There are 2 ways to withdraw from CPF. Each can be viewed as “easy” or “hard” depending on how you look at it.
Let’s first talk about the more straightforward one:
You work diligently and both you and your employer contribute to your CPF accounts (as mandated by law).
Then at age 55, you can withdraw from your Ordinary and Special accounts after setting aside the Minimum Sum, which currently stands at $99,600 but will go up to $120,000 in future. (See Q&A in CPF website.) [Added 1 Sep 2007: You also need to set aside the Medisave Required Amount, which is now $11,500 but will be increased to $25,000 in 2013.]
Then you retire. At what age? It’s been proposed that the official retirement age should be 67. Maybe it’ll be 70 by the time we get older. I don’t know.
It’s only when you reach this official retirement age that you can start to draw down from the Minimum Sum. In effect, you will receive a monthly payout of a few hundred dollars until the balance runs out in about 20 years or so. The government is now considering having a “tail-end” annuity component to help those who, er, continue to live after the balance is emptied.
So what’s easy and what’s hard? In my view, the first withdrawal at age 55 seems “easy”. What is “hard” is the slow stretched-out withdrawal of the remaining Minimum Sum starting at age 62 (or 65, or 67, depending on when the new policies kick in).
Did I say there’s a second way?
Ha. It’s meant to be a tongue-in-cheek “solution”. I believe most of us will not even seriously consider it. Here it is:
Renounce your Singapore citizenship (or permanent residency). That is, emigrate to Australia, US, UK, or wherever. Leave Singapore for good. Only then can you withdraw your CPF in full. (See page on leaving Singapore in CPF website.)