Starting in Singapore: Low cost housing in Singapore
Low Cost Housing

The Scheme for Housing for Foreign Talents (SHIFT) was launched in August 1997 by the Jurong Town Corporation. Under this scheme, foreigners can rent HDB flats at a lower rate. Monthly rental is $700 for an unfurnished three-room flat, $1,000 for a four-room flat, $1,300 for a five-room flat and $1,500 for an executive flat. To be eligible for this scheme, you must:

  • Be a highly skilled worker, professional, graduate or student,
  • have been working in Singapore for not more than two years
  • not own property. You may share the flat, but the limit is at three adults to a room.

Contact JTC at 6665-4670 or 6654671 for more information.

Here's an account by an expatriate looking for low-cost housing:

We thought we were prepared. Months in advance we were on the web looking, searching, finding and arranging... But then we arrived and discovered that things were a little different than we had anticipated. If it had not been for ExpatSingapore we would have either ended up somewhere less special or ended up paying a lot more than we could actually afford.

Sorry for the corny beginning but it does in short form give you an idea of what happened to us on our arrival here. I came here for what I thought was a worthwhile job and I guess I looked a little less carefully at the fine print of my contract than I should have. Several phrases in particular, I read in a certain way and they were written to be read in quite another.

In particular I believed I might have some flexibility in housing. After all I was a valuable employee, so they'd want to keep me sweet, wouldn't they. Well no, we were told that our allowance was fixed at a certain figure ($1,000) and that was that. So that's when we found ourselves, my wife and I, turning up first at the HDB (Housing and Development Board) office. We were handed around a bit but were politely told that as we were neither citizen nor a permanent resident we could not rent directly from them. "Try JTC" was the advice.

So first, we found ourselves being taken around by eager (there's a recession on, y'know) real estate people. So through the property agents we saw HDB flats that were approved for private letting and those that were not.

The HDB flats are basic apartments ranging in size from one to five bedrooms. Some are really spacious, let with furniture. If you get an approved one (or if you don't mind getting a cheaper unapproved unit with the attendant risk of having to move if the authorities discover the illegal letting) and you don't mind the high-rise block mentality then this could be for you. Cheap and basic. And you will taste the genuine experience of living among Singaporeans. If you relish the thought of such a setting and opportunity, look no further!

Meanwhile, we also decided to put ourselves about in the private market because everyone said that the recession would make it easier than ever before to find a good place for a ridiculous price. We got shown a lot of dross. They said, "For just $1,500 more we could really begin showing you some interesting stuff!"

Discouraged by the private stuff we were being shown and not interested in upping our rent allowance, and following up on the suggestion by my employer that the solution lay at JTC (Jurong Town Corporation) we went for the SHIFT (Short-term Housing for Foreign Talents scheme--quaint name!).

This was a painless experience and provided you have an employment pass you can have an apartment the same day! However, you will probably be living in one area of town called Pasir Ris (which is at the Eastern end of the MRT line). There are other areas available but they tend to be either less desirable or else gone as they are more desirable.(Getting to JTC is a little complicated as its location at Jurong East is probably best accessed through a taxi. I don't know if it was the time of day but there were no long queues and staff were very helpful. No money is involved during the application stage. Phone enquiries are not encouraged. It is better to go to the place.)

Selection of the flats owned by JTC is dicey because you cannot enter to view your potential home. You identify what size you want, then the area, then you get the keys. They do not describe the facilities available. All I saw on the wall of the JTC office were lists of properties in the various areas. The rentals ranged from S$500 to S$1,800 depending on the number of rooms. They even have executive (5 rooms+) apartments! You can get the flat number and go there, but all you can see is what can be viewed from the exterior. But once you have taken the keys, that's it! You've made the decision. Payment is one month's rental as deposit and one month rental in advance. No waiting. You can move in immediately!

Colleagues have told me (and this is confirmed by JTC) that what you get is unpredictable. Expect nothing. Occasionally you will be surprised by having a set of kitchen units or aircon. Some people find they have full furnishing. Others find that they are staring at four rooms surrounded by bare concrete walls. The thing is once you take the keys that's it. You can go and peer through the windows without entering but in the end you take the chance. If you're lucky you have a spacious flat with a few facilities. If not you are looking at a substantial painting and decorating bill prior to a deep dig into your own resources for furnishings.

The thing is for all that you will still be living in a block of flats and for $1,000 more you can live in a fully-furnished, beautifully decorated , full-facility (aircon, etc.) walkup apartment in a really nice area.

That's what we ended up doing with the help of ExpatSingapore and we have never regretted making the choice. It took us a month to locate our ideal apartment, 30 minutes from the office, 15 minutes from our club, and 10 minutes from the supermarket and the MRT.

Living in Singapore is very easy but it is a demanding work environment. We felt that we wanted something extra to make coming home a little special. You may not have the flexibility to make the decision we did but we know it was the right one. Right now you can even get a place in a condominium (with swimming pool, gym, squash courts etc.) if you can pay a little bit more. But perhaps, as I have already said you do not have the flexibility or you would prefer to save your money. However you make the decision."

For more information on SHIFT, visit the Jurong Town Corporation website at

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