Local Banks vs Foreign Banks in Singapore: Pros & Cons

Denise Bay

Denise Bay

Last updated 08 June, 2022

The banking scene in Singapore is indeed robust. Local banks and international banks have their advantages and disadvantages.  

Are you better off banking with a local bank or international bank in Singapore? The answer may not be the most straightforward since both local banks and international banks in Singapore offer holistic financial products and services. 

In this article, we’ll learn more about the major local and foreign banks in Singapore, their advantages and disadvantages, as well as international multi-currency accounts. 

The latter is an important segment you shouldn’t skip if you’re an expat, a business owner who deals with different currencies regularly, or simply a regular consumer who wants to have easy access to major currencies around the world for your various banking needs. The top banks in Singapore have you covered.  

Local banks in Singapore 

There are three local banks in Singapore, namely DBS, OCBC and UOB. These are banks and brands that we’re all familiar with. All three banks have made it into the top 25 safest banks in the world for 2021, according to Global Finance

In case you’re curious, POSB is part of DBS while Bank of Singapore is part of OCBC. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a local bank?

Pros of local banksCons of local banks 
More bank branches and ATMsLonger queues at branches and ATMs 
More credit card options for consumers Lower customer service standards compared to foreign banks like Citibank, American Express 
More deals and offers e.g. FavePay deals, PayLah! DealsRelatively higher loan interest rates 
Greater peace of mind for Singapore customersBanking services may not be available worldwide 

While local banks in Singapore have evolved and innovated greatly over the years, certain aspects still pale in comparison to what international banks in Singapore have to offer, such as stellar customer service and better interest rates for fixed deposits and loans. 

Be that as it may, DBS, OCBC and UOB all have their own holistic suite of financial products and banking services that cater to everyone, such as personal banking, investments and wealth management.

Plus, Singapore banking customers should enjoy greater peace of mind when it comes to leaving their funds in any of the big three local banks. Bank runs are almost impossible here! 

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Foreign banks in Singapore 

There are more foreign banks in Singapore than you would think. In fact, the total number of foreign banks in Singapore is over 120! 

American banks in Singapore include Citibank, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase Bank and Bank of New York Mellon, etc. 

European banks in Singapore include Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank AG, BNP Paribas, Barclays Bank, etc. 

Japanese banks in Singapore include Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Mizuho Bank, MUFG Bank, etc. While other Asian banks in Singapore include HSBC, Bangkok Bank, Bank of China, Bank of Taiwan, CIMB Bank Berhad, RHB Bank Berhad, Maybank, Indian Overseas Bank, Korea Development Bank, etc.

Canadian banks in Singapore include Toronto-Dominion Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Montreal, etc. 

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of foreign banks?

Pros of foreign banksCons of foreign banks
Better customer service Fewer branches and ATMs
More favourable interest ratesRelatively fewer credit card options for consumers 
Banking services available worldwide 

Perceived to be stronger in all things related to investments in comparison to local banks, foreign banks also tend to boast better customer service. 

In order to compete, foreign banks in Singapore also tend to offer consumers more favourable interest rates (think: fixed deposits and loans).

Citing a friend who recently shared with me, she parked her fixed deposit funds with Maybank as the bank was offering the best deal amongst the competition. That’s not all. A friend of hers got a renovation loan from CIMB because of the lower interest rate. 

That being said, in general, foreign banks are a great option if you’re extremely mobile geographically, have family overseas, or have financial assets worldwide. Their global-friendly facilities should be a huge bonus for you and your wallet! 

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How many foreign banks are there in Singapore?

There are more than 120 foreign banks in Singapore, considering that some of them are not full banks, but instead are wholesale banks, digital wholesale banks or offshore banks. 

The foreign banks that we’re most familiar with in Singapore include banking players like HSBC, Standard Chartered, Citibank, Maybank, and CIMB.  

Which is the largest bank in Singapore?

The largest bank in Singapore by total assets and market capitalisation is DBS

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Which bank is best for foreigners in Singapore?

The best banks for foreigners have to offer essential services including but not limited to: 

  • Savings accounts 
  • Multi-currency accounts
  • Remittance
  • ATMs
  • Credit cards
  • Personal loans 

A savings account is essential for salary crediting, bill payments and income tax payments while a multi-currency account is necessary for depositing and storing numerous foreign currencies that will come in handy for instant transfers or payments overseas. 

If it helps, think of a multi-currency account as your regular bank account with all its functions, just that it deals with currencies that aren’t SGD. 

In case you’re wondering, banks like DBS, UOB, OCBC, HSBC, Citibank, Standard Chartered, Maybank, and CIMB all offer multi-currency accounts to locals and foreigners alike. 

Credit cards can be great financial tools when used responsibly and strategically. For foreigners working and staying in Singapore, here are the credit cards worth applying for. You can learn more about personal loans for foreigners here too. 

Related to this topic:
Why Multi-Currency Accounts Are Essential
Credit Card Or Multi-Currency Card For Overseas Spending?
Differences Between Bank Account Types You Need To Know
10 Best Money Remittance / Money Transfer Services In Singapore

Which bank is best for international accounts?

The major local and foreign banks in Singapore all offer multi-currency accounts. Here’s a quick look at what these accounts are. 

BankMulti-Currency Account
DBSDBS Multi-Currency Account
UOBUOB Global Currency Account
OCBCOCBC Global Savings Account
HSBCHSBC Everyday Global Account
CitibankGlobal Foreign Currency Account
Standard CharteredFCY$aver
MaybankMaybank Foreign Currency Current Account
CIMBCIMB Foreign Currency Savings Account

The right multi-currency account for you should be based on a range of factors including the foreign currencies available, ability to earn interest, ability to lock in your preferred FX rates, fees, etc. 

For example, the OCBC Global Savings Account lets you access eight major currencies (AUD, CAD, CNH, EUR, GBP, NZD, USD and HKD) in one account while the CIMB Foreign Currency Savings Account lets you transact in five major currencies (USD, EUR, GBP, AUD and JPY). 

On the other hand, the HSBC Everyday Global Account lets you meet your transactional needs in up to 11 different currencies and enjoy real-time exchange rates and instant worldwide transfers to your other HSBC accounts with Global Transfers. You will also enjoy S$0 withdrawal fees at HSBC ATMs worldwide except for Argentina, Brazil, France, Greece, and several other countries. 

What are the top 5 international banks in Singapore?

The top five international banks in Singapore are: 

  • Citibank
  • Standard Chartered Bank
  • HSBC
  • Maybank 
  • BNP Paribas

Read these next
Cash VS Multi-Currency Cards: Pros & Cons
Ultimate Guide To Digital Multi-Currency Accounts

While Denise has a thing for travel, K-dramas, 0% sugar bbt (with boba!), Japanese cuisine and flat white, her curious nature means all sorts of random tabs are open on her phone 24/7. She doesn’t like to pay full price for anything, too.


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