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Driving in Singapore: Hacks!

Although there’s a great public transport system here, driving in Singapore might be a good option for you especially if you need to be transporting children to school or are not keen on getting hot!  It’s a more complicated set-up than most other countries, so here are a few tips, tricks and procedures to help you.  If you’re not sure, start off with taxis or a short term lease.

We have outlined what we think are the must-know points from ERP’s to registration fees.


Buying a car in Singapore could be one of the most confusing and frustrating things you ever do. The first thing you need to get to grips with is a few acronyms that you will see here time and time again.

driving in singapore taxi image

OMV – Open Market Value:

this is roughly the base value of the car at the time of import. Singapore Customs places an OMV on each vehicle, and this determines many of the additional taxes.

ARF–Additional Registration Fee:

On top of the $140 basic Registration Fee (RF), you also have to pay an ARF, which is 100 percent of the OMV and upward (the higher the OMV, the higher the ARF), plus a 20 percent excise duty. In addition, you need to pay a seven-percent Goods and Services Tax (GST), and road tax. Road tax is reduced if you purchase a hybrid or electric car, or a car that runs on natural gas.

COE – Certificate of Entitlement:

To own a car, you need a document known as a COE, which is valid for ten years. The government uses the COE system to control the number of cars on the road, and only releases a limited number each year. You can bid for your own COE – tenders are called for twice each month – or you can leave it up to your dealer. The cost of a COE rises or falls according to demand; it can range from a dollar to $100,000!

Although the cost of buying a car in Singapore will initially seem much higher than at home, bear in mind that when you sell, export, or scrap your car, you will recoup the unused portion of the COE. If you sell your car after two years, for example, your COE will still be valid for eight years, and you will recoup 80 percent of its cost. You will also recoup between 50 and 75 percent of the ARF. Financing options can be surprisingly affordable, with typical interest rates between 2.25 percent and 2.75 percent per annum. Loans can be repaid over ten years with a low deposit, if any, required up front. All vehicles in Singapore must carry at least third-party insurance.

The current COE (as of June 2017) for a Category A vehicle is $42,801.

What else do you need to know?

Converting your licence:

If you have a valid overseas driving licence, you can drive in Singapore for up to 12 months before you need to convert your licence. If you become a PR, you need to convert your licence immediately. The licence is not in Englis? you must have an International Driving Permit in addition to your licence.

To convert to a Singapore licence, you need to pass the Basic Theory Test (BTT), which involves learning local traffic rules. Your application must be made in person at a driving test centre (see sgdriving.net or ssdcl.com.sg for details).

The processing fee for converting your licence is $50 and the test fee is $6.50 (payable with cash, CashCard or NETS only). Make sure you buy the basic theory book at a driving centre, bookshop or petrol stations – and do read it!

CashCards, the ERP and Parking Coupons:

The grey box mounted above your dashboard is the CashCard-reading In-vehicle Unit, or IU. You need to buy a CashCard from a petrol station or convenience store. The CashCard can be topped up at the latter or at top-up machines in most car parks. The cards store value and are used to pay for car parks (the fee is debited automatically at the exit barrier) and Electronic Road Pricing (ERP).

Parking coupons are used for street parking and HDB (Housing Development Board) car parks and can be purchased at petrol stations and convenience stores. Most residential parking is free.

FYI: ERP Work continues on Singapore’s 11th major highway, the North-South Expressway, a 21-kilometre road that will link the East Coast with the northern parts of Singapore. The $8 billion project is expected to be completed by 2020.

Editors’ tip: If you accidentally go through the ERP without enough money on your CashCard, go to onepay.onemotoring.com.sg and pay your fine online. Also, MotorPay (motorpay.com.sg) is a system that allows you to pay ERP charges through your credit card, without the hassle of constantly stopping to top up the amount left on your CashCard. There’s a monthly fee of $1.07 (subject to changes). You can also renew your road tax online.

Off-Peak Car Scheme:

A red number plate means the driver is part of the Off Peak Car Scheme (OPCS). OPCS is an initiative to encourage car owners to drive outside peak times. In return, they save on car registration and road taxes. (Off-peak drivers can drive all day on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays and on Mondays to Fridays 7pm to 7am). A $20 e-Day Licence is required for driving an off-peak car at any other time.


  • Download Grab, Uber and the other apps. You can’t survive here without them!
  • Grab is a fixed price so you know what you’re paying for and there are no surprises.
  • My experience is that Comfort drivers are more reliable and knowledgeable, and I feel safer.
  • I find myself getting car sick with some of the drivers, so sitting in front isn’t a bad idea! Queues at taxi stands tend to move quite fast.
  • Tell drivers to slow down if they’re going too fast; some can be heavy on the brakes too.
  • Most taxi drivers are funny and a great source of information on places to see and eat!

This article first appeared in the City guide 2017 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!

Driving in Singapore