How Foreigners Can Navigate Purchasing Property in Singapore
With one of the fastest growing economies and highest standards of living in the world, Singapore is an incredibly attractive place for anyone without the good fortune of having been born there. However, because of Singapore’s limited geographical size and desire to make sure the nation continues to belong to and chiefly benefit the Singaporean people, there are numerous restrictions for foreigners when it comes to owning many types of property and getting financing to pay for them. But all is not lost! Here is a quick guide for what you will need to know if you seek to own property in Singapore.
Restricted and Non-Restricted Properties
Singapore residential property falls under two broad categories: restricted and non-restricted. For restricted properties, you will need written approval from the Land Dealings Approval Unit or the Housing and Development Board (HBD), depending on what type of property you seek to purchase (more on that later).
Still, there are a number of non-restricted properties you can buy which don’t need approval from the government. Among these are
- A condominium development under the Planning Act
- A flat in a building with 6 or more levels
- A leasehold in a restricted residential property for a time period not exceeding 7 years
Restricted properties include
- Vacant land
- Landed properties such as semi-detached homes and bungalows
- A flat in a building with less than 6 levels
- An HDB flat
- An Executive Condominium under the 1996 Executive Condominium Housing Scheme Act
Among restricted properties, if you wish to purchase any of the first 3 types, you will need approval from the Land Dealings Approval Unit (http://www.sla.gov.sg/), while either of the last two types will require approval from the HBD directly (http://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/homepage). However, an HBD flat or condominium is more difficult to purchase, as they are far more strongly restricted to Singapore citizens or permanent residents married to Singaporean citizens, so unless you find love on the island, it might be best to deal with the Land Dealings Approval Unit first, or just purchase one of the many unrestricted properties on the island.
Applying for a Mortgage
Once you have found a home you wish to purchase (and gained proper permission from the government if it is restricted), you can apply for a mortgage. The mortgages offered by Singaporean lenders can cover up to 80% of the value of the home or the purchase price, whichever is lower.
In order to take out a mortgage, you will need
- Completed loan application form
- Copy of your passport
- Pay slips or employment letter and the latest 3 months worth of bank statements
- If self-employed, 3 months of bank statements and 2 years’ worth of tax assessments
- A copy of the Sales and Purchase Agreement
Effectively, if you can prove your identity, your ability to pay back the mortgage, and your right to purchase property (if applicable), you will be able to take out a mortgage in Singapore.
Taxes and Duties
Next come the taxes and duties. For home buyers, there are two primary taxes: the Buyer’s Stamp Duty (BSD) and the Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD).
The Buyer’s Stamp Duty is an ad valorem tax (a tax based on price) that increases with the price of the property. It is broken down as follows:
1st $180,000: $1 for every $100, maximum of $1,800
2nd $180,000: $2 for every $100, maximum of $3,600 ($5,400 total on a $360,000 home)
Remainder: $3 for every $100
Thus, for a $500,000 home, you would pay $5400 plus $4,200 on the remaining $140,000, for a total tax of $9,600.
The Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty is a flat 15% tax (for foreigners) on the value of the property or the purchase price, whichever is higher. However, if you happen to be a citizen of the United States or citizen/permanent resident of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway, or Iceland, you pay the same ABSD on your purchase a Singaporean citizen: 0% on the first purchase, 7% on the second, and 10% for each purchase thereafter.
Location, Investment, and Rental Yield
Singapore is broken into a number of districts (28 districts, 55 planning areas), with some more attractive for investment than others. Specifically, the central districts 9, 10, and 11 retain their values and appreciate the most, as well as provide the highest rental yields. However, these aren’t iron laws, and there are great areas and development projects to invest in throughout the country. Do your research, as there are plenty of hidden gems on the little island.
However, when purchasing property to rent out, there are two caveats, one major and one minor. The minor caveat is the tax, counted as an income tax, which for foreigners without a right to work in Singapore is 20%. For foreigners who do work in Singapore, it is significantly lower.
The major caveat is that it is illegal to rent out restricted property, as it is meant to be used only for yourself and your family. If you do rent out restricted property and are caught, you can face a fine of up to $200,000 and up to 3 years of imprisonment. Don’t do it. If you want to rent out property, make sure it is unrestricted.
Increasing property value in Singapore has been the norm
The Final Word
As you can see, purchasing and financing property in Singapore can be a challenging process, but it is certainly doable. With the proper research on the location, legal status, and investment potential of what you want to own, buying property in Singapore can be a very prudent financial decision, as well as allowing you the opportunity to live in one of the most prosperous and unique places on Earth. However, due to the legal and financial complexity of the process, it’s not recommended you go at it alone. Contact Crossborder, the international mortgage specialists, for a free consultation and help in every step of the process, from initial interest to final signature.