Saturday, January 29, 2011

Income Tax - Singapore vs Canada

In his 1996 National Day speech, then Prime Minister Goh said, “People often want the government to assume the full burden of the cost of medical care and provide treatment free to Singaporeans. Because of the painful lessons learned in other countries we have not done this. All the countries which have done this—Britain, France, Germany, Canada, and Communist China—have failed. Their systems break down as people overuse so-called ‘free’ health care, which they actually pay for indirectly through higher taxes. Their health services deteriorate. Waste and inefficiency become endemic. Now these countries are forced to cut back on services, introduce cost controls, and reform the system.

This is the biggest lie that Singapore leaders have repeatedly spin about Universal Healthcare.
Canadians are proud of the country's healthcare system. It has been functioning well for decades with no signs of failing. The notion that Singaporeans pay one of the lowest tax in the world is a myth to fool Singaporeans. In reality Singaporeans pay much higher taxes than other developed countries like Canada.

Consider a person making $6,000 a month in Singapore and a person making a similar amount in Canada. Let us say the person in Singapore pays zero tax and the person in Canada pays his maximum without any deduction of 29.7% tax. Assuming both have a working life of 40 years and a life span of 85 years.

The person in Singapore pays nothing since we assumed his tax to be zero.
The person in Canada would have to pay based on annual salary of $72,000 at 29.7% = $21,384. Based on a working period of 40 years the Canadian would have to pay a total of $855,360. It should be less if deductions are taken into consideration but we give the advantage to Singapore to minimize arguments. The Canadian tax does seem high to Singaporeans. However when all the cleverly hidden taxes are taken in consideration, Singaporeans are paying more in taxes but not getting the social benefits enjoy by Canadians.

List of Singapore hidden taxes that Canadians do not pay::

1. COE - $60,000 every ten years assuming that a Singaporean changes his car every 10 years.
40 years needs to buy 4 COE = $240 ,000.
2. Cost of car like Honda Civic - $75,000 in Singapore vs $25,000 in Canada.
4 cars in forty years at the difference of $50,000 = $200,000
3. Road tax - $1,300 per year for 40 years = $52,000
4. Higher petrol price - $100 extra a month for 40 years = $48,000.
5. ERP - $100 extra a month for 40 years = $48,000.
6. Maid levy - $300 per month for 20 years (assuming a family only has the maid for 20 years
instead of 40 years or more) = $72,000.
7. General medical bills for 85 years at $1,000 a year = $85,000. (less than $100 a month)
8. Cost of housing, the difference between a similar house in Singapore vs Canada is $300,000 to as high as $1 million and more. We shall take the lower end of the difference = $300,000.
9. The water/gas/electricity bills are only one-third of Singapore’s making a savings of at least $102,000 based on a saving of $100 per month x 85 years.
The total savings for a Canadian is at least $1,147,000 or more depending on how many cars, maids and children he has.
This amount is more than adequate to offset the Canadian tax of $855,360 at 29.7%.

In addition the following is a list of social benefits that Singaporeans do not enjoy::

1. “Milk money” of $250 each child receive a month from the government from the day the child was born until age of 18 years - $250 x12 x 18 years = $54,000 for one kid. Two kids = $108,000.
2. Old age pension plus assisted income for retirees without any income, a retiree gets $1,250 or more a month until death. Assuming the retiree lives for 20 years = $300,000.
A couple could get a combined retirement income of $2,500 a month. even though they may not have been working. The total receivable for 20 years would be $600,000.
3. Retirees travel for free on all public transportation with limited black out time on weekends, i.e. trains, buses, ferries. Some of the ferry rides cost more than $100 per trip. Assuming a retiree saves $150 a month for transportation - 20 years of retirement = $150 x 12 x 20 = $36,000.
4. Retirees can study in universities for a token fee of less than $100 per year.
5. Unemployment insurance which a citizen can claim when he/she is out of a job. It is common for a person to be out of job for 6 months in his 40 years of working life - $36,000.
6. Free treatment of severe illness like cancel, liver or kidney failures - $200,000 or more.

Depending on the choice of lifestyles and individual health conditions, the Canadian tax system has an advantage of between $500,000 to over $1 million when compared with the Singapore tax system even though Singapore tax rate is low.

It is common knowledge that an average Singaporean cannot afford to get sick because the medical bills would bankrupt his/her entire savings. This should never happen to the richest country in the world!!!

In Canada,  Healthcare service providers will do their best to guide and help patients without asking for payment as all citizens and permanent residents are covered by the government. 
In Singapore, it is the opposite, the service providers will make sure that potential patients can pay for their services or treatments. It is typical "kiasu" Singapore culture.

The moral of the story is that we should not be fooled by statistics and world rankings. Singapore is ranked the richest country in the world with the highest per capita  vs Canada at eleventh place with a lower per capita of $39,033. Do Singaporeans really feel richer  when most Singaporeans have constant anxiety over inadequate savings for retirement, medical bills, being homeless, etc.

Most Canadians enjoy their retirement with peace of mind of having Universal Healthcare and retirement benefits.  Canadians can walk into clinics or hospitals without any money in their pockets and be treated.  On the other hand Singaporeans must have adequate funds before they step into clinics or hospitals.

Wing Lee Cheong
Vancouver, BC.


  1. Many Singaporeans don't drive or don't have maids, or they may share maids or cars with others. You should compare apples to apples. Not to mention that low-cost live-in maids are not an option in Canada --- if you want to count the levy you have to compare servants' salaries too!

    In my opinion the far more damaging thing, which you didn't calculate, is the income lost through CPF. The difference between CPF interest rates and your expected returns from typical retirement investments is huge.

  2. I have specifically put, "depending on your choice of life style." which meant you put in whatever item is relevant to your life style.
    If you don't have maid or car, then take the items out.
    The point I was trying to make is that however your life style, even just the very basis, the tax in Singapore is higher than Canada.
    Base on just the retirement fund and health care alone, the amount you pay is more than the income tax of Canada. Forget the rest like maids and cars, etc if it easier for you to understand.

  3. Taking away the maid and cars and counting only items 7-9, it's about $500,000 versus the Canadian tax of $855,000. A single person with no kids would be eligible to enjoy benefits 2, 3, 5, and 6. Those add up to about $600,000. So the total advantage of the Canadian system would be $1.1 million minus $855,000 which is roughly $250,000. This is half the minimum of $500,000 you claim.

  4. Sir,
    You are splitting hairs and giving an extreme example for a single person living like a monk. How many people are there in a society? Less than 0.001%. You deliberating excluding the possibility of a severe illness like cancer, lung or liver problem which could cost between $150,000 to $200,000. Do you like to retire with the constant anxiety that you may not have the money to pay for some serious illness? Even with your example, the Canadian system is still ahead of Singapore system.

    The main point in this article is that Singapore is NOT paying a low tax.

    However if you are just interested in winning an argument over technicalities, then I have no answer for you. May you have a good and healthy life in Singapore.

  5. I like the fact that you pointed out the differences between the attitudes of service providers between Canada and Singapore, which is very true.

    Just take a look at the mobile telecom industry. The service providers in Singapore charges extra $5 a month for caller-id, $10 extra for auto-roaming etc. Right next door in Malaysia all these are free. If we are looking in terms of value for money in developed countries, Singapore would probably be the last place on Earth.

  6. Well. I subscribe to Rogers in Toronto. Decent package for cell phone and cable. I pay around 100 plus tax for both but 80 in SG. True, you pay less road tax in Canada but I sure pay more in insurance for my car. In Toronto, the gas prices are 1.35 per liter and after conversion, lesa but not too far-off from singapore. I minimally drive 25km each way as compared to 12 in Singapore. So Petrol costs are cheaper in SG. You don't pay so much HST in Singapore compared to Canada. True health care is free but I wait 2 months for a health scan and then is no option of requesting for one even if I wanted to pay. So what I am saying is comparing $ for items is not that significantly far off between the two countries. But the point is what is your own definition of quality of life. I find the friendly Candians who would politely open doors for each other,(vs somestomper who thinks its great to photo a young woman unwilling to give up a seat for the ederly and fight about it) the family work life balance, beautiful space at your doorstep, regulations that are a pain but does related to the better good of the country's quality of life (eg you can't cut a tree bigger than 30cm in diameter even if it's
    your backyard on your own land) all these and more ...... I would choose Canada. It's a choice of hour Kway teow as someone one put it. SOme would pay for the taste they want and there's no convincing if a minds made up. Make your choice and enjoy the life you want. Justifying the dollars alone makes no sense .... A family of 4 in Toronto.

  7. I'm waiting out for UBC's reply to my master programme application.

    If accepted, this is be my first step towards a new adventure.. probability Canada will be my next home.

    Suan Heng

  8. @Suan Heng,

    Good luck. If you need help please email me

    Wing Lee

  9. Hi Wing Lee,

    Thanks alot.

    Let's meet up when I am in Vancouver.

    Have a great day.

    Suan Heng

  10. Actually based on my actual cost of living calculations which I have kept of our ten years stay in Singapore and our 1 yr and a half stay in Toronto, we spend almost the same amount of money in living expenses in both Singapore and Canada. The only difference is
    1) In singapore we bought and own a 4 room flat which costs us S$245K in 2003 and bought a 2 storey 4 bedroom house in Toronto in 2010 at C$412K(S$522K) which is approximately the cost of a 5 room flat.
    2) Life is more laidback in Canada and fast paced in Singapore which means its better for younger (21-35 y.o.) to stay in Singapore and those in the 36 above to contemplate on spending whatever they earned in a more laid back environment
    3) Childrens education for Maths and Science is better in Singapore which means my kids excel in them in Canada.
    4) We moved for two reasons: my kids university education and our retirement(no medical costs problems and pension)
    It really depends on your plans in life. If I am younger I would still stay in SIngapore but as you grow older and cant find anymore good job in Singapore btter find a place where you can reture without worries.

  11. The world is not getting cheaper anywhere. Each place will have its merit and depending on your background, network, jobs and other factors would "determine" where you would stay. But yes I'm contemplating a move back to to Canada as well. Wife and son are Canadians and seriously I just cant view the future as being optimistic in Singapore with each year as me and the spouse is not getting any younger. Calculating even with some money left after retirement... it wouldnt amount to even what's considered sufficient if a serious sickness happens.

    The one big push factor to migrate is I just seriously doubt what's done on the island now is in any way in the interest of the citizen. Not going to start any PAP bashing here-- I already gave up on them and looking to exit. Call it quitting with survival foremost in the mind.

  12. "At a glance, shop Sinkee is a bargain at only $2.00 a plate. However when you order a plate, you get only a plate of char kuay teow and nothing else. If you want “hum” it is an extra $2. If you want chilly, it is another $1. If you want chop sticks, it is another $1, etc. Soon your plate of $2 char kuay teow with all the extras will cost you $15 or more."

    This is inaccurate. I have lived in Toronto, and "economy rice" in a downtown food court with a drink costs $12 with HST. On the other hand, I can get everything (including cutlery and condiments) for $6 in an airconditioned downtown food court in Singapore. This applies to char kuay teow (hum inclusive) as well, and no, you don't get hum in Canadian char kuay teows - at least not in the Singapore/Malaysian restaurants I've been to in Toronto and Vancouver.

  13. Hi Cheong,

    I really appreciate your article.
    I am Singaporean and I am in the process of becoming Canadian.

    I was in doubt as whether to give up my Singaporean Citizenship or keep my Spore citizenship in silent (by not informing Spore that I've obtain Canada citizenship). But after reading your article, I am firmed now to give up my Singapore Citizenship without even looking back because come to think about it, my life is much easier here...less stress and i have better quality of life (more time to spend with my family and friends).

    Once again, thank you so much.

    Cheers, Wong.

  14. Dear Glenn,

    Thanks for your kind words. Please realize that you are not permitted to give up your Singapore citizenship until you obtain your Canadian Citizenship which is about 3 years after you landed in Canada. In other words your CPF is tied with Singapore government
    for at least another 3 years. Please work out your financial planning when you plan to immigrate.

    Good luck.

    Wing Lee

  15. I really appreciate this comprehensive article that you have written. However, I would be even more interested to find out how education costs differ between Canada and Singapore. As a Singaporean (and perhaps because of this), I've always felt that education in Singapore is very cheap. I'm aware that in terms of degree programmes, Singapore's universities are still quite limited; however, this is not what I'm interested in.

    Thank you very much.

  16. Hi Anonymous@Sept 10th,
    Education between Singapore and Canada is a world of a difference. In Canada, children are allowed to be children. They played and have fun unlike children in Singapore are forced to have non-stop tuition. All my three children gone through universities without stress. They took a year off to travel around the world and continue when they returned. This is quality lifestyle.