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Working in Singapore – what you need to know

There are many reasons you’ll want to live in Singapore – the EL team love it and we’re sure you will.  No matter what life stage you’re at, if you are fresh out of uni and want the chance to work abroad, you’re already living here with your partner as a trailing spouse, or working here already and just need to change ‘direction’  – what do you need to do?  We answer some common questions, and get some insider views from a panel of residents who have already gone through the journey.

Job search singapore

“Is it easy to start my own business in Singapore?”

Many expats come to Singapore with a host of fresh business ideas; others discover an entrepreneurial streak once they’ve settled in. So if you do have a great business idea, how do you turn it into a real-life proposition?

First you’ll need to apply for an EntrePass through the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). This involves writing a detailed business plan and financial projections; plus, your business needs to meet certain requirements (see mom.gov.sg/passes-and-permits/entrepass/ eligibility). The application fee is $70, and successful applicants are issued an Approval-in-Principle letter within six weeks.

The business must also be registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) as a private limited company with at least $50,000 in paid-up capital. This can be done simply online using a SingPass (apply at singpass.gov.sg).

Fees for registering a company are $15 for the name application and $300 to incorporate the company. The registration is usually approved within 15 minutes for online applications.

Useful websites

Ministry of Manpower: mom.gov.sg
Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority: acra.gov.sg
Singapore Personal Access (SingPass): singpass.gov.sg
Entrepreneur’s Resource Centre: erc.com.sg
EnterpriseOne: entrerpriseone.gov.sg
International Enterprise (IE) Singapore: iesingapore.com
Economic Development Board: edb.gov.sg
Money Matters for Expats: moneymatters.com.sg

“How can I go about getting employed?”

If you’re accompanying your spouse or partner on a posting, one of the biggest decisions you will make is whether or not to work here.

You might decide to further your present career or perhaps to explore something new. English teachers, for example, are in perennial demand, and a short course in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) can start you on that path. Conversely, recent changes in employment laws with an emphasis on hiring local Singaporeans might mean that your skills are in less demand than they were at home.

Search firms, online sources, classifieds and expat associations can all be helpful when it comes to finding work, although many jobs are found through networking. The American Association’s Career Resource Center for Expatriates (CRCE) is particularly useful, offering advice on resumes, workshops, and career counselling.

Job search singapore
Where should you start?

10 tips for getting a job

1. Make sure your resume is up-to-date, and tailor your references to suit the job you’re going for. These should reassure the hiring manager that you truly have the right skills for the role.

2. Make sure you have all your official documents including birth certificates, personal identification and university transcripts at the ready. Singapore based employers will likely ask for these and you may need to provide original copies.

3. Put together a portfolio showcasing your relevant skills and experience. This can be hard copy, digital or on a website.

4. Find out which recruiters are specialists in your field and go straight to them. See which company is posting jobs you’re interested in and call them. You’ll have a much better chance of breaking through the noise if they’ve met you and identified you as suitable talent.

5. Get out and start networking. Many expats find jobs through their networks rather than applying for jobs blindly.

6. Be realistic about your salary. Remember that Singapore’s low tax rate will often offset a lower base salary.

7. Spend time searching for a job every day until you get one. Searching can be a full-time job in itself. Stay determined and active.

8. Attend interviews, even if you’re not 100 percent sure you want the position. Many companies can create roles for the right person, but they have to meet you first.

9. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked personal questions, including your religion and whether you have children, at interviews.

10. It’s common to be asked to submit a photograph with your resume.





Associations are an excellent starting point when you’re new to Singapore, and they offer a host of support services. They are generally linked to nationalities, although citizens of any country can join. Attending a newcomer event is an excellent way to meet people and get involved in the community. Associations offer many of the same social benefits found at clubs, without the expensive membership fees. A low annual fee is usually charged and may include a monthly magazine that will keep you up to date with social activities.

Groups like the American Association of Singapore (AAS), the British Association (BA), and the Australian and New Zealand Association (ANZA) organise sports leagues and regular meetings, outings, charity events, book clubs and social gatherings. Women’s organisations include the American Women’s Association (AWA), Scandinavian Women’s Association, Italian Women’s Group, Indian Women’s Association and Spanish  Speaking Women’s Association.

Job search singapore

Social and Sporting Clubs

Clubs can provide an instant network and are another way of meeting more expats. Most social clubs offer facilities including pools, gyms, restaurants, youth camps and classes. Likewise, sporting clubs, such as the Singapore Polo Club, are an excellent way to meet friends with similar interests. Clubs can be expensive, so try to meet current members and ask about the facilities. Also, do some comparisons of locations, membership rules and prices. The British Club, Hollandse Club and American Club are just a few of the popular clubs in Singapore.

University Alumni

Another way of meeting people with whom you will instantly have something in common is through your university alumni association – log on to your university’s website to find out more.

Tips from fellow expats:

What do our contributors wish they’d known about the process of job hunting when they first arrived? Find out below.

  • When I first arrived, I was lucky enough to find a job relatively quickly, and I stayed in that role for several years before having children. After that, I found part-time work through contacts, and now I’ve set up my own business. Singapore is a place that enables you to reinvent your career if you want to. – Tamy
  • Being on a Dependant’s Pass when I arrived, I didn’t feel like I had many options. I wish I’d done a bit more research and used my negotiation skills better. I lost a great job to a Singaporean as there was enough supply of talent and skill in my field, but it could be a different story for your area of expertise. Don’t assume that just because you’re an expat wife you have to settle for a low offer; there’s no harm in attempting negotiations. Keep your options open, and apply to industries outside your own. Also, Singapore is a very business-friendly. There are rules and systems in place to set up, but there are also many support platforms and networks to lean on, too. – Shivani
  • I started my own business, so I work full time. If I was looking, though, I would check with associations like ANZA or the AWA. – Annette

Job search singapore

  • When I moved here, I was looking for a job in media and I found that quite challenging. I wish I’d known about the many Facebook support groups back then, as they would have provided me with the opportunities to network and learn about my options. I’ve since learnt that the best way to find a job here is through networking and building proper relationships. Actually, I’m grateful for not having found that job as it made me discover what I was truly passionate about, which ultimately led me to reinvent myself and start a new journey. As Steve Jobs famously said, you cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. – Charmaine
  • It’s not easy to find a job, but don’t give up. Find a way or find another way. Be brave and do something completely different. – Nici
  • I set up my company here, so I wasn’t actively looking for a job, but I was looking for clients. I wish I’d asked more questions and for more advice about the local market when I first started, so I could have tailored my offerings better. Don’t make assumptions, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most of the time, people are happy to help or give advice. – Naomi
  • I set up a sole proprietorship three years ago, and found the process very easy. The key is to be clear on all the documentation required and stick to it to the letter. A friend of mine who had been running her own sole proprietorship for years took me through the process and gave me drafts of the letters required so I could get the wording right. The ACRA and MOM websites are fantastic for outlining all the options and steps. It also helps to ask someone who has done it first. – Dani
  • I transferred here with my company, so I didn’t have to find a job. After about a year, I left that company and had a baby. Then a friend reached out to me with a part-time HR role, which was lucky. Recruiters and job websites here aren’t very expat-friendly, so I find it’s best to apply directly on companies’ websites. – Cori


Read more:

Top expat work areas in Singapore

Co-working spaces in Singapore

Where to print business cards in Singapore

For more advice like this see our work and business section.

This article first appeared in the City guide 2017 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!