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Settlement, Residence and Citizenship for Expats in Singapore

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: June 2015


In the early stages, expats find it quite easy to settle into life in Singapore. The island state was built on immigration after all and has a long history of welcoming immigrants. In its brief history as an independent country, Singapore has blossomed into a world centre for commerce and finance. Immigration started to increase sharply in the 1990s, and there are now over 1.5 million expats in Singapore, which is 30% of the population. This means there is a good chance you will be able to find fellow expats from your country, which should make you feel more at home.

Ethic sensitivities have often run high in Singapore, and the recent high volume of immigration has led to a hardened local attitude towards recent immigrants. This means that there is now a degree of xenophobia in Singapore. While this is unlikely to have a direct affect your safety, it is worth bearing in mind and refraining from making unguarded comments.

Perhaps reflecting the stiffening of popular attitude, the government has recently taken steps to make it harder to settle permanently in Singapore. It was already rather difficult, so if your aim is to become a fully vested Singaporean citizen, you may need to change your plans. At the same time, opportunities for Singaporean citizens have been emphasised, which may make finding work a little harder than it was.

The cost of living in Singapore is very high, especially when it is compared to that of neighbouring countries. The island state is a combination of eastern and western cultures, and, while you may find much that is familiar, culture shock may still be a problem. For more information on culture in Singapore, see our Guide to Cultural Traits.


It is not very difficult to obtain permanent residence in Singapore. There are several different qualifying grounds: as a family member of a Singaporean citizen, that is, a spouse, a dependent child (must be married and under 21), or parents; holders of certain types of work pass; and entrepreneurs and investors.

Once you have completed the application form, you need to make an appointment at the Permanent Resident Services Centre in central Singapore City. The average time to process the application is four to six months, though it may take longer. Note that your application is not guaranteed to be successful.

After obtaining permanent residence, you gain additional rights. You receive limited educational contributions and medical coverage, plus tax breaks. You can buy property and travel overseas, though you need to obtain a re-entry permit to do the latter. However, permanent residence does not grant you the ability to vote.


As is the case with most countries, obtaining citizenship by right of Singaporean ancestry or birth is relatively straightforward. If you were born in Singapore or have a Singaporean parent, you are generally deemed Singaporean. Similarly, if you have family or marital links with Singapore, acquiring citizenship will not take a very long time.

If you do not have a familial connection with Singapore, there are three routes to citizenship. If you are under 21, you need to have had Singaporean permanent resident status for between 2 and 6 years before you are eligible to apply for citizenship. Spouses can apply for citizenship aft

If you are of working age, you need to have a job and live in Singapore for some time. Investors and entrepreneurs will also be considered for citizenship if they have made a large enough contribution to the country. Otherwise, if you are not working or retired, you will only be granted citizenship in exceptional circumstances.

An Accelerated Citizenship Scheme is available for P, Q and S Pass holders. This considerably speeds up the citizenship application process for those willing to make a major investment in the Singaporean economy.




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