General Question

The_Idler's avatar

What is the cost of living in Singapore, Hong Kong or Japan?

Asked by The_Idler (9608points) January 31st, 2010

As part of my degree programme, I will be taking an international study year, most probably in Singapore, Hong Kong or a Japanese city (not Tokyo).

I am requesting estimates (in local currency) of costs for the following:
1. Rent on a small apartment/room, plus utilities: electricity, water, etc.
2. A week’s worth of food from the shop.
3. Eating out for a cheap breakfast/lunch/dinner.
4. Public transport.
5. A drink in a bar.
6. A beer from the shop.

Thanks, and if you’ve any other advice about living in one of these locations, now is the time! =}

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13 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Tokyo is the most expensive city in the world and Hong Kong is fifth. Here is a list.

the100thmonkey's avatar

I lived alone in Japan for two years from 2002 – 2004, and with my wife from 2004 – 2007, so although my knowledge is not right up-to-date, I don’t see things having changed significantly, due to a stagnant economy and declining population.

Rent on a small apartment can vary considerably depending on the city (even outside Tokyo) and the size and quality of the apartment. A 1DK (1 bed/living room with a reasonably sized dining/kitchen room and a separate bathroom) should set you back between ¥50,000 – ¥70,000. You don’t really need anything bigger, but you should expect to pay between ¥10,000 – ¥20,000 per month more for a 1LDK (as above, but with a separate living room). You should be aware, though, that setup costs for apartments in Japan defy all logic. You may be expected to pay a deposit equivalent to up to 6 months rent. You will also have to pay the estate agent, and in many cases may have to make a “gift” to the landlord of up to ¥200,000 (although it’s often cheaper).

You might find that some (many?) landlords will not let to foreigners. Your Japanese university will be able to advise you on which agencies will help you find a place.

A week’s worth of groceries will vary depending on what you want to eat, obviously. I paid maybe ¥10,000/month, but I was going out a lot and was happy to eat light meals for most of the week – cheese on toast, cold meats, salads, etc…

Japan is great for good food on the cheap. Head to a yatai for awesome ramen at around ¥600 a bowl. You can go to a yakiniku restaurant and get an all you can eat (食べ放題 :: tabehoudai) deal for ¥2,000. This can be an all you can eat and drink ( 飲み食べ放題 :: nomitabehoudai) deal for ¥3,000 – ¥3,500). Yakitori is also cheap and very good. A good meal at a sushi restaurant can be expensive, but the kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurants charge per plate, and the colour coding makes it easy to keep track of cost. You should also try out some of the millions of izakaya in Japan. They’re like a pub that also serves cheap food from a range of countries. The mayonnaise pizza is best avoided though. Places like Yoshinoya and Hokka Hokka Tei also do really good, cheap fast food – often a bowl of rice with some meat in a sauce on top (it’s better than I make it sound).

You’ve probably guessed that I could write for hours about Japanese food. I’m going to stop here, but feel free to ask me a specific question about it.

Public transport in Japan is a mixed bag – the buses can be very slow due to the volume of traffic, but the trains are AMAZING. If a train is a minute late, you’ll get a guy on the tannoy apologising. If your train to work is significantly late, you’ll be given a letter of apology from the rail company which you can show to your boss. The trains are not cheap (they’re cheaper than in the UK, actually, but that’s a different story) but they are comfortable, clean (oh so clean), and punctual.

A bottle of beer in a bar will probably cost you between ¥500 – ¥750 depending on the beer. You might have to search around for a bar that serves your favourite, but Japanese beers are excellent – Kirin Ichiban is a good mass-market beer, and Sapporo beers are also very good. In Fukuoka (where I lived), there was a hyaku-en bar (¥100 bar) which had a cover charge of ¥1,000. After that, you were charged ¥100 for every ten minutes. Many bars and clubs also operate a nomihoudai tarriff.

Beers from the shop are maybe ¥200 a can/bottle.

In terms of general advice for living in the country, you’ll find that the Japanese will – generally – be extremely polite and helpful towards you. I got on the wrong train in my first week in Japan and ended up in the wrong city. An elderly woman put me on the right train, and then got on it too to make sure that I got off at the right station, even though it was out of her way.


… to be stared at.
... to feel “foreign” (well, duh, but Japan is a particularly good example for a Westerner)
... many people to get nervous around you.
... to be popular with the ladies (or men, if that’s what floats your boat).
... to experience culture stress.
... to be asked questions that you consider personal by complete strangers.
... children to be scared of you.
... people to not sit next to you on the train if they can avoid it.
... to not have a fucking clue what people are saying (unless you study Japanese)
... to be laughed at if you make a simple mistake in Japanese.
... people to ask you for English lessons (it might be a good idea to take an ELT course before you go – you can work for a 20 hours a week on a student visa, I think).

As general advice, I’d say the single best thing to do before you go is to study Japanese. It makes your life so much easier.

Oh, And DO NOT GET ARRESTED. Even if you’re later released, you’ll almost certainly lose your university place, any part-time job you have, any Japanese friends you make, and possibly even your apartment. Conviction rates from arrests in Japan are astronomical – 95%, I think – and you won’t be given access to a lawyer or translator while in police custody. Do not let on if you speak any Japanese.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

The_Idler's avatar

@the100thmonkey Yes, if I choose the programme with a year in Japan, it includes two years tutoring in Japanese, before I make the trip.

The main thing I’m concerned about, for the Japan option, is the insanity of learning Japanese and degree-level Chemistry, at the same time!

Oh and I wouldn’t count on finding any of my favourite beers there.
I want to properly immerse myself, so I will drink sake.

@marinelife I should just say to you and any others, I have read all there is to on the net about it. I can use the internet very well, thank you very much, so I’m really looking more for info from personal experience, but thanks =]

clarice's avatar

There’s this previous question asked about life in Singapore where @higherground made a long response; I find it quite an accurate depiction although you’d have to do your own currency conversions. I’m copying+pasting it here! :

Heylo Joon!
I’m a Singaporean and I think I could help! However, I have never been to Canada but I could give you a rough idea on how things go in Singapore (= I think it really depends on where you will be staying at, transportation costs, where you have your meals and things like that! But if you’d like to go on a budget, I don’t think it’d be that difficult to do so (=
I’d say that the transportation system in Singapore makes many places very accessible for both locals and expats.
For buses, we’ve got day-time buses start as early as 5am in the morning until 12:30am the next day, and they don’t cost more than SGD$1.10 (approx. C$0.9). There are also night buses that run from 11:30pm – 4:30pm (depends on the bus that you take) which cost about SGD$3.50 (approx. C$2.70). You can either pay for your bus rides using coins or a stored value smart-card, which you can purchase from the ticket office located in the train stations.
For the trains, we call it SMRT (or just simply SMRT). It only takes about 1 hour to travel from the west to the east of Singapore by train. Same as the bus, you will need a stored value smart-card (the same card which can be used on both buses and trains, something like the ‘Tap n’ go’ kind of system.) A train ride can cost about SGD$1.10—$2 (approx. C$0.9—$1.50). All the train lines are named accordingly to the starting point and the end point (like EW for East-West), and they are also color coded.
P.S.: For the bus and trains system, you can look at this site.
And for the cab/taxis in Singapore, the meter usually starts from SGD$2.80—$3.00 (approx. C$2.10—$2.30) and SGD$0.20 (approx C$0.15) for every 10km. You can take a look at this site , it will tell you a lot about how the cab/taxis and how the meter system goes. Do look out for the midnight charges.
In my opinion, to maintain a car in Singapore is not that cheap. You can take a look at this site to understand better.
For food, you can easily find cheap food in Singapore at places like the hawker centres or small ‘coffee shops’ (a small area with one drink stall and lots of food stalls). It really depends on what you eat, like a bowl of noodles will cost about SGD$2.50—$4(approx. C$1.9—$3). A can of drink should cost about SGD$1.10—$1.80 (approx. C$0.9—$1.4). One thing for sure – you can easily find food anywhere in Singapore! There is also a wide variety of restaurants and cafes, you can find almost all kinds of cuisines here – Chinese, Western, Italian, Mexican, Spanish, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Fusion, etc! You will never go hungry here in Singapore. But of course, having a meal in a restaurant might cost a little more but you can find some places with good food that you don’t have to pay too much for! (=
Some other things that you might need to know
1) There are a few hypermarkets/supermarkets here in Singapore. If you are looking at lower prices, there is a supermarket called FairPrice which can be found in most heartlands in Singapore. You could also look at Sheng Siong, which is also a supermarket but I’d not like to comment on the quality of the products there :P
Another two supermarkets: Cold Storage and Market Place—the products in these two supermarkets might cost a little more than the previous two but they have a bigger variety of products.
If you’d like to visit a Supermarket that is especially catered for the Japanese, there is one called the Isetan Supermarket. A lot of Japanese imported food there, but extremely expensive! But you could find some reasonably priced items there too!
There are two hypermarkets in Singapore too – Giant and Carrefour. And convenient stores like 7-Eleven and Cheers.
And like @supercheryl said, it is truly international here in Singapore (=
2) I am not sure how much a bottle of water costs in Canada but in Singapore, a bottle of water (500ml) costs about SGD$0.80—$1.50 (approx. C$0.60—$1.20) and SGD$1.80++ (approx. C$1.40) for 1 litre bottle of water.
3) Some expats might not feel comfortable having their meals in a hawker centre as they find it is ‘not too clean’ or it is too crowded for them. But that is one place you can look at if you are interested in trying some local delicacies. And they are not too expensive too!
4) No drinking of water is allowed in the train stations/on the train. No idea about the reason behind it, but you’ll be fined if caught. Silly, I know!
5) The prices of items depends on the location where it is being sold. If you are buying things in town, it will cost slightly more than what you could get out of town. And sometimes it is a big difference between the two prices!
If there’s anything more that you’d like to know, you can PM me (= But at the moment, you could take a look at this site to get some additional information about Singapore.
PHEW ! What a long post! I think this is my longest!

The entire thread can be see here
All credits go to @higherground :)

the100thmonkey's avatar

@The_Idler : You might find that the Japanese university actually do their teaching of chemistry in English for the international students. Kyushu University (linked) has a lot of international students and a pretty good reputation.

Can you give me any details about the Japanese course – hours per week, etc…

If you choose Japan, you’ll be going out there with a lot more preparation than I did – I knew about two words of Japanese when I went out there.

The_Idler's avatar

Oh yeah, my Chemistry will be taught in English (in Japan).
but I mean it’s still a tough course, Masters in Chemistry and Japanese
Generally considered to be two of the more difficult subjects to study =P
This is the course.
‘Japanese for Scientists and Engineers’ is 1/6 of the credit, for the first two years.

also @clarice nice info, thanks.

FiRE_MaN's avatar

anywhere in japan is expensive especially for an american or anyone not Japanese since if you are not native you cannot own land and therefor have to rent. and not to mention the last time i was in japan gas cost was round 5 american dollars a liter. With 4 liters to the gallon i think thats 20 bucks a gallon… and we complain when it was 4 dollars a gallon.

The_Idler's avatar

@FiRE_MaN did you even read my question!?
I am goin there as a student, for a year.

I am not interested in buying a house, and it’s not America, so I don’t need a car.

the100thmonkey's avatar

@FiRE_MaN – Petrol in Japan isn’t much more expensive than in the UK. @The_Idler is going for one year, so owning land isn’t an issue.

@The_Idler – I’d contact the chemistry department and ask them whether or not they have mapped their Japanese course to the Common European Framework or the ALTE ‘can do’ statements. Both those tools will give you a fair idea of the level of Japanese proficiency required to pass the course. I’m a language teacher (not Japanese), so I can help you understand the levels if you have any problems.

princessbuttercup's avatar

Japan is bloody expensive…Singapore is also up there I believe but not as bad as Japan…and Hong Kong not so bad.

the100thmonkey's avatar


Tokyo/Osaka are bloody expensive. I guess it’s also expensive if you’re a tourist.

My last flat in Japan was a 3 bedroom, with a liv ing room and kitchen. It was 10 minutes from the entertainment district on foot. I paid ~£650/month rent. It’s difficult to find a flat for the same price in a city of comparable size in the UK. Ut’s commonplace in Japan.

The_Idler's avatar

Thank you @the100thmonkey.
As stated previously @princessbuttercup, I am interested in quantitative assessment based on personal experience.

lifeflame's avatar

All prices are in HKD, so divide by 7.8 for American dollars, 10 for euros, 12 for British pounds.

1. Rent on a small apartment/room, plus utilities: electricity, water, etc.
$3000—$8000, depending on the size and location of apartment.

2. A week’s worth of food from the shop.
This one is a bit harder, as I have no idea what kind of food you want to buy!
I’m going to say around $500.

3. Eating out for a cheap breakfast/lunch/dinner.
$10 breakfast, $20–40 lunch, $20–40 dinner.

4. Public transport
The network is extensive, lovely and convienant. Everything is connected by rail, and buses run pretty much 24 hours.

Expect to spend about $40 a day if you need to commute cross-harbour, but between stations it’s about $3 to the next stop, and $8 if you need to cross the harbour. I would say a commute from a suburb/New Town like Shatin to downtown Tsim Sha Tsui would take about $7 and a 25 minute ride.

5. A drink in a bar.
I don’t drink myself, so I had to look it up. This is from a trendy downtown district, a lot of expats and hip people hang out here:
“Each bottle of the beer cost HK$40 to HK$50 generally, but the cocktail favored by women may range from HK$70 to HK$150. Some bars may charge the admission fee, changeable with the time period and ranging from HK$150 to HK$400, so ask about the charges before get into any one of the bars.” (source)

(It sounds about right)
another link here.

6. A beer from the shop.
I’d say that you can buy a can for under $10.
You can look up your brand in this link here

I would say on the whole living in HK is way cheaper than when I was living in London. Food is lovely here, there is a large range of food, and if you know where to eat you can do it cheaply.

There is the additional plus of everything being (by and large) bilingual. Certainly a lot of expats function for years without every knowing the Cantonese, though they sure miss out on a lot of the local fun.

Each of the three cities/countries have their own very local flairs; and I am sure it will really vary depending where in Japan, or even where in HK it is.
I’ve lived and grown up here in HK, so if you have anything more specific you want to know about here, you can PM me.

I can say that my impression of Singapore where I got there was more – and this is a huge generalisation—was that it was more spacious and green; but there was something eerily “planned” about the whole city. I later learnt that they basically razed all the vegetation and rebuilt everything. No wonder it felt a bit like Simcity. But if you are interested I can put you in touch with some Singapore friends of mine.

Japan obviously is a very very different culture than China. There’s a sense of neatness to the place, whereas with HK there’s a sense of madness. A very different type of energy.

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