Interested in moving to Singapore? This is our simple Singapore Immigration Guide, containing all the info you need to get started. From getting a visa to finding work and (eventual) citizenship – it’s all here. Read on!
Singapore: Quick Facts
- A sovereign city-state, Singapore has a population of ~5.6 million and an average life expectancy of 82 years.
- Has the world’s most open economy, with a GDP of $318.9 Billion.
- Has a history of ethnic mixing and a highly diverse population, of which 42% are foreigners.
- Singapore is a trade and investment hub in Asia, where many of the continent’s elite store their money. This has propped up a thriving financial sector, although it has also placed the Singaporean government under criticism for safe-housing the fortunes of dictatorships.
- Singapore is a city-state, on an a small archipelago. Most of the city is located on Pulau Ujong, and it is connected to both Malaysia and other islands by road.
- Currency: Singapore Dollar (SGD).
- Spoken languages: Almost everyone speaks English, and it’s the main language of work and trade. Chinese is growing increasingly important, as Singapore directs more investment into the region. Many Singaporeans also speak Malay and Tamil. Singaporeans also speak a local English dialect (dubbed “Singlish”).
- Major Religions: Buddhist (33%), Christian (18%), Hindu (5%), Muslim (15%), Taoist (11%). 17% other (or unaffiliated).
- Major Races: 74% Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indian, 10% other.
Why move to Singapore
- Ethnic diversity is one of Singapore’s best assets: it’s a multicultural environment, where you can experience elements of any Asian culture, and many Western cultures as well. If you’re craving a taste of home or some variety, you’ll definitely find it.
- A thriving food culture: From cheap Hawker centers, to gourmet dining, Singapore has a taste of everything, for every budget.
- Great shopping: This is where Asia’s elite come to shop for both clothing and electronics. Like food, shopping is catered to a wide range of consumers, offering both high-end and low-end options.
- Great investment climate: If you’re looking to build a startup in Asia, Singapore has the fastest growing startup ecosystem, partially because of increased government interest in the startup sector. Investors and incubators also have deep networks into other countries in the region. In Asia, connections are vital.
- Economic transparency: Singapore is the 5th least corrupt country, despite being located in a region where corruption is the norm. Low corruption is part of a strategy to attract investment and encourage foreigners to set up corporations. Corporate governance and taxation is very clear and straightforward, making Singapore one of the best places to start a business in Asia.
- Health and safety: Singapore is extremely safe, with low crime rates, and high quality healthcare, available at a price.
- Great location: Singapore is in the middle of Southeast Asia – you can easily access other countries by bus or plane.
Reasons Not to Move to Singapore
Note: these are common expat complaints, and may not apply to you.
- Lack of interracial mixing: despite its diversity, Singaporeans of different ethnic groups tend to have limited interaction, with 1 in 2 Singaporeans reporting not having a friend from another race.
- Racial discrimination: Singaporean citizens of Chinese heritage tend to enjoy preferred treatment over their Malay and Indian counterparts. Examples of overt discrimination include employment ads specifying that someone must be of Chinese origin to apply.
- Limited freedom of speech: the Singaporean government censors sexual, political, religious, and racially sensitive material. Lawsuits are often used to quiet dissidents. Journalists often self-censor, to limit their legal liability. This also limits the development and prevalence of non-commercial art,
- Limited outdoor activities: it’s a tiny city-state, after all. Beaches are crowded and there’s limited natural space.
- Expensive housing: a small land mass with a dense population, Singapore housing prices are on par with those of Hong Kong or New York City. If you’re on a budget, you might find yourself sharing a room.
- Lack of outdoor activities: as a city-state, Singapore is overwhelmingly urban.
- Limited rights for the LGBT population: members of the LGBT community face discrimination in Singapore. Male on male sex is illegal. It is difficult for members of the LGBT community to find housing (landlord discrimination).
- Harsh penalties for breaking the law: punishments commonly involve caning and long prison sentences.
- Possession, consumption, manufacturing, import, export, or trafficking of most popular drugs is illegal, and there is a Maximum Death Penalty once thresholds are reached (e.g. over 15 grams of cannabis, 3 grams of cocaine, 100 grams of opium).
Getting a Visa and Finding Work
Access to an employment pass will depend on a worker’s skill and education level.
For “Highly Skilled” Workers (P and Q passes):
- Employment Pass: designed for foreign professionals; you must make at least SGD $3000/month to be eligible for an employment pass. However, most people applying for an employment pass do so with a salary of $4000 and up – due to more restrictions on foreign employment, applications with a low salary may not be accepted. Employers apply for the employment pass on behalf of their employees.
- Personalized Employment Pass (PEP): granted to particularly qualified foreign workers. They’re granted based on a foreign workers merit, and continue even if the worker chooses to leave their employer (in contrast, workers holding a regular “Employment Pass” will need to reapply for the pass if switching employers).
- Entrepass: for foreign entrepreneurs attempting to start a business in Singapore.
- Employment Pass Eligibility Certificate: has been discontinued as of 2011.
- Training Employment Pass: for foreigners undergoing special training programs for executive or specialist positions.
For “Mid-Skilled” Workers:
- S Pass: available for mid-skilled workers making a salary of at least SGD $2200/month. Applicants are judged on a range of criteria including salary, their skill set, job requirements, their work experience, and the their education.
For Low-Skilled Workers:
- Work permit: issued to low-skilled workers for a period of up to two years. Holders of this permit are limited to working only for their employer, in a specific position. These passes typically go to nannies, maids, and performance artists.
- Miscellaneous Work Permit: for certain short-term jobs.
- Work Permit for Performing Artists: for performers playing at Public Entertainment Licensed bars, discotheques, etc. Valid for up to six months.
- Work Holiday Program: allows new/recent University graduates to live and work in Singapore for up to six months.
- Training Work Permit: allow unskilled or semi skilled workers to undergo training in Singapore for six months.
The more skilled or educated you are, the easier it will be to obtain a Singaporean Employment Pass. Dependents of those holding any work permit can apply separately, under a different visa scheme.
Permanent Residency & Citizenship
- Permanent Residency: applications for permanent residency occur through the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA). In order to apply, you must fall under one of four broad categories:
- Spouse or unmarried child of a Singapore Citizen (SC) or Singapore Permanent Resident (SPR)
- Working permit holders – Only P, Q, or S passes are eligible
- Aged parents of an SC
- Citizenship: Singapore PRs who have lived in the country for at least two years may apply for citizenship online through the ICA. Spouses of Singaporeans may also apply for citizenship (either after being a PR for two years, or if their application is processed two years after their date of marriage). Children of Singaporeans born overseas are eligible to apply for citizenship.
Starting a Business in Singapore
Foreigners can easily start businesses in Singapore. However, they must have employment documents to work as a paid employee for their company – if not, they can sign documents specifying that they are a volunteer. Some routes to starting a business in Singapore:
- Found or co-found your own company: foreigners can found their own companies independently in Singapore, although they must have at least one Singaporean on their board of directors. A professional firm will also have to incorporate a company on your behalf.
- Register a Branch or Representative Office for a foreign business: a professional firm will have to register on your behalf. Your business must also be registered with the Accounting and and Corporate Regulator Authority prior to doing business. If your company is in banking or insurance, you must also register with the Singapore Monetary Authority. Research firms also may need to register with International Enterprise Singapore.
- The Global Investor Programme: Singapore facilitates visa applications and investment matchmaking for investors. Eligibility for these services is dependent on an independent fund rating. For more information, visit Contact Singapore: Global Investor Programme.
Recommended Reading & Resources
- The Expats’ Guide to Singapore: Finding Your Feet on the Little Red Dot
- Singapore Ministry of Manpower – info on employment passes and visas
- Singapore Immigration and Checkpoints Authority – information about applying for Permanent Residency
- Your New Base – find a serviced apartment for your first few months in SG