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Working in Singapore

Your guide on jobs and finding work in Singapore

Working in Singapore is a dream career move for many foreigners, and it is easy to see why. The World Bank has found that Singapore is the  second-best place in the world to do business in 2020. 

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One of the four highly developed economies in Asia, known as the “Asian tigers,” the Singapore job market is thriving. A vital global business hub, expats are drawn to the country  thanks to its  low unemployment rate  and booming  digital innovation and e-commerce sectors. The country placed 8th in the world for job security and was a top 30 country for working abroad in the Expat Insider Survey 2019, despite long  working days.

Dare to Dream

Finding the dream job in  Singapore’s competitive job market  is not easy. Though the economy is expected to grow as a result of increasing unrest in Hong Kong, foreigners must be highly skilled to achieve the  average salary  needed for visas. Moreover, it is difficult for expats who are  working as self-employed  to  even qualify for a visa.

If you want to make the leap to the Lion City but are not sure where to start, our guide explores  how to find a job in Singapore  and registering for social security as a foreigner.

How to get a job in Singapore as a Foreigner

When looking at how to get a job in Singapore as a foreigner, it is important to know that Singapore has tightened its hiring guidelines for foreign workers over the past few years to ensure that locals are considered more fairly for roles.  Since July 2018, positions with a fixed monthly salary of below 15,000 SGD (10,800  USD) must be listed on a national jobs portal for two weeks before opening up to foreigners.

However, there is still a  huge  demand for foreign workers in the country, particularly in senior business roles.

Job Opportunities in Singapore for Foreigners

As a small nation, Singapore is welcoming to foreign workers. This is particularly true for highly skilled roles, which can offer generous compensation packages.  With these amazing opportunities, however, comes a competitive job market. Expats must set themselves apart from the crowd in order to achieve their dream role.

If you want to work in Singapore as a foreigner, you should prepare yourself to wait to find the right opportunity. Be sure to apply to many job openings and attend as many interviews as possible.

How to Apply for a Job in Singapore

Due to the competitive nature of the job market,  and the need to gain a valid work permit,  the best way to get a job in Singapore as a foreigner is to apply for roles that match your skills profile and experience.  If your goal is to move to Singapore quickly, rather than moving for a promotion or specific role, apply for jobs that  specifically suit your skillset.

Step One – Network and Search

Creating a network of contacts and setting up alerts for the roles you desire is important. In doing so, you will also get an idea about the prospects for your job in the country and the potential for a career there.

You can search for jobs on:

  • Mycareersfuture
  • LinkedIn
  • JobsDB
  • JobStreet

Networking is also important as you can get referrals for the company you want to work at. This might even help you skip to the top of the applicant list. Read our networking tips below, or consider joining an InterNations event in Singapore.

Step Two – Create a  Singapore Style CV

First impressions are important in Singapore, especially as job applications for larger companies will be automatically filtered by resume scanners. Taking the time to update your CV or resume into a format popular in Singapore is vital.

All Singaporean CVs should be tailored to the role and company, including key words and phrases from the job advert. It is best to keep them to one page in length, if possible.

More Tips
  • list your telephone number, email address, date of birth, nationality, gender, and language skills  at the top of the page;
  • write in  concise, clean sentences;
  • include a relevant “Hobbies and Interests” section;
  • add two to three  relevant  references;
  • include  a career objective as well as  links to your portfolio and LinkedIn profile.

As Singapore is  a country on the forefront of technology, it is best to not  list  basic IT skills or computer experience from over five years ago.  This will help prove your eagerness for the job, rather than just the location.

Expats should develop skills that are important in a country as diverse as Singapore.  Highlighting  evidence of  cultural sensitivity and the ability to adapt  can set you apart from the crowd.

Writing your CV in the main language of your company is also vital.  If you need your CV to be translated,  ask  InterNations GO!  to connect you with  skilled translators.

Step Three – Write a Tailored Cover Letter

Submitting a CV alone is not enough to get an interview in Singapore. With every application you should include a tailored cover letter that ties your work experience with the key skills listed in the job advert.  You should also write about why you are applying for the role. This should focus on the company and the job itself, rather than talking broadly about the appeal of Singapore.

Requirements and  Eligibility  for Working in Singapore

Expats looking to work in Singapore  need  a work visa before they begin  employment.  This means it is easiest if you have a job  before moving to the country. Check to see if you are eligible for an employment visa using  this Ministry of Manpower tool.

You will need proof of your qualifications to be able to get a work pass.  Need more details? Learn about the requirements to get an employment visa in our Visas and Work Permits section.

Interview Tips

As an expat in Singapore, it is important that you thoroughly prepare for interviews. You need to stand out from a highly skilled crowd. Be sure to research the company and the role for which you are applying. Tailor your answers to the job description and prove your enthusiasm.

It is also important to  look prepared for the role. Make sure you arrive promptly for the interview with an up-to-date copy of your CV, and possibly a notebook and pen.

More Key Considerations
  • Body language is important  in Singapore.  Remain open and  make frequent eye contact. Try  not cross your arms or place your hands on your hips.
  • First impressions are important. Choose your outfit carefully  and aim  look smart and professional.
  • Think long-term. Make sure the interviewer knows you are interested in staying in Singapore, and  that you want to integrate into the culture.
  • Consider your answers carefully. It will  come across  better if you  take a few seconds to think rather than rushing to answer.
  • Remain polite, even if you are nervous. From greeting everyone when you walk in to thanking the interviewer and shaking their hand at the end, you should make sure you leave a good impression.

Networking Tips

Networking is vital in Singapore. Not only is this skill a huge part of the nation’s working culture, it helps you become aware of job opportunities as they open. This can give you the edge when applying for your ideal role.

  • Say yes to opportunities. Singaporeans  in business  are  generally  happy to  go for coffee or dinner with a contact  they have just met.
  • Join professional platforms. Having an online presence in tech-focused Singapore will help you become aware of new opportunities.
  • Attend networking events. Professional events are likely to be advertised on websites such as Eventbrite, but also through expat channels such as  InterNations.
  • Follow up on connections. Continuing your relationship after an initial meeting will bring further opportunities and establish strong connections across the city.

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Minimum wage and average salary

There is a high average salary for expats working in Singapore. This is partly because there is no minimum wage or salary in the country; salaries are largely set according to supply and demand. Highly skilled  expats will find that their salaries are competitive and allow them to maintain a high standard of living.

What is a Good Salary in Singapore?

There is no one answer to this question, as it depends on your chosen profession and lifestyle.  The monthly cost of living in Singapore for a single person is around 800 SGD (575  USD) without rent. This rises to around 3,000 SGD (2,165  USD) without rent for a family of four.  Most highly skilled expats with active lifestyles and a social life will need more than this base level to be able to spend as well as save.

Workers who wish to bring  a dependent  spouse and children to Singapore must also earn a minimum of 6,000  SGD (4,330  USD) per month.

Average Annual Salary

In 2019, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Singapore’s government body for workers, found the average gross monthly salary was 4,560 SGD (3,300  USD) including employer Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions. Learn more about the CPF in the social security and benefits section below.

This equates to an average annual salary of around 55,000 SGD (40,000  USD).  A comparison of jobs and their average salaries is in the table below.

 

Job Average Annual Salary (SGD) Average Annual Salary (USD)
Accountant 48,000 34,300
Architect 75,000 53,600
Marketing Manager 71,000 50,800
Nurse 38,000 27,200
Product Manager 90,000 64,400
Software Engineer 57,000 40,800
Teacher (High School) 60,000 43,000
Web Developer 42,000 30,000
UX Designer 50,000 36,000

 

Salaries for highly skilled expats in Singapore are significantly higher than the official average figure suggests. In 2018,  for instance,  the average annual  pay package  for middle managers rose to 325,000 SGD (235,000  USD).  This would more than cover the average cost of living.

People with an MBA will have high salaries in Singapore. The average salary for new graduates with this qualification is around 111,000 SGD (81,000 USD.)

Most In-Demand Jobs

Companies in Singapore are starting to invest in talent for two seemingly opposing business areas: cybersecurity and marketing. This is common across the technology, media, and telecommunications sectors, as well as fintech and healthcare firms. The number of start-ups in the nation is also growing rapidly.

As such, LinkedIn has found that  the following  jobs  will be important in Singapore  for 2020. We have included  the  average salaries.

 

Job Average Annual Salary (SGD) Average Annual Salary (USD)
Artificial Intelligence Specialist 112,000 81,000
Robotics Engineer 48,000 34,600
Full Stack Engineer 96,500 70,000
Data Scientist 72,000 52,000
Creative Copywriter 42,000 30,000

Self-employment

Self-employment in Singapore is becoming more popular.  Around  9% of the  resident  workforce  is considered self-employed, operating a business without any employees or conducting services such as driving a taxi under a licensed operator.

As an expat, being your own boss can be incredibly freeing. But if your work permit is dependent on finding employment, how do you navigate moving to Singapore to start your own business?

How to be Self-Employed in Singapore

If you perform work for others under a contract of service, you are considered self-employed in Singapore.

This broad definition covers  a number of  ways to conduct business. For instance, you can be a sole-proprietor or operate in a business partnership to be considered self-employed. You can also be an employee and self-employed at the same time if you work multiple jobs.

Information for Freelancers

You must be a permanent resident to  legally  freelance in Singapore.  This is because you need an employment pass, S pass, or work permit in order to earn money in the nation.

None of the current work permits are suitable for applying to move to Singapore as a freelancer. What’s more, it is unlikely that most expats will fit the requirements to be able to work legally as a freelancer under the  EntrePass  route.  For more information, see our Visas and Work Permits section.

Permanent residents can  become freelancers relatively easily, however. To operate as a freelancer, you should:

  • check if you need a business license to operate;
  • decide if you want to set up a company (not necessary, but provides security over invoicing and so on);
  • network to create contacts and establish yourself.

In general, you do not need to register your services with the government to be able to work.

Work Based Outside of Singapore

If your freelancing work takes place entirely in other countries, and these companies have no activity in Singapore, you may not need a work pass. You will still need to file a personal income tax report, but any money earned outside of Singapore is not taxed by the Singapore government.

This might be useful for people who arrive in the nation on a  Dependent Pass, who  cannot work without permission from the Ministry of Manpower.

Information for Owners of a Business

If you dream of owning your own business, Singapore is a great place to set up shop. The country has strict enforcement of intellectual property laws, as well as a reputation as an easy place to begin a business.

To set up a business in Singapore, you should first register your business at  Bizfile  and with the  Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority  (ACRA). If you want to find professionals to help guide you through the process, such as lawyers and accountants,  InterNations GO! can help you find the experts to suit your needs.

You should then set up your company within the ACRA regulations. After registering an ACRA approved company name, your company must have:

  • a minimum of one shareholder;
  • a minimum of one director, who must be a Singapore resident living in Singapore;
  • a company secretary, who must be a Singapore resident;
  • paid-up capital of at least 1 SGD (0.72 USD);
  • a registered address for physical office space.

After Incorporation

You will have to follow certain regulations depending on your business. This can include obtaining licenses, registering your office hours, registering for Singapore customs goods and services tax, and registering with the Central Provident Fund.

You must also open a Singapore bank account. See our Banking and Taxes section for detailed information on how to do this.

Information About Home-Based Small-Scale Businesses

The government provides a special scheme for  permanent  residents who live in houses provided by the Singapore Housing and Development Board (HDB).  It is aimed at small-scale businesses such as bakeries or beauty services.

This scheme lets people use their home address as their business address when they register under ACRA, without seeking approval to create a business from the HDB. It was created to help workers supplement their income.

Because it costs only  20  SGD (14  USD) to register for five years, this opportunity will appeal to residents without extensive financial backing who are  looking to start a home-based business. However, foreign workers on employment passes  are  not  eligible  for the scheme.

Top Self-Employed Jobs in Singapore

Some of the most popular self-employment roles in Singapore include:

  • private tutor;
  • independent consultant;
  • virtual assistant;
  • accountant;
  • operator of  a home-based small-scale business.

Other Self-Employed Work in Singapore

  • commission agent, such as an insurance or real estate agent;
  • freelancer, such as a deejay, fitness instructor, or consultant;
  • owner of a business that buys and sells goods and/or services;
  • owner of an online business;
  • owner of your own practice, e.g. you are an accountant, architect, doctor, lawyer, etc.

Freelancing in Singapore can be lucrative, with some tutors reporting yearly earnings of over 1 million SGD (722,000  USD). To succeed, you are likely to need good contacts alongside extensive experience and credentials.

Some jobs, particularly tutoring, require subject-specific qualifications. This can range from a  bachelor’s  degree in your chosen subject to a TEFL.

You can check if your role qualifies as self-employed at the  IRAS website.

Self-Employment  Benefits in Singapore

At present, self-employed people in Singapore can have similar access to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) and related insurance. It is mandatory to pay into a Medisave Account. This means that even freelance workers have a form of financial protection if they are hospitalized.

Singapore’s position as an ASEAN nation and a financial hub means that  self-employed people have access to a wide pool of people across the country, region, and globe. With close ties to China and the US, people operating their own businesses here  have access to some of the world’s largest markets.

Another benefit for people organizing their own taxes is that Singapore  has  double tax agreements  with over 50 countries. Check out our Banks and Taxes section to learn more about paying tax in Singapore  or contact  InterNations GO! to discuss how we can connect you with professionals (including accountants) in Singapore.

Business culture

If there is one thing to remember about  Singapore business culture, it is to always be polite. Singapore is an incredibly diverse nation with many people from different cultural backgrounds.  Learning who you will be working with,  and  their cultural norms and taboos,  will help you forge good working relationships.

Singapore Workplace Culture

The Chinese concepts of guan xi (关系) or networking, and  miàn  zi  (面子) or “saving face,” are very common in Singaporean businesses.

  • Guan xi is related to building positive working relationships to benefit your business. This is often demonstrated through slow-paced negotiations after a series of business dinners. 
  • Miàn  zi means to maintain your social standing by showing dignity, honor, and respect. This begins by shaking hands with a slight bow when you first meet a new person. Women will extend their hand first if they wish to shake hands with a man.

Say “No” Politely

These concepts  also means that people are not always direct with saying “no.” Misunderstandings can occur when foreigners do not realize that Singaporean’s are being polite, only agreeing with you so that they do not cause you to lose face when they say “no” directly. Reading body language and understanding the implications of what is being said is important to find the true meaning of conversations.

It is also polite to avoid pointing directly towards anyone, as pointing to others with either your hands or feet is considered offensive.

 Other Common Ideas  in  Singapore Working Culture

  • Hierarchy is important. You should not directly criticize your superiors or elders, nor should you get aggressive in meetings.
  • Punctuality is key. Be sure to turn up to meetings on time and deliver projects at their intended deadlines.
  • Present a clean business card with two hands. Business cards should also be received with both hands.
  • Do not give gifts, particularly to government officials. This might  be seen as  a bribe.
  • Singaporeans consider it important to think carefully about a question before answering. This leads to long pauses in conversation. It is polite to wait for an answer instead of trying to fill the silence.

Singapore Workplace Dress Code

Singapore’s workplace dress code is smart and conservative. Western dress is prominent. People do not generally need to wear jackets or suits. Smart pants and shirts are acceptable in most circumstances. Skirts should fall below the knee.

Social security and benefits

Singapore’s social security number is known as a national identification number. This section will answer what a social security number in Singapore actually does, how to get a social security number in Singapore, and the benefits of obtaining a Singapore social security card (national registration identity card).

What is a Social Security Number in Singapore?

Every citizen and permanent resident of Singapore must register for a National Registration Identity Card (NRIC).  This card will contain a unique NRIC number with nine alphanumeric characters. These numbers will act as your  permanent  personal identity number.

This card will also display your:

  • date of birth;
  • residential address;
  • photo;
  • thumbprint.

Can a Foreigner get a Social Security Number in Singapore?

Yes, but only if you are a permanent resident of Singapore. Singapore citizens also hold an NRIC.

How to Get a Social Security Number in Singapore

Applying for a social security number in Singapore is easy. You will apply for it at the same time when you apply to be a permanent resident.

Once your permanent residency is approved, you  and your family  will receive  your NRICs. Some documents you need as part of the process  include:

  • your Birth certificate;
  • a recent passport-sized color photograph taken within the last three months;
  • a baptism or religious certificate if you want to include a religious name;
  • a deed poll certificate for a change of name (if applicable);
  • digital image(s) of the page(s) of your current passport, which contains your personal details.

Singapore Social Security  Benefits

Every month, workers make mandatory payments into Singapore’s social security system as part of their wages. This is known as the Central Provident Fund (CPF) and the system has been around since 1955.

These payments cover social welfare, healthcare  and retirement  funds.  As a foreigner, you will only pay into this system once you become a Singapore Permanent Resident. If you are in Singapore on an S Pass, Employment Pass, Miscellaneous Work Pass or Work Permit, you will need to organize your retirement funds independently.

As an employee,  it is mandatory that  both you and your employer contribute to the CPF each month. Only your contribution will come out of your wages, with employer contributions being paid in addition to your salary.  If  more than one employer employs you, even if one job is on a part time basis, each employer must pay CPF contributions on your wages.

The wage cap for paying into the CPF is 6,000  SGD (4,330  USD) per month.

CPF Sectors

  • Ordinary Account (OA): for housing, insurance, investment, education.
  • Special Account (SA): for  old age and  investment  in retirement-related finance products.
  • Medisave Account (MA): for hospitalization related expenses and basic government  approved  medical insurance.
  • Retirement Account (RA): created  automatically by merging your SA and OA  on your 55th  birthday.

Monetary Benefits

As a permanent resident, Singapore’s social security system  can pay serious dividends.

Take the retirement fund, for example. People who turned 55 in 2020  can  access  90,500 SGD (65,300  USD)  as their basic retirement fund.  They can receive this in monthly payouts from the age of 65, for the rest of their life.  Before the age of 55, you  can  withdraw  up to  5,000 SGD (3,600  USD) from your pension.

You can also use your OA funds to buy a house under the Public Housing or Residential Properties schemes.  Similarly, you can use this fund to  insure  your home.

Paying into Medisave gives you access to funds for hospitalization for yourself and family members. You can also fund some outpatient treatments, like chemotherapy.  For more information on the CPF and medical insurance please see our Healthcare section.

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Maternity leave

Expat  working mothers  are entitled to Government-Paid Maternity Leave (GPML) in Singapore once they meet certain criteria. Eligibility conditions include:

  • giving birth to a Singapore citizen, even if your husband is not a Singapore citizen;
  • being legally married to the child’s father;
  • working for an employer or being self-employed for at least three continuous months before the birth of the child.

How Long is Maternity Leave in Singapore?

Working mothers  who meet the above criteria  can receive 16 weeks GPML. If all the above criteria are met, but the mother is not married to the child’s father,  they  are still eligible for the 16 weeks.

All other mothers who meet the criteria, including foreigners and permanent residents, are entitled to 12 weeks GPML if they have worked for three continuous months before the birth, as per the Employment Act.

To check your eligibility for maternity leave in Singapore, check the  Ministry of Manpower website.

 Maternity Benefits in Singapore

New mothers in Singapore who are eligible for GPML are also eligible for Government Paid Maternity Benefits (GPMB). This is up to 20,000 SGD (14,500  USD) paid out for your first two children and up to 40,000 SGD (29,000  USD) for the third and subsequent children.

Mothers who do not qualify for GPML but have worked for at least 90 days in the year before their child’s birth date, might still be eligible for GPMB. Their child must be  a Singapore citizen or  will  obtain citizenship within 12 months of their birth.

You can submit claims up to 15 months after your child is born. See the  Government-Paid Leave website  for information on how to calculate, prove, and submit your claim.

Job Protection for New Mothers

Pregnant women who have worked  for their employer for at least three months are entitled to maternity protection in Singapore. This means that if you lose your job because your employer considers they no longer need you (becoming retrenched) or if you are fired without cause while you are pregnant, you must be paid your maternity benefits.

You must  have been certified pregnant by a medical practitioner before  being wrongfully dismissed to be able to file a case against your employer.

Employers also cannot ask an employee to work at all in their first four weeks of maternity leave. After this, agreements for working during maternity leave can be reached.

Paternity Leave and Benefits in Singapore

Expat working fathers, including people who are self-employed, are entitled to two weeks of Government-Paid Paternity Leave (GPPL) if their child is a Singapore citizen. If your child is not a Singapore citizen, you are not entitled to paternity leave.  Payments are capped at 2,500 SGD (1,800  USD) a week including CPF contributions.

Check if you meet the criteria for paternity leave  at the  Ministry of Manpower website.

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Updated on: March 19, 2020

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