Singapore attracts businesses of every size from a spectrum of industries, but employers that choose to establish themselves in or plan to expand into Singapore should be aware of the global mobility challenges that may exist. From navigating the city’s immigration and visa process to finding accommodation, if you’re thinking about moving employees to Singapore, check out our simple global mobility guide.
Singapore Global Mobility Basics
Any employer seeking to move employees to Singapore (or any foreign country) must develop a global mobility plan that takes into account a series of basic considerations. Those considerations involve personal and logistical concerns, including:
- Shipping personal items: Employees that are moving to Singapore should consider which personal items they need to take with them when they relocate, and factor in shipping costs and customs obligations for larger items. Singapore is a bustling, modern city state with numerous shopping and commercial outlets so it will be possible for employees to acquire almost any personal items they need when they arrive. However as with many things in Singapore, personal items can be expensive so balancing shipping costs and customs obligations with higher purchasing costs in Singapore can be a challenge!
- Family relocation: Employees may need to relocate to Singapore with spouses, families, and dependents. Accordingly, a Singapore global mobility plan should factor in family relocation requirements, including accommodation, travel, education, and medical needs - and supplementary visas.
- Pet relocation: Employees may want to take their pets with them when they move to Singapore. The relocation of animals to Singapore will entail a range of added logistical considerations along with potential medical and vaccination requirements.
- Travel requirements: A global mobility plan should facilitate travel between Singapore and your mobile employees’ countries of origin. It may also be necessary to factor in return visits, or visits from family.
- Residential property: Employees that move to Singapore may own residential properties in their countries of origin - they may consider selling their property or renting it out for the duration of their time away.
Different categories of visa are available for foreigners moving to Singapore for the purposes of employment. Overseen by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM, Singapore visa requirements vary depending on factors such as job type, employment status, employee skill level, and salary. Certain categories of visa are more suitable for skilled and semi-skilled professionals that are relocating to Singapore. These include:
- Employment Pass: Intended for professionals, managers, and executive level employees, the Employment Pass requires workers to earn at least S$3600 and meet certain qualification criteria. The Employment Pass is typically valid for 1 to 2 years.
- S Pass: For mid-level skilled employees, the S Pass is valid for 1 to 2 years and has a minimum salary requirement of S$2,500.
- Work Permit for Foreign Workers: Intended for semi-skilled employees from approved countries working in the construction, manufacturing, marine shipyard, process, or services sectors. Valid for 2 years with no minimum salary requirement.
- Entrepreneur Pass: For foreigners wishing to start a business in Singapore. The EntrePass is valid for 1 year and involves a range of eligibility criteria, including minimum funding requirements.
Foreign worker visas can be renewed by application to MOM. Categories of visa for employees’ family members and dependents are also available.
Compensation in Singapore
A global mobility plan should involve a compensation framework for employees that takes into account the exchange rate with the Singaporean dollar. Employers should also consider Singapore income tax rates (which are low and attractive in comparison to most other jurisdictions in the world), and the tax treatment of benefits in kind (which can be both attractive and punitive).
Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world therefore compensation packages should take into account the cost of living, children's school fees, and any additional relocation costs but also reflect the low personal income tax rates and the absence of any social security type contributions for anyone other than Singaporean citizens or permanent residents.
Healthcare in Singapore
Singapore has a modern, universal healthcare system with options for private care. While citizens and permanent residents of Singapore have access to government-subsidized healthcare services, foreign workers generally receive healthcare coverage through an employer-provided plan or by purchasing a private policy. Although it is not mandatory for employers to provide a healthcare plan in Singapore, it should be a consideration in a Singapore global mobility plan.
Payroll should be a priority for employers that are moving employees to a foreign country. Income tax is not withheld at source in Singapore and it is the employees’ responsibility to submit tax returns to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) and subsequently settle their Singaporean income tax liability upon receipt of a Notice of Assessment from IRAS. However, employers do have certain important tax responsibilities throughout the year, including submitting annual payroll related year end reporting documentation to IRAS prior to 1 March following the end of the prior tax year. Employees with over 7 employees must submit the relevant documentation to IRAS electronically.
Beyond tax considerations, payroll in Singapore must be set up to handle social security contributions to the Central Provident Fund which are based on an employee’s total wages (citizens and permanent residents only).
Employees with foreign workers must also withhold salary and seek tax clearance (via form IR21) when those employees leave their position in Singapore, go on overseas postings, or leave Singapore for any period longer than 3 months.
Singapore is a city-state and many of its accommodation options are located in urban environments, ranging from townhouses and condominiums, to flats and apartments. With that in mind, a global mobility plan should consider employee needs, factoring in proximity to local amenities, schools and nurseries, public transport links, and medical facilities.
Singapore is one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in APAC, and is home to a diverse foreign employee population. That said, Singapore may represent a significant cultural shift for Western workers and it can be beneficial for employers to help them acclimatize and to understand what to expect from life in the city. With that in mind, employers could offer a range of cultural training options including Malay language lessons, lessons in local laws and customs, and explanations of employee responsibilities, such as the need to self-file tax returns.
If you are interested in doing business in Singapore, find out everything you need to know about payroll, tax, social security, employee benefits, work permits, employment law and more in the activpayroll Guide to Doing Business in Singapore. This is available as a free PDF to download.
If you need more help or would like to discuss how these issues might affect you, then speak to our specialised internal Global Mobility Team. They work closely with our customers to eliminate any potential issues when employees are working outside their normal country of residence.