You may be French, European, American, or “Western”, you’re coming soon to Singapore, or you’re here (already laaah) and you want to settle down and find a place to live in. I have been through this more than once and became an expert house-hunter in Singapore. Because of that, I get quite a number of requests regarding accommodation, which pushes me today to take 15 minutes and write down the usual tips I answer with.
Getting a short-term stay when you arrive
I would not really recommend guest-houses as a first place to go while searching for housing. So go directly to a decent room that you will rent for only 1 month or so. If you still want a guesthouse go and check http://www.hostelworld.com
If you’re not sure where you’re heading, AVOID anything with “Geylang” in the address, it’s the red-light district…Avoid specifically “Chang Ziang Hotel” and “iDeal Backpackers Hostel”.
Where to find short-term?
- Singapore Expat Short Term Wanted
- By searching into “Short Term” sections or by typing “Short term” in the search box of the websites provided below.
- CouchSurfing, where people host you for free, just for the fun of meeting interesting people.
- Also on Couchsurfing, here’s a Singapore group about short-term and long-term rentals. Expect these people to be hosting travelers most likely : Singapore, Looking for Room/House – Mate
- AirBnB – It’s like CouchSurfing except that people with a spare room, not couches or sofas, charge you just like a hotel would. You feel more at home than in a hotel. Just beware, don’t do last minute bookings, because every booking MUST first be confirmed manually by the host.
- Go for two weeks, renewable. One month is fine too because for most ads the room is available on the 1st of the following month.
- Try to choose a short-term place near where you want to live, it will save you a lot of cab fares.
- Short-term stays are usually more expensive than the rental. Be smart, get it CHEAPER than the rental with the right attitude: Most owners or main tenants desperately look for someone even for short term to avoid wasting money…This way I got a month stay, central, in a huge master bedroom, in a full-facilities condo, for 1000 SGD, with utilities, instead of 1600 SGD without utilities.
Housing types in Singapore
Housing in Singapore IS expensive. It’s one of the rare expensive things in this country (as compared to Europe), too bad it had to be the rent…and not the price of cookies.
Okay, there are roughly 5 types of accommodations in Singapore.
- The HDB: Cheapest type of housing ever, low quality but low expenses too: (250 to 800 S$ per month PER ROOM depending on standing, location, and if you’d be sharing the room or not)
- The Semi-Condo: It’s half-way between the cheap quality of the HDB and the high-finition of a condo. It’s simply nice, although often no common shared facilities (Roughly from 600 to 1200 SGD per month PER ROOM depending on standing and location)
- The Condo: Shared facilities (BBQ, Swimming Pool, 24/7 security, etc) + high standing. At least 800 S$ per month PER ROOM, average would be 1200 S$.
- Rooms in private houses: the so called “landed properties”. For the the locals this is the best thing to live in because they know how land is rare and expensive, so they love it. But for me, many foreigners I asked, and presumably any young professional from Europe, they are not nice. Maybe because they are isolated, expensive, not social, and have generally no pool, gym etc..
- Everything else: apartments on top of shops, student residences….
The most popular options for (long-term) exchange students and young professionals would be HDB and condo depending on the budget you want to allocate to your rent.
Most foreigners on an expat package live in condos.
If you’re very specific about what kind of household you want, the best is probably to rent a whole unit, and find the like-minded people to share it with you. This way, you can have your own rules, i.e. couchsurfing allowed.
Particularities of Singapore’s home sharing
- No Owner / Age of owner : Usually the owner is in the house and can be old sometimes. Can you live with a 50-year-old ? DO ask if the owner lives there, and how old they are.
- Religion : Some places are mostly Muslim, others are mostly catholic, etc, etc…Ask yourself, religion-wise, what type of people do you want to share your flat with? Some Buddhists have chanting and burn incense which may affect you. Muslims will be strict on some aspects (no pork anywhere in the house, same for alcohol, no visits, no nothing) etc, etc…
- Frequent Singaporean Home Rules :
- COOKING: Some owners do not allow you to cook or only allow light cooking. Very strange isn’t it. I’ve lead my little mission to figure out why and these are the top 3: TOP1: The drying cloth or the house (near or in the kitchen will smell), TOP2: They are concerned about cleanliness, afraid you may be a dirty person and not wash your mess. TOP3: They may not like the smell of your food. Muslims usually forbid pork in the house, as well as alcohol.
- VISITS: Some owners do not want your friends coming over, nor will they accept overnight stay.
- RACE: Despite Singapore’s appearing racial melting pot, behind the scenes, races are not so mixed. The country is still new and needs more time to mix, and for mentalities to change. Typically, when it happens, mutual exclusions are between Indians and Chinese. So, many ads say “No Indian” or “No Chinese”, other ads can be specific on what “race” they want, i.e. Filipinos only, or expats only…
In brief, DO THINK AND KNOW WHAT LIFESTYLE YOU WANT, state it clearly in your ads, because in this culture unlike at home, you can’t assume that this is the way people live.
My advice is that if you are a western (Europe, America…) young professional in your 25’s, you should look for housing with people below 35, preferably expats. Otherwise, you would be looking for a place with no owner, where cooking and overnight stays are allowed. You may not “consume” a lot of cooking at home or overnight stays of visitors, but that ensures to select the people with the like-minded spirit.
They give visits for free, but once you want to place, they charge 50% of the monthly rent in CASH. Be aware that everything in this world is negotiable. DO NOT exclusively count on agents, especially for rooms. I had 10 agents working for me at the same time for over a month, and…I found something on my own. Maybe they do a better job at whole units because there are so many!
Here are a couple of tips based on personal experience in house-hunting outside and inside Singapore:
- KNOW WHAT YOU WANT.
- Keep a log (i.e. excel file) of the numbers you managed to reach, basic info and and the current status. Save the phone numbers with the name of the owner or agent, or you will be lost in no time.
- Be up to date! Browse ads often to be among the first one to read new posts.
- Be quick! Call immediately if you are interested.
- Be quick! If you like it, and want it, let them know as soon as possible.
- Be quick! Visit as soon as you can.
- Be quick! To hand a deposit, money.
- As soon as possible DO NOT HESITATE to tell the agent or owner you definitely want it, even if you have not completely made up you mind. This way you’ll be sure to obtain priority as the queue may be long. And if you change your mind IT’S OKAY for them because they don’t care as they may have plenty of other people interested. In practice though, the first to hand a money deposit is the one who gets it.
- Remove your shoes by default before entering the house.
- Last tip: Don’t be cheap, don’t think you can find something easily without paying some website and/or agent. Website subscription is not too expensive: GET IT! It ensures you good quality of information on the given housing and conditions. GO PREMIUM: Whatever service this website offers that i.e. displays you the phone number of the owner etc…GO FOR IT, you want to put all the chances on your side to get a visit ASAP.
Neighbourhoods to Avoid
Aljunied, and the Geylang area, for two major reasons.
- Geylang is the redlight district. You’d be surprised how many people including expats live there. I am sure most expats live there in frustration and generally take any opportunity to go elsewhere.
- Aljunied is very near a military airport. I have lived there, it’s very noisy.
Readers, are there other places you would recommend to avoid?
List of Accommodation Websites
Now here’s the best resource (that I currently know of) to find housing in Singapore. But here’s what you should do on all the websites. Pay the price for good service, go first-class. Always fill in your profile or post an ad, besides “searching” you also want to be “found” by others. Write a bit about yourself, finding a flatmate is easy, but they want to know who you are. It’s not a job application, focus on describing who you are when you’re at home. Do you like to cook? Do you have a girlfriend or friend that will drop by often and stay overnight? Are you often at home? Are you ok with pets?…In brief, put yourself in the shoes of a home owner, what do you want to know about your potential flatmates?
I have used this one and I know it by heart. It’s GOOD, go for it, and don’t hesitate to pay the Premium membership, it is really useful. Be safe, buy the 3- months membership right away, EVEN IF YOU’RE SO POSITIVE you’re not gonna look for a place for so long. Just be wise and listen to Uncle Youcef.
If you know exactly what area you want to live in, the map is convenient, but I found the district tab to be more convenient.
Free and easy to read format. Comes with filtering options. I love Craiglist, really. USE IT.
DO NOT USE SHARE-ACCOMODATION. It’s not well developed, poor quality of ads, a real waste of time.
Consider this only if you’re looking for a condo, and it’s generally to share with fellow expats. Very few offers but overtime they can be really good. Here’s what you do:
- Post an ad on Rooms wanted don’t hesitate to pay the extra 5 SGD to be highlighted. It sends the message “I want to get things done and I am investing money to stand out”.
- Search frequently Rooms for Rent
A fairly large Facebook group where mostly young professionals post their rooms available or post about them looking for a room. Definitely consider!
What I really like about this one is that the demographics are just right. So most of the rooms are exactly what young professionals look for. Saves you a lot of time.
This is free and has TONS of ads. They also provide a map…too bad it’s limited to 99 results.
DO NOT USE THE FILTERING OPTIONS. They select only people who have specified the given options. For example out of 20,000 rooms, 5 people have specified they are non-smoking houses, 3 have specified they are smoking houses, all the other owners did NOT specify. If you select “Non-smoking” you will narrow down your options to 5 instead of 20,000 rooms. So DO NOT USE THE FILTERS.
DO USE the search engine, it’s the only way to find relevant ads.
NEVER TRIED IT MYSELF, so go try this one, and send me feedback through the comments.
French people may want to try Singafrog if they are patient and absolutely need the flatmate to be French.
Some Facebook groups :