What to Know Before You Rent: Housing in Singapore

Singapore - Gardens by the Bay

As an ex-pat, the housing in Singapore is probably quite different from what you are used to seeing abroad. With so many different types of properties and unique terminology, it can be difficult to figure out the best housing option for you.

Before you rent, keep reading right here for a quick look at all of the housing options in Singapore.

What is HDB Public Housing?

As soon as you start looking at housing in Singapore, you will find that you keep seeing the initialism HDB. This stands for the Housing and Development Board, a department of the Singaporean government that manages housing and urban development. While most countries have a similar group, this government body is especially prominent in Singapore.

When the country became independent from the United Kingdom (and shortly thereafter from Malaysia), the body was established to replace the colonial-era housing. The HDB is generally highly regarded locally and seen to be responsible for the removal of the slums that plagued the country in the early 1960s, immediately after independence.

While housing is expensive in Singapore, the HDB has to subsidise programs to make it more affordable. Currently, almost 80 per cent of all Singaporeans live in housing provided by the HDB. Thanks to their subsidisation, Singapore has one of the highest rates of homeownership in the world, with more than 90 per cent of residents owning their own home.

Housing in Singapore - HDB Apartments in Singapore

Can Foreigners Rent HDB Flats?

There are a few misconceptions when it comes to foreigners renting HDB flats. This is, in part, due to the fact that policies have recently changed. In December 2018, it was announced that foreigners can now rent HDB properties for up to two years. Previously it was only allowed to rent an HDB flat for up to 18 months.

Note: There is an exemption to this rule for Malaysian citizens, who can rent for an unlimited period like their Singaporean counterparts.

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Non-Citizen Quota for HDB Estates

One interesting aspect of housing in Singapore is that government-owned properties are required to maintain a “good ethnic mix.” This means that each neighbourhood must have at least eight per cent of its population being non-Malaysian non-Singaporean citizens. In any given block, there must be at least 11 per cent of the flats with non-Malaysian, non-Singaporean citizens.

Housing in Singapore

Maximum Renters Per Flat in HDB Estates

To prevent overcrowding in neighbourhoods and generally just maintain a high standard of living for residents, the HDB is also highly restrictive on the number of people who can live within each flat.

There are strict rules that prevent partitioning a flat and generally just renting it to too many people. Here are the specifics of the regulations.

When Renting Entire Flat When Renting Bedrooms

Flat Size

Maximum Number of Tenants Allowed

Maximum Number of Bedrooms that can be Rented

Maximum Number of Total Occupants (inc. Ower) Allowed in Each Flat

1 room and 2 rooms flats
4
Owners are not permitted to rent any bedrooms or spaces
3 rooms flats
6
1
6
4 room flats+
6
2
6

What to Expect from HDB Housing in Singapore

When moving to Singapore and starting to explore the housing options, you might find that it is quite different from what you are used to in other countries. Many ex-pats assume that renting a government-owned home means you are getting a type of lower quality option. While HDB housing is less expensive than private options, the quality can be comparable.

Government housing from HBD is not the same across the board. You will find what is called Design, Build, and Sell Scheme (DBSS) flats from HDB that are built to the same standard as any private housing. The next step up is Executive Condominiums (ECs), which are, in fact, built and designed by private developers. Similarly, you will find Executive Flats, which are about 130 sqm and have added features like balconies.

And there are more types built to suit different needs. For example, options like three generations flats are made for family living and have spaces that were created with kids, parents, and grandparents in mind.

Housing in Singapore - Private house in Singapore

Private housing vs. HDB Living

While HDB housing can be the same aesthetically, there are often differences in the lifestyle. In HDB blocks, for example, you will find what is called HDB void decks. These are wide-open spaces that encourage communal living and interaction. With the strict foreigner – local quotas, they tend to be diverse areas. If you’re looking to really experience local life, this is a great option.

Meanwhile, a private condo is more likely to have a private gym, pool, or spa located on the bottom floor that is exclusively for use by the residents.

Condos vs Apartments in Singapore

When you are searching amongst the private options, you will often see options for condos and apartments. Condos are typically part of a community space that offer extras features like swimming pools, gyms, tennis courts, and other spaces for residents. Meanwhile, apartments tend to simply be housing with limited communal space. Having fewer features, this option is less expensive.

Ready to start seriously planning your move to Singapore? Read our complete guide to moving to Singapore, for everything that you need to know about visas, healthcare, taxes, cost of living and more.

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