The first week of 2020 has already introduced changes to life in Singapore, including in the areas of Internet speed, taxes and transport.
Singaporeans can look forward to, among other things, two new 5G mobile networks, government bursaries for students and new HDB flats. On the other hand, people need to gear up for changes like higher electricity tariffs, a new GST (Goods and Services Tax) for subscriptions for apps like YouTube and Netflix, and compulsory permits for flying drones weighing more than 250 g.
These are important developments that you need to be aware of this year:
Childcare and kindergarten subsidies, larger bursaries for students
At the National Day Rally last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that significant enhancements would be put in place to raise the quality, accessibility and affordability of pre-schools and childcare. Income ceilings for pre-schools will be increased from S$7,500 to S$12,000, while the maximum additional subsidy will be raised for all income tiers by as much as S$240 per month.
Government bursaries for students will increase significantly — they will cover 75 per cent of degree fees (up from 50 per cent) and 95 per cent of diploma fees (up from 80 per cent). Bursaries for medical students promise to be even larger this year.
Beginning the next academic year, polytechnic students will pay only S$150 in year fees, while university students on the bursary can expect to pay only around S$2,000.
Higher payouts for CPF members above 65, Basic Healthcare Sum increased to $60,000
According to the Central Provident Fund Board (CPF), members who are older than 65 can look forward to higher monthly payouts this year. This came after the Government brought the maximum payout age to 90 from 95.
For those 65 and below, the Basic Healthcare Sum (the minimum amount of savings for subsidised basic healthcare in later years) will be raised from $57,200 to S$60,000, to keep pace with expected growth in Medisave use by the elderly.
16,000 to 17,000 new HDB flats being launched
There will be more housing options, thanks to some 16,000 to 17,000 new Build-To-Order (BTO) flats being launched this year. After the HDB raised the income ceiling and gave out more grants, the demand for housing is expected to shoot up.
Besides the flats, watch out for two new executive condominium sites on Fernvale Lane and Tampines Street 62.
Free passports for babies born in 2020
There is good news for families. The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has changed its rules on passports for newborns. After many public appeals, it is waiving the S$70 passport fee for all babies born in 2020.
In order to qualify for the free passports, applications need to be submitted on the ICA website before the babies turn one.
Permits mandatory for drones over 250g
If you love flying drones, remember to get a permit. Owners of drones weighing over 250g are now required to officially register them with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and obtain the proper permits.
The authority said owners of drones over 250g need to register by March this year or pay the price: Jail time of up to two years and a fine of up to S$50,000. Repeat offenders can be jailed for up to five years and fined up to S$100,000.
Tariffs and Taxes
Higher electricity tariffs in first quarter for SP Group users
The Singapore Power Group (SP Group) has announced that, because of higher energy costs, its customers will be expected to pay a higher electricity tariff of around 3.5 per cent on average, before the 7 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST), in the first quarter of this year.
This breaks down to a S$0.81 cent per kilowatt hour increase from the last quarter of 2019.
It said that, for families living in four-room HDB flats, their average monthly electricity bill will increase by around S$2.76 (before the 7 per cent GST).
A 7 per cent GST on online subscriptions, like those for Netflix, Spotify and YouTube
A 7 per cent GST will be imposed on all online subscriptions, such as those for YouTube, Netflix and Spotify. The tax will cover video streaming and online subscriptions and listings and should protect local retailers by placing them on equal footing with foreign vendors.
Netflix also recently announced that beginning Thursday (Jan 9), it would be increasing the cost of its subscription plans. For example, the most affordable plan on offer will now cost S$1 more at the new price of S$11.98.
Two nationwide 5G networks coming
Singaporeans can look forward to faster Internet speeds, with at least two nationwide 5G networks to be launched this year. This means speeds 20 times faster than those of 4G networks. Virtual reality, cloud gaming and live streaming of videos in 4K and 8K will be made easy on 5G networks.
The authorities plan to assign the spectrum to mobile network providers by mid-2020, with standalone networks offering proper 5G capabilities to cover at least half of the city nation by the end of 2022.
No e-scooters on footpaths and a new theory test for riders
New regulations from Jan 1 have banned e-scooters from footpaths. They must be used only on cycling paths. This limits them to 440 km of cycling paths as opposed to 5,500 km of footpaths.
Those who flout the new rules can be fined up to S$2,000, jailed for up to three months, or both.
Riders of e-scooters and similar devices are also required to pass a theory test. More details will be released soon.
Three-door buses to hit the streets, higher bus and train fares
New three-door buses will be launched this year. This design is said to decrease commuter congestion. Initial trials of the rollout have proved quite successful.
For Singaporeans using fare cards, bus and train ticket fares are up S$0.09 (S$0.20 for those using cash or single-trip tickets). While adult monthly travel passes have also gone up by S$8, prices of monthly concession passes for students, senior citizens, NS folk and the disabled are up from between S$1 and S$5.50.
New MRT stations to open, updated MRT maps and signs
On Jan 31, the new Thomson-East Coast Line will open its first three stations — Woodlands North, Wooodlands and Woodlands South.
By the end of the year, six more MRT stations are set to open — Springleaf, Lentor, Mayflower, Bright Hill, Upper Thomson and Caldecott. The construction of the Cross-Island Line will also commence this year.
Minimum smoking age raised to 20, all cigarettes will be in standard packaging
The Ministry of Health has raised the minimum smoking age in Singapore. From Jan 1, only those aged 20 and above can do so.
In addition, all tobacco products will be enclosed in standardised packaging with varied graphic health warnings printed on them. Brand logos and colours are not allowed, while brand names will all be printed in the same standard font, colour and size.