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Working life

Diversity and unity are prominent features of a Singaporean workforce, together with a common working language and an environment that rewards people on merit.

Singapore is something of a magnet for foreign talent and it’s easy to adapt to the working lifestyle in the country, particularly as businesses work hard to bridge Asian and Western cultures. One of the world’s leading centres for oil refineries and oil companies, the city has also invested in science and research with an emphasis on biomedical fields, microelectronics, and chemical engineering. Global brands such as Microsoft, American Express, Bain & Co, Gunvor Group, Capital Land, DBS Bank, BBDO, McCann-Erickson, and Edelman are just some of the big names that can be found operating out of the city, while every name in broadcasting is represented, from the BBC and ESPN to the Discovery Channel and the Asian Food Channel. 


Normal office hours in Singapore are Monday to Friday 9:00am to 1:00pm and from 2:00pm to 5:00pm, and you may be required to work on Saturday from 9:00am to 1:00pm. If you work five days or less a week you’re expected to work for nine hours a day, or 44 hours a week. And if you work five days or more a week, you’re expected to work eight hours a day or up to a maximum of 44 hours a week, although Singaporeans will often stay at the office until late as there is still a traditional perception that late work equals hard work. There are clear rules in place for payment of overtime and you can negotiate flexible working hours direct with your employer, but they are not required by law to comply with your requests. Muslim Singaporeans often visit a mosque for an hour on Fridays (between noon and 2pm). Remuneration is high, with expats reporting higher income than they receive back home.

Public holidays

There are eleven public holidays in Singapore and eight major festivals. The public holidays illustrate the religious and cultural diversity throughout the country. Among them are Easter and Christmas Day, as well as National Day and New Year’s Day. Other major religious holidays include Buddhist Vesak Day, Muslim Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha, and Hindu Deepavali. All Chinese, Malay, and Indian festivals are celebrated, and many companies close for the Chinese New Year. Do not try to schedule meetings around that time (late January/early February), since many businesses close for the entire week.

Are you eligible?

All foreigners who want to work in the country must have a work visa, known as a ‘pass’ before they can work legally and you’ll need a job offer before you can apply for a permit. Assessed on a points system, you’ll have to meet certain criteria to be eligible. Any company engaging the services of foreigners will need to provide evidence of eligibility, and you’ll need to pay a non-refundable registration fee to submit your application. If you apply online, it will take seven working days to process. For postal applications, expect to wait up to five weeks. You can find out more about your eligibility for work in Singapore and how to apply at The Ministry of Manpower but here’s a brief overview:

  • Employment Pass – For foreign professionals in senior/managerial or specialised roles, you will have to earn at least $3,600 Singapore Dollars (SGD) per month and have suitable qualifications.
  • EntrePass – For foreign entrepreneurs looking to establish a new business in Singapore. 
  • Personalised Employment Pass – For high-earning Employment Pass holders or foreign professionals, enabling you to work in most sectors. 
  • S Pass – For mid-level skilled workers earning at least SGD $2,200 per month. You’ll also need to pass an assessment.

If you want to bring your spouse with you, he/she will also need a valid work permit. Additional work permits are available for semi-skilled foreign workers, domestic workers, and performing artists.

Your tax residency status

The amount of tax individual foreign taxpayers are liable for depends on their tax residency status. According to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS), if you live in Singapore for at least 183 days a year you are deemed a tax resident for that year. If you are resident for 183 days for a continuous period over two years, you are considered a tax resident for both years. Or if you are resident for three consecutive years, you are taxed for all three. In all instances, your income is taxed at a progressive resident rate and you may claim tax relief.

You will be regarded as a non-resident of Singapore for tax purposes if:

  • You are there for 61 to 182 days
  • Your employment income will be taxed at 15% or the progressive resident rate, whichever gives rise to a higher tax amount, whereas Director’s fees and other income are taxed at the rate of 22% and you won’t be entitled to tax relief.

You are employed for 60 days or less

  • As this is short-term employment, it is tax exempt. However, this rule does not apply if you are a Director of a company, a public entertainer, or a professional in Singapore or if:
  • Your absences from Singapore are incidental to your Singapore employment. In which case, your total income (including income for services rendered outside of the country) will be taxable in full in Singapore, and you won’t be entitled to tax relief.

For more information on your tax liability and status in Singapore visit the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.

Central Provident Fund

If you have a Permanent Residency status and you are working under a contract of employment, whether permanent, part-time, or casual, your employer must contribute to the social security system, called the Central Provident Fund (CPF). Permanent residents also contribute to the fund which helps you receive entitlements such as retirement, housing, and health care benefits. Monthly contributions to the CPF only begin once a foreigner is a permanent resident, and are deposited into three accounts:

  • Ordinary account – used to buy a home, pay for CPF insurance, make investments, and pay for education.
  • Special account – reserved for old age, contingency purposes, and investment in retirement-related financial products.
  • Medisave account – for hospitalisation expenses and approved medical insurances.

If you leave Singapore permanently, with no intention of returning, you can apply to withdraw your savings.

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