Working in Singapore

‘It is people with the imagination, the drive, the willingness to think big and take risks…who will make the economy grow and themselves rich.’ Lee Kuan Yew, the ‘father of modern Singapore’, spoke these words at a Chinese New Year celebration in February 2000. Could this be you? Our correspondent Richard Willsher reports from Singapore.

As Singapore makes the transition from emerging, to fully emergent economy, it is crying out for foreign expertise in all fields and professions. If you want to gain valuable overseas experience working in a modern and dynamic city and, in the process, sample life on the equator, Singapore has lots to offer.

Major city

Singapore is perched at the tip of Malaysia and is less than 25 km from Indonesia at its nearest point. It is a clean, tidy, air-conditioned, tropical and thoroughly well-organized republic with an ambition to become one of the world’s major cities. In fact, it is already most of the way there.

The World Economic Forum gave Singapore a series of ‘number one’ ratings for the openness of its economy, and its quality of government, finance, infrastructure, technology and institutions. It is the one Asian economy to have survived the 1997 Asian financial contagion virtually unscathed and is the center with the strongest claim to be the major infrastructure and services hub for South East Asia.

Open door policy

But the country needs help – help from foreign talent as it is termed here. With just over three million people to service its booming economy, it is in need of bright, able professionals and graduates with skills to offer. Accountants, lawyers, financial professionals for its banking, insurance, stock market and other related sectors, engineers, software specialists and IT staff are all needed.

‘We have an open-door Labour policy here,’ says Dr Ho Hin Dong, head of research at DBS Securities, part of one of Singapore’s most important groups in the financial services sector. ‘We need a cross-fertilisation of ideas.’

Indeed, Singapore is something of a melting pot of people and ideas by its very nature. Its population is made up of 75% Chinese, 14% Malay and 7.3% Indian, with the remainder a variety of European, Australasian and US expatriates.


So why go there rather than anywhere else? Gerald De Cotta, director of the Singapore office of international public relations consultants Gavin Anderson, says: ‘Obviously, there’s the benefit of working abroad and gaining foreign experience. Then there’s a real multicultural working environment. It’s the heart of a country which is going places and it’s the regional hub for so many things – finance, tourism, transportation, cargo handling, for example.’

According to one old Singapore hand, local pay rates are on a par with international package rates. ‘The days of the great expatriate package are over,’ he says. ‘The trick is how you structure the package including housing, car, home travel, school fees if you have children, pension and other benefits. There are tax-beneficial ways in which to put the menu of benefits together.’

There are also a lot of travel benefits for those with a desire to see the Far East. As Singapore is the hub – many executives spend a large amount of their time flitting from Singapore to Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Thailand and even as far afield as China, Hong Kong and Australasia. Then there’s weekend hops to Indonesian islands, expatriate parties and, if you are into shopping, Singapore has more shops and shopping centres than you’ve seen in your life – London, New York and Paris included.

Getting about

Singapore is a place that runs smoothly. The country’s MRT subway system is rapid and efficient. It has a system of electronic road-tolling that is seamless and ensures traffic jams are rare. The streets are spotlessly clean because there are big fines if you drop litter and the chances of being robbed or mugged are pretty negligible, so stiff are the penalties.

If all this control and regulation is not your cup of tea – fair enough. It is not for everyone. However, if you want to make money and have a great expatriate time doing it in a climate where you’ll never need long sleeves – except, that is, as protection from the air-conditioning – Singapore may be the place for you.

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