Working in Singapore
If you’re accompanying your spouse or partner on a posting, would you like to work for yourself or an employer? We ask a panel of expats, just like you, how they went about it. We list some regulatory info, helpful websites, organisations and networking events and associations to help you start a business or find a job.
Start a business
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 for setting up a business
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
Make sure your resume is up to date!
Find a job
You might decide to further your present career or perhaps now’s the time 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.
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.
- CRCE | aasingapore.com/about-crce
- Mums@Work | mumsatwork.net
- Careermums | careermums.com.sg
- PrimeTime | primetime.org.sg
- Athena | theathenanetwork.com.sg
- ANZA Career Centre | anza.org.sg
- LinkedIn; many successful job-seekers suggest connecting directly with potential employers | sg.linkedin.com
- Lean In Circle; facilitated group-coaching sessions focusing on career support and development for women | synovations.com
- Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations | scwo.org.sg
10 Top Tips for getting a job
- 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.
- 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.
- Put together a portfolio showcasing your relevant skills and experience. This can be hard copy, digital or on a website.
- 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.
- Get out and start networking. Many expats find jobs through their networks rather than applying for jobs blindly.
- Be realistic about your salary. Remember that Singapore’s low tax rate will often offset a lower base salary.
- 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.
- 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.
- It’s common to be asked to submit a photograph with your resume.
“What do I need to know about visas and passes when it comes to working?”
• The Fair Consideration Framework allows affirmative discrimination and employers are required to consider Singaporeans fairly before hiring Employment Pass (EP) holders.
• A quota system regulates the ratio of foreign and local workers in the workplace.
• Dependant’s Pass holders are entitled to work once they have a Letter of Consent, which their employer can apply for. It’s a relatively straightforward process and applications are generally processed quickly by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
• While it’s not impossible, those on visitor passes hoping to apply for EPs may find it more of a struggle to get a job.
• For a preliminary indication of the likelihood of obtaining an EP or S Pass, use the online Self-Assessment Tool prior to submitting the application.
• New and noteworthy: From 2014, the MOM has placed a strong emphasis on the quality of the educational qualifications and institutions that the applicant has attended when assessing applications.
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
- 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
This article first appeared in the EL City Guide. To read the current issue click here.