With GST set to be imposed on low-value goods from 2023, time is on your side for now. What cards should you use when buying things online from overseas?
During Budget 2021, the government announced that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) would be extended to low-value goods purchased online and imported into Singapore via air or post, effective 1 January 2023.
Low-value goods, defined as those valued up to and including S$400, are currently not subject to GST in order to facilitate clearance at the border.
GST will also be imposed on B2C imported non-digital services, defined as services supplied over the internet that require human intervention (think e-learning, counselling and telemedicine). This comes after GST was first imposed on imported digital services like movie and music streaming at the start of 2020 (you may have noticed your Google Drive subscription now has a GST component, for example).
Fortunately, 1 January 2023 is still some time away, which means you have almost two more years to make purchases from overseas, sans GST.
The question is: what card should you use for these purchases?
For online transactions made on overseas websites
With overseas travel on indefinite hiatus, if anyone is making foreign currency transactions on their cards right now, it’s almost certainly at e-commerce merchants like AliExpress, Amazon USA, or Taobao.
Fortunately, there’s a wide range of specialty cards you can use to earn up to 4 miles per dollar (mpd) on these transactions, usually subject to a monthly cap. This is much superior to the usual 2 to 2.4 mpd you’d earn on foreign currency transactions with general spending cards like the Citi PremierMiles or UOB PRVI Miles Card.
Here are my suggestions of what cards you can use.
Citi Rewards Card
The Citi Rewards Card offers cardmembers 4 mpd on the first S$1,000 spent online each statement month (this is different from calendar month; check your e-statement to see when your cycle starts and ends), in either local or foreign currency (the only exclusion is travel).
What’s great about this card is that Citibank has the widest range of airline partners among any bank in Singapore; your ThankYou points can be converted into 11 different frequent flyer programs, including Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, EVA Air Infinity MileageLands, Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles, and Qatar Privilege Club to name a few.
This grants you extra flexibility and options when redeeming flights.
DBS Woman’s World Card
Despite its feminine sounding name, the DBS Woman’s World Card accepts both male and female applicants.
That’s great news, because it’s one of the best cards to use for online spending. This card will earn 4 mpd on the first S$2,000 of online spending each calendar month, regardless of local or foreign currency. This cap is double that of the Citi Rewards, and unlike Citibank, DBS pools points across cards.
This means that someone with a DBS Woman’s World Card and DBS Altitude could combine the points earned across cards and make a single redemption, saving on conversion fees.
The SCB Rewards+ Card wil also earn 4 mpd on all foreign currency spending (capped at S$2,222 per membership year), but you need to be a bit careful with this one. The earn rate of 4 mpd only applies if you also hold either a Standard Chartered Visa Infinite or Standard chartered X Card (for the detailed reasons, check out this post). Otherwise, you’re looking at only 2.9 mpd, inferior to the other cards here.
UOB Visa Signature
The UOB Visa Signature awards 4 mpd on all foreign currency transactions, subject to a minimum spend of S$1,000 and cap of S$2,000 per statement month.
It’s also useful in Singapore, where you can earn 4 mpd on contactless transactions or petrol spending, subject also to a minimum spend of S$1,000 and cap of S$2,000 per statement month. The bonus cap is shared across categories, so your overall 4 mpd cap is S$2,000 per statement month.
For selected transactions made on overseas websites
In addition to the cards above, here are three more cards which can also be useful for online foreign currency transactions. However, you’ll need to be a bit more careful here. While the cards in the previous section would earn up to 4 mpd on any online foreign currency transaction, the ones below award it on merchants with specific Merchant Category Codes (MCC).
In general, transactions on e-commerce sites like Amazon USA, eBay and Newegg will qualify for the bonuses, but if in doubt, always check the MCC before purchasing (you can do this via the Visa Supplier Locator)
The HSBC Revolution received a major facelift in August 2020, which saw the addition of new bonus categories and the scrapping of its S$160.50 annual fee. The new-and-improved HSBC Revolution now earns 4 mpd on the following online transactions, regardless of currency.
|Category||Merchant Category Codes (MCCs)|
|Travel related categories such as Airlines, Car Rental, Lodging, Cruise Lines and Travel Agencies||3000 to 3350, 3351 to 3500, 3501 to 3999, 4411, 4511, 4722|
|Department Stores and Retail Stores||4816, 5045, 5262, 5309, 5310, 5311, 5331, 5399, 5611, 5621, 5631, 5641, 5651, 5655, 5661, 5691, 5699, 5732 to 5735, 5912, 5942, 5944 to 5949, 5964 to 5970, 5992, 5999|
|Supermarkets, Dining and Food Delivery||5411, 5441, 5462, 5499, 5811, 5812, 5813, 5814|
|Others such as Transportation and Membership Clubs||4121, 7997|
This bonus earn rate is capped at S$1,000 of spending per calendar month.
OCBC Titanium Rewards
The OCBC Titanium Rewards card offers 4 mpd on local and overseas spending on clothes, shoes, bags, department stores, babies’ and children's wear and electronics and gadgets.
These transactions are defined by the following MCC ranges
- MCC 5611: Men’s and Boys’ Clothing and Accessories Stores
- MCC 5621: Women’s Ready to Wear Stores
- MCC 5631: Women’s Accessory and Speciality Stores
- MCC 5641: Children’s and Infants’ Wear Stores
- MCC 5651: Family Clothing Stores
- MCC 5661: Shoe Stores
- MCC 5691: Men’s and Women’s Clothing Store
- MCC 5045: Computers, Peripherals, and Software
- MCC 5732: Electronics Stores
- MCC 5699: Miscellaneous Apparel and Accessory Shops
- MCC 5311: Department Stores
While the above MCC ranges look like they mostly cover clothing and apparel, OCBC has confirmed that merchants like Alibaba, AliExpress, Amazon, Daigou, and Taobao will also earn 4 mpd.
The 4 mpd earn rate is capped at a maximum spend of S$12,000 each membership year. This is different from the S$1,000 to S$2,000 monthly cap we’ve seen on some of the cards above. It’s an important distinction to make, because it’s better to go for a card like this for a single big ticket purchase that exceeds the S$1,000 to S$2,000 threshold.
Also note that the cap is based on a per card basis. Should you exhaust the 4 mpd cap on the OCBC Titanium Rewards Blue card, there’s nothing stopping you from applying for the Pink version to enjoy a further $12,000 cap!
UOB Lady’s Card
The UOB Lady’s Card allows you to pick one (two for the Solitaire version) of seven categories as your quarterly bonus category.
- Beauty & Wellness
The first S$1,000 (S$3,000 for the Solitaire version) spent on this category each month will earn 4 mpd. If you’re looking at online shopping, I’d recommend choosing the ‘Fashion category’, as this covers merchants like Adidas, ASOS, Lazada and Taobao.
The only catch is that this card is exclusively available to female applicants.
While the door may be closing on GST-free online purchases, the good news is you still have a lot of time to line up and complete your buys. The maximum GST you could save on a low-value transaction is S$28 (7% of S$400), but the GST rate is set to increase to 9% between 2022 and 2025 (with the government signalling that it will happen ‘sooner rather than later’) so the savings will only increase.
Moreover, if you’re making numerous low-value transactions, that’s going to add up in no time flat.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of ways to earn 4 mpd on online foreign currency transactions. Be sure to read the T&Cs and familiarise yourself with the respective caps and exclusions.
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