There are many reasons you’ll enjoy working in Singapore. The EL team loves it and we’re sure you will, too! However, no matter what life stage you’re at – fresh out of uni and keen to work abroad; already living in Singapore with a partner as a trailing spouse; or working here already and looking to change ‘direction’ – you’ll want to know how to make it a reality. We answer some common questions about the job search in Singapore, and get views from a panel of residents who’ve already gone through the journey.
“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.
Here’s what else you can do to make yourself as employable as possible.
8 tips for getting a job in Singapore
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’re truly the right person for the role. Put together a portfolio showcasing your relevant skills and experience. This can be hard copy, digital or on a website.
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. They may also ask for a photograph with your resume.
Discover 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.
Spend time searching for a job every day until you get one. Searching can be a full-time job in itself – just stay determined and active.
Networking can be helpful; many expats find jobs through their networks rather than applying for jobs blindly. Women seeking a job or developing a business can meet and network at professional associations, including The Athena Network and PrimeTime. The Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) is a national coordinating body of women’s organisations and groups in Singapore that acts on their behalf. Other useful online portals include Mums@Work, Careermums, the ANZA Career Centre, and, of course, LinkedIn. See more in the Networking section, below.
Be realistic about salary – remember that Singapore’s low tax rate will often offset a lower base salary. Bear in mind, too, that there is a quota system regulating the ratio of foreign and local workers in the workplace in Singapore; employers are required to consider Singaporeans fairly before hiring foreigners.
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. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked personal questions, including your religion and whether you have children, at interviews.
Check whether you’re eligible to work in Singapore. Dependant’s Pass holders are entitled to work once they have a Letter of Consent, which their employer can apply for. This is a relatively straightforward process, and applications are generally processed quickly by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). If, instead, you’re hoping to obtain an Employment Pass (EP), first use the Self-Assessment Tool on the MOM website to check if you qualify. Note that a strong emphasis is placed on the quality of educational qualifications and institutions in the assessment of applications.
“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. The application fee is $70, and successful applicants are issued an Approval-in-Principle letter within eight weeks.
The business must also be registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) as a private limited company and be less than six months old on the date of application. This can be done simply online using a SingPass.
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.
Finally, don’t forget to take advantage of the many organisations and online tools available to help you in your quest to start a business (see #5, above).
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
International Enterprise (IE) Singapore: iesingapore.com
Economic Development Board: edb.gov.sg
Money Matters for Expats: moneymatters.com.sg
Social and Sporting Clubs
Organisations such as the British Club and Hollandse Club, which we profile on the following pages, 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.
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, the Italian Women’s Group, the Indian Women’s Association and the Spanish-Speaking Women’s Association.
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:
We asked reader what they wished they’d known about the job search when they first arrived.
“If you’re the trailing spouse, it’s unlikely that the new job will be what you left behind. If you’re going to be here long enough, you can build it back; otherwise, find joy in other things.” – Geeta
“First, reach out to your personal network. Many people find jobs this way. Several community organisations have job boards specifically geared towards expats – another good place to start. They also offer classes to help you brush up your CV or interview skills. I’ve seen several people pivot in their careers either by starting their own business (a relatively easy process in Singapore) or going back to school, and they’ve been much happier for it.” – Kristen
“For an expat, I think your network is one of the most important ways you can find a job in Singapore. Use your connections. Find out where your friends are working at, and don’t be afraid to ask who they know. Sometimes local employers are intimidated by the work pass application process. Have a good employment agency in hand – such as my agency, White Glove – that can handle your work pass application. A local company may feel more comfortable hiring you if they don’t have to do the paperwork on their own.” – Jennifer
“I moved with a job, however, my husband found a job after we moved. It can be a long and frustrating process due to preferences given to citizens and permanent residents over Dependant’s Pass holders. Prepare for it mentally.” – Firuza
For more on job searching, see our Work & Business section.
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