Banks in Singapore



Personal Finances

So, what's to know about banks in Singapore? How do you best set yourself up with financial services?

First off: there will not be a problem for you to find a place to park your cash.

The country has no natural resources, does all kinds of trade and the people speak every language in Asia plus some dialects. So banking is a real sweet spot for Singapore, and it makes them a lot of money.

Between local and foreign institutions, credit agencies, trust funds, real estate trusts, hedge funds, sovereign funds you will find an institution or three from your own country.

And I can guarantee you will meet a banker or five during your stay.

Bank Options and Accounts

Let's get practical, though.

You will need:

  • a local checking account
  • access to a wide network of ATMs
  • a local credit card and debit card
  • a cheque book

Local Banks in Singapore

Essentially, there are three big local companies that give you all of the above.

They would be

Banks in Singapore - UOB Personal Banking
DBS Bank

and

OCBC.


Opening an Account

Go to one of the branches or online and ask for a checking account, also called a current account.

You will need your

  • employment or work pass
  • passport
  • employment information (work contract, name of employer, etc)
  • a deposit of around SGD 1,000.

Once the account is active – usually within a day – you can use your temporary debit card and start shopping or withdrawing cash at the ATMs.

You’ll also get a temporary cheque book, followed by your permanent card and book a few days later.

Credit Cards

Getting a credit card will be just a bit trickier with banks in Singapore.

Your service agent will want to see your financial flows and behavior first, so you’ll probably be refused a card the first six months.

Then, they will bombard you with offers. By the way: interest rates on credit cards from banks in Singapore are humungous - 25% is not uncommon.

Many of the cards have loyalty and points programs, like travel miles, vouchers for supermarkets, or restaurant and gas station discounts.

Citibank seems to be more relaxed than the locals as far as credit cards go – show your salary and work contract/employment pass and you can often get a credit card within days, if not hours.

ATMs, AXS, iNETS, SAM and Other Nifty Machines

ATMs are liberally sprinkled around the island - you'll find them at every mall, many gas stations, MRT stations, shopping centers, etc.

DBS and POSB ATMs belong to one common network. OCBC and UOB customers can use each others' machines, so you should find access to cash easily. They work with the usual PIN systems you know from your home country.

AXS machines are self-service electronic kiosks. Use them for paying parking fines, utility bills, booking BBQ pits at local parks – you can even book a tent site at one of the local parks with these things. The list is extensive.

Usually, the machine requires a debit card or credit cards and will guide you through the process via graphic menus.

iNETS Kiosks work work like AXS machines and offer similar services, using the NETS system.

NETS is Singapore’s own debit card scheme and a widely used method for paying daily purchases. It exists in various forms (iNets, ATM cards, Flashpay, etc).

Most debit cards will have a NETS function and the money paid for your purchase is often deducted within a few hours from your account.

SAM machines are self-service automated machines set up by SingPost. They offer the same large list of payment services and even include a weighing scale as well as postage stamps.

Transferring Money

If you are not a fan of cheques (like me), money transfers and GIRO are the way to go.

Money Transfers and Telegraphic Transfers

Banks in Singapore offer money transfers to anywhere and in spite of sounding trite - the process really is easy.

Simply go to a branch, fill out the form and off you go. Fees are calculated according to size of transfer and can be split up between you and the recipient.

You can also go to the remitting agencies or the usual suspects like Western Union.

GIRO

GIRO is Singapore's version of cashless fund transfers. GIRO is useful for your monthly recurring charges, like bills for utilities, car payments, fees for associations or similar.

The institutions already have a number of pre-installed and pre-approved GIRO participants in their systems, mostly government agencies, town councils or big organizations.

Setting up a GIRO with banks in Singapore requires quite the paperwork and often takes up to a month to clear, mostly because both companies, yours and your recipient’s bank, have to process the application and ensure all the details are correct.

And just like cheques, they get really detailed about - well - the details.

Good to Know

Practically speaking after a couple of years here:

  • DBS/POSB ATMs seem to have long lines, while OCBC ATMs don’t. You will find all three companies' machines, often next to each other, in the places mentioned
  • Online banking is convenient for tracking finances, but not always simple to use for transactions
  • Use your phone's SMS to get one-time PINs to do transactions online
  • GIRO is a hassle setting up but once stable, very convenient
  • Cheques are reeaaallllyy finicky to use. Make a marking or misspell something and sorry, sir/madam, not accepted. Plus: who has good handwriting after years of computer typing?
  • Make sure to cross your cheques: two diagonal lines through the top to have the check deposited only into the recipient’s account
  • AXS machines are tricky and often take a while to process the transaction