Singaporeans marrying foreigners and its impact on home ownership

Updated: 9 min read

Marriages between Singapore citizens (SC) and non-residents (FR) are on the rise. In fact, the proportion of such marriages has increased from 21% in 2000 to 28% in 2019.

Apart from dealing with visa issues, Singaporeans marrying foreigners will also have to navigate the government’s strict regulations regarding foreign ownership of property.

So if you’re one of these couples, here are a few things you might want to consider before you start searching for your home.

1. Type of property you’re eligible to purchase

Public housing

Housing is pricey in Singapore (we weren’t voted the most expensive city in the world for nothing!) but thankfully, we have the option of relatively affordable public housing offered by the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

To purchase HDB flats, Singaporeans marrying foreigners must first qualify for a few criteria. These include conditions such as income caps and minimum age requirements. Most importantly though, you’ll need to fall under one of HDB’s seven eligibility schemes.

hdb blocks

As most of these schemes require both applicants to be SC, or at least Permanent Residents (SPR), your best bet is to qualify under the Non-Citizen Spouse Scheme (NCS). The NCS was developed to cater to the growing class of Singaporeans marrying foreigners in Singapore but is, unfortunately, only available for certain types of HDB flats.

If you can qualify under the Public Scheme however, that opens more doors to you in terms of flat types. Under the Public Scheme, you’ll need to form a ‘family nucleus’ with at least one SC or SPR.

Eligibility scheme

New flats

Resale flats

Non-Citizen Spouse Scheme
  • 2-room Flexi in non-mature estates
  • All flat types except 3Gen flats and PLH resale flats
Public Scheme
  • Up to 5-room flats
  • All flat types except 3Gen flats

New flats

New flats refer to those through the Build to Order (BTO), Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) and Open Booking schemes.

If you’re applying under the NCS, you’ll only be eligible for 2-Room Flexi BTO/SBF flats in a non-mature estate

Similar to singles buying HDB flats, you must be at least 35 years old and meet the S$7,000 income ceiling. You must also pay an additional S$15,000 on top of the selling price.

Your FR spouse must be holding a valid Visit Pass or Work Pass at the time of your application.

If you and your spouse have a child who is an SC/SPR, or you plan to live with your parent(s) and sibling(s) (one of whom is an SC/SPR), you can apply under the Public Scheme instead. This means you won’t be restricted to just 2-Room Flexi flats, but can apply for any new flat (subject to your satisfying the specific qualification criteria for the unit).

Resale flats

Resale flats are basically flats sold by their owners in the open market.

Under the NCS, Singaporeans marrying foreigners will be eligible to purchase any type of flat on the resale market, except for ECs that are less than 10 years old. Your spouse will, however, be required to meet the following visa requirements, which vary according to your age.

Singapore citizen’s age

Foreigner’s visa requirements

21 – 34
35

and above

Take note that should the pass expire during the resale flat transaction, your spouse must get it renewed and ensure it’s valid when the resale flat purchase is completed.

Likewise, if you can’t qualify under the NCS, you can apply under the Public Scheme instead if you and your spouse have a child who is an SC/SPR, or you plan to live with your parent(s) and sibling(s) (one of whom is an SC/SPR).

Private housing

While more expensive than public housing, the upside of private housing is that you don’t have to meet the strict eligibility requirements demanded by HDB.

There are no restrictions when it comes to ownership of private condominiums and apartments in Singapore by PRs and FRs. 

On the other hand, there are restrictions on foreign ownership of landed residential property.  

When it comes to landed residential properties, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) deems anyone who isn’t a citizen a foreign person. Including PRs.

So as a PR, you’ll need to apply to the SLA for special permission to own a landed residential property.

This includes vacant residential land, detached houses, semi-detached houses, bungalows, terrace houses and any other land gazetted for residential purposes.

You’ll also need to show proof of economic contributions to Singapore.

As for foreigners, you’re only allowed to buy landed residential property in Sentosa Cove, subject to approval by the authorities.

Alternatively, you may choose to register the landed property solely in the SC’s name. We would advise that for legal purposes, it’s always best to have your name on the property, particularly if it doesn’t qualify as a matrimonial home.

You can check out our previous article here for more information on foreign ownership of property.

 

2. CPF grants

One of the best things about purchasing an HDB flat is the CPF grants and subsidies afforded to buyers as they significantly reduce the amount payable on your home.

If you’re applying under the NCS, you’ll only be eligible for the grant similar to a single. Even though you’re applying as a couple, since only one of you is an SC, the SC is the only one eligible for the grant.

If the flat is a resale flat, and you have an SC/SPR child, or your spouse obtains SC or SPR status, you’ll be eligible to receive a Top-Up Grant. This would cover the difference between the Singles Grant and the Family Grant. 

(Read more about resale grants.)

3. Housing loan assessment

For Singaporeans marrying foreigners, the loan amount you can get may possibly be lower than the typical SC couples.

For HDB flats, if you’re buying under the Non-Citizen Spouse scheme, your foreign spouse can only be listed as an occupier. This means that for the HDB loan or bank loan you’re taking, only the income of the SC will be considered when applying for the home loan.

This affects the loan quantum that you’ll be eligible for. So be sure to get an HDB Loan Eligibility (HLE) letter or In-Principal Approval (IPA) from the bank so you have a better idea of your budget before starting your house searching. 

Aerial view of Sentosa island, Singapore
Outside of Sentosa Cove, any non-SC will need government permission to own landed property.

4. Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD)

For SCs, the Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD) is only payable on the second and subsequent residential property purchased. This is not, however, the case for PR and FR buyers.

As part of Singapore’s property market cooling measures, PRs are charged a 5% ABSD on their first residential property. The ABSD is even higher for foreigners at 30% for any residential property purchase.

Profile of buyer  BSD rates from 20 Feb 2018 onwards ABSD rates from 16 Dec 2021 onwards
SC buying first residential property 1% on the first S$180,000

2% on the next S$180,000

3% on the next S$640,000

4% on the remainder 

0%
SC buying second residential property 17%
SC buying third and subsequent residential property 25%
PRs buying first residential property 5% 
PRs buying second residential property 25% 
PRs buying third and subsequent residential property 30% 
FRs buying any residential property 30%

Even if the property were bought jointly by an FR and SC, the law mandates that the higher ABSD rate will apply. Furthermore, the ABSD will be payable on the entire purchase price of the property, even if in reality, the FR is paying a smaller proportion of the purchase price.

Let’s say you (SC) and your spouse (FR) are purchasing a property worth S$3 million, with you paying S$2 million and your spouse paying the remaining S$1 million. The ABSD rate of 30% (as opposed to the 0% rate enjoyed by you, the SC) will apply to the whole S$3 million purchase price.

There is some potentially good news, though, as IRAS does grant a remission on the ABSD payable by married couples in the following situations. 

No. of properties currently owned by each spouse  Co-purchase of next residential property No. of properties owned by Singapore citizen after co-purchase No. of properties owned by FR after co-purchase ABSD rate (from 16 Dec 2021) Refund of ABSD on purchase of 2nd residential property

SC

FR
0 0 1 1 1 0%

N.A.

1

0 2 1 30% Only if SC disposes of 1st property

0

1 1 2 30%

Only if FR disposes of 1st property

1

1 2 2 30%

Only if both disposes of 1st property

Co-owned

1

2 2 30%

Only if SC and FR dispose of 1st co-owned property

2

0 3 1 30%

Not available

Co-owned 2 3 3 30%

Not available

Your lawyer can help with the ABSD remission through the e-Stamping portal.

Also, FRs from certain countries benefit from the Free Trade Agreements signed between their home countries and Singapore. For example, nationals and Permanent Residents of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland and Nationals of the United States of America will be treated the same as SCs for the purposes of computing ABSD.

This isn’t an automatic, though, and you’ll need to get the remission certificate via the e-Stamping portal. 

5. Pre-Marriage Long Term Visit Pass Assessment 

If you haven’t gotten married yet, you might want to use the Pre-Marriage Long Term Visit Pass Assessment (PMLA).

The PMLA helps you to check, before you’ve actually gotten married, if your future spouse may qualify for a Long Term Visit Pass after marriage. 

This is because marrying a Singapore citizen doesn’t guarantee that the foreign spouse will automatically be allowed for long-term stay in Singapore.

The PMLA also doesn’t give approvals for LTVPs. So your spouse will still need to apply for it after the marriage.

This is especially important if you’re considering to get an HDB flat. 

[Additional reporting by Virginia Tanggono]

 

What else do SC-FR married couples need to take note for property purchases? Let us know in the comments section below.

If you found this article helpful, 99.co recommends Can a Singapore PR buy an HDB flat? and How does the ABSD affect home purchases by SC/PR or SC/Foreigner buyers?


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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.

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Comments

    • Larry leong

      I was married with a Korean lady. She ran away with my son back to Korea and I’m stuck with our resale 3rm flat which we bought together in 2014.

      She won’t be coming back anymore to sign any documents. I’m thinking of selling the current 3rm flat and going for single scheme BTOs .. is it still possible? Or can I not qualify for any BTOs?

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