re contending with higher inheritance tax, or legal fees for transfer of property, at home.

Consideration #5: Are you allowed to buy the property you want?

Aerial view of Sentosa island, Singapore
Outside of Sentosa Cove, you’ll usually need government permission to own a landed property

Foreigners usually can’t buy landed properties, without permission from the government (a property agent can brief you on how to appeal for this). The only exceptions are in Sentosa Cove, or on landed properties that are part of other developments (e.g. cluster housing within a condo development).

For condos, note that you can only buy in fully privatised developments. You can’t buy Executive Condominium (EC) units that have yet to cross their 10 year mark. Public housing, such as BTO and resale flats, are also out of the question.

For the most part, this means you’ll be looking at condos. If this property type doesn’t interest you, it may be better to stick to renting.

Final consideration: Are you getting a mortgage from a Singapore bank?

Mortgage rates tend to be lower in Singapore (around two per cent per annum); but there are some quirks that tend to surprise expatriates. The main one is that we have no perpetual fixed rates in Singapore; at the most, you can have a fixed rate for a limited duration (commonly three to five years), before it reverts to a floating rate. So you do need to be ready to deal with the fluctuations.

Second, financing is capped at 75 per cent of the property price or valuation, whichever is lower. Combined with the relatively high quantum, this can mean a much bigger down payment, compared to other countries. A 25 per cent down payment – with follow-up stamp duties – can be tough; to some, lower taxes and a two per cent mortgage rate may not offset the large commitment needed.

Would you buy or keep renting? Voice your thoughts in our comments section or on our Facebook community page.

Looking for a property? Find the home of your dreams today on Singapore’s largest property portal! You can also access a wide range of tools to calculate your down payments and loan repayments, to make an informed purchase.


Looking to sell your property?

Whether your HDB apartment is reaching the end of its Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) or your condo has crossed its Seller Stamp Duty (SSD) window, it is always good to know how much you can potentially gain if you were to list and sell your property. Not only that, you’ll also need to know whether your gains would allow you to right-size to the dream home in the neighbourhood you and your family have been eyeing.

One easy way is to send us a request for a credible and trusted property consultant to reach out to you.

Alternatively, you can jump onto’s Property Value Tool to get an estimate for free.

If you’re looking for your dream home, be it as a first-time or seasoned homebuyer or seller – say, to upgrade or right-size – you will find it on Singapore’s fastest-growing property portal

Meanwhile, if you have an interesting property-related story to share with us, drop us a message here — and we’ll review it and get back to you.

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