FBC Secretary Waltter Kulvik blogs “Moving on, but staying put”

Moving on, but staying put

To a large number of us the ‘traditional’ expat experience means a change of country and scenery every few years. Upon landing in Singapore many of us have the expectation that this will be no different. We are surprised when we ask other expats how long they have been here and receive a response that to the nomadic expat seems like an eternity.

As many of us have discovered, Singapore becomes our home, we realize we have been here far longer than one ever expected and the answer to friends and family asking when you’ll be moving back changes from “were thinking about the right time” to something closer to retirement planning.

In light of this, rather than moving countries, whether it is so we can stay in Singapore or simply to pursue a better opportunity, some of us change jobs in Singapore.

While the process of finding that new exciting role is not really that different from other places, unless you’ve become a Permanent Resident, the process of changing jobs itself is associated with a few things that can catch you out.

First of all, while we all love the simplicity of the Singapore tax system, it is important to remember that taxes here are paid in arrears rather than taken from your monthly paycheck. Upon handing your notice your employer will inform IRAS, who in turn will immediately crystallize all of the taxes you currently owe, plus all of the taxes due on your income up until the last date of your employment in the role you have just resigned from.

IRAS will also instruct your employer to withhold your pay from that date forward and to have the employer pay total to IRAS to settle your taxes (unless you pay it to IRAS directly before then). As such it is important to be aware that, unlike ‘back home’, your salary may not be going into your account for a little while and you may still have extra to pay. It is also worth noting that IRAS may impose a travel ban on you up until your taxes are cleared. If you intend to travel in between jobs, to avoid an embarrassing situation at Changi, make sure you’ve checked with your employer and IRAS (remember this is Singapore, you can actually call IRAS and get answers and guidance extremely efficiently, I recommend doing it, if only for the experience of discovering that dealing with the tax authorities doesn’t have to be complicated, difficult or painful).

So you’ve cleared your taxes, phew big sigh of relief and your all done right? Not quite, but this is Singapore so its all pretty efficient.  On the last day of work your old employer will cancel your employment pass (and any dependent passes attached to it). Your new employer will need to apply for your new employment pass and dependent passes and in between you have a 30 day short stay visa. If your a member of a regulated profession (accountants, bankers, lawyers etc.) you will also need to clear the move with the relevant authorities and depending on the profession you may not be able to apply for the employment pass until this is done. Before the approvals and permits come through you will not be able to start your new job. The best advice is to ensure all of your documents are in order and up to date to make the process as simple as possible for all involved and to have a contingency if it takes a little longer than you expected.

If you are prepared and know what is coming, changing jobs in Singapore is a pretty painless process. The main downside might be that you can’t start that new opportunity immediately, but that might just give you some more time to kick your feet up and catch up on Netflix or go sit on a beach in Thailand to read the Finnish papers in February and wonder if Thailand might after all offer a better climate for retirement than ‘back home’…

Waltter Kulvik,
Ashurst LLP, partner.
FBC Secretary