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Foreigners buying Singapore residential real estate
What can a foreigner buy
By: Amita Dutt
“Better buy than borrow.”
Renting property is akin to borrowing; like the payment of interest, rent is money thrown away as you miss out on the chance to own the property. Of course there are a myriad of other reasons as to why it is better to buy-invest, than to rent-borrow.
If you are residing in Singapore, or intending to, then at some point or the other you may consider buying a home rather than having to move out of one on the expiry of a lease agreement or renegotiate an existing lease every couple of years. Or perhaps you are looking at places to park your wealth, and residential real estate in Singapore is an option.
The legislation that governs the restrictions imposed on foreigners in the ownership of residential property is the Residential Property Act (Cap. 274). For convenience, we will refer to it as “RPA”.
What can you buy?
If you are contemplating buying non-residential property, go right ahead. There are no restrictions on foreigners.
However if it is residential property you are looking at, whether you are a foreigner, Singapore citizen or Singapore permanent resident is of consequence only if you are buying property which is landed.
A foreigner you most certainly are if you are not a Singapore citizen. Even a permanent resident of Singapore is a foreigner. Your being a Singapore tax resident has no bearing on the matter.
Under the RPA, non-Singapore citizens cannot buy a house lying on residential land without approval of the relevant authorities. A Table setting out in some detail the types of residential property available in Singapore and the position of a non-Singapore citizen wanting to buy it lies below.
1. What is “residential” property?
The zoning and use of property are the determinants.
Generally, where vacant land or an entire building is being purchased, you would be looking at whether the land is zoned residential. If, and more likely so, you are contemplating buying a house or a flat/unit in a building or development, the permitted or lawful use would be residential.
How do you know for sure? The Urban Redevelopment Authority in Singapore has a standard form that you can submit (with a fee of no more than S$60) for the information on the use and zoning of any property.
2. Can a company buy landed residential property?
It certainly can. The position of a company is the same as that of an (individual) foreigner ie. it can be a purchaser but approval is required.
However the approval route is different depending whether it is a Singapore company or a company which is not a Singapore company that is buying.
A “Singapore company” is a defined term. It is one which is incorporated in Singapore, and all of whose shareholders and directors are Singapore citizens. The route to apply for approval to own house on land if you are a Singapore company is slightly easier; it is under section 10 of the RPA.
A company which is not a Singapore company (having not fulfilled all the requirements of a Singapore company as set out in the paragraph above) applies for approval under section 25 of the RPA (like any foreigner).
3. Strata landed homes
Generally strata landed homes is a term coined to describe houses lying on land within a development. The development need not be a condominium development, a term used to describe a specific category of developments in Singapore. Condominiums (among other things) can contain a combination of flats and houses.
A foreigner buying a strata landed home in a condominium development never needed any approval until 3rd April 2012. Since that date, strata landed homes in condominiums fall into 2 categories; depending on which category your property falls under, you may or may not need approval.
Strata landed houses in a condominium development with approval to develop granted pursuant to an application submitted on and after 3 April 2012 require a foreigner to seek approval under section 25 to purchase.
Any home on Sentosa does not require approval.
4. Applying for approval
If it is a Singapore company that is buying a house on land, section 10 of the RPA is the route to take when seeking approval. Approval, if granted, is subject to several restrictions especially pertaining to changes in the ownership and directorship of the company. If approval is forthcoming, the Singapore company is issued with a Qualifying Certificate.
You may refer to Section 10 Vesting of residential properties in Singapore companies (Part II PROHIBITION ON PURCHASE OR ACQUISITION OF RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY BY FOREIGN PERSONS) of Residential Property Act (Chapter 274) at http://statutes.agc.gov.sg
Any other foreigner, individual or company which does not fall within the meaning of a Singapore company (as described in Note 2) applies for approval under section 25 of the RPA.
You may refer to Section 25 Application by foreign person for approval to purchase, acquire or retain residential property (Part III APPROVAL TO PURCHASE, ACQUIRE OR RETAIN RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY) of Residential Property Act (Chapter 274) at http://statutes.agc.gov.sg
The writer is a partner with RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP.