Singapore is a small country, where neighborhoods bleed into one another easily. Even if you are going to visit a friend on the other side of the country – it will only take you about 45 minutes at most to get there.
With strong public transportation connecting them all together, it is hard to go wrong when choosing a home base.
Still each area has its own personality and character, which is important to think about as you consider the best place to live.
Here are some of the top places for expats to live, chosen for personality, amenities, location and budget.
Tiong Bahru is a heritage housing estate rich with retro charm. The city planning designed the streets in an interlocking horse shoe shape, enclosing a community center. Located only about 15 minutes outside of the city centre, Tiong Bahru is a nice escape from the skyscrapers of downtown and has a much more quiet feel.
Your apartment is likely to be a walkup, but if you can handle the stairs, you’ll enjoy a beautiful space. The postwar apartments, when kept up well – or renovated – boast elegant vintage details such as covered porches and intricate window grates.
In the last 10 years, Tiong Bahru has seen a revival of young artsy shops and hip cafes restaurants that have some calling it “Singapore’s Brooklyn.” It’s the perfect location for a lazy Sunday wander in the equatorial heat, with a cup of 40 Hands coffee in hand.
Or, make your way to the Tiong Bahru market, one of the handful of wet markets left the in city to pick up some fresh meat and veggies for your dinner.
Holland Village is one of the most popular areas for expats because of its central location – in close proximity to the downtown and Orchard areas, as well as the open space of the Singapore Botanic Gardens and MacRitchie Reservoir. Though home to lots of families, Holland Village still has a very eclectic feel with a variety of bars, shops local and Western restaurants.
Dempsey Hill, an arts and dining enclave, is within walking distance and Biopolis, Fusionopolis, and Mediopolis – several high capacity office complexes aren’t far either. The area has one of the biggest and best hawker centers and the Holland Village Shopping Centre is known as the place to go to find hidden gems.
Holland Village puts you in proximity to some very good schools and a wide range of housing options including high quality HDBs, condos, bungalows, and landed houses – so you can choose the style of living that is right for you.
Tanjong Pagar boasts many of the classically beautiful shop house storefronts that maintain Singapore’s Malay heritage and give the city it’s sense of picturesque charm. Keong Saik and Neil Roads, within the heart of the area, have transitioned into a hub for Singapore’s growing food and cocktail culture.
Located just outside the central business district, the neighborhood is home to bankers and ad agency suits. They appreciate the short commute to work and plenty of watering holes to meet with friends after work, enjoy a nice weekend brunch, or a romantic night out.
Housing within the shop houses themselves is somewhat rare, and frankly – hit or miss when it comes to quality and privacy. However, the neighborhood offers both HDB housing for those looking to live more locally, and several amenities-rich condo options for those who are willing to pay a premium for a pool and gym facilities.
For those who have a generous relocation package or a little more room in their budget for rent, Sentosa can be a beautiful high-end option. Known as Singapore’s “resort-island” Sentosa boasts homes right on the water, both in beautiful condos and even in some landed houses.
If breezy and quiet spaces, with the beach right out your window sound too good to pass up – Sentosa Island might be the right fit for you, but be ready for the price tag.
Locals say that the community has a real neighborhood feel, though in a decidedly resort-like way – including access to a golf course.
Sentosa is a bit of a journey from the attractions of ’mainland’ Singapore, and so you’ll need to plan your trips to the grocery store at VivoCity Mall a bit more carefully, but it is still easy enough to access by both car and a special tramline that connects to the overall MRT system at the Harbourfront station.
Geylang is a decidedly more local area, perhaps even more authentically Chinese than Chinatown. About 15 outside the city to the East, Hawker centers and street stalls are far more common than a fancy cocktail bar in this part of the city. But many appreciate the gritty charm that comes along with the neighborhood that has been traditionally identified as Singapore’s red light district.
That distinction still holds true today, but the area is safe and has a robust community feel, as well as greater access to nature along the (park walkway). Geylang nicely balances between being a bit more budget friendly and still having quick access to offices and restaurants downtown.
Geylang also offers a mix of HDBs and condos, though the condos in this part of town tend to be smaller, with fewer units, and less sprawling grounds.
The east coast, is more traditionally known as a home base for families. It is quieter, and has more access to nature. Many housing complexes are located only a short walk away from the East Coast Park, the long narrow strip along the beach that offers heaps of greenery and a great view of the ocean.
Rollerblading and biking along the park paths is common. And, the streets in this part of town are generally calmer, and so a bike commute to work or school is far more possible.
More distance from the city means more reasonable rents. You can find quite a lot of space, with ample amenities, for the same price tag as a much smaller home in the city center. There are even some landed houses in the area, if you find that privacy and a bit of a backyard are priorities.
Woodlands is located at the far North of the island, closer to Malaysia than the shop houses of Chinatown. But the distance from the city means that this is the place to stretch out.
On an island, space comes at a premium, but Woodlands offers reasonably priced large houses with green space. The area is home to a large community of American expats because of the familiar suburban feel and close proximity to the Singapore American school.
The Woodlands have many large malls with restaurants, shopping, and cinemas so the downtown is barely missed. And the causeway to Johor Bahru, Malaysia means that cheap shopping and fresh Hokkien Mee is never too far away.