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Working in Singapore

Your guide on jobs and finding work in Singapore

From working on weekends to the many unwritten rules about business etiquette, working in Singapore might be a very different experience for most expats. This relocation guide covers everything from finding a job to making a good first impression in the office.

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It may be small, but Singapore is an ambitious country that continues to grow. As a result, the Singapore job market is booming with many opportunities in its key industries: IT, tourism, finance, healthcare, and communications.

If you’re not sure how to find a job in Singapore, we are here to point you to the right information such as a government report that gives the inside track on in-demand skills, as well as tips for perfecting your CV and interview technique for Singapore.

Once you’ve got your dream job, expect to really work for that higher than average salary: working days often include a half day on Saturdays, and vacation varies between seven and 14 days. Our guide will also give an insight into the business culture in Singapore.

If you’re thinking of being self-employed in Singapore, we also touch on the paperwork you’ll need as well as company requirements for getting started, and practicalities like social security.

How to get a job in Singapore

  • Finding a job in Singapore is not that easy as there are many skilled workers in the country. Try to be flexible and open to work in a different field of expertise or for a different employer.
  • Your CV is the first impression you make with your future employer, so make sure it is well organized and rich in keywords.
  • To find out which industries and skills are in demand, consult the Ministry of Manpower’s Labor Market Guide where you’ll find useful information on the job market and predictions for the upcoming year.
  • Make sure you are well prepared for your interview. Read up on the company, brush up on your knowledge in the field, and — most importantly — ask questions to show your interest.

It is always difficult to search for a job in Singapore as a foreigner. Different rules apply, rules you may not be familiar with yet, and what’s more, you will have to compete with well-educated local professionals. We want to give you some advice on how to master the job search in Singapore and how to find your dream job abroad.

Willingness to Learn and Flexibility: Job Search in Singapore

Before you dive right into the job search in Singapore, it is important to take a closer look at the job market and figure out which sectors offer the best employment opportunities. If your field of expertise is not one of them or if you are willing to work in a different field, it can’t hurt to upgrade your skills. Learning something new will enhance your chances of finding work in Singapore.

It is also advisable to contact as many recruitment agencies as possible, which is the best way to get in touch with bigger companies. In addition, job portals and newspapers are still essential to the job search in Singapore. Moreover, you should try to remain flexible; if your expectations are too high and you are set on one specific position or employer, you might be disappointed. Keep your options open and decide beforehand about the compromises you are willing to make. At the same time, though, you should keep the cost of living in Singapore in mind before you accept a job offer.

Are Your Skills in Demand?

Each year, the Ministry of Manpower and the Singapore Work Force Development Agency publish a labor market guide, listing jobs which they expect to be in demand in the upcoming year. The guide includes information on expected labor shortages in different industries, average wages, and the relevant skills and qualifications for these jobs. Before you begin your job search in Singapore, you should consult the Labor Market Highlights.

There are also Strategic and Skills-in-Demand lists for individual sectors, such as manufacturing, constructions, healthcare, finance, and tourism. You can use this list as a tool to help plan your job search in Singapore. The Ministry of Manpower is regularly trying to update these lists to give you an idea which skills are currently in demand.

Keywords and Regular Updates: How to Make Your CV Stand Out

When you have picked out a couple of job ads, it is time to work on your application. In order to be successful during your job search in Singapore, you need a CV that stands out. It has to make a clean, well-organized, and professional impression, beginning with your picture. A perfect photo shows you in business attire and from the front. Try to avoid funny angles and remember to smile as this will make a positive impression.

Further, make your CV rich in keywords. Scan the job ad for important key skills and mention these visibly in your application so that your future employer can see that you are suited for the position. If you then upload your CV to a job portal, it will be easy to find and most likely appear on the top of the list of search results.

Speaking of which, many job portals will push your CV further to the top if you log in regularly during your job search in Singapore, apply to different jobs through their website, and edit your application regularly. In Singapore, recruiters often prefer reading a resume in chronological order, so that they can see your experience and skills at one glance. If you apply for an executive position, it also makes sense to include a short summary of your key skills.

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Minimum wage and average salary

  • The working conditions in Singapore are covered by the Employment Act of the Ministry of Manpower and are therefore very detailed and strict.
  • Working hours are also laid out by the Employment Act: eight hours per day for employees and twelve hours for shift workers. However, in either case, no more than 44 hours per week are allowed.
  • Singapore celebrates eleven public holidays and eight festivals, a testimony to the country’s cultural and religious diversity.
  • The salaries in Singapore are quite competitive, but since there is no minimum wage, make sure you negotiate your salary well before signing the contract.

Working conditions in Singapore are strictly regulated by the Employment Act, and contracts are often detailed and strict. As a consequence, workers’ protests and strikes are rare. While many aspects of your employment in Singapore might be determined by legal clauses, you can always try to negotiate flexible working hours and other details with your company.

Strictly Regulated: Working Hours in Singapore

According to the Employment Act which lays out the working conditions in Singapore, an employee is not supposed to work more than eight hours per day. Shift workers should not work more than twelve hours per day. In either case, employees should not work more than 44 hours per week. Many businesses are open Monday through Friday, with Saturday being a half day. However, a five-day work week is gaining popularity as well.

Furthermore, you are entitled to paid leave (vacation) if you are covered under Part IV of the Employment Act and have worked for your employer at least three months. Vacation leave varies from seven to 14 days depending on length of service and seniority.

Hard Work Pays Off: Overtime

Exceptions can be made for employees to work overtime. However, you are not allowed to work more than 72 hours in overtime per month in total. You cannot exceed this limit unless the Ministry of Manpower has granted an exemption. If your employer agrees to reimburse you for overtime, he or she is obligated to pay an allowance of at least 1.5 times of your hourly basic rate.

Overtime allowances are mandatory for employees with a monthly salary of less than 2,500 SGD and for workmen with a monthly salary of less than 4,500 SGD. All other categories of employees have to negotiate their overtime allowance and the amount with their employer and need to refer to their employment contract.

Celebrating Culture and Religion

Expats in Singapore benefit from eleven public holidays and eight major festivals throughout the year. They are a testimony to the cultural and religious diversity of the small country. Singapore’s major public and religious holidays include:

  • Easter
  • Christmas and New Year’s Day
  • National Day
  • Buddhist Vesak Day
  • Muslim Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha
  • Hindu Deepavali

In addition, the country celebrates all Malay, Chinese, and Indian festivals, and some companies are closed for the Lunar New Year.

Big Paychecks in Singapore

Singapore is well known for its excellent working conditions, but also for its competitive salaries. In 2016, the average income of a software engineer was 47,000 SGD, an information technology consultant made 63,000 SGD, and regional sales managers earned 91,500 SGD. However, you should make sure to negotiate your salary so that it covers your cost of living in Singapore before signing your employment contract. After all, there is no minimum wage in Singapore, and your salary depends on what you and your employer agree upon.

Employees who are covered by the Employment Act and who earn more than 4,500 SGD per month may be subject to salary deductions. Deductions occur, for example, for absence from work, damage or loss of items entrusted to an employee, the cost of meals or accommodation, and so on. However, these deductions may not exceed 50% of the overall monthly salary.

If you want to learn more about the working conditions in Singapore, visit the Ministry of Manpower and find out about employment practices in the country.

Self-employment

  • To start your own business in Singapore, you first of all need to get the right visa, the EntrePass. With the EntrePass you are allowed to be actively involved in managing the company’s operations.
  • The registration of your company in Singapore is not very complicated and usually doesn’t take too much time. But be aware that there will be a registration fee as well as a fee for your business name.
  • Various different taxes apply to company owners. It is advisable to get professional help from an accountant, especially in the beginning.

Although expats often dream of being their own boss, starting a business in Singapore can be a nerve-wracking endeavor. Still, dealing with the extra workload is often worth it to follow your dream. This guide will give you some pointers on how to begin when starting your business in Singapore.

The First Step: Applying for Your EntrePass

Before starting a business in Singapore, you need to secure the right type of visa, an EntrePass. To be eligible to receive an EntrePass, you need to fulfill certain requirements:

  • You must be structured and registered as a Private Limited Company.
  • You cannot own more than 30% of the company’s shares.
  • Your organization should at least have 50,000 SGD paid-up capital.
  • The company cannot have been registered for more than six months at the time of application.

An EntrePass is particularly important if you plan on being actively involved in managing your company’s operations. For more information on the EntrePass, have a look at our article on work permits, or simply contact the Ministry of Manpower.

Registering Your Business

There are a variety of business structures in Singapore:

  • sole proprietorship
  • partnership
  • limited liability partnership (LLP)
  • limited partnership (LP)
  • company

In order to register your company in Singapore, you need to contact the Accounting & Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). Two local agents who are legal residents of Singapore can act on your behalf when starting a business in Singapore. The registration process is fully computerized and therefore quite easy and should not take too long as long as you take care of the following points beforehand:

  • Find out if the name of your company is still available. The Singapore Network Information Center (SGNIC) can help you with that.
  • Find out the SSIC (Singapore Standard Industry Classification) code of your company.
  • Find a suitable business location.
  • Get all the necessary licenses and permits for your business.
  • If you are unsure about the details of the registration process, hire a professional to help you with starting a business in Singapore.

The registration fee will amount to approximately 300 SGD, plus 15 SGD for the approval of your business name. Once all this has been taken care of you can register your business online with ACRA. Furthermore, it is advisable that you register for the SingPass, a common password which you can use for different official online services when starting your business in Singapore.

Taxes to Keep in Mind

Any type of income you receive is subject to income tax in Singapore. This is also the case when you are starting a business. However, there are other taxes business owners have to pay as well, such as Goods and Services Tax (GST), which is levied on the import of goods. The tax rates are as follows:

  • The income tax depends on the type of business.
  • The goods and services tax (GST) is 7%.
  • The withholding tax is 10-20% (depending on the purpose).
  • The property tax is 10%.
  • The stamp duty depends on the value of your transaction.

When starting a business in Singapore, it makes sense to get in touch with an accounting firm to help you with taxation and other financial details. That way, you will make sure to do everything right without losing your mind over it. Refer to our articles on Finance and Taxation for more information.

Want to Learn More? Further Resources

Business culture

  • The business culture in Singapore is more formal than people might expect: the team is more important than the individual and there is a strict chain of command.
  • Negotiations in Singapore progress slowly, and you will need some patience. Also, be polite and professional as Singaporeans are always afraid of “losing face”.
  • Business meetings need to be scheduled at least two weeks in advance at best through a referral. When the time comes, it is important to be punctual and the presentations must be well prepared.
  • There are some things you should avoid when doing business in Singapore such as patting someone on the back, pointing with your finger, and displaying the sole of your shoes.

Singapore is a major expat destination and business hub in Asia. Many expatriates from Western countries are surprised when they realize that the business culture in this country is a lot more formal than what they are probably used to. Observing a strict chain of command and keeping others from “losing face” are essential aspects. Although as a foreigner you will get away with a lot, you should at least know the basics of doing business in Singapore.

How to Address Your Business Partners

Singapore is a country of immigrants and home to various ethnic groups. As a result, the country has four national languages: Malay, Tamil, Mandarin, and English. Although for expats doing business in Singapore it usually enough to be fluent in English, it cannot hurt to learn a new language in Singapore and at least pick up on the basics of the other languages as well.

The way people are addressed depends on their heritage. Chinese people, for instance, usually have three names. Their family name is first, followed by two personal names. You should address your Chinese business partners with their honorific title and their surname. Malays often adopt their father’s name with the connector “bin” (son of) or “binti” (daughter of). Also pay attention to names and titles: people with the title “Haji” or “Hajjah” have made their pilgrimage to Mecca. Your Indian business partners might use a shortened version of their name, as Indian names are often very long. Sikh Indians commonly use the name Singh.

“Losing Face”: Business Communication

One more thing you should be aware of when doing business in Singapore is that the collective (in your case, the company) is more important than the individual. It is essential to adhere to a strict chain of command. This begins when greeting your business partners. Make sure to start with whoever is most senior and work your way down from there. Proper introductions and strong relationships will improve your chances of doing business in Singapore.

In order to become a successful member of Singapore’s business world, you need to always be respectful and courteous and pay close attention to non-verbal clues. Your Singaporean business partners will not want you to “lose face” and therefore will not openly disagree with you. You will notice that your business partners are very calm and soft spoken. When doing business in Singapore, it is important that you calm your voice as well and do not adopt an aggressive negotiation style as this might appear rather rude.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Business in Singapore

When doing business in Singapore, it is important to keep in mind that Singaporeans are very reserved in nature. Body language plays an important role and subtle gestures mean more than you might think. While it may be completely acceptable for you to pat someone on the back or put a hand on someone’s shoulder, this gesture might make your Singaporean business partners very uncomfortable. Pointing with a finger and displaying the sole of your shoes is considered very rude in Singapore. Try to gesture instead of point with your palm up and refrain from crossing your legs.

Keep in mind that some of your Indian or Malay business partners may be Muslims. You should try to pass items with your right hand only as the left hand is used for personal hygiene and is therefore “unclean”. It is also important to respect the personal space of others when you are doing business in Singapore. Singaporeans like to keep their counterparts at arm’s length and might back away if you come too close.

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Social security and benefits

  • The Central Provident Fund (CPF) administers all forms of social security in Singapore.
  • There are four vital CPF accounts in Singapore: the Medisave, Ordinary, Special, and Retirement Accounts.
  • Social security in Singapore is only available for citizens and permanent residents; temporary residents should handle their own retirement funds independently.

Provident Funds

Social security in Singapore goes back to the 1950s. The current government scheme was first implemented in 1955 and last revised in 2001. Social security in Singapore focuses on the central concept of a provident fund, to which all citizens and permanent residents should contribute during their lifetime.

The Central Provident Fund (CPF) administers all forms of social security in Singapore. This includes four different accounts:

  • the Ordinary Account (OA)
  • the Special Account (SA)
  • the Retirement Account (RA)
  • the Medisave Account (MA)

Except for Medisave, we will now give you an overview of social security in Singapore. To find out how government-supported health insurance works, please read our article on healthcare in Singapore.

Social Security for Employees

The CPF schemes mainly offer social security in Singapore to local employees. There is some slightly different coverage for selected public-sector employees, but such details go beyond the scope of this article.

Every employed person must pay a certain amount from their earnings into each fund. The exact sum required for annual contributions to social security in Singapore depends on age and income.

Employees with a monthly income of less than 500 SGD do not pay anything. People in the income bracket between 500 SGD and 1,500 SGD contribute a flat amount to social security in Singapore. Everyone else has to allocate a specified percentage to each of their accounts.

However, there is a cut-off point for calculating this percentage. If you earn more than 5,500 SGD per month, the earnings above this limit do not figure into your payments for social security in Singapore anymore.

In addition to the yearly contributions made by the employees, their employers are legally required to support them. Therefore they must pay either a flat sum or 16 percent of the employee’s monthly income into the CPF accounts. Which option applies is again dependent on the employee’s earnings and their age.

Beyond the mandatory contributions, both employer and employee can make voluntary top-up payments. All contributions combined must not exceed 30,600 SGD a year.

The Various CPF Accounts

The money allocated to the CPF accounts for social security in Singapore grows at a fixed interest rate. It is regularly adjusted by the Singaporean government. Citizens and permanent residents of Singapore can use the money from each account for specific purposes.

  • The Medisave Account covers healthcare costs, sickness and maternity benefits.
  • The Ordinary Account is a sort of savings account from which owners can withdraw money under certain conditions. The OA funds can be used to purchase a home in Singapore, to pay for your children’s education, or to buy life insurance.
  • If you have more than 40,000 SGD in your Special Account, you may take the surplus and invest it in government-approved ventures.
  • At age 55, you acquire your Retirement Account. Then you must shift up to 139,000 SGD from the SA and OA into the RA. Once you stop working at the age of 65, this kind of social security in Singapore will be your retirement provisions. You can access the money and use it for purchasing a life annuity from a local bank, or you could deposit it in an investment account until the savings run out. If you retire overseas, you can clear out the RA, provided you intend to leave Singapore forever.

Social security in Singapore covers disability benefits and survivors’ benefits as well. Again, the money comes from the employee’s CPF accounts. In order to receive disability benefits, you need an official medical assessment showing that you are permanently and completely unable to work. Survivors’ benefits are paid to close family members in case of your premature death.

Social Security for the Self-Employed

Self-employed people in Singapore who are either citizens or permanent residents also contribute to the CPF scheme. If they have an annual net income between 6,000 SGD and 60,000 SGD, they have to pay into their Medisave Account. These contributions may amount from 2.38 to 9 percent of their income, depending on the age of the person.

Self-employed Singaporeans can contribute to the other kinds of social security in Singapore, too. However, these payments are purely voluntary and at their own discretion.

Social Security for Expatriates

As previously mentioned, social security in Singapore only extends to citizens and permanent residents. Foreign employees who are temporary residents are not covered by the CPF. This includes most migrant workers and expatriates. Singapore has no social security agreements with other countries, either.

Therefore it is vital that you look into social security coverage on your own before you move to Singapore. Our guide to healthcare in Singapore has some tips on getting a private health insurance policy for expats.

Moreover, you should not neglect your retirement provisions. If you pay into a national pension scheme, contact your social security office back home to see how your time living and/or working in Singapore affects your retirement benefits. This can depend on factors like the duration of your stay overseas and the exact clauses in your new employment contract.

Also get in touch with the insurance provider(s) for any additional pension schemes you have, as well as with a financial advisor from your bank at home. The lack of social security for expatriates is a good reason why you should check if your new employer offers a company pension plan.

If you become a permanent resident as a holder of a P, Q, or S work permit for Singapore (for professional, qualified, or skilled overseas employees), you will also be added to the CPF scheme. Permanent residency entitles you to social security in Singapore.

Further Information on Social Security:

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Updated on: September 28, 2016

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