Welcome to the little red dot! Living in Singapore requires you to first set up a few essentials before you can settle in. Arguably one of the most important things is to open a bank account. Here’s a quick guide on what you need to have when opening an account and the range of banking options out there.
- Things to consider
- What documents to prepare
- Expat-friendly banks
- Online vs Walk-In
- Savings Account options
What should I consider when choosing the right bank?
- Location of branch
Is there a convenient location near your home or workplace? Though most transactions can be done through e-banking these days, this might not be a big concern.
- Location of self-service lobbies
Some banks branches offer 24/7 services with self-serve facilities such as cheque deposit boxes, cash deposit machines, and ATMs; all great options to help skip the long queues.
- Accessibility of ATMs
Not all banks have their own ATMs, some have an extensive and shared network.
Local banks such as DBS-POSB has the most ATM locations (over 677 ATMs). Due to its local popularity, DBS-POSB ATMs generally feature long queues.
UOB (United Overseas Bank) and OCBC (Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation) have shared networks of over 800 ATMs.
Other foreign banks like Citibank, Standard Chartered and HSBC (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) have a shared network of 63, 107 and 90 ATMs, respectively.
- Interest rates
Interest rates are frequently tiered based on balance and range from 0.05% to 3.5%. Interest range is driven by the balance you maintain and number or amount of transactions (salary credit, bill payments, credit card spend etc).
- Minimum initial deposit
Most banks require this to set up a bank account.
- Minimum deposit amount and fall below fee
Minimum balance to maintain and/or is subject to monthly bank service fees.
- International money transfers
If you plan on transferring money back to your home country in your home local currency, check what the typical FX rates are compared to FX boards and what the transfer charges (flat fee or percentage commission) are. We find that the global banks like HSBC and CITIBANK have the most competitive transfer rates and fees but require high minimum deposits for expats to open an account (more than SG$50K).
- Foreign currency accounts
Some banks offer foreign currency accounts which allow you to earn interest that count towards your minimum deposit amount.
What documents do I need at hand?
- Employment Pass
- Proof Of Address (POA)
Are there Expat-friendly banks?
Say hello to the DBS Expat Programme.
We find that it’s more important to have your bank account up and running as soon as possible. So stop weighing the interest rate differences (which is only significant for balances of more than $30K). For a smooth and easy set-up, we suggest the DBS Expat Programme.
The programme not only allows you to apply online but it allows you to apply with just your IPA (In-principle approval letter) and use your employers address as your application address (you will need a formal letter from your employer confirming your employment). You can subsequently update your account address when you have settled your accommodation.
Should I set-up my account online or at the bank?
To apply online, simply upload the necessary documents and wait to hear back on whether your application is successful. Occasionally, the bank may ask you to head down to their local branch for in-person verification.
Most banks require you to head into the bank to apply in person with the required documents. Prevent having to make multiple trips by checking what documents are required online, before anything else.
How long does it usually take?
For the DBS expat programme, the online application depends on your profile – between 1 – 2 weeks.
For walk-ins, if you have all your documents in place, you could do so in less than an hour if there is no queue. It helps if you have a local mobile number so that you can get an SMS-queue number.
List of banks that offer Savings Accounts
Contact Number: 1800 111 1111
United Overseas Bank
Contact Number: 1800 222 2121
Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation
Contact Number: 1800 363 3333
Standard Chartered Bank
Contact Number: 6225 8888
Contact Number: 6550 7888
Commerce International Merchant Bankers
Contact Number: 6333 7777
The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation
Contact Number: 1800 4722 669
Contact Number: 6225 5225
Bank of China
Contact Number: 1800 338 5335
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