What is a Good Salary in Singapore?
As you likely already know, Singapore has a very robust economy. In fact along with Hong Kong, it stands at the forefront of the Four Asian Tigers – a handful of countries on that continent that have been experiencing exceptional economic growth for over half a century now. And accordingly, on average Singaporeans themselves earn an income which would be considered pretty-high in most parts of the world.
Some estimates on how much the average Singaporean is paid monthly puts the figure at over USD$6,000. But a more realistic average would be the most presented by Paylab–, which has the average employee in Singapore earning approximately US$3900. And we know some readers will be sitting back and saying to themselves, ‘Wow, that’s pretty good.’ Indeed the selfsame Paylab ranked Singapore amongst the top 20 countries which pay their workers the most. But the caveat is that Singapore ranks number nine (#9) on the list of countries with the highest costs of living as compiled by GQ. That’s right, living in the Lion City is even more-expensive than most of Europe, including the United Kingdom (#27). And it’s also more-costly than living in the United States (#20). So in this article we will explore what constitutes to a good salary in Singapore.
And the formula we will use is simple. We will first look at the cost of living for a comfortable, not rich, lifestyle. All of the basic expenses (food, clothing, shelter, work) need to be met to a satisfactory, not needy, level. Then we will factor in other important yet less-pressing necessities (healthcare, entertainment). Then on top of all of that we will add a modest 15% overhead for the unforeseen.
As we have pointed out in the past, Singapore is rich with eating venues. So budget wise, there is a wide range of options to choose from. For instance, if you’re one of those people who enjoy food sold by hawkers (i.e. fast food), you can put together a meal, including drink, at an average rate between $7 (around $3-5 without drink).This includes eating at McDonald’s (which is a sound point of reference for Westerners), where an extra value meal will set you back between $7 and $10. Meanwhile if you were to visit a restaurant, a singular meal would cost between $20 and $30. Then if you want to step up the dinner game a bit with a two-course meal including wine, expect to pay at least $35 per individual.
So let’s say we’re taking in three meals a day, and we’re not trying to kill our pockets. So for breakfast we’ll hit up a street vendor, McDonald’s for lunch and an inexpensive restaurant for dinner. That would bring us to an average of $7 for breakfast, $8.50 for lunch and $25.00 for dinner, totally a little over $40 a day. Or let’s say we take the least-expensive dining out option and enjoy three fast-food meals a day (I know I can). That would equal $21. So going somewhere between the two let’s say we’ll spend $30 a day on food, if dining out, which would equal $900 a month.
Now of course there are people who prefer to cook at home, not only to save money but maybe just because they like to. And generally speaking yes, doing so is considerably less expensive than eating out. Moreover, very few people eat out on a daily basis. So according to MoneySmart, the monthly average price of groceries in Singapore is, at the very least, $200 – a lot less than $900. So landing in-between these extremes of eating out every day and eating in every day, we come at the figure of $550 per month, which in the name of frugality we’ll round down to $500, because even if you do cook-in every day, there are of course other expenses outside of the food itself.
Most people don’t actually buy clothes monthly. But they are still a monthly expense, because you have to regularly pay to keep them clean. But before we get into that, let’s look at the cost of the clothes themselves.
There are budget clothes in Singapore, items that even cost less than $10. And the good news is that, considering how hot the Lion City is, generally speaking you won’t need to wear excessive clothing. But some people may have fancier or high-quality tastes which will necessitate spending more. In fact if you are a foreigner who is addicted to name brands, you may be surprised to discover that such items could even cost more in Singapore than they do back at home. In fact Singapore has been dubbed “the most-expensive place in the world to buy clothes” when it comes to high-end brands. But at the same time, if you know where to look you can find some deals on popular labels. For instance, let’s say you want to buy a new pair of Nikes. The least-expensive you’ll likely find a pair is at around $40, and you can expect to pay $100 or more for a good pair.
Now let’s say you already have all the clothes you need, so what you’re rather looking for is a laundromat. On average, washing a single kilo of clothes will set you back about $3. Meanwhile, the average load is estimated to be around 11 kilos. So that’s $33 for a single laundry visit. And you’ll probably go at least twice a month. So that’s $66 you’re going to be paying each month to keep your clothes clean.
So all things considered, let’s average out our monthly clothing bill to a frugal US$175. Yes, at times we will spend more, but also consider that some months there won’t be any clothes shopping at all. And then add on top the aforementioned US$66. Then we can predict that a monthly clothing bill, rounded down even, will come to about US$235.
You can expect shelter to be your biggest monthly expense. This is true in many places, not just Singapore.
Now up until this point we have been doing calculations for a single individual as opposed to say a married couple of family. And for the most part we will continue to do so. But in the case of housing, we’re not going to go with the bare minimum, which would be a room or apartment with shared toilet. Rather we’re going to presume that even if you are possibly living alone, you would want a private bathroom in addition to ample space to have someone else live with you, if need be. So we’re talking about a studio or one-bedroom apartment. According to MoneySmart, you can expect to pay US$1000 and US$3300 for such. And of course if you’re talking a bigger apartment (i.e. one to accommodate an entire family) or leasing a home, then the price only goes up from there. But for the sake of this particular article, we’re going to say that our monthly rent falls between the two aforementioned prices at US$1573.
Also it should be noted that typically tenants are required to pay their own utility bills. In this case, since we’re once again calculating for a single individual, we’re going to go with the bare minimums of approximately $146 for electricity, $16 for phone and $20 for cable (not including cable installation).
Then there is water and gas. Many people who rent an apartment in Singapore do so via one of the facilities managed by a governmental agency known as the Housing & Development Board (HDB). Well it has been estimated that, as of 2018, the average monthly water and gas bill for a four-room flat is respectively $37 and $10. So since we’re only calculating a two-bedroom apartment at most we’ll cut these averages in half to $19 and $5 respectively.
So conclusively, in terms of our monthly housing cost (including utilities) we have the following:
- US$1573 (rent)
- US$146 (electricity)
- US$16 (phone)
- US$20 (cable)
- US$19 (water)
- US$5 (gas)
All in all, the above brings us to an overall total of about US$1800 per month.
Of course having a job is an expense in and of itself. You have to factor in clothes, food and of course transportation. But let’s say that we already covered food and clothes in the prior sections. Their still lies the issues of transportation.
The good news is that Singapore not only has an affordable but clean and ultra-modern transportation system. And using it for an entire month will only cost you about US$80.
If you’re one of those types of people who must own car, well, such is not recommended in the Lion City unless you’re prepared to pay an average of US$1098 monthly to cover all of the associated costs.
Now it has been noted that Singapore has an exceptional taxi system. And this extends to its popular ride-sharing services, such as Grab. According to a 2017 calculation, if you were to use a taxi for an entire month, it would cost about US$720. Meanwhile using Grab throughout the same timeframe will set you back about US$534. So both of these options are considerably less expensive than owing a car.
So with all of that being said, let’s take for granted that you will not be a car owner. Moreover you will utilize public transportation mostly, but at times you’ll occasionally decide to Grab or take a taxi instead. So for our monthly transportation cost, we will go for the middle ground between public transportation and Grab, which would be approximately US$300.
It has been specifically pointed out that Singapore’s healthcare system is expensive. That should be no surprise at this point. But the bright side is that it has also been formally recognized as one of the best healthcare systems in the world.
Of course healthcare costs can reach astronomical levels for those who are seriously ill. But by contrast, some people can go years without ever visiting a doctor. So for the sake of trying to determine a monthly average, we will go with the lowest cost for consulting a general practitioner, which is $30. Again, most people don’t actually see a doctor on a monthly basis. But we’ll still factor this into our monthly calculation in case a medical emergency does arrive or in the name of everyday pharmaceuticals, such as aspirin.
We already covered part of our entertainment costs when factoring internet and cable into our residential utility bills. But Singapore has some of the most-extravagant tourist attractions in the world. Also many residents of the Lion City enjoy hanging out. So it’s safe to presume that you’re going to want to get out from time to time. Or even beyond that, you may spend more on say internet than the minimum mentioned above.
So we’ll factor in an additional $40 per week (US$160 per month) for entertainment. This can be used to enjoy a few beers, visit a karaoke bar, enjoy a nice meal, pay for a videogame system or whatever it is one likes to do to entertain him or herself. Yes, some individuals will spend more than this, while others may not have any additional recreational costs at all. But most of us do in fact spend a little extra on stuff that we enjoy. So that is what this particular expense is meant to factor in.
AVERAGE MONTHLY EXPENSE BUDGET IN SINGAPORE
So it has now come time to put all of our various expenses together. And of course there’s various expenses, some unforeseen, which an individual will have that were not calculated into this budget. So for the sake of keeping it real, we will add an additional 15% overhead to the aforementioned figure. That would bring our overall monthly expenses to about US$3,536.
Now at the beginning of the article, we established that the average monthly income was about US$3,900. So yes, that would be enough to cover our budget, though just barely. In other words, there’s little left over for say furniture, savings or what have you. And also note that we didn’t factor in for instance if a person is working to provide for both him/herself and his or her family members.
So overall, it would appear that a good salary in Singapore would be one that is roughly 25% higher than the average. That is to say that if you’re individual making about US$5,000 monthly you should be able to cover all of your base expenses and still have a pretty penny to spare. Also on this salary, you may be able to not only care for yourself but another also (though in the latter case it may be cutting it a bit close). So conclusively we can say that the reports are true – the Lion City is one of the priciest urban areas in the world. Development of this magnitude has its associated costs. But if you, as an individual, are able to bring in the aforementioned amount and are able to maintain a modest lifestyle, then you should be quite okay.