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Singapore Holds Wide Appeal for Students, Expats

by Mary Anne Thompson

Thanks to a variety of easy-to-navigate work permits and visas, as well as favorable job growth and living conditions, Singapore is becoming increasingly popular among those seeking work abroad, according to Mary Anne Thompson, President and Founder of Going Global.

Thanks to a pro-business government, modern infrastructure and cosmopolitan society, Singapore offers an appealing work environment for expats and students wishing to work abroad. Outreach programs and incentives add to Singapore’s appeal and, ultimately, to its accessibility to the foreign worker and student. Its low personal income tax, healthy salaries, family-friendly communities, low crime rate, high literacy rate and large variety of entertainment venues and attractions make it a top destination for expats.

 What helps give Singapore an edge with international workers over similar countries is its various categories of visas and work permits that make it relatively easy for individuals wishing to study or work in the country. For students and visitors, the visa process is reasonably straightforward and easy to navigate. For non-residents seeking to work in Singapore, the process to attain a valid work pass is reasonable. Welcoming of international students and workers, the government is encouraging and available to assist in answering questions.

The fees and processing times for the available passes vary and can be determined by checking with the local consulate or embassy in the applicant’s home country or country where the applicant currently resides. Additionally, some professionals will be required to present documentation specific to their professions. Information on this can be obtained through the applicant’s employer or at the consulate or embassy of jurisdiction. Below is a list of passes available in Singapore and a brief overview of each.

For Professionals

Employment (E) Pass

A foreigner who is interested in working and has a job offer in Singapore may apply for an Employment Pass (EP). The EP is a work pass for foreign professionals working in managerial, executive or specialized jobs.

The employer must make the application for an employment pass on behalf of a job candidate. Any change of employer will require a new application.

To qualify for one of these EPs, the applicants must have acceptable qualifications, which include good degrees, professional qualifications or specialist skills. Ministry of Manpower (MOM) evaluates each application and qualification on its own merit, based on a wide range of criteria including

  • Global and country institution rankings by independent accreditation boards such as the QS World University Rankings, Academic Rankings of World Universities, etc.

  • Employment outcome of the institution's graduates.

  • The institution's enrollment standards. 

Applicants who do not possess an acceptable qualification may not necessarily be rejected for Employment Pass. MOM will consider, on a case-by-case basis, applicants with proven track records and exceptional skills-set, but who may not have the qualifications required by the enhanced Employment Pass framework.

Personalized Employment Pass (PEP)

The Personalized Employment Pass (PEP) is for certain groups of existing employment pass holders and overseas foreign professionals. Unlike an employment pass, which must be cancelled when the pass holder leaves the employer, the PEP is not tied to the employer and is granted on the strength of the applicant’s merit. A PEP holder can remain in Singapore for up to six months between jobs to evaluate new employment opportunities.


The EntrePass is for a foreign entrepreneur who is ready to start a new company or business and will be actively involved in the operation of the company in Singapore. The EntrePass is also for a foreign entrepreneur who owns a business registered with the ACRA (Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority) for no longer than six months at the point of submission of the EntrePass application.

One may apply for an EntrePass if he/she is ready to start and operate a new business in Singapore. All applicants must fulfill these requirements:

  • The company must be registered as a Private Limited Company with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority - Singapore’s national regulator of businesses and public accountants.

  • The applicant must hold at least 30 percent of shares in the company.

  • The company must have at least 50,000 SGD in capital.

  • The company must not be registered for more than six months at the point of application.

For Skilled and Simi-Skilled Workers

Work Permits

A Work Permit (WP) is generally issued to foreign unskilled workers. The duration of a Work Permit is generally two years, subject to the validity of the worker’s passport, the Banker’s/Insurance Guarantee, and the worker’s employment period, whichever is shorter. The worker is only allowed to work for the employer and in the specified occupation.

The Work Permit (WP) is for foreigners who want to work in Singapore; and it stems from an approved source country/territory (depending on the sector in which the worker is going to be employed). A prospective employer must first apply to the Controller of Work Passes for a WP before employing a foreign worker.

Working Holiday Program

The Work Holiday Program (WHP) is a scheme that allows university students and recent graduates between 17 and 30 years of age to come to Singapore to live and work for up to six months. The applicant must be a full-time student or graduate from a university in Australia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom or the United States. The program is also open to those who have gained admission to a university but have not commenced their studies. 

Training Employment Pass

Foreigners undergoing practical training assignments for professional, managerial, executive or specialist jobs in Singapore are required to apply for a Training Visit Pass.

Foreigners under the following categories may apply for the pass:

  • Undergraduates: The training attachment in Singapore must be part of the trainee’s degree program from an acceptable educational institution.
  • Intra-company trainees: Companies can bring employees from their foreign offices/subsidiaries to Singapore for professional or executive training. Intra-company trainees should hold a degree or diploma.
Training Work Permit
The Training Work Permit (WP) is for unskilled/semi-skilled foreign trainees undergoing training in Singapore for up to six months. No extension is allowed.

Outreach Programs


The Experience@Singapore program, presented at elite universities around the world, offers students a glimpse of life in Singapore, as well as a ground-level view of its economic vibrancy and career opportunities. This program puts students in contact with industry movers and shakers and key infrastructural projects. According to the Experience@Singapore website, the program is is “offered to undergraduate and graduate students from select universities with vision, talent, and the drive to succeed.”

Along with Experience@Singapore, the country offers many jobs sites where interested individuals can explore job opportunities. Most companies advertise job vacancies online and/or in local newspapers. Career fairs are also popular in Singapore.

In Conclusion: Working Conditions in Singapore

While the various visas and work permits and abundance of job opportunities make Singapore a natural country of interest for expats, it is the country’s agreeable working conditions that keep international workers there.

Salaries are very competitive in Singapore, and one may enjoy additional perks such as housing, transport and education allowances, as well as stock options. A fixed bonus is given at the end of the year, equivalent to one month’s salary. In addition, variable bonuses are sometimes declared, depending on the company and individual’s performance.

Many companies provide their employees with other incentives such as recreational facilities and holiday subsidies.

One of the main attractions for global talent is Singapore’s personal income tax rates, which are among the lowest in the world. If one has been working in Singapore for at least 183 days in a calendar year, he/she is considered a tax resident and will be taxed on all income that is incidental to employment in Singapore. Non-residents, who are in Singapore for less than 183 days a year, will be taxed only on income earned in Singapore.

Singapore has many factors working in its favor when it comes to attracting expats and college graduates. The country is doing its part to promote all of these attributes, and it seems to be working.

For more information about Singapore, check out www.goinglobal.com.


Mary Anne Thompson is the President and Founder of Going Global, Inc. (www.goinglobal.com) a subscription database service that contains career and employment information for more than 80 locations. More than one million users enjoy Going Global’s unique content, which is researched in-country by local career experts and updated annually. She is also an author, lecturer and frequent guest on various media outlets, including NBC and CNN International. Previously, Mary Anne served as an attorney and advisor to President Ronald Reagan in the White House.


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