Buying Your First Home as a Singaporean-Foreigner Couple: What’s Different?

According to the Population in Brief 2020 Report by the Strategy Group Singapore, as of 2019, approximately one quarter of annual citizen marriages in Singapore involve Singaporean citizens (SC) marrying foreigners (i.e. foreign nationals who are not PRs). This means that scenarios where such mixed-nationality couples are trying to buy a home to settle down in Singapore are relatively common. 

If you are in this boat, you might have some inkling that buying property in Singapore in your situation can be a little more complicated than purchasing property as a couple made up of two Singapore citizens. What do you need to know, and what do you need to look out for? What’s different about the whole process? Let us help you to navigate your first home purchase as a newly married couple in Singapore.

 

What Properties Can Foreigners Buy?

As you may know, foreigners on their own are only able to purchase private property such as condominiums, private apartments and executive condominiums (EC) that are at least 10 years old. However, when married to a Singapore Citizen, the choices increase. 

Depending on your own age, you and your spouse can qualify for new HDB flats under the Non-Citizen Spouse scheme under the following criteria:

If the Singapore Citizen spouse is 21 years old and above:

The foreign spouse must hold a Long Term Visit Pass or a Work Pass (valid for more than 6 months)

If the citizen spouse is 35 years old and above:

The foreign spouse must hold a S Pass, Work Pass, Employment Pass, or Visit Pass.

If the foreign spouse does not qualify under these definitions but you both have a child who is a SC or SPR and above 21 years old, you will also be able to qualify for housing under different schemes. 

In addition to this, you will also be able to purchase HDB flats on the resale market through the citizen spouse. 

Do note that if the foreign spouse is a Singapore Permanent Resident (PR), he/she may be able to enjoy more of the general benefits of most resale and some HDB flats. In this article, when we mention a “foreign spouse”, we are referring specifically to a non-citizen, non-PR foreigner. Read more here: Can a Singapore Permanent Resident (PR) Buy an HDB Flat in Singapore?

Do note that as a married couple, you will not need to pay ABSD (Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty) on your home together if this is your first property. However, if you do decide to jointly purchase a second property after this, you will have to pay a 20% ABSD if you choose to hold on to both properties at once (i.e. one to live in and one as investment, for example). This ABSD will be refunded if you dispose of your first property within 6 months from the purchase of the second (i.e. you did not intend to own 2 properties at once).

 

Public Housing for Singaporean-Foreigner Couples

New HDB Flats (BTO/SBF)

In recent years, HDB has granted more subsidies (up to $40,000) to mixed nationality couples. Some of these extend to the purchase of HDB flats as well. The Non-Citizen Spouse scheme is just one of the ways to take advantage of these government grants put in place. 

If you are intending to purchase a new HDB flat in Singapore, there are restrictions to what you can buy. A mixed-nationality couple will only be eligible to purchase a 2-room flat under the 2-room Flexi flat scheme. Under the Non-Citizen Spouse Scheme, 50% of your average gross monthly income must be less than $4,500 (i.e. your total average income cannot be more than $9000). This means that any flat with three rooms or more will not be open for purchase to a mixed nationality couple. 

HDB Resale Flats 

Alternatively, all resale HDB flats are open to Singaporeans who are married to foreigners. It is important to note that while there is no income ceiling for resale HDBs, there are other eligibility criteria such as the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) that need to be met. If you are a mixed nationality and mixed race household, you may choose which party to consider as the primary race of your household. Do note that when applying for an HDB resale flat, only the Singapore citizen is allowed to own the flat while the foreign spouse will be considered an essential occupant. 

 

Schemes that Help You with Public Housing Grants

There are two main schemes to take note of when applying for public housing with your foreign spouse. These are the Non-Citizen Spouse Scheme (NCS), and the Public Scheme. 

Non-Citizen Spouse Scheme

Under the NCS Scheme the Singaporean citizen in the couple might be eligible for the Singles Grant and/or the Enhanced CPF Housing grant. Review the table below for more detailed eligibility criteria and the corresponding subsidies. 

 

Singles Grant

Enhanced CPF Housing Grant (Singles) 

Who it is for 

Married applicants aged 21 or above who buy an HDB resale flat under the Non-Citizen Spouse Scheme

For those who qualify for the Singles Grant and also earns under $4,500 (only half of the household income considered) 

Grant amount

$25,000 (2- to 4-room resale flats), $20,000 (5-room or bigger resale flats) 

$2,500 to $40,000, depending on income 

Age eligibility 

At least 21 years old

At least 21 years old 

Income ceiling 

Household income must not exceed $14,000

Half of the household income under $4,500 

Property ownership and other requirements 

Must be first-timer applicant, cannot have owned and/or sold an HDB flat, EC or DBSS property, cannot have received CPF housing grant or any other housing subsidies  

Same as Singles Grant, but additionally, must have worked continuously for 12 months and still be working

 

Here are some case studies to illustrate some of the possible permutations of nationality and scenarios you may encounter as a couple:

Case Study 1: 

Mr Tan and Mrs Sukbunsung are both applying for a two-room flexi flat at Bukit Batok. Mr Tan is a Singaporean Citizen while his wife is a foreigner. Mr Tan is the sole income earner of his household. He has a stable job that earns him $3,500 every month. They are both 30 years old. 

Mr Tan is eligible to apply for both the Singles Grant ($25,000) and the Enhanced CPF Housing Grant ($35,000 as per his income bracket from HDB). He will receive $55,000 in total.

Case Study 2: 

Mr Tan has passed away. Mrs Sukbunsung is now remarried to Mr Tran, a Vietnamese foreigner who resides in Singapore. Mrs Sukbunsung has since become a Singaporean Citizen and wants to buy a resale 4-room flat with her new foreign spouse. She is a freelance child-care professional and works part-time at the local child-care facility in Bukit Batok. Their household earns a combined salary of $5,000. 

Mrs Sukbunsung is eligible for the Singles Grant ($25,000) and the Enhanced CPF Housing Grant ($22,500 as per the household income bracket from HDB). She will receive $47, 500 in total.

Case Study 3: 

Mr Tran and Mrs Sukbunsung had a son, who is a Singapore Citizen in Singapore. At 22 years of age, he married his childhood sweetheart Ms Moo who is a Singaporean Permanent Resident. 

He then bought an EC under a Family Grant from HDB. It is now 5 years later and Ms Moo has successfully applied to be a Singaporean Citizen as well. Based on the above, their household has been converted from a citizen/PR household to a full citizen household, so Ms Moo is now eligible for the $10, 000 Citizen Top-Up Grant from HDB. 

 

Singaporean-Foreigner Couples Buying Executive Condominiums 

As a public-private hybrid, ECs have proven to be popular among young Singaporean couples and first-time single homeowners. Under the existing HDB Schemes, only full citizen couples or citizen-PR couples are allowed to purchase brand new EC flats. However, resale EC flats that are more than 10 years old are available for anyone to purchase, including citizen-foreigner couples.

Though there have been cases of people purchasing ECs under their children’s name, this is not advisable. Home ownership is a tricky situation and doing this to avoid falling afoul of eligibility criteria could create complications that can affect your child’s home ownership chances in the future. 

If your foreign spouse is weighing the benefits of becoming a PR, you may view the table below for the eligibility criteria and grants for the purchase of an EC (Public Scheme). 

Citizenship

At least 1 applicant Singapore Citizen or Singapore PR 

Age

At least 21 years old

Income ceiling

$16,000 

Property ownership 

Cannot own or have disposed of other property (in Singapore or overseas), cannot have bought a new HDB/DBSS/EC before, cannot have received CPF housing grant before (Or have only bought/received 1 of the above thus far) 

CPF housing grants available to Singapore Citizen-PR households 

$10,000 (for household income $10,001 to $11,000), $20,000 (for household income under $10,000)  

 

Singaporean-Foreigner Couples Buying Private Housing

Private Condominiums

The most common type of housing among mixed nationality couples are private condominiums. This type of housing has no income ceilings or restrictions, but also comes with no grants. Of course, as private property, condos are significantly more expensive than HDB flats and ECs. 

You can choose from 1. uncompleted new launch condos, 2. under-construction condos waiting to obtain their TOP and 3. completed and/or resale condos.

Landed Property

As a general rule, foreigners are not allowed to purchase landed property in Singapore. There are instances where they might do so under special consent directly from Singapore Land Authority, however, this depends on their individual economic contribution to Singapore. 

An exception is landed property in Sentosa Cove. If you want a landed house, you can also consider strata landed houses, which are basically ‘townhouses’ built within a condominium development. If you are looking for more details please see this article on foreigners and landed property in Singapore. 

 

Navigating Your First Residential Property in Singapore  

In summary, these are the approved residential properties available for mixed nationality couples in Singapore compared to the other couples in Singapore. 

 

Singapore Citizen and PR 

Singapore Citizen and foreigner

New HDB flat (BTO/SBF)

Yes

No

Resale HDB flat

Yes

Yes

New Executive Condo (EC)

Yes

No

Resale Executive Condo (EC over 10 years old) 

Yes

Yes

Private condo 

Yes

Yes

Landed property 

Yes

No

 

Getting a Mortgage

Having decided on what property you want, you’ll probably have to obtain financing from a bank or from HDB to afford your dream home. For such applications, the spouse who is a Singapore citizen is the key person. 

In terms of loans for HDB property, the Singapore citizen would already have been the sole applicant as HDB only allows non-citizen spouses to be listed as occupiers. Hence, only the citizen’s income and CPF will be taken into account. With regards to mortgages from banks, it is also the Singapore citizen’s income which will be taken into account for loan applications.

 

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What are the implications of this? Firstly, as only the citizen’s income (and credit rating) will be used to calculate the loan offer from the bank, it may limit the amount you can actually loan, and hence the property you can actually afford, regardless of your combined finances,. 

However, secondly, it also means that whatever you do loan will probably be easier to pay back if the non-citizen spouse is also working, as you will have an additional source of income on hand, to save or to pay off your loan if necessary. 

However, in terms of loans for private property, that changes. As foreigners are allowed to be owners or co-owners of private property, both of you can apply together as joint borrowers, and both your incomes will be taken into consideration in the calculation of the loan amount. 

For the foreign spouse, however, do note that if he/she is onshore (i.e. employed in Singapore), the banks will take 100% of his/her income into consideration, but if he/she is offshore (i.e. employed overseas), they will only take 80% of the base salary into consideration instead.

You will need to take these factors into consideration when budgeting for your property, but apart from this however, the same loan options are open to you as a mixed nationality couple as would be open to a citizen couple, so you can compare all the mortgages in Singapore and find a suitable package for your home as per normal!

 

Navigating the Choices

As a couple of mixed nationality, you may find the process of purchasing property in Singapore different from the usual, with different grants, options, restrictions, and costs, and potential limitations in how you finance what you want to buy.

At PropertyGuru, our doors are always open to help you navigate this property landscape. You can browse verified properties for sale on our portal or speak with our experienced Home Finance Advisors to discuss financing options available to you. Come tap on us, and we’ll help you achieve your dream home here in Singapore!

 

For more property news, resources and useful content like this article, check out PropertyGuru’s guides section.

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