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Dismayed With Singapore Salaries

Discuss about getting a well paid job or career advancement. Ask about salaries, expat packages, CPF & taxes for expatriate.

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breakfastforthebestfood
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Dismayed With Singapore Salaries

Postby breakfastforthebestfood » Wed, 22 Feb 2012 10:20 am

I've worked for a defense contractor in the greater Boston area as a test engineer (electronic assemblies, digital/RF) for a little over 5 years. My wife is a Singapore citizen and recently returned to Singapore to find employment since her field has a higher demand and value there. The plan was for her to establish herself there and for me to follow, but I haven't had even a hint of interest in my resume. I think that my current salary may be twice what a Singapore employer would normally pay for an engineer, and that could be impacting my chances to secure employment.

I have a BSEE and a graduate certificate in systems engineering, with work experience ranging from automated functional test development and support (hardware and software) to writing procedures. It looks like this type of position normally pays 3-5k in Singapore. Is this really all I can expect? It's a bit hard for me to swallow that I would have to take a 50% pay cut in order for my wife and I to live near her family. My frustration is compounded by the fact that the cost of living for a similar lifestyle would easily cost us double what it does here on the US east coast.

Maybe I'm just looking in all the wrong places, so any advice would be appreciated. Also, would it aid my job search if I were to travel to Singapore first and file all of the appropriate forms for PR status? I was hoping to line up a trip with some solid leads and maybe an interview or two.

Another thought was to find a job here in the US which would post me to Singapore, but I haven't had success in identifying any. Anyone have the contact for a recruiter here in the US that deals wit this type of placement?

This is my first post here, so I hope it didn't seem to ramble on too much. On a side note, SE Asia has the best food in the world... but I'll miss American breakfast.

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Postby olivia242 » Wed, 22 Feb 2012 11:56 am

You raise some interesting points and I can see some similarities between the choices you have made and the ones I have.

I think one of the major problems that you will face is that you are just not in Singapore. Employers have a wide selection of candidates already here so they will not really consider you unless you have something really special to offer. Furthermore, if you are looking to work in defence then you will find it very difficult because I believe that companies will look for Singapore citizens for security reasons.

Your post does not say if you have a PR. Given that your wife is Singaporean, you should consider applying for one because that will improve your chances of employment as the employer does not need to apply for employment passes for you. It also gives you flexibility to move around.

The best advice I can give to you is to be in Singapore and that should increase your chances but I warn you, be prepared for an arduous journey of sending out a million CVs with very little response. It's a very competitive market at the moment so it will not be easy.

In terms of salary, you have to change your expectations because you cannot do like-for-like currency conversions. Although in some respects, the cost of living is very high, others it isn't. For instance, you can eat a wide variety of local food here in Singapore for very little money. At this stage, you should focus more on being with your wife, getting a job and then worry about salary.

I wish you luck.

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Postby zzm9980 » Wed, 22 Feb 2012 11:56 am

I can agree with most of your points. Expect to earn 30-50% less here. I took a large paycut, and this is with an American MNC's operations in Singapore.
Also consider that for everyone except Americans, your tax burden is significantly lower in Singapore. For Americans, the first US $95k you EARN (not investment income, etc) in Singapore you don't pay taxes on.

Now, the only reason why Singapore is so expensive for you is because you're trying to live your western lifestyle in Singapore. That's expensive. If you live like a local, prices will be much cheaper. Locals don't live in $6k/month rented condos, they buy subsidized HDB units. They don't send their kids to $20-40k/year International Schools. They use local schools. Most shop in the wet markets and NTUC, not Cold Storage and other expat super markets. Etc. It's still pricey, but I live a hybrid western/local lifestyle (helps that the wife is Vietnamese) and my cost of living is less than it was in California. We eat out a lot (my western pallet requires it), but she also cooks at home and we use the hawker centers too. We rent an HDB unit, but right next to the beach (~$2600/month). We're not paying ridiculous condo rent, but still have easy access to all kinds of recreational amenities.


As for advise to find a job? I just targeted MNC's job postings and searched for "Singapore". Make it clear you're not seeking an expat allowance package in the cover letter (unless you are, then good luck), and you should find that the larger the company the less they care where you're located. Other than that, it's just like applying for any MNC. If they're willing to relocate, they generally don't care if you're across the state or the ocean.

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Postby zzm9980 » Wed, 22 Feb 2012 12:00 pm

Oh, and you're screwed for breakfast. I go to McDonalds for pancakes, and Starbucks for oatmeal. I cook eggs and frozen hash browns at home.

I've learned to tolerate (and almost enjoy!) runny soft boiled eggs with soy sauce.

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Postby olivia242 » Wed, 22 Feb 2012 12:25 pm

zzm9980 wrote:Oh, and you're screwed for breakfast. I go to McDonalds for pancakes, and Starbucks for oatmeal. I cook eggs and frozen hash browns at home.

I've learned to tolerate (and almost enjoy!) runny soft boiled eggs with soy sauce.


He's right... you are screwed for breakfast. The runny eggs do start to grow on you after a while. You especially have to love the fact that they give you the egg straight away and then you wait 5 minutes for the toast.

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Postby ecureilx » Wed, 22 Feb 2012 1:01 pm

breakfastforthebestfood: Defense related jobs, as per the Singapore GLCs, are only open to Singaporeans.

However, if you do some search, you will know that one too many of the American companies do have some presence or other, supporting various regional projects. A bit of googling will enlighten you a lot.

You may stand a better chance of going that way, to leverage on your security clearence.

For others, the pay offer you got is about Good !!!

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Postby breakfastforthebestfood » Thu, 23 Feb 2012 8:50 am

Thanks for the replies and encouragement. I'll just have to swallow my pride and start asking for less. It isn't really practical for me to move yet without a job offer since my wife isn't yet earning enough to pay for an apartment, though I expect that later this year she'll have enough client hours to cover the basics.

I wouldn't consider working for a Singapore government contractor even if they allowed it since it would impact my ability to work for an American contractor in the future, and I hate to burn bridges. Defense contractors are known for very strict quality practices though, and it may help in certain fields like medical instruments.

When applying for jobs which list a salary range, will it automatically disqualify me to state higher for expected salary? Most of the time companies tend to use expected salary as a "not to exceed" point for negotiations, so I'd hate to put too low.

I understand that as a PR 20% of my gross would go into a CPF, with a 15% match from the employer. If not paying into a CPF is it typical to negotiate 15% higher? 20% of the top would really hit my take home though so would it be better to start off with something like a dependent pass? Or isn't that an option. My wife doesn't hold a salaried position, and likely never will in her field. Currently, her earnings are below the $2800 threshold, but should break 10k/m by the end of the year.

And one more reason to stress out... I just read several long threads on gaining PR through a citizen. I had no idea it would take so long or be so complicated. Can anyone suggest the best way to go about it with me residing in the US and my wife currently residing in Singapore?

Regarding breakfast, my wife tells me I cook perfect half boiled eggs...but I won't touch them. I plan to do a lot of cooking when I reach Singapore, if only for breakfast! Good thing I learned how to cook.

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Postby Tigerslayer » Thu, 23 Feb 2012 9:58 am

I understand that as a PR 20% of my gross would go into a CPF, with a 15% match from the employer. If not paying into a CPF is it typical to negotiate 15% higher?


When you first become a PR the CPF can be a reduced version and may only go up to the full 20% after three years if I am not wrong.

As for negotiating CPF into salary when not obligated to pay it... I have never seen this be successful but you can try.

You can check here for graduated rates of CPF:-

http://mycpf.cpf.gov.sg/Employers/Gen-Info/cpf-Contri/Con-Rates-SPR.htm

Would it be better to start off with something like a dependent pass? Or isn't that an option


Based on my understanding for you this is not an option if your spouse is a Singapore citizen. DP is for dependants of foreign EP holders Q1 and above.

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Postby ecureilx » Thu, 23 Feb 2012 10:45 am

Tigerslayer wrote:
I understand that as a PR 20% of my gross would go into a CPF, with a 15% match from the employer. If not paying into a CPF is it typical to negotiate 15% higher?


When you first become a PR the CPF can be a reduced version and may only go up to the full 20% after three years if I am not wrong.

As for negotiating CPF into salary when not obligated to pay it... I have never seen this be successful but you can try.

You can check here for graduated rates of CPF:-

http://mycpf.cpf.gov.sg/Employers/Gen-Info/cpf-Contri/Con-Rates-SPR.htm

Would it be better to start off with something like a dependent pass? Or isn't that an option


Based on my understanding for you this is not an option if your spouse is a Singapore citizen. DP is for dependants of foreign EP holders Q1 and above.


it was discussed in another thread, about the merits and not, of leveraging on CPF !!!

The 15%, whether it can be used to leverage higher pay or not, is totally on a case by case basis. As discussed in another thread, larger companies tend to factor in the 15% and are not loath to giving it as 'additional pay', while smaller companies consider the 15% as a cost, and may gleefully be happy not to mention it, and any mention of the 15%, normally doesn't evoke good responses. That's from my experience though.

At my current place, as I said before, they give the 15% as additional pay, on top of the negotiated pay, with the direct agreement that upon obtaining PR, the deduction will be in full, unlike the sliding scale for new PRs. And there is no compulsion for anybody to strictly follow the sliding scale.

In effect, when you get PR, you sort of forego the 20% of your pay, plus the 15% you used to get, and that takes out a total of 35% - but, hey, our HR says, "we warned you - that it is our company policy .. "

Now the 15% again ? Smaller / SME companies indirectly imply that they prefer to employ foreigners, as they save the 15%, which is being slowly controlled by the government with increasing levies for S Pass holders and all.

And when you mention that you are getting 20% deducted from your basic, and if you try to negotiate, the prompt answer will be "yeah, but it is YOUR SAVING, it is not like the company is taking that money away from you" ..

And it all depends on how important and valuable you are, when it comes to fixing extra terms ! Some do succeed

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Postby zzm9980 » Thu, 23 Feb 2012 11:28 am

In effect, when you get PR, you sort of forego the 20% of your pay, plus the 15% you used to get, and that takes out a total of 35%


You lose 20% pre-tax, but wind up with 35% pre-tax in a savings account. You can the use "most" of that directly towards a mortgage payment. It's a pretty good deal overall if you plan to stay here long term. (If you don't then why would you apply for PR? :???: )

Also, it's only against the first 4500/month you earn, and I think the company portion is 17 or 18% now.

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Postby zzm9980 » Thu, 23 Feb 2012 11:29 am

Hey OP, I have an idea. Apply for an Entrepreneurial pass and open an American Diner that serves breakfast 24hr a day. I pledge to visit at least three times a week. :D

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Postby Mi Amigo » Thu, 23 Feb 2012 2:01 pm

You know what, that would probably be a huge success. Maybe have 'proper' burgers in the evenings too?
Be careful what you wish for

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Postby Mi Amigo » Thu, 23 Feb 2012 2:08 pm

I still miss this place:

http://marieletseat.blogspot.com/2010/0 ... ta-ga.html

sorry to drag the conversation further off-topic. Now I have a craving for a decent burger...
Be careful what you wish for

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Postby sweetgazebo » Thu, 23 Feb 2012 3:26 pm

Aren't American burgers supposed to massive? :P

I love them massive burgers. Ain't been to the US yet but am sure there's a mama burger somewhere out there.


Mi Amigo wrote:I still miss this place:

http://marieletseat.blogspot.com/2010/0 ... ta-ga.html

sorry to drag the conversation further off-topic. Now I have a craving for a decent burger...

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Postby nakatago » Thu, 23 Feb 2012 3:35 pm

sweetgazebo wrote:Aren't American burgers supposed to massive? :P

I love them massive burgers. Ain't been to the US yet but am sure there's a mama burger somewhere out there.


Mi Amigo wrote:I still miss this place:

http://marieletseat.blogspot.com/2010/0 ... ta-ga.html

sorry to drag the conversation further off-topic. Now I have a craving for a decent burger...


From a burger joint in the Philippines:

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_1rJAGY7dCXE/SwRVK3YFiCI/AAAAAAAAAbM/8cx5GOX2T0E/s1600/IMG_2705.JPG

(Yeah, I know that I didn't embed the photo.)


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