Working in Singapore

As global superpowers, like New York, London and Hong Kong, continue to suffer from the backlash of the economic downturn, more and more expats are considering working in Singapore. That said, this Southeast Asian city-state is no stranger to foreign enterprise, for the last few decades, expats have been lured overseas with lucrative packages to run industries with which locals had little experience.

Demand for foreigner expertise continued to rise in 2010, with just over 54 percent of companies indicating an increase in hiring internationals. What’s more, many of the expats who find a job in Singapore are high wage earners; a study by HSBC (2010) indicated that more than half earn over 200,000 SGD per annum and that most expats believe they benefit from low taxes and more disposable income.

Still, comprehensive employment packages are becoming more of a rarity, reserved only for those in the most senior positions. These days companies are looking for foreigners who are willing to accept a lucrative salary sans the transportation, housing and education allowances typical of a time past.

There are hundreds of licensed employment agencies in Singapore available to aid the job search, and a significant portion of their client base is made of expats from Europe and North America seeking work opportunities in this dynamic economy. By some estimates, there are over 600,000 expats working in the city.

To legally work in Singapore it’s necessary to have an employment pass, documentation that is relatively easy to get compared to other global destinations; though, expats will still need to find an employer to start the application process for this pass.

Finding a job in Singapore

Singapore has emerged as Southeast Asia’s premier banking and finance hub. It follows that jobs with wealth management firms, financial institutions, insurance agencies and foreign exchange companies are often available. Additionally, positions in the biomedical sciences and tourism industry are also more widely materialising.

Many international corporations have headquarters or regional bases here, as both the infrastructure and physical location make Singapore an ideal platform to reach into the nearby Asian markets.

As mentioned previously, recruiting and employment agencies are plentiful in Singapore, and require the least leg-work when it comes to securing a job. The biggest expat recruiting industries are clustered around the technology, finance and logistics sectors with engineering, accounting and management skills particularly in demand. The Ministry of Manpower includes a comprehensive listing of all employment agencies.

Additionally, expats should consult the “Recruit” section of The Straits Times, Singapore’s daily English newspaper. Saturday’s section is best and claims a wide assortment of positions available for foreigners.

Online job listings have also gained popularity in Singapore, and expats should also consult individual company websites to find open positions.

Most companies are on a 5.5 day work week, with Saturday mornings considered the half day. The legal working week is 44 hours long.

Work culture and etiquette in Singapore

In general, a more formal business culture is practised in Singapore. Punctuality and presentation are critical to creating the right impression and developing a positive rapport. Respect for elders and status hierarchies should also be carefully observed.

Expats should always observe the custom that Chinese place their family names first followed by the first names; women often keep their own family name. This is not the case for the Malay population, who do not use a family name, but rather their personal name followed by bin (son) or binte (daughter of) before their father’s personal name. Indian practice dictates that the personal name is followed by “son of”, or “daughter of”, and then the father’s personal name.

It is important to note that personal monikers or nicknames should not be used unless specifically invited to do so or until a friendship has been established. Eye contact in business is often forsaken for eyes cast downwards as a sign of respect and handshakes are lighter to the touch and not the traditional firm gesture as is the case in Western cultures.

Take care when receiving business cards. In Asian business culture the business card is treated as an extension of the giver so treat it with respect. Never write on the card or put it casually into your pocket. Give and receive cards with both hands.

There are business etiquette courses that specialise in bridging these cross-cultural differences, and it may be worthwhile investing in this for your own peace of mind.

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