Working in Singapore
The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU) rates Singapore the world’s best business location for 2015-19. Favourable foreign investment conditions, with equal opportunities for local and overseas firms and a stable political environment provide an ideal climate for overseas trade.
Singapore’s official languages are English, Tamil, Malay, Mandarin, and 38% of the country’s non-resident population is made up of foreign workers. Most work in professions related to Singapore’s status as a global commerce, finance and transport hub.
Singapore is hot and humid year round, ranging from 22C (72F) to 35C (95F) and averaging around 31 C. You won’t experience four seasons; located just north of the equator, it has a tropical climate with little seasonal variation, although it's slightly cooler in December and January. Between July and October, the city is prone to bush fire haze from neighbouring Asian regions. The monsoon season tends to run from November to February, although there is some variation depending on the region.
If you are considering relocating to Singapore and want to find out if you need a Singapore working visa, visit the Singapore Government’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority website.
Singapore’s Cost of living index (excluding rent) is 90.13 (compared to an NYC comparison of 100% and a London comparison of 94.82%). It boasts a very low crime rate and has a zero tolerance policy on drugs.
In terms of lifestyle, Singapore offers an intriguing mix of Asian culture and Western modernity, with Chinese shop houses, Malay mosques and Hindu temples nestling among a backdrop of skyscrapers, in front of the famous harbor.
A modern city, Singapore offers a multicultural array of temples and heritage attractions, alongside a wide variety of activities and attractions. Popular neighbourhoods (www.yoursingapore.com) include ethnic districts such as Kampong Glam, Little India and Chinatown; bustling shopping areas such as Marina Bay and Orchard Road and cultural areas such as Bras Basah, Bugis and Joo Chiat/Katong.
Singapore also provides a diverse range of dining options. Local dishes include the country’s national dish, chicken rice and chilli crab. Authentic street food including char kway teow (noodles with seafood) is plentiful in Singapore’s hawker centres, and a number of exciting cafes such as 40 Hands and Tiong Bahru Bakery are emerging.
If you want to socialise up with other expats, social and sporting clubs provide a good way of meeting people with similar interests. There are also a number of nationality related groups such as the British Association (BA) and the Australian and New Zealand Association (ANZA). Business networking associations such as Prime Time Business and the Professional Women’s Association may also be helpful.
Business / Working life
Singapore observes standard business hours of 9am–1pm and 2pm–5pm Monday to Friday, with a half day on Saturday from 9am–1pm. There is a maximum 44 hour working week.
There are 11 public holidays, including Easter and Christmas Day, and eight major festivals. Many companies close for Chinese New Year.
Business etiquette dictates that you introduce a contact who has a Western name by using their first name and surname (e.g. Michael Smith). If introducing a Chinese name, use the person’s title and family name, followed by his personal name. Malaysian people use their personal name, followed by bin (son of) or binti (daughter of), then their father’s personal name. Indian personal names are used, followed by s/o (son of) or d/o (daughter of) and the father’s personal name.
Business cards should be exchanged upon meeting, ideally given and received using both hands. It can be perceived as disrespectful to write on the business card or put it casually in your back pocket or in a folder.
In terms of business dress, long-sleeved shirts and ties are customary for men and smart business wear for women.
Singapore’s transport system is fast and efficient. The MRT (mass rapid transit) covers an extensive rail network servicing Singapore’s key attractions, which can be accessed using a Singapore Tourist Pass. This is available from many MRT stations, and allows unlimited one, two or three day travel.
The country’s inexpensive, air-conditioned bus network accepts fares via an EZ-Link-stored-value card or the Singapore Tourist Pass.
To save yourself both hassle and money, it’s worth noting that jaywalking (i.e. crossing a road in an non designated area) can attract a fine – as can spitting, littering and feeding pigeons.
Singapore’s healthcare system is good but can be expensive. Full medical cover including repatriation is essential, as there is no reciprocal National Health Service agreement and costs must be borne by the patient.
Patients are free to choose between private and government hospitals, clinics and general practices and can walk in for a consultation at any clinic. If you use an ambulance for a non-emergency will result in you being asked to pay the ambulance fee.
Visit the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website for the latest advice for British people living in Singapore.
Singapore’s official currency is the Singapore dollar. To open a current account, you’ll need your Letter of Appointment (if this is not ready, you may be able to use your Passport), a document showing your salary from your employer and you Employment Pass. Once successful, you’ll receive a passbook and ATM card.
Bank transfers to another bank within Singapore are free but can be tricky. Some banks will allow online transfers, while others require a form signed at a branch. Fees are often applicable. Some banks will allow international transfers online or via mobile.
Banks that may be suitable for expats include:
- HSBC – A multi-currency account can be opened online and allows you to receive/hold funds in 10 major currencies.
- OCBC – Branches are open on Sundays, which helps as Saturdays tend to be busy. ATMS stay open 24/7.
- DBS – The DBS Expatriate Programme doesn’t require an initial deposit. The DBS Expatriate eAutosave Account and DBS Expatriate eSavings Plus Account will allow your salary be credited to your accounts, which can be accessed in person or via internet or mobile.
Credit cards are widely accepted at almost all shops and restaurants. To apply, most banks require proof of your salary and a minimum deposit in a linked bank account.
Singapore currently operates a progressive income tax system with a top rate of 20%.
Singapore Citizens (SC), Singapore Permanent Residents who reside in Singapore apart from temporary absences or foreigners working in Singapore for 183 days or more in the previous tax year will be treated as tax residents.
If you are deemed a tax resident, you’ll need to file an Income Tax Return if notified by letter, form or SMS from IRAS (Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore). If you are not notified directly, you can check your status at www.iras.gov.sg.
For more than a decade (as at 2016), Singapore has been near the top of international league tables, with excellent results.
Public schools are affordable and a foreign language is required of all students. At secondary level, students are required to take part in a co-curricular activity such as sports or performing arts.
Private international schools are alternatively worth considering if you want your child to continue with the curriculum in your home country.
It’s worth noting that public school fees are higher for foreign nationals than for the locals. Also, keep in mind that private international schools have long waiting lists.
[All reported figures were accessed in May 2016 and will be validated in May 2017. We make no claims as to their accuracy as they rely on third party sources.]
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