An expat’s guide to purchasing a car in Singapore

In Singapore, car ownership is not a necessity due to a well-connected and modern public transportation network. The price of a car is also astronomically high, and often involves a major financial decision. However, many residents still aspire to buy a car for themselves, for the convenience of getting around quickly and sometimes, as a status symbol. This post will explain the process of owning a car in Singapore, and the important points to consider in doing so.

 

The cost of car ownership

Owning a car is more than just the price tag of the vehicle. Generally, owning a car incurs a one-time cost and other recurring fees:

  • Price of car
  • Certificate of entitlement
  • Road tax
  • Road usage fees (parking charges, road tolls)
  • Car maintenance fees
  • Petrol
  • Car insurance

Price of car

A typical sedan can range between S$40,000 to S$80,000, depending on manufacturer and model. Many brands have an official distributor that serves as the local representative of the car manufacturer, but you can find cheaper deals by shopping at a parallel importer. Beware of unreliable merchants though, as you will have limited legal recourse shopping with an unofficial distributor. The Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) has a list of trusted parallel car importers to check out.

Certificate of entitlement

Before a car can be legally operated in Singapore, a Certificate of Entitlement (COE) needs to be obtained. This is a license issued by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) that is valid for 10 years, with the intention to control the vehicle population in Singapore.

Twice a month, a tender will be called for purchasers to bid for a COE. If you’re buying a car from a dealer, they will help make a bid on your behalf. You can also make a bid by yourself through a DBS ATM, or online at the COE bidding website.

To make a reasonable estimate for the bid, you may refer to historical COE prices available online.

Road tax

The road tax is payable annually for all vehicles, and varies depending on the age and engine capacity of the car. Typically, this amounts to S$2,000 per year, but you can get an estimate of the tax payable through this online road tax calculator.

Road tax can be paid by the following ways:

Road usage fees

Besides paying for the car itself, you’ll regular incur charges when using your car. These include parking fees and road tolls. As a reference, public parking in Singapore is charged on a half-hourly basis and starts from S$0.60 onwards. Some private carparks in the Central Business District (CBD) can charge up to S$5 per half hour during peak period.

Road tolls in Singapore is controlled through an Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system that charges cars when they go through a gantry. Usually operational during peak hours or on roads leading into the CBD, ERP prices can range between S$0.50 to S$3 depending on the time of day and the type of vehicle.

Car maintenance fees

Singapore-registered cars are required to undergo an annual inspection from the third year onwards. Each inspection costs S$62.06, and subsequent re-inspections cost S$31.03.

From time to time, your car may also require repairs at a workshop. Depending on the scope of work and the cost of spare parts, each job may cost anywhere between S$200 to S$2,000 for common repairs.

Petrol

Petrol price fluctuates based on oil prices, but it generally ranges between S$2 to S$3.

Car insurance

Car insurance is mandatory in Singapore, and you can expect to pay around S$1,200 to S$1,500 for a basic policy. You can compare prices easily with a comparison site like Moneysmart or GoBear.

Visiting a car retailer

Most of the car retailers in Singapore are located along Leng Kee Road or the Ubi district. You can also refer to the following list of authorised car distributors

You can also purchase a secondhand car through car dealers located at The Grandstand in Bukit Timah or on online sites like SGCarMart and Carro.

Driving license requirements in Singapore

If you’re driving in Singapore for less than 12 months, you can use a recognised foreign driver’s license with an International Driving Permit (IDP), or have an official translation of your foreign license. Note that driving licenses from ASEAN countries do not require an IDP. Otherwise, you’ll have to go to the Traffic Police to convert your foreign driver’s license to a Singaporean license.

If you’re looking to take up driving, Singapore has several driving schools offering professional driving classes.

You can also learn from private instructors, but your chances of passing is statistically higher by learning from one of these driving schools.

Bringing in a car from overseas

While purchasing a car in Singapore is expensive, shipping a car from overseas is also not cheap, and involves a lot of paperwork and regulatory clearance.

To get started, you’ll first need to ensure your car meets the following standards for driving on Singapore roads:

  • Right-hand drive
  • Less than 3 years old
  • Use a speedometer marked in km/h
  • Meet Singapore safety and environmental standards

If the conditions are met, you can engage a shipping agent to transport the car to Singapore and apply for an Inward Cargo Clearance Permit. There will be a fee and excise tax imposed for importing the car, which will be charged by the Singapore customs.

When the car reaches Singapore, it will be subject to fuel and emissions testing to determine if a carbon emission surcharge or rebate should be applied. This will be added or deducted to the Additional Registration Fee (ARF). If the car is approved for use in Singapore, you’ll also need to pay for the COE by following the same process of bidding during the bi-monthly tender.

Traffic safety and the law

Singapore has strict driving laws and the penalties for offences like drink-driving and speeding are severe. The Traffic Police maintains a system of demerit points, that tracks the severity and frequency of traffic offences by drivers.

Once a limit is exceed, your license may be suspended and you may be required to attend driving classes again to recover your license. For serious offences like drink driving, note that you will also be liable to a fine and a jail term.

What’s next?

Owning a car in Singapore involves a large amount of money and a lot of responsibilities, so consider your options carefully before committing to the down-payment and a loan. If you do purchase one, do enjoy the convenience of zipping through Singapore’s excellent road infrastructure. 

Along with getting settled in Singapore, you may also want to find a house to rent or buy. Check out Krib for properties to consider, or make a PropertyMatch request to let us find the best places for you!

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