Singapore Beckons - Exclusive relocation tips

Regardless of the high cost of living, Singapore is fast becoming one of the most attractive expat destinations for more reasons than one. The quality of life, safe living environment, excellent healthcare, schooling and accommodation facilities, plentiful job opportunities and a low tax system are some of the prime factors that are attracting foreign professionals and entrepreneurs to its sunny shores
By Ananya Mukherjee

With its expatriate talent earning the highest income in the world as compared to their counterparts, Singapore is the world’s third wealth hot-spot among 24 other countries today. According to the findings of HSBC’s The Expat Explorer Survey, the island country ranks seventh for the proportion of expats with a disposable income of over US$3,000 and 13th for luxuries owned by expats including items such as property,
domestic help, cars and boats, holidays, health-care and swimming pools. What is it in Singapore that draws foreign talent to leave their home shores and seek a new life here?

Issues like government and business efficiency, along with conducive living conditions make Singapore a prime destination for relocation among the highly-skilled expatriate talent pool, according to industry gurus and human resource experts. Moreover, the country is well known to have immigration laws that are not restrictive. In contrast to greener pastures in the west, it is not difficult to get a work visa and to incorporate a business in Singapore. Also, in terms of quality of life, surveys and research consistently reveal high scores for Singapore.

Of course, over and above all these, there is a very strong financial dimension to this growing trend. One of the most obvious reasons behind the rising numbers of expatriates is the local tax system. Singapore imposes one of the least rates of personal and corporate income tax in the world. The rates range from a minimum of zero to a maximum of 21% and non-residents are taxed differently from residents. This enables the expatriate talent to retain a large proportion of their income. Sixty-one per cent of the expats surveyed think that they have more disposable income than they would have had they been living in their country of origin.

So the most pertinent question that naturally comes to mind is: what does an expat look for when relocating to Singapore?

The relocation check list

Most expats are concerned about the process of entry into a country and ease of settling into their new living situation. They don’t want to be bothered with excessive paperwork to obtain a visa, housing, or face hiccups in getting their children enrolledin schools. This is where Singapore scores real high. “Singapore is very user friendly for expats because the systems are designed with expats in mind,” Brent
Ruge, Head of Employee Surveys-South East Asia at Towers Watson Singapore observes.

Ruge, who is an American expat himself has lived and worked in other countries like Saudi Arabia as well. Therefore, he understands the story from both the perspectives, that of an expat employee and an employer. From a far, he feels, expats are also concerned with safety and overall accessibility. “If someone is considering employment in a country in which he or she has never visited, considerations such as crime rates, language, and social harmony would rank high. Singapore gets high marks in all of these areas.”

Thus, quality of life, convenience and efficiency of the system, safety of the place, schooling, housing and medical facilities, social environment and infrastructure, and diversity of culture and food would be factors that an expat would consider when he/ she relocates, be it to Singapore or anywhere, corroborates Pauline Tay, former Vice President, human resources for Asia Pacific, Hilton worldwide. In interviewing an expat who relocated to Singapore from France not too long ago she says, his top three priorities were convenience and efficiency of the system (how fast things get done), ease to travel and diversity of culture and food.

Making them feel at home

Needless to say, HR strongly agrees that a happy expatriate is a productive talent and therefore, the process of orientation and supportive inclusion in a new workplace is of utmost importance.

To begin with, the organisation needs to create an enabling eco system of success by structuring the role well, being clear about expectations, benchmarking compensation and benefi ts package with the market to be competitive, says Pushp Deep Gupta, Head of Asian Leadership Centre, Korn Ferry International.

In addition, organisations can help their expats by easing their initial entry into the country. “If they arrange visas, help with schools, and provide assistance with finding a home, the biggest obstacles will be cleared for the challenging first few weeks in a new country,” suggests Ruge.

For example, Tay’s former workplace, provides them with a “look-and-feel” trip before they relocate. “We also hire a 3rd party vendor who specialises in destination services to orientate them when they arrive for their ‘look-and-see’ trip. In addition, we spend time with them briefing them on what it means to live and work here and answer as many questions as they have on their relocation.” Tay feels that there is definitely a positive Return of Investment or ROI when a talent is received with warmth and given a feel-at-home welcome.

“We try to first make sure people are satisfi ed with the career and standard of living. This includes salary and compensation packages that are competitive as well as providing guidance and support in fi nding a house or apartment. From there, are goal is make sure people get connected and enjoy themselves outside of work. Our office is about 50% expats and they help each other get introduced to clubs, groups, sports teams, etc to help them adjust to life in Singapore,” says Joseph Latteri, Recruitment Director- Asia, Meltwater Group.

For an expat to be productive, the needs of the family must be addressed in managing their relocation, Tay maintains. For example, if the spouse or children are not happy because things are not working efficiently or if there is an inconvenience caused by bureaucracy or if they do not feel safe or like the environment or the food, the expat would not be able to get the support that is needed in order to do his/her job well. Can it be measured? “This is something which is diffi cult to measure. I suppose if the expat does not need to take much time off to sort domestic issues out that is a good indication of how well the relocation has been managed as a lot of times,” Tay adds. The success of the assignment of an expat depends on how comfortable and happy the family is feeling after the relocation.

Getting them settled with some help

It is how well the relocation is handled that ultimately determines how well an assignment will go. If the expat feels that he/she and his/her family
has been well and fairly treated and taken care of, he is very likely to be successful with his assignment and the in the end it is a win-win situation for the expat and the company. Likewise, when the expat feels vice-versa, he/she would not be able to perform well whilst on assignment and in the end it is a no-win situation for both him/her and the company as he would be unhappy and the company would not be able to reap the benefits of what they would have expected out of the assignment and all the relocation costs incurred would have not been worthwhile. “I had an expat in the past who was a very good Solution Sales Director. As his spouse was not happy here, he had to cut short his assignment and return to the US with the family,” Tay recalls.

Usually companies will have a HR advisor or outsource to a relocation company to assist and support expats whenever they have any questions or seek any help for such personal requirements. “Spousal support is fairly important – if the wives or girlfriends are happy, chances are things will work out well,” says Tricia Lim, Director, Lotus Relocation. Her company provides spousal support by creating some activities such as outings or small group discussions, a morning coffee session or spouses to get together and make more friends. “They can also contribute their
time to charity organisation which can be easily found through their community club,” Lim adds.

Relocation Prerequisites: Top of the Chart
A pivotal role in the organisation which offers regional opportunities
• Lifestyle which is enabled by state of the art infrastructure
• Family conducive environment including international schooling
• Low taxes
• Social safety and security
• Accessibility in terms of language (English should be widely spoken and understood both in business and daily life)

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