Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Asia (
-   -   Singapore - how to take the plunge (

marc_rich May 19th, 2004 05:38 PM

Singapore - how to take the plunge
Hi all,

This is a travel forum, but I was wondering if anyone has any advice re. moving to Singapore. I am a 20 year old adminsitrative employee (finance industry), but with no post-secondary education. I've been thinking about getting our of here and moving to Singapore for quite a while now and my recent trip to Thailand has reinforced the desire to relocate there.

Does anyone have any constructive feedback for someone in my situation? Would appreciate a response.



rhkkmk May 19th, 2004 05:42 PM

my only suggestions is that before you cut all ties where you are that you take a leave of absense and go there and try it on a non-tourist basis....visas and work papers are another just can't move someplace and work...

marc_rich May 19th, 2004 05:54 PM

Yes, thanks, I realize that, which is why I was wondering if there is some form of a visa status that will apply to my situation, as they usually favor university graduates and such.

Kathie May 19th, 2004 06:36 PM

My understanding of the laws in Singapore (and most places) is that you cannot simply go there, find a job and apply for a work permit. In order to get a work permit, you have to have a job offer in hand and the company will arrange the work papers for you. Start by checking with multi-national companies that have branches in Singapore. It is true that not having a univeraity degree will place you at a great disadvantage, especially in a place where the locals are so well educated.

marc_rich May 19th, 2004 06:41 PM

Thanks, guys.

Kathie - thanks, you've reconfirmed my suspicions. What a bummer!

Neil_Oz May 19th, 2004 11:47 PM

Marc, as you rightly suspect, this is not the best forum for such information. Have you talked to the Singapore government via their nearest embassy or consulate? Surely that should be your first step.

But think about the realities first. I imagine that Singapore is not too interested in adding to its highly-skilled and energetic workforce a foreigner who lacks demonstrable skills in short supply locally (and can you imagine a Chinese culture short on finance industry skills?) I don't mean to be unkind, but you have to be realistic here. I suspect that a 20-year-old office worker with no tertiary qualifications would be very close to the bottom of their wish list. My guess is that - at a minimum -you will need to attain marketable specialist work skills backed up by a relevant degree, work yourself into a valued position in a well-regarded multinational company with an office in Singapore and try to engineer a transfer. Obviously this will take a lot of time and a lot of application. If you can't make it in your home country, there's no reason why Singapore or anywhere else you'd like to try would be interested in you. The days when young men of modest accomplishments could make it big in far-flung colonies populated by impressionable natives are long gone, mate.

And why Singapore, anyway? Have you been there? Are you ethnically Chinese?

A tip: if you want to live and work in a foreign culture, enrol in a short course in English language teaching and get a job in China. OK, language schools there advertise that they want a degree, but really, the demand is insatiable. All you have to do is go in on a 3-month tourist visa, then find an employer who'll be happy to sponsor you for a working visa - not hard with a little homework. They'll even reimburse your air fares if you sign up for 12 months, and you don't need to be able to speak Chinese. You won't make a fortune (except by Chinese standards), you'll have a lot of fun, and you might just find the inspiration to embark on a whole new career. Think about it!

dgruzew May 20th, 2004 06:14 AM

Very Curious?? Why Singapore? Why not Japan? I agree with the other poster your best shot is Teaching english - you can do this in China, and sometimes Japan.

Alternativly - why not go back to college(your 20!!!)??? - enroll in a program that involves international studies or language - you will likey be able to travel abroad, and if foregn languge is your forte you will likely be able to find out more about working abroad.
China is a huge emerging marketplace and Chinese speakers will be needed in the future

JamesA May 20th, 2004 07:14 AM

Neil has spelled it all out, sorry to burst your bubble but your chances of getting work are not just close to zero they would be absolute zero. Only top specialists (mainly in fainance) get transferred by their bank or financial institution to Singapore.
It actually is sad that the chances of working in foreign countries are diminishing fast, except for getting the qualifications to teach and teaching somewhere like Japan, China or Korea the opportunities are very few, unless you are a 'real' specialist in some field that the other countries do not have.
20-30 years back it was a great deal easier, but these days very difficult.
In my travels I have come across people who have managed to spend time traveling the world and working in different places, but they could be Airline Pilots or maybe working on Oil tankers and the like.
Finance I think will burst too as a way of working overseas as it is fairly easy for countries to train people in such fields. Some of those lucky to travel the world get Degrees in fields that allow them to work across the world, geologists, anthropologists and the like.
Another field is Hospitality, hotel management training, but, again, in years gone by many 'foreigners' were employed in places such as Asia and Africa but again the number os getting fewer.
If you have some unique interest or even a keen 'hobby' it can lead to chances to travel and sometimes work. Perhaps training a sailboat crew could give opportunities, it can sometimes be a good idea to look back into your own interest and hobbies and see if you come up with something 'unique'.
In hindsight I wish 'I' had trained in some easy field that interested me, sitting in front of Computer screens and servers making a living is no fun at all, even in a far flung tropical paradise. I am still trying to persuade the wife that we get some shack of a bar somewhere!!!!

Wouldn't it be 'great' if one night everyone could actually 'move' to where they would love to live!

Good Luck Marc, if you want to let us know a few more of your interests I am sure many don't mind giving you some thoughts and maybe ideas.

marc_rich May 20th, 2004 11:52 AM

Thanks to all for the replies.

Singapore is next to impossible, I am convinced.

Why Singapore? Clean, safe, warm (very important to me, health-wise, I have a hard time going through cold weather), and a great hub to travel to other Asian countries. These are the main reasons. But yes, it's next to impossible.

Japan is a great idea, but I think they are even more hell-bent on tertiary education than Singaporeans. Also, weather-wise.

Just came back from Thailand and my skin was totally cured - I only spent a week there, but the tropics are doing magic for my skin.

I will look into the English teaching option in China and Japan though - that's certainly an idea.

Feel free to offer tips and experinces - the responses were helpful.

marc_rich May 20th, 2004 11:56 AM

I bet it's great to be an expatriate in an Asian country - I envy people who have that opportunity!

Shouldn't have dropped out of university!!!

We'll figure it, one way or the other.

dgruzew May 20th, 2004 12:25 PM

Go back to school - never to late

dsgtc0408 May 21st, 2004 03:54 AM

Here's an angle for you: what if you went to Singapore to pick up on those University courses you flunked - perhaps you can restart your schooling here?

Keep in mind that I am not talking about the "real" universities here (National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University or Singapore Management University), instead I am talking about institutions such as Singapore Institute of Management, Management Development Institute of Singapore, etc that represent foreign universities here. Check out their websites - they are actively looking for foreign students and are geared to take them in (although normally the students are Asians, not Caucasians)! While you are here you can figure out who might be worth working for, then look for a job once you have earned your degree. (In the past it was possible to arrive in Singapore as a tourist, look for a job, and if an employer was willing to hire the foreigner for an Employment Pass level position - NOT a work permit - Immigration would consider converting the applicant's visa status without the person having to leave Singapore for the visa to be processed in the applicant's home country. Whether or not Manpower Ministry has the same attitude I don't know.)

Note that on visas: non-employment visas are issued by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), while any type of employment visa would be issued by the Ministry of Manpower (just like a government to make things complicated).

For details on student passes, you need to check the Singapore Government website for ICA. For more info on whether or not a student on a student pass can legally work, check the website for Ministry of Manpower. This is also the place to check on the fine differences between an Employment Pass, 'S' Pass and Work Permit.

BTW: what's your nationality?

marc_rich May 21st, 2004 04:02 AM

Thanks, dsgtc0408. I will certainly look into the aforementioned schools.

I am Canadian.

JamesA May 21st, 2004 08:56 AM

Actually that's a real good idea, it depends if you/family have the funds.
You could also look at Webster's University and the Stamford University, they are both in Hua hin in Thailand ( a few hours south of Bangkok on the beach ), they are off-shoots of American Universites and apparently the Degrees are Valid in USA, so that way you get a Degree at the same time mixing with students from all over Asia and you can enjoy being in Thailand, just search for Websters University and Stamford University in Hua Hin Thailand. I don't think they would be 'too' costly as they get a lot of students from Sri Lanka and other regional countries. No harm in contacting them and see what they say.

orgy7 May 21st, 2004 08:34 PM

there is always a way.... trust me many forigners who work in thailand and asia don't have a collage degree. SO how can the get jobs teaching etc.

the answer is.. fake diplomas. which are sold in khoh San (sp) rd, bangkok..

I've never bought one but have read about many who have and one got a job in a korean teaching sckool with that fake piece of paper.

travaling and living somewhere are a whole diffrent animal.. everthing is great when your staying in a nice hotel with a fist full of money for 2 weeks., but living is living.

I have chosen too take the plung and stay in asia for a long while, but thank God I have financial help

a great way too find info on living in asia is just typing expat singapore into search engine.
there are dozons of expat sites for thailand since it is a hub for forigners who just said screw it too thier home country. I am one and can tell you it's not all roses my fraind...

getting an education in asia seems like a great idea..

the least you can do is spend a month or so in asia too get a better feel before going all the way.

marc_rich May 21st, 2004 10:06 PM

Orgy7: You're absolutely right - I loved Thailand, but I think it's a very challenging country to live in and takes some guts...that's why I am interested in Singapore; it just doesn't seem to be as much a challenge as other places - I think it's easier for a Westerner to settle in in a country like that (IMHO).

Fake diplomas make me feel uncomfortable...I am just too law-abiding for these kind of things.

Kathie May 22nd, 2004 07:25 AM

The fake diplomas wouldn't fool many people - especially someone hiring for a financial services job. The fake diplomas are mostly used by people without the appropriate education or certification to teach English in poor countries. I find that very sad, as the people who really get cheated are the children or adults paying to learn English.

Marky_from_Oz May 22nd, 2004 02:25 PM

There is a Singapore branch of the French (but internationally recognized) Business School INSEAD. However, I cannot imagine that it is cheap! Living in Asia is a challenge,but that's part of the fun!

Good luck to you.

marc_rich May 22nd, 2004 04:00 PM

Fake diplomas sound dubious.

Marky_from_Oz: thanks, I am sure it's a challenge, but it's worth it, hopefully.

Neil_Oz May 22nd, 2004 07:44 PM

Kathie - as I'm sure you'd agree, unfortunately a college diploma is not a reliable indicator that its owner has either a talent for teaching or for that matter a good grasp of the English language. I've spent too many wasted hours correcting the atrocious, in some cases incomprehensible, English of some of my graduate staff. (You may well ask how they got that piece of paper in the first place. I'd like to know too.)

An English language teaching certificate such as the Cambridge CELTA qualification (an intensive 4-week course) is another matter.

So I'm not convinced that Asian students are necessarily short-changed if their teacher doesn't have a degree. My understanding is that they'll usually fare worse if they learn from local teachers who themselves often have only the most tenuous grasp of English.

Of course a degree, all else being equal, has value, and a degree + teaching certificate is ideal. But I think the problem facing China in particular is that the demand for English teachers is so insatiable that a reasonable teacher minus degree is much better than no teacher at all - and may even turn out to be a better teacher than some graduates.

Kathie May 23rd, 2004 08:03 AM

Neil, I would certainly agree that having a college diploma is no guarantee of competence. But if you're just looking at probabilities, a person who has an earned degree is more likely to have competencies in their area than someone who does not.

Most of the "degrees" sold are KSR are not actually college diplomas, but are certificates for teaching English as a foreign language.

My reaction was to orgy's suggestion that Marc just buy a degree and could then get a job. (Marc said he didn't like the idea, above) There are reputable places that will hire people without degrees or certificates to teach English. Their only requirement is that someone be a native English speaker. Of course, most of those posts are in rural areas of China and would not fulfill Marc's dream of living in Singapore. I admit that I am reactive to the notion that it's ok to get a job with fake credentials because the people looking at your credentials may be wowed by a fancy certificate.

Cicerone May 24th, 2004 03:42 AM

A university degree will definitely make you more employable, and will get you a better paying job, but I would not give up hope entirely. I lived in Singapore for 5 years and knew several people (mostly from the UK and New Zealand) without university degrees who were able to obtain jobs and work in Singapore. A lot depends on how willing your employer is to sponsor you, and whether he can make the case that your skills are specialized enough that a Singaporean could not fulfil them. Generally, without a university degree, this argument is harder to make, but not impossible.

If you are willing to take a local pay package, you would be somewhat attractive to an employer.
However, remember that Singapore is quite expensive to live in in terms of housing expenses, and you would also need to determine your tax status, health insurance status and social security status. You would not qualify for public housing in Singapore, and may find it difficult to live on a local salary. It is virtually impossible to work illegally or off the books in Singapore, although there are other countries where this is possible (see below).

As you are a Canadian citizen, this may make a big difference in your ability to live and work in Singapore. Canada and Singapore are both members of the Commonwealth of nations, made up almost entirely of former British colonies. For member nations, the rules regarding tourist visas are sometimes eliminated or greatly reduced. In addition, some Commonwealth nations offer citizens of their fellow member nations the right to work with reduced requirements regarding work permits. You would need to check what Singapore's requirements would be for Commonwealth citizens who want to live or work there

As a Commonwealth citizen, there are a number of other countries which may be easily accessible to you for employment, many of which are warm and sunny. Australia and New Zealand leap to mind, as do the British Virgin Islands. All three are English-speaking. It would be somewhat easy for you to obtain work in any of thee three, as you can get casual labour in the tourist industry and/or work "off the books", esp. in Australia and New Zealand. I even know US citizens who have worked off the books in Australia.

I would think that living and working in Commonwealth countries would be a pretty hot topic among your friends, at least it always was for my UK, New Zealand and Australian friends when I was younger. Ask around, and you will probably hear experiences form other Canadians who have spent a few years living or working in other Commonwealth nations. I am guessing that there are even books written on the subject, try a web search or your local bookstore. Several places to start your research would be:

1. Commonwealth of Nations -

2. Embassy of Singapore in Canada:

3. Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs -

4. Australian Embassy in Canada:

I agree with the above posters that going back to school is a good idea. However, I would not consider going in Singapore itself, as it would be quite expensive. NUS (the National University of Singapore) and the other universities are very difficult to get into, many Singaporeans themselves are not accepted (they go to school in Canada instead!) I would stick to a good school in Canada. (Just to clarify a point, INSEAD mentioned above, is a graduate business school, and does not offer programs to undergraduates.)

If you are interested in hotel school, Singapore does have a well-regarded school, called SHATEC (Singapore Hotel Association Training and Education Centre). However entry is quite competitive and Singaporeans would probably be given preference. Take a look at or

Take a look at Overseas Digest ( which has a section on teaching overseas. The site has lots of information, links and contacts about teaching and living overseas.

There are many websites that have information and tips on expat life. Try the following titles for searches:

You could also consider volunteer work in various SE Asia countries. Places to start would be:

United Nations Volunteer Program at
Oxfam International at
Habitat for Humanity

marc_rich May 24th, 2004 11:40 AM

Cicerone - thanks so much for the input, haven't had an opportunity to log in recently, but that's some great information there which I will certainly look into. Thanks to all other members too who contributed with their input.

Neil_Oz May 24th, 2004 02:16 PM

Kathie, I think we're in violent agreement, and I agree with your balance-of-probabilities argument. But marc_rich may not like the idea of working in China anyway. It's certainly more challenging than some of Cicerone's options.

There are definitely large numbers of backpackers working in Australia "off the books", mostly in casual and lower-paid positions such as waiting and telemarketing. As a rule and up to a point I don't think the Immigration Department pursues them too vigorously, as they're a handy resource for the tourist industry in some places.

May not be relevant to marc_rich, but there used to be a thing called an "ancestry visa" which allowed a Commonwealth citizen with a British-born parent or grandparent to work in Britain under less stringent conditions than usually apply (firm travel plans and some money in the bank are required). Someone told me that this privilege had been withdrawn, but I'm not sure if that's the case or not. Britain though doesn't meet the warm-weather test.

marc_rich May 24th, 2004 03:42 PM

Britain - nice country, but in many ways exactly what I am trying to get away from. I was actually looking for the "Asian experience" - I really like the people in general and the region just attracts me, that's all.

Australia is like Canada, just warmer, but there's no place like East/SE Asia.

Also, I don't have any British ancestors - they are all from Eastern Europe!!

dsgtc0408 May 25th, 2004 11:57 PM

I asked you the question about what your nationality is because it would make a difference to the sorts of college/university you might end up choosing. So some questions that come to mind:

a) Coming from Canada, if you chose to come to Singapore to continue your degree, presumably attending an American or Canadian university that holds classes here would make the most sense - however take note that many of the universities that operate here through agents are either Australian or British. So a question is what an employer in Canada would find acceptable? To my knowledge there are no Canadian universities represented here; there are some American universities that are second tier; the best I can think of is University of Buffalo (former SUNY Buffalo) with a Bachelors in Business Adminstration. (Perhaps the Canadian High Comm here in Singapore knows more?)

b) Cost: I think that most of the foreign universities represented here charge fairly high tuition. You need to see if the budget permits.

c) Would one of the universities operating here accept any of your prior University/college classes for transfer credit?

For further info on what Sing Government wants, there is a Singapore Consulate in Vancouver (oddly enough, no Sing High Commission in Ottawa).

I'm starting to think it might not be easy to go to University here, but keep plugging!

Cicerone May 26th, 2004 03:40 AM

Marc, with all due respect to Canada, if you think Australia is just like Canada, you need to make another trip to Australia! IMO, Australia is what California would be like if Californians did not take themselves so seriously. . . .much as I loved living in Singapore and Hong Kong, if I could get a good job in Sydney I would be on the next plane.

marc_rich May 26th, 2004 12:14 PM

dsgtc0408: thanks for the info - I have it some thought - but in fiscal terms, university seemed expensive enough here home, let alone abroad. I wouldn't be able to afford tuition in Singapore, there's simply no way.

Cicerone - sorry if I sounded a bit ignorant, but that was just my impression of Australia. Have you even been to Canada? Both countries are big enough to be continents, have five-six cities where 80%+ of the population lives, both are British bastards with HM still in charge (strictly as a symbol) and both seem to be remote. Finally, both are English-speaking and were built by immigrants from all over the world.

A simplistic view, but that was just my impression. I would welcome an opportunity to go to Australia and prove myself wrong.

orgy7 May 26th, 2004 09:02 PM

Look man, Im a late late twenty year old guy. and I can sence you got the itch too get OUT. My advice is do it. take a leave of absence or quit that job, come on over for as long as you can. and scratch that itch.... Hopefully you'll get some thinking done and return home ready too start you life on sure footing.

Everyone will think your nuts. but ignore them. why live a miserable unsure life.. When your on this side of the globe you'll meet plenty of like minded people who will understand exactly what your going threw.
thats enough for the pasotive stuff. depending on where you choose too stay life may be too expensive like SINgapore hong kong... or it may be a bit hard core. like Manila and Bangkok... Money does make life more confortable and the old looney gets you more in BKK, KL, and other cities.

marc_rich May 27th, 2004 04:54 AM

Orgy7: Amen.

You pretty much nailed it. I just want to have enough funds so I am comfortable enough and can survive for a certain period of time.

marc_rich May 27th, 2004 10:56 AM

Orgy7: you're in BKK, aren't you?

bonesaz May 27th, 2004 03:51 PM

Tons of foreigners work in SG without benefit of a college degree. They just happen to be dirt poor Filipinas and Indonesians working as hotel maids and household servants. Maybe try and hook up with a few people on some of the aforementioned ex-pat websites and ask people how they got their jobs. Good luck.

orgy7 May 27th, 2004 05:51 PM

Marc. yep im in bkk. and I can help you with some questions if you choose bkk. for instance it is possible too find apartments for $50 dollars a month but you get just a bed a maybe a squat toilet.

of course many forigners who are short on cash. tend too move down too Pattaya..

Many guys I know. work three too 6 months a year and retturn too thailand for the remaining part of the year..

But like a said Kuala lampore is a good place. and Manila may be easy too live since it is very Americanized in terms of language..

Many of those Filapino ladies you see milling around Orchard street malls are actually part of the murchendize... I guess what ever money they get doing housework is just not enought too live in Singapore and send money back home.

marc_rich May 27th, 2004 07:03 PM

Orgy7: I might have a few questions - is there an e-mail so that I don't clog the travel forum?

Much thanks,


marc_rich May 27th, 2004 07:19 PM

orgy7: my e-mail is [email protected] in case you don't feel very comfortable disclosing your e-mail out in the open, so you contact me at that e-mail and let me know your e-mail; there are a few things I want to discuss privately.


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 09:44 AM.