Looking for the best banks for Singapore expats? Local banks overview

Elle Kasser
31.05.21
5 minute read

Just moved to Singapore? One of the first things you’ll want to get sorted is opening a bank account. It’s not absolutely essential to have one, but it could make everyday life a little easier. For example, getting your salary paid in and paying your bills.

So as you settle into your new life in Singapore, take a moment to read this handy guide. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the best local banks in Singapore for expats, including some of the best checking and savings accounts, and how to open one as a new arrival.

We’ll also touch on how international transfers work with Singapore banks, and how money transfer solutions like Wise could be a better bet. This is because the Wise account offers low fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate when sending and receiving money worldwide - which could save you a bundle compared to using your bank.

Learn more about Wise 📖

But first, let’s run through the available options for expat banking in Singapore.

📝Table of contents:

DBS and POSB

One of the largest banks in Singapore, DBS has a dedicated Expat Programme specially designed to help new arrivals get up and running with banking services.

The Expat Programme offers access to the DBS Multiplier account, a popular multi-currency account which is particularly good for building everyday savings. As long as you pay in your salary and spend using a DBS/POSB credit card (and jump through a couple of other hoops), you’ll get a decent interest rate.

You can also hold up to 12 foreign currencies¹ in the DBS Multiplier account, which is handy if you need to send money back home or to another country. And if it’s your first DBS bank account, there’s no minimum balance requirement¹.


Other highlights of the DBS Expat Programme include¹:

  • DBS digibank services and tools - so you can access banking services, manage your money and pay your bills using online banking or the DBS mobile app
  • Support and advice for housing, healthcare, family medicine, financial and investment and other expat services
  • Mobile wallets such as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay
  • Access to DBS PayLah! - a handy tool for sending and receiving money, shopping and paying bills.

It’s also useful to know that DBS owns another of the main banks in Singapore, POSB. This is why you’ll often find products and services (including the Expat Programme) available to
customers of both banks. It also means that as a DBS or POSB customer, you’ll have access to a larger number of convenient ATMs to use across Singapore when you need to withdraw cash.

Read more about DBS Expat here 💡


United Overseas Bank (UOB)

Another solid option for expats in Singapore is the United Overseas Bank (UOB). It offers lots of different checking and savings accounts, including its popular UOB One Account.

This could be a good option for you as a newcomer to Singapore, as it offers a great interest rate provided you pay in a certain amount and spend on your UOB debit or credit card. If you’re working in Singapore, the UOB One account could be a good account for paying in your salary, everyday spending and earning a little interest too.

UOB has ATMs all over Singapore, although not quite as many as DBS and POSB, so you shouldn’t have any issues when it comes to convenient cash withdrawal.

It also offers a multi-currency account, in case you need to send money back home. The UOB Global Currency Account lets you choose from 10 currencies², including USD, AUD, NZD, EUR, GBP to name just a few. It’s a checking account, which also pays daily interest if you meet the requirements.


OCBC

The last local bank to consider for expat banking in Singapore is OCBC. This is another of the largest banks in Singapore, which offers a choice of basic and interest-earning accounts.

If you only need a simple everyday account, the OCBC Current Account³ could be the best choice. There’s no interest and a fee to pay, but it comes with all the basic banking services you’d expect - and you can manage your account with OCBC Online Banking.

The other attractive option for working expats at OCBC is its 360 Account⁴, which earns interest depending how much you deposit each month. It’s also fee-free for the first year, and is easy to open as a foreigner provided you have a valid pass.

Lastly, there’s the OCBC Global Savings Account⁵, which lets you make transactions in 8 major currencies and transfer funds at competitive exchange rates.


How easy is it to open a bank account as an expat in Singapore?

Singapore is home to lots of expats from all over the world, so it’s banks are geared up to accept applications from non-citizens. This means that hopefully, you shouldn’t find it too difficult to open your first bank account when you move here.

If you opt to bank with DBS, it should be even easier - as you can take advantage of the dedicated DBS Expat Programme to speed you through the process.

Here’s what you’ll usually need to apply for a bank account in Singapore:

  • Valid form of ID (such as a passport)
  • Valid work or study pass
  • Proof of address.

In some cases, the bank may ask to see a recommendation from your home bank.

As the eligibility requirements can vary from bank to bank, it’s a good idea to get in touch in advance and find out what documents you’ll need in order to get your new Singaporean bank account up and running.

Wise Mastercard with balances

Wise - the cheaper way to send and receive money internationally

A Singaporean bank account will undoubtedly be a useful thing to have as an expat living here, especially when you first arrive. In fact, you might find it essential to have one to receive your salary or pay your rent.

But a standard checking or savings account is almost certainly not the cheapest or the most convenient option when it comes to international payments. This is because to send money across borders, banks tend to charge high transfer fees and currency conversion charges. A mark-up may also be added to the exchange rate. All of this eats into your money.

So, if you need to send money back home, receive income from employers and clients overseas, or simply transfer cash between countries - use Wise instead.

With a Wise multi-currency account, you can send money worldwide for tiny fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate. It can work out a whopping 7x cheaper than using your bank. You can hold 50+ currencies in your account at once, and swap between them when you need to.

It’s all managed online or through the handy Wise app, but you can also spend in real-life using the Wise debit card. This can be used at any shop or vendor in Singapore and in 200+ countries wherever Mastercard is accepted, and currency is converted automatically at the fairest rate whenever you spend.

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People celebrating Wise


So, that’s pretty much it - your handy, at-a-glance roundup of the best local banks in Singapore for expats. We’ve looked at what’s on offer from the big four - DBS, POSB, UOB and OCBC, including the best accounts and services for new arrivals.

Provided you have all your documentation ready, you should have no problem opening your first bank account in Singapore. Just make sure to compare interest rates, features and fees carefully before signing up for an account, as it’s important to find the right one to suit your needs, income and lifestyle. Good luck, and enjoy living in spectacular Singapore!


Sources used for this article:

  1. DBS Singapore - DBS Expat programme
  2. UOB - Deposits, save
  3. OCBC Singapore - Current account
  4. OCBC Singapore - 360 account
  5. OCBC Singapore - Global Savings Account

Sources checked on 27 May 2021


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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