Migrating to Australia from Singapore
Moving your entire life to a new country is an exciting but daunting prospect, so here’s our handy guide to help Singaporean residents planning to move to Australia.
Thinking of making Australia home? You're not the only one, with an average of 300,000 Singaporeans coming to Australia most years to study, work, and live. Even though we're only a short plane ride away, moving to a new country can be daunting. Read on to see what you need to know about moving to Australia, including banking, health care, finding somewhere to live, and more.
Visas available to Singaporean nationals
While the list of visas available for Singaporean nationals wanting to move to Australia is quite extensive, the following are the visas most commonly used:
- Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (subclass 457). If you’re a skilled worker who has been sponsored by an approved business for a nominated Australian occupation, this visa allows you to travel to Australia and work here for up to four years.
- Business Innovation and Investment (Permanent) visa (subclass 888). This visa is designed for those who want to continue to own and manage a business in Australia after previously doing so under a temporary visa, or who wish to continue their business and investment activity in Australia.
- Skilled Independent visa (subclass 189). This visa is designed for points-tested skilled workers who have not been sponsored by an employee, family member, or state or territory government. Holders of this visa are able to live and work in Australia as permanent residents.
A closer look at Visa
What do I need to apply for a visa?
Depending on the visa that you’re applying for, this may vary, but the basics remain the same:
- A completed application form. This can be found on the DIBP website
- Valid passport
- Certified copies of the biographical pages of your valid passport or travel documentation
- Certified copies of your birth certificate
- Two recent, passport-sized (and passport appropriate) photos
- Visa payment fee
- Police clearance (applicable when applying for a permanent residence visa)
How much will my visa cost?
The cost varies depending on the visa you apply for. As an example, the 457 visa costs $1,035 to apply for, the 888 visa costs $2,255 and the 189 visa will cost $3,520. You can find more information about pricing on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection website.
How long will it take for my visa to be processed?
This will once again depend on the visa you apply for. For example, the 457 visa can take up to three months to be approved while an application for an 888 visa could take up to nine months to be processed.
Getting to Australia
Thanks to the close ties between Australia and Singapore, many major airlines run regular flight routes between the two countries. Departing from Changi International Airport, the major destination for flights is Kingsford-Smith Airport in Sydney. However, it’s also quite easy to book flights to Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and a number of other major locations.
Airlines that fly to Australia include Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Jetstar, Etihad Airways, Scoot and Tigerair. This means you’ll have plenty of choice when it comes to finding an affordable flight at a time and date that suits you. The flight time from Changi International Airport to Sydney is approximately eight to nine hours.
Moving: Tying up loose ends before you leave
Before you set sail for Australia you’ll need to figure out what to do with your belongings. Depending on your future plans, you may decide to leave some of your items in a self storage unit in Singapore. Many companies offer this service, so shop around for one that offers secure (and ample) storage at an affordable price.
You’ll also need to work out the best way to ship your belongings to Australia. A simple Google search will help you find a range of companies that specialise in transporting your cargo overseas, so once again look around for a reliable company with competitive prices.
National Service Obligation
All NS men need to be aware that you will have to apply for an Exit Permit if you are going overseas for six months or more. This can be done in person at the Central Manpower Base, but it’s much quicker and easier to do this online via the NS Portal. You must not be scheduled for NS training within six months of the date you apply for your permit, and you’ll need to specify the reason for and duration of your trip.
Other things you should consider before you leave
Here’s a quick list of things you might need to do before you leave:
- Cancel your subscriptions and ongoing transactions: mobile phone, Netflix, energy supplier, opticians, car and life insurance, water supplier, ongoing charity support, Spotify, broadband, landline.
- Advise institutions and offices that you’re leaving: specifically your banks, the tax office, customs, and council.
- Sign up for SingPass and OneInBox so that you can access all your government related details easily online.
- Apply as an overseas voter the Elections Department of Singapore so that you can fulfil your national obligations at one of the overseas polling stations (Australia’s is in the ACT).
- Take care of your loans: mortgages and student loans.
- Obtain medical documents and history: contact your doctor and dentist for your medical history in case you need hospital or health care in Australia.
- Redirect your post: either to your family and friends or to your new home in Australia.
Money makes the world go round, so you’ll want to get your finances sorted well in advance of your arrival in Australia. Doing so will allow you to land on your feet when you arrive down under and start getting used to your new surroundings straight away.
It’s easy to take care of your banking needs before you hop on a plane to Australia. A large number of Australian banks have migrant banking programs available to help you set up all your necessary accounts months in advance of your departure for Australia. You can apply quickly and easily online, transfer funds into your new account before you leave, then simply provide proof of identity to your bank when you arrive in Australia to receive your card. A few of the banks that offer this service are Westpac, Commonwealth Bank, ANZ and National Australia Bank. Some banks, for example, National Australia Bank and Commonwealth Bank, also have branches in Singapore to help make the process easier.
There are also other solutions you can look at to help manage your money. For example, look for a credit card offered by a bank in Singapore that waives all fees for foreign transactions. This can help you save money when spending in Australia. In addition, you could also look at opening a multi currency account to help make the most of fluctuating exchange rates.
You might also want to consider using a dedicated money transfer service to accept or send money to/from Singapore.
Employment and tax
Employment prospects in Australia are generally quite good, especially for workers with the right skills. Read on to find out the ins and outs when it comes to sorting out your tax obligations both in Australia and Singapore.
Income and tax in Australia
Just because you’re moving to a new country doesn’t mean you can avoid paying tax. All Australian residents must declare the income they have earned on their tax return, including any income earned internationally. If you’re visiting Australia but are still a foreign resident, you’ll only have to declare the income you have earned in Australia.
Australian residents should apply for a Tax File Number (TFN) to ensure that the Australian Taxation Office does not withhold tax on the money you have earned at the highest possible rate. The amount of tax you will then have to pay will then vary according to the amount of income you earn. The first $18,200 you earn is not subject to tax, though your tax-free threshold will be reduced if you’re not an Australian resident for the full financial year.
You need to file your tax return after the end of the Australian financial year (June 30) and before October 31.
Income and tax in Singapore
It’s important to take care of your tax obligations in Singapore before you leave for Australia. Before you head overseas, advise te IRAS (Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore) of your new address for any correspondence and of how long you’ll be away. If you owe any tax at this time, you’ll need to pay it to tie up loose ends.
In addition, you’ll need to work out your residence status for income tax assessment purposes. Generally speaking, you will not have to pay tax in Singapore for any income you source overseas, even if that income is paid into a Singaporean bank account. The governments of Australia and Singapore also have an agreement in place to prevent you being double-taxed.
Other taxation information you should be aware of as a Singaporean non-resident
Even if you become an Australian resident, you may still have to pay tax in Singapore on income you draw from Singaporean services. For example, if you rent out your Singaporean house while you’re overseas, you’ll need to pay tax on the rental income you receive. The same applies to other investment incomes.
In terms of pensions, you will be exempt from tax if you are a Singaporean resident for tax purposes. However, you’ll need to check your tax status with IRAS if you decide to become an Australian resident.
Superannuation and CPF
If you have left Singapore permanently and have no intention of returning to work or live there in the future, you can withdraw your Central Provident Fund (CPF) in full. You can apply by post or in person and will need to provide a completed application form and any necessary supporting documents. If you’re just working overseas for a temporary period, however, keep in mind that you and your insurer do not need to make CPF contributions.
The Australian equivalent of CPF is superannuation. Most Australian residents are entitled to compulsory super contributions from their employer. These contributions must be at least 11% of your regular earnings.
Non-residents of Australia can also accumulate superannuation benefits when working in Australia. If you build up a superannuation balance while in Australia on a temporary visa, you are able to claim a Departing Australia Superannuation Payment when your visa can no longer be used and you depart Australia. This allows you to transfer your benefits to your CPF in Singapore.
However, keep in mind that the treatment of temporary residents and non-residents can be quite confusing when it comes to superannuation, so you may need to seek help from a financial adviser.
Driving in Australia
Laws and regulations regarding driving on an overseas licence in Australia differ between states and territories, but generally most states and territories will allow you to drive on an overseas licence as a temporary resident or visitor for as long as it’s current/valid, and so long as you are not disqualified from driving in Australia or elsewhere.
While this is true for most states and territories, in the Northern Territory, anyone holding an overseas licence must also hold an International Driving Permit (IDP), which must be obtained from the country where the licence was issued.
If you’re a permanent resident, most states and territories will require you to convert your overseas licence after having been in the country for a set period of time (typically three to six months, depending on the state/territory).
Of course, it’s always good to remember that Australians drive on the left-hand side of the road.
Health care in Australia
Australia has a universal health care system in place called Medicare. This is offered to all Australian citizens and it provides significant cover for many health care costs.
Unfortunately, while Australia has Reciprocal Health Care Agreements in place with a number of foreign countries, there is no such agreement with Singapore. As a result, if you are only in Australia temporarily you are not able to access the benefits that Medicare offers.
In addition, Medisave and MediShield cannot be called upon to cover the medical expenses you incur while in Australia. This is why it is recommended that Singaporean residents take out some form of private health insurance. This will guarantee that you are covered for any hospital and medical bills you might have to pay, ensuring that you can afford all the care and treatment you require when you’re Down Under.
Studying in Australia
Many Singaporean students choose to further their tertiary education at one of many Australian institutions. Australia is home to some of the most respected universities in the world and in December 2013, almost 9,000 Singaporean students were enrolled to study in Australia. On top of this, many others choose to study an Australian qualification while they are in Singapore, either delivered by a local provider or via the Singaporean campuses of Australian institutions.
The majority of Singaporean students study in Victoria, Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. Certain universities offer programs and scholarships designed to entice Singaporean students to study in Australia. For example, the University of Western Australia offers international undergraduate scholarships of up to $15,000 for students from Singapore and Malaysia.
If you are working in Australia and will be bringing your children with you, you can reserve places for them in their current schools under the Leave of Absence Scheme.
A Singaporean expat in Australia
- City and country that you’re originally from: Singapore.
- City and country that you’re living in: Sydney, Australia.
- Employment status: Full time.
- Visa status: PR
Why did you decide to move to Australia?
I wanted to choose a different lifestyle from what I had back home and I loved the nature very much (e.g. enjoy hiking) so Australia felt like it was the best fit.
What were some of the things you had to consider before migrating? (Employment, finances etc.)
I think lifestyle was the biggest deciding factor, but other things I considered was the quality of life and the ease of finding employment.
What were the steps involved with obtaining a visa? Did you find it difficult or easy?
It was a very gradual progress as obtaining a permanent visa is difficult and time consuming and you will need to plan in advance. For example, you will have to obtain the necessary English IELTS grades which may take some time as it is not the simplest test (even for native English speaker).
How did you set up a bank account? Did you face any difficulties here?
This is possibly the easiest thing to do after you've obtained your visa - most banks are quite easy to deal with.
How did you find accommodation? Was it easy/hard?
I found accommodation through friend's recommendation and online advertisements (such as Gum Tree). Finding the right accommodation at the right price is hard for Sydney and you may need to factor in a few weeks to find an accommodation that suits your needs.
[Setting up a bank account] is possibly the easiest thing to do after you've obtained your visa - most banks are quite easy to deal with.
How have you found adjusting to Australian life?
The first few months were hard, but generally you will find that the Australian way of life is fairly laid back and as a result it is quite easy to get used to.
Do you have any tips or advice for other expats in your situation when moving to Australia?
Do what the locals do. It's very tempting to find solace in friends or fellow migrants from your home country but I encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zone and mingle with the Aussies more to facilitate their transition to Australian culture.
If you could do it again, would you change anything in the way you went about migrating?
Probably not - no regrets on how I went through the migration process!
Handy contacts and addresses
- High Commission: 25 Napier Rd, Singapore Telephone: 6836 4100
- High Commission of the Republic of Singapore, Canberra: 17 Forster Crescent Yarralumla ACT 2600 Telephone: +61-2-6271-2000
- Overseas Singaporean Unit: Website: http://www.overseassingaporean.sg/
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