Basics of Certificate of Entitlement (COE) Explained

In Singapore, hitting the road in your new car is a more complicated matter than just buying it, registering it and getting it insured. First, you’ll also need a COE, or Certificate of Entitlement. But what is a COE and how can you get one?

ValueChampion Editorial Team

by ValueChampion Editorial Team on Jun 10, 2024

A row of new and renewed cars in Singapore

What is a COE?

COE stands for Certificate of Entitlement. It entitles you to the right to register, own and use a vehicle in Singapore for the duration of 10 years. Before you buy a car, you’ll need to obtain a COE first. This is no easy matter, as there is only a limited number of COEs to go around. Why?

Due to its small size (734 square kilometers) and high urban density, Singapore regulates the number of vehicles crowding its roadways so that traffic congestion does not reach an untenable level. In 1990, Singapore instituted the Vehicle Quota System (VQS) to address this issue. The VQS imposes a quota on the maximum number of vehicles that can be used in Singapore at any given time, and is enforced through the controlled distribution of a limited supply of COEs. A COE is only good for 10 years; after that, you’ll have to either pay to renew it for another 5 or 10 years to keep using your car, or deregister and scrap your car.

woman driving a car
Source: Unsplash

Having to get a COE to register and own a car further achieves the goal of reducing car ownership in Singapore by making the cost of owning a car much greater. Because the demand for COEs greatly outweighs the supply, it is very expensive to buy or renew a COE: the average cost of a COE for Category A vehicles (cars up to 1600 cc & 110kW) in June 2024 is S$88,200, and the price has been known to rise even higher in the past. The COE premium is cheapest for small cars up to 1600 cc & 110kW and more expensive for big cars that exceed 1600 cc & 110kW.

Generally, if the LTA reduces the quota of COEs available, the overall price of COEs will increase. Other factors can also increase consumer demand and the price of COEs. For example, changes in exhaust emission standards could cause a surge of interest in buying compliant vehicles among consumers anxious to avoid paying a penalty. This increased demand could also drive up COE prices.

Related: What’s the Average Cost of Car Ownership in Singapore?

How to get a COE

You can get a COE by bidding in auctions administered by the LTA that are held bi-weekly throughout the year on the first and third Monday of every month. Depending on the vehicle you are buying and the engine size of said vehicle, you will bid within one of five categories. Often, owners of big cars will try to get their COE by bidding in Category E, where COE premiums tend to run cheaper than in Category B.

COE CategoryType of Vehicle
Category ACars ≤ 1,600cc & 130bhp, or 110kW
Category BCars > 1,600cc & 130bhp, or 110kW
Category CGoods Vehicle and Bus
Category DMotorcycles
Category EOpen to any kind of vehicle

How COE Bidding Works

Bidders submit bids by naming a reserve price that is the maximum they are willing to pay for the COE. That amount is immediately deducted from their bank account. If there are not sufficient funds to cover the reserve price, the bid will be rejected. Over the course of the three-day bidding process, the Current COE Price (CCP) will increase by S$1 at a time until the number of bidders whose reserve prices match or exceed the CCP equals the number of COEs available in that bidding exercise. The Quota Premium (QP), which is the price that all successful bidders in that category will have to pay for their COE, will be whatever the CCP was when the bidding ended.

As you can see, the price you’ll pay for your COE if you bid successfully will not necessarily be as much as the reserve price you set. If the QP ends up being less than your reserve price, you will be credited back the difference. If, however, the CCP rises above the reserve price you have set, you will be notified that you have been outbid. You may revise your bid upward to put yourself back in the running for a COE.

woman calculating
Source: Pexels

Where You Can Submit Your Bid

There are two ways to go about the bidding process. You can either bid yourself in the Open Bidding System or designate your car dealer to do it for you. As a private individual, you may only submit bids through DBS/POSB at an ATM, meaning you’ll have to have an account with DBS/POSB. Though perhaps something of a hassle, your direct involvement will ensure that you are comfortable with the reserve price and possibly expedite the process of getting a COE in the same month if you bid successfully. Bidders are charged an administration fee each time they submit a bid or revise their reserve price.

If you don’t want to engage in the Open Bidding System yourself, you can opt to have your car dealer bid for you, and pay the resulting QP to the dealer together with your car purchase. You can direct your dealer to do this in one of two ways:

  1. You can elect to receive a guaranteed COE in 6 weeks’ time. If you choose this option, you run the risk of ending up having to pay a high QP, as dealers often bid aggressively to ensure they successfully win a COE. However, you’re at least sure to get a COE in a relatively short timeframe.
  2. You can elect to receive a COE in 3 months’ time. Your bidder will repeatedly submit bids over several bidding exercises at a reserve price you name until you (hopefully) win. While this option does ensure you won’t be surprised with a higher QP than you’re comfortable with, you do face the risk that the reserve price you set won’t be high enough to win a COE at all. Such an outcome could set you back several months before you’re able to buy your car and begin driving.

Now that you know all about how to secure your COE when you buy your new car, the other missing piece to the puzzle will be getting your hands on comprehensive car insurance.

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