Deciding where to live is, aside from selecting a school, the biggest single decision that keeps expats awake at night when planning a move to Singapore. Luckily, there’s a wide range of locations across the island that have their own unique appeal and attractions. The majority have good transport links and excellent shopping and eating options. Don’t despair, expats live all over the island, and there is something for everyone and every budget.
ORCHARD & CITY
The Orchard area offers easy access to the retail hustle and bustle of Orchard Road’s shopping malls, restaurants, hotels, cinemas, and health and beauty services. Despite the activity and density, many of the surrounding neighbourhoods are quiet and leafy. Naturally, rents here are higher, but they’re offset by the prime location and access to public transport, the CTE (Central Island Expressway) and CBD (Central Business District). The American Club and Tanglin Club are in the neighbourhood.
Tanglin is home to many embassies and is considered a prestigious area. Properties vary from large houses with leafy gardens to established low-rise condominiums and new, higher condos. Advantages include quick access to the AYE (Ayer Rajah Expressway), Orchard Road and the Botanic Gardens. The popular Dempsey Hill area offers a mix of furniture shops, art galleries, cafés and restaurants in a pretty jungle setting.
River Valley is a popular area between Orchard Road to the north and the river to the south, with a large concentration of modern high-rise condominiums and some conservation houses.
Editor Amy Greenburg lives in River Valley
Why here: It’s close to the river, and walking distance to coffee shops and restaurants. There are plenty of options, no matter which way I walk.
What you like: Riding my bike along the river, through the quays and all the way to Marina Bay.
Condo or house: Large expat-saturated condo with great amenities. Apartments from the tenth floor up may have skyline views.
Go-to supermarket and mall: The 24-hour FairPrice Finest just down the road and Great World City shopping centre provide everything an expat could possibly need.
Favourite coffee nearby: Kith Café on the river has great coffee, plus it’s dog-friendly, and I’m always bound to run into friends there.
Favourite bar/restaurant: Wine Connection Tapas Bar & Bistro is my go-to spot. Within walking distance and you just can’t beat $5 tapas and a $30 bottle of wine (at least, not in Singapore).
Best green space: Five-minute walk to Fort Canning Park, one of my favourite places to run.
Public transport: 10-minute walk to Somerset MRT station, or hop on one of the many buses that stop along River Valley Road.
Time to Changi Airport by taxi: 25 minutes.
A traditional expat favourite, Holland Village has a good selection of restaurants and a multitude of cafés, health and beauty outlets, bars, and numerous local and Western restaurants. The Holland Village Shopping Centre is a handy as are the shops at Jalan Merah Saga, which is nearby. There’s easy access to the Botanic Gardens and Orchard Road and an MRT station (Circle line).
Robertson Quay and Mohammed Sultan Road
Robertson Quay and Mohammed Sultan Road are popular with singles and young couples who want to be close to the CBD and enjoy the nightlife, restaurants and bars along the Singapore River. Robertson Quay boasts swanky new condominiums with river views. It’s serviced by buses and boat taxis are handy for getting to the CBD.
Tip: Other areas close to the city include Chinatown, and the hip Tiong Bahru and Duxton Hill areas, popular with 20-something expats. Luxury condos around Marina Bay are also sought after for their accessibility to the financial district.
Central Bukit Timah
This established residential area stretches from just beyond Newton Circus to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. It’s close to Orchard Road, international schools, the Japanese Association, Hollandse Club and British Club.
Editor Amy Brooke-Partridge lives at Central Bukit Timah
Why here: It’s green and pleasant, with great playgrounds nearby, and we can afford what we were looking for just this bit further out.
What you like: The green areas close by (or we can walk to the Botanic Gardens in 20 minutes), the lovely community feel of the Watten area, and Greenwood Avenue’s restaurants.
Condo or house: Cluster house (a house with shared facilities).
Go-to supermarket and mall: FairPrice in Coronation Plaza; Cluny Court Mall with Cold Storage and lots of shops is a five-minute drive.
Doctors, dentists and services: Sixth Avenue for GPs, and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital is a 15-minutes drive. There are plenty of services in Coronation Plaza, from school uniform shops to photo processing places and somewhere to re-string your tennis racquet.
Best green space: Botanic Gardens, although Watten Estate Playground is surprisingly spacious and green, plus Bukit Batok Reserve is up the road.
Public transport: Buses run down Dunearn Road, and the Botanic Gardens MRT is a 15-minute walk.
Minutes to Changi Airport by taxi: With no traffic on the PIE, 20.
Not far from Orchard, and home to a good mix of houses, high-rise condos, are Novena and Newton Circus. The latter is famous for its hawker centre; it has some excellent barbecued seafood stalls, but do be aware of the price of everything before you order!
Rachael Wheeler lives at Novena
Why here: Novena is super close to town, without the expensive price-tag.
What you like: I live among the massive cluster of condos between Tan Tock Seng and Balestier Road, so all of the buildings are new and sleek, plus the roads are quiet. It’s also quiet because of all the hospitals in the area. Being close to Balestier Road is awesome too – plenty of culture and local food.
What you don’t like: The one thing that Novena lacks is personality. Put it this way: if you didn’t live in Novena, you probably wouldn’t go there for the afternoon.
Condo or house: Reasonably priced newish condo with a decent view of the city.
Go-to supermarket and mall: Novena has five standard malls dotted around the area with everything you could need (fashion aside).
Doctors, dentists and services: If there’s one thing Novena has in abundance, it’s medical facilities – it’s a hospital hotspot!
Best green space: MacRitchie is a five-minute cab or 20-minute walk away, but other than that, my dog has to make do with a morning lap around the hospital green.
Public transport: Novena MRT, plus plenty of buses pootle along Balestier.
Minutes to Changi Airport by taxi: A strong 26 minutes.
Popular with families from the nearby French School and Australian International School this relaxed residential area offers condominiums and spacious family houses, many with gardens. Chomp Chomp at Serangoon Village is well-regarded for food and Nex Mall has excellent shopping and cinemas. MRT stations at Serangoon and Lorong Chuan connect it to all parts of the island and the CTE is the closest expressway.
Thomson Road runs past the horsey action at the Singapore Polo Club, leafy MacRitchie Reservoir, and some of the best garden centres in Singapore, right up to Yishun and Sembawang. The further north you go, the less you pay for a spacious home or condo.
Group Editor Shamus Sillar lives at Upper Thomson
Why here: Close to beer, food and MRT; walking distance to office; right next to MacRitchie Reservoir
What you like: The old-school heartlands feel of the place, from the tiny temples tucked into alleyways to the elderly lady who sits on a stoop in her pyjamas, selling fruit laid out on a sheet of newspaper.
Condo or house: Condo.
Go-to supermarket and mall: There’s a Sheng Siong supermarket 50 metres from my apartment which makes up for its meagre range of imported goods (no Vegemite!) by being open 24 hours.
Doctors, dentists and services: Plenty around, though I tend to go to places I know in other neighbourhoods where I’ve lived.
Best green space: There’s a sneaky side entrance onto the MacRitchie running track about 300 metres from my door. I tend to go in at 6am to beat the crowds and the heat. (You’ll need a light.)
Public transport? Excellent: Five-minute walk to Marymount MRT, and buses galore.
Minutes to Changi Airport by taxi: 20 minutes.
Not far from Thomson and Bishan is Braddell, another established residential area with some excellent family houses with gardens. Braddell is ideal for anyone thinking of enrolling their children at the Australian International School or the French School.
Expats choose Woodlands for its big, reasonably priced family houses and for the Singapore American School. Not surprisingly, there is a large American expat community here. The area has a leafy, suburban feel, large malls with restaurants and cinemas. Woodlands is one of two access points to Malaysia (the other is Tuas), and the city across the causeway, Johor Bahru (or “JB” for short), is accessible from here.
Residents tend to hang on to their properties tightly here, though you can still find good deals on black-and-white houses and gardens. The area comprises part of Upper Thomson and includes the Lower Seletar Reservoir. Seletar is convenient for children attending the American and Australian Schools.
Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Bisset lives at Seletar
Why here: Larger house and garden for reasonable rent. Rents have gradually increased but the space is still good.
What you like: Location. It’s three minutes to the CTE, eight minutes to the Australia School and 15 to work. Not many traffic lights and not much wriggling through streets lined with cars on either side.
Go-to supermarket and mall: Greenwich is a handy mall, and Sengkang has lots of options, 10 minutes in the other direction.
Doctors, dentists and services: We use the doctor at Greenwich, nails at Sengkang, hair at Kovan.
Best green space: My garden. Sengkang and Punggol are good for runs and MacRitchie Reserve is about a 15-minute drive away.
Public transport: Buses are nearby but not that regular.
Minutes to Changi Airport by taxi: About 18 minutes.
The East Coast area runs from Kallang for 18km to Loyang and Changi Airport, and has long been popular with expats for its spacious, breezy and reasonably priced condominiums and houses. The condos along Meyer Road are very convenient. East Coast Park, with its sandy, palm-fringed beaches, parks areas and flat cycle path, and seafood restaurants is a drawcard. The ECP/KPE and PIE motorways provide easy access to the city, the north and the airport.
Katong and Joo Chiat are favoured by expats who are keen to experience local Peranakan culture, although these colourful neighbourhoods also boast large malls, Parkway Parade and Katong I12. It’s also close to international schools including CIS and Chatsworth.
Richard Lenton lives at Paya Lebar
Why here: Western comforts on Tanjong Katong Road mixed with the Asian feel of Paya Lebar. Plus, we’re only a couple of minutes’ from the MRT station.
Condo or house: Condo
Go-to supermarket and mall: I get basics from Giant, which is close by, but if I’ve got time I’ll jump on the bus and pop to FairPrice Finest at Katong V.
Doctors, dentists and services: I’m registered with a doctor over in Suntec City from when I lived on Tanjong Rhu Road. And as for dentists, I still see my old one in the UK during my annual trip home!
Best green space: Any green space that features goalposts, 22 blokes and a football.
Public transport: Fantastic. Close to the East-West and Circle lines of the MRT and loads of bus routes.
Minutes to Changi Airport by taxi: 15 minutes.
Siglap, Bedok, Tampines and Pasir Ris
These popular East Coast neighbourhoods have a village feel. Housing options vary from apartments and townhouses to spacious, detached bungalows. The new purpose-built campus of UWC South East Asia is close by, as is OWIS.
Editor Katie Roberts lives at Siglap
Why here: The consistent sea breeze and laid-back lifestyle.
What you like: I can easily spend a weekend without venturing far. East Coast Park and my favourite yoga studio are a five-minute bike ride and there’s always socialising around the condo pool.
Condo or house: Low-rise, walk-up condo; the four flights of stairs make daily exercise mandatory. But I get my groceries home delivered.
Go-to supermarket and mall: Parkway Parade and the new Bedok Mall are five minutes’ drive away.
Doctors, dentists and services: Can’t beat the excellent local doctor, dentist, butcher, hairdresser, suitcase repair shop, florist and osteopath, all within walking distance.
Best green space: East Coast Park for cycling, walking, sand castles and picnics.
Public transport? Good bus services along Marine Parade and East Coast Road; East-West MRT line runs along Changi Road.
Minutes to Changi Airport by taxi: Eight minutes with green lights.
Upper Bukit Timah
Just beyond Central Bukit Timah, this area has a large selection of good value condominiums and semi-detached houses plus several good shopping centres in the area. The PIE and BKE expressways are easily accessible for those with cars. It’s conveniently close to the Singapore American School with easy access to Malaysia. Because it’s located at the edge of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, some properties have forest views.
Sentosa Island has some of the most exclusive (and expensive) homes in Singapore – some of which directly face the sea. Residents of Sentosa Cove also have access to a golf course, excellent restaurants at Quayside, recreational opportunities and the ONE°15 Marina. At the gateway to Sentosa is VivoCity, one of Singapore’s largest shopping malls, with HarbourFront MRT and buses.
Faber Park has a spacious, suburban feel and a large, friendly expat community with leafy surroundings. The area’s benefits include easy access to the AYE/CTE motorways, VivoCity and HarbourFront malls for shopping. Mount Faber is one of the oldest parks in Singapore, with spectacular views and the cable car to Sentosa.
Editor Susannah Jaffer lives in Pasir Panjang
Why here: The area is quiet but still just two MRT stops or one five-minute bus to HarbourFront, plus it’s very close to Sentosa. Properties are affordable around here too.
What you like: Greenery, open space, parks and fresh air.
Condo or house: Older but newly renovated condo on South Buona Vista Road with a nice community feel.
Go-to supermarket and mall: VivoCity is just two stops away on the MRT (or a short bus ride) or go the other way to Holland Village and Buona Vista.
Doctors, dentists and services: National University hospital is round the corner, and there are lots of GP clinics dotted about.
Best green space: Kent Ridge Park is situated just behind my condo, West Coast Park is up the road, and Labrador Nature Reserve is within walking distance.
Public transport: Easy. There are buses to every part of the island from Pasir Panjang Road, Labrador Park or Pasir Panjang MRT (Circle line) within walking distance.
Time to Changi Airport by taxi: 25 minutes thanks to the new MCE tunnel.
What else: The Japanese School, National University of Singapore, Dover Court School and ISS are within reach.
Tip: Further west, there are many new condos around Clementi, valued for easy access to the Canadian International School and Tanglin Trust School.
Watch our cool videos on various neighbourhoods.