Singapore for Grads and the Working Holiday Pass

A few people have asked me about the job market in Singapore, and/or my first-hand experience with Singapore’s Working Holiday Programme. So I’ve written this post for anyone who may be thinking about moving to Singapore to find work, especially new graduates, or anyone who is interested in applying for the Working Holiday Pass (WHP).

Updated Oct 2015: Updated visa cost, eligible age and countries, and MOM website links.

The first thing to know is, in terms of finding work, Singapore is not like the rest of Asia. By that I mean it is not full of 20-somethings taking an easy break in another country, usually earning their keep by teaching English. For one, everyone already speaks English here, so native English teachers are not as prized or sought out as they would be in, say, China.

The bottom line is this, and it’s important so I’m saying it first:

Singapore is not entry-level friendly.

Buddha’s Tooth Temple in Chinatown

It’s a work pass issue. There are various types of work passes, but almost every one of them requires you to be sponsored and brought in by a company. You can’t really just show up and try to sort out a work pass after your arrival.

Singapore’s main sectors are banking, IT, law, marketing/communication, and construction. Even if you’re in that field, you need a few years of experience before a company will consider hiring/sending you overseas — it’s an investment on their part, and they’re not going to risk it on a fresh green banker or law graduate.

(For this reason, the majority of expats in Singapore are in their late 20s-50s. I rarely met any expats my age; almost everyone in my social circle was in their 30s.)

It makes sense when you think about it: the country is small and the international talent pool is large. If you can afford to be picky, then of course take the more experienced IT guy over the newbie who’s only worked for six months.

Marina Bay

Also, foreigners already make up at least 30% of the population of Singapore [Depending on your source, it’s anywhere from 25-40%, but 1 out of 3 seems to be a general consensus]. This is often a point of contention for Singaporeans, especially come election time, so the government has really cracked down on how many foreigners they let in, how many each company is allowed to sponsor, etc.

So, you still want to move to Singapore.

There is a visa option for students/recent graduates between the ages of 17-30 18-25 (as of Oct 2015): the Working Holiday Pass (WHP).

It doesn’t seem to be very well-known, but that might be because of the job market reasons I listed above. This isn’t like, say, Australia, where you can get a working holiday visa and work in a bar or a hostel for six months.

Be warned, almost all entry-level or ‘hospitality’ jobs like server, bartender, etc. are still only available to Singaporeans, Malaysians, or Permanent Residents (PR). Don’t be surprised to find most job listings end with “Singaporean or PR only.”

The WHP allows you to stay in Singapore for up to six months. You have to be a student from Australia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Kingdom, or the United States. Unlike the other work passes, the WHP does not have a minimum salary requirement. You can work any job, as long as there are no accreditation prerequisites (like in medicine or law).

It’s great to feel legit

Applying for the WHP is simple and done mostly via email. The application process is listed here* — just fill out the application form, email it to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), and attach soft copies of the three required documents (bear in mind, the first one will require you to contact your college/university’s registrar’s office).

Once you have sent your application, the MOM will review it and email back their decision (their site says it takes 21 days to process, but mine came back in six).

If you have been approved for a WHP, the email will have an “In-principle Approval Letter” attached. From that date you have three months to pick up your WHP. This time period is important because the six-month validity of your WHP begins from the day you pick up your WHP, not the day you receive your approval letter.

(A bit of advice from personal experience: If you don’t have a job yet, stay on your social visit visa until you find one. Then pick up your WHP, thereby not wasting any of those six months.)

When you decide to collect your WHP, first schedule an e-appointment at the Employment Pass Services Centre (EPSC). On appointment day, take your in-principle approval letter, passport, at least two passport photos, and a couple other forms that will be listed and attached to the approval letter, to the EPSC (Google Map).

It will be a painless process once you get there: turn over the papers, scan your fingerprints, pay S$120 $150 (as of Oct 2015), then return a few days later to pick up your flashy new WHP. Voila, you are now legally allowed to work in Singapore!**

(Sidenote: This place has the smoothest government bureaucracy I’ve ever seen — the DMV could take some lessons!)

Take care of your WHP however, because when your six months are up, the pass must be returned to the EPSC. In return, you’ll be handed a letter of notification that you should keep in your passport and hand to Immigration the next time you leave Singapore (to prove you were there legally).

If you find a job during the six-month period that is willing to sponsor you after your WHP expires, then congratulations! But you’ll still have to return your WHP.

It may sound like I’m trying to deter people from coming to Singapore. I’m not.

Chilli crab, sting ray, and Tiger beer – makes Singapore worth a trip

But I had wished there was more information on the WHP when I was moving to Singapore, so I’m putting this out there now for future grads and young people.

But don’t be discouraged; consider it a first-hand lesson in Singaporean bureaucracy and efficiency. If you think you want to move to Singapore, then come lah! I’m a firm believer in seizing the unknown because you never know what adventures can follow.

I mean, if I had read something like this before I moved to Singapore and decided not to come, I would have missed out on so much: experiencing the wonderful food and holidays of different cultures. Learning what it’s like to work in reality tv. Weekend trips to Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia. Making some of the best friends I’ve found abroad. Getting an introduction that has led me to follow my dream career. And the best surprise of all, taking the path that would eventually lead me to the man I love.

——————

*Some popular job sites:
JobsCentral
JobsDB
Monster SG
Craigslist SG (not just for used furniture anymore! Craigslist is where I found my job.)

*This post also has some very useful advice, written by another expat who struggled to find a job at first but then landed one through LinkedIn.

*Double check the site and your paperwork. My experience is from August 2010, and the MOM is constantly updating and changing (for example, the fee was only S$40 in 2010; now it’s S$150!).

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Comments

  1. Hey Edna,

    Thanks very much for posting this. It is very useful to see this information from someone who’s been there and done it and not just what the MOM posts. I am a graduate from the UK looking into going to Singapore with the WHP to look for a job, however, as I’m only allowed 6 months in there, I don’t want to take the big risk of going and not getting a job at all. Ideally, I would look for a proper graduate job, but would settle for anything even bar tender etc anything that makes me money so I can pay for my expenses. Now the problem as you said, is that Singapore is not very entry level friendly, and those hospitality jobs are only for citizens and PR, I feel like it might be very tough finding an entry level job.

    I don’t want to go and spend all my savings in paying rent, and other living expenses “just to live there”, so I can be unemployed for 6 months and just “get by”, as I really can’t’ afford to do that. My main reason to go to Singapore, unlike other foreign expats who look at the WHP as an opportunity to work a bit perhaps and travel, have fun; I’m more work oriented, and if I was sure I can’t get a job there I wouldn’t go in the first place.

    The thing is as a graduate I need to look for a job anyway, and go somewhere, Singapore is like my ideal work place, and would do anything to get a job and settle there, so this is my dilemma. Would you recommend me to go for it? I have been there before and know how good the food is, the holidays etc, but right now at this point in my life the only important thing is to work and earn money unfortunately, can’t really think of having fun for now at least, so the fun factor is out of the question.

    Any advice would be of great help! Thanks very much.

    Tony

    P.S. I am also considering to do the same in Australia, if the above is not possible, but would much prefer Singapore as I want to eventually become PR and settle there.

  2. Hi Tony,

    Thanks for the comment! I’m glad I could be a resource. You’ve brought up a few points so I’ll take it line by line:

    — “as I’m only allowed 6 months in there, I don’t want to take the big risk of going and not getting a job at all” / The WHP lasts six months, but you can enter on a tourist visa (social pass) and look for a job while you’re a tourist, thereby not wasting your 6-month WHP time.
    — “I feel like it might be very tough finding an entry level job.” / It definitely would. I thought I could come and be a bartender if all else failed, and that plan will not work at all if you’re not local or PR.
    — You will definitely be spending a lot of money on rent. The rest you can get by on cheaply, so long as you don’t drink alcohol, as public transport and food can both be quite cheap.
    — “if I was sure I can’t get a job there I wouldn’t go in the first place.” / You can’t really be sure of anything except death and taxes! I’d say at least go for a month perhaps so you can say you gave it your best try.
    — “I need to look for a job anyway, and Singapore is my ideal work place” / Then yes, absolutely I’d recommend you go for it. You sound like you know what you want, so again, you have to at least go and TRY!

    The best advice I can give you is to go, and network immediately. In fact, start networking before you even go — LinkedIn, Twitter, expat forums, etc. Set up as much as you can while you’re still in the UK so that when you get to Singapore, you can hit the ground running on the job search and networking.

    Hope that helps!

  3. I’ve heard some good things about Singapore in general and think I would really enjoy being there for 3-6 months. It’s too bad Canadians aren’t eligible for the WHP.

    • Kirsty says:

      It is available to Canadians, if you have attended university in one of the mentioned countries.

  4. Hi Edna,

    Thank you for very informative posting. My name is Tomo from Japan and I’ve just started looking for a job in Singapore. I wonder if it would be ok to shoot some questions regarding job hunting there.

    Do you think it works to search for jobs in Singapore while outside the country? I’m currently stay in Thailand. I’m thinking that I apply for jobs while I’m in Thailand and fly to Singapore whenever I get interviews/meetings. Since it’s pretty easy and cheap to arrange the trip, I thought I could do like this till I get an offer. This is how some websites suggest. But, while browsing job listings, I found some job openings stating that foreigners (not only PRs) are welcome to apply but preferably candidates are already in Singapore, which totally makes good sense. I can move to Singapore immediately if it’s necessary. So, from your experience, how do you think I should approach to job hunting in Singapore?

    My second question is related to WHP. I find I’m eligible to apply for WHP. But, as you may know, one of required documents is “A letter from the University/College stating the applicant’s matriculation, name, nationality, gender and date of birth,” which I have no idea how to get. What exactly is this and how can I get it? I went to US grad school.

    I appreciate if you could answer my questions and give me some heads ups.

    Thank you,

    Tomo

    P.S. I wonder what Tony above decided.

  5. veejay says:

    Hey Edna..This was quite helpful, esp. coz i get to hear from someone who has actually been to singapore on WHP..N not from MOM website alone. I had thought it was illegal to look for a job while in Singapore on social visit.. So, it isn’t eh?
    I am an Indian currently doing my masters degree in UK. the course gets over in spetember and i was thinking of going soon after that. I am also career-oriented, and do not want to end up just spending money on just a holiday, I want to work too.
    I would be very happy if you could give me a bit of advice on what to do. If I plan to go with social visit entry visa, and collect WHP later, do you think I should apply for entry visa saying I intend to be there for ‘1month’? (I understand I have to show my return ticket and sufficient funds when I apply) After this 1 month and collecting WHP, will I need to apply for a visa extension to stay there for the next 6 months?
    Looking forward to hearing from you! Would be very helpful as I am confused as to what to do.. Thanks!!

  6. Roger Davy says:

    Hi Edna, after speading a most of last year living in Asia, mainly Macau and HK, I am looking at the possiblity of leaving Australia and taking up a working holiday in Singapore, what is different in my case is I am over 50 years old but have a Diploma in business Hospitality and also am a Singing performer. Currently working as a 5 Star Boardroom Waiter, I am looking at this type of high end position and if they were available take up a position
    and hopfully get emploment pass and sponsorship. As I not a student, can advise what my options might be if I was to look for a position of this type. Regards Roger

  7. Hi Edna,

    I’m a 25-year old American who has found out firsthand everything that you have written here, and I am very glad that you have thoughtfully & succinctly laid it out for the next grad/young professional who wants to give Singapore a shot.

    I stumbled upon this post while looking up how to return my Working Holiday Pass to the EPSC. After working in Australia this past year, I had saved up quite a lot of money and decided to try my luck at finding work in Singapore. Obtaining the work holiday pass is just as you’ve described. Job hunting was excruciating – though to be fair, I was mainly looking in financial services for entry level positions (not exactly the LEAST competitive job market). Though there were postings up on JobsDB & Monster SG on a daily basis that I was qualified for, of all the eighty-plus applications I completed/submitted, I recieved two emails back total, both rejections. No phone calls, no other type of contact, including from temporary staffing agencies, which had been my go-to’s for work while in New Zealand and Australia.

    After three weeks in Singapore, I made the call to fly back to the US. As you say, Singapore is not for entry-level jobs for expats. All of those positions can be filled by young, talented Singaporeans who are fighting tooth & nail with their peers for the best university placements, internships, and jobs in this humming SE Asian economy. Add to that pay rates for entry level jobs, which are between $7-$10/hour, and a lot of times it’s not even financially feasible to live in Singapore while working, unless you are staying with good ol’ Mom & Dad.

    With that said, Singapore is a beautiful country with a lot going on to keep you entertained. The food, the shopping, Sentosa Island, the Night Safari, all of those activities are worthwhile and helped me to enjoy my 3-week job hunt -> vacation ^_^ Chili crab & nights out at Clarke Quay with friends will always be favorite memories of mine, though I had hoped to get more out of my time in Singapore.

    To all of you grads out there, please please please take heed of what Edna has said here, and if you are able to get the connections to land an internship or job here, then by all means do it! Working in Singapore can be very rewarding while you’re there, and after you return home too.

    • Hi Steve,

      I am sorry to hear about that, it seems that the same happens to all, especially graduates who go to Singapore. It’s always the I applied to many jobs and received no replies, it’s horrible!

      I’ve been wanting to tap into a graduate job/entry level position in the financial services sector in Singapore for a while, but it is pretty futile to be honest. It’s strange because everytime I speak to my Singaporean friends there, all I hear is: “Singapore loves to hire foreigners, suree they love foreign talent etc etc”, but then when I see forums like this a different picture is painted, but then again I am sure as Edna said they are referring to the experienced hires not entry level.

      Anyway, I am considering myself to try my luck with other job markets (And maybe try again with Singapore once I have more years of experience under my belt), the US and the UK seem to be very tough on graduate roles at the moment especially for foreigners, and so was thinking Canada and Australia. I see you were working in Australia for a year? Could you give me any advice on this? There is a work holiday visa I qualify for which means I can stay there up to 18 months. How feasible is it to find a job in there for foreigners in the financial services sector? I am aware that they also have that “we only accept PR/citizen” preference, so how did you go about securing your job?

      I would like to just apply for the visa and move there, but to be honest, Australia is very expensive and I cannot afford to be there living with a job for long, so I would want to start working asap once there.

      Appreciate your comments!

      Tony

  8. Hi Edna,

    Thanks a lot for your experience sharing as it is very helpful for new WHP applicants.

    I planned to go from France to Singapore for 6 months & already have a work contract there.
    But I will need to fly to China & France several times during this 6-month period.
    My question is : Is the WHP a multiple-entries visa ?

    Can I go to France for 2 weeks & go back to Singapore with this same visa ?
    Is there other documents to ask for ?
    Is there additional fees ?

    By advance, thanks a lot for your answer.

    Regards,
    Vianney.

    • Hi Vianney, yes the WHP is a multiple-entry visa, as it works like a residency permit; it actually makes immigration even quicker.

  9. Hi Edna,

    Thank you so much for posting such a resourceful page, I really appreciate that! I’m a Malaysian and currently studying my final year of law degree in UK. I would like to know whether it is possible to apply for PR in Singapore after working for 6 months on the Holiday Pass Visa? Thank you.

    Regards

    • Hi Ping,
      According to me you are not eligible for Singapore visa right now. But if you want to get more details on Singapore visa then you can look for help online. I would suggest one-visa to look for details regarding holiday pass visa or other types of visa.

  10. Thanks for the ping back! Happy Xmas/New Year to you too. :) x

  11. Balram Ottapathu says:

    Hello Edna

    This website has been very useful, thank you very much for the info. I have one quick question, for the WHP, we are required to show the SIngapore government a letter from our university stating that i am in fact a student there. However, on the MOM website it says that the letter should contain my name, date of birth, gender and nationality. The problem is my university does not provide a letter like that, all they do is create a standard letter with my name and major on it. Is it ok if i send that letter together with my transcript which has my nationality and date of birth.

  12. Hello There, Thanks for posting an useful info, Could you please clarify about an age requirements for WHP, As i have done my masters in Uk and am 26 now. Do i am eligible for WHP.
    Thanks and Regards
    Hari

  13. Hi Edna– thanks so much for the informative post. I would LOVE to move to Singapore and I definitely understand the hardships for recent grads. My question is, would you lump people who have 2 years of experience in a field with entry level employees? I’m enjoying where I’m living now and love my job but if I had 2 years experience would that help, or is less than 5 years basically the same as entry level? Thanks :)

  14. singsonv says:

    Hi Edna,

    I’m actually in the process of applying for a WHP but I have 2 questions: 1) When contacting my university, what kind of letter should they have? Like, how is it supposed to be structured? Because coming from a UC in the US, I emailed them & they said that they aren’t allowed to provide that kind of information (gender, nationality) due to FERPA rules (student privacy rules) so I’m wondering how I can go about this.

    2) Do you think there likelihood of being issued a WHP is lower if I’m a Filipino citizen? I still went to university in the U.S. though!

  15. Hi Edna!

    I’m an indian citizen and have recently completed my masters in UK. I’m struggling to find anything here and thought Singapore would be a good option to try landing a placement in the advertising industry. Thank you so much for the information! there are just a couple of things i’m unsure about; it would be highly appreciated if you could help me with those.

    1: if I don’t get a job here in UK, I’ll most likely be leaving in january (basically within a month). since the application is all online, my address shouldn’t matter, right? If I get the approval, which country do I have to collect the pass from (UK, India/singapore)?

    2. if the EPSC is in singapore, how do I collect it from there as I need a visa to enter singapore

    3. I was filling out the application form and it asks me for my address in singapore, what do I fill in? since I will get an address only after I go there.

  16. Venkatesan says:

    Hi Edna,
    Need some help on WHP. I applied for a WHP to do an internship as part of my undergrad program in UK. I have received the in-principle approval letter which is valid until early June 2014.
    Here is the problem — My internship is not likely to start before mid July and this means that I will enter Spore before early July by which my initial letter would have expired. How can I extend the validity of the letter?

  17. Interested worker says:

    I would like to ask, if I am a Malaysian student from Monash University Malaysia, can I apply for Work Holiday Pass?

  18. Thank you Edna! I got an offer from Singapore last 2 weeks and preparing for WHP. Thank you so much.
    I wish you all the best!
    Daisy

  19. Elizabeth Nguyen says:

    Hi Edna,

    Thanks so much for this article, it’s been of great help. I got accepted into an intern position at EY Singapore and just applied for my WHP a few days ago. I am really worried that the WHP won’t get approved in time so it’s great to hear yours got approved in only 6 days. May I ask if you did anything to quicken the process??

    May I also ask, you wrote:

    “It’s a work pass issue. There are various types of work passes, but almost every one of them requires you to be sponsored and brought in by a company. You can’t really just show up and try to sort out a work pass after your arrival.”

    Does this mean, I have to notify MOM that I am being sponsored by EY? Because I have not yet informed them of this since it wasn’t really stated in the “documents required”.

    Kind regards,

    Elizabeth

    • Sabrina Briche says:

      Hello Elisabeth
      I received a contact for a six month internship last week and applied for a WHP immediately. I am starting mid February 2016. Could you please tell me how long you waited to get an approval from MOM.
      Thank you
      Sabrina

    • Sabrina Briche says:

      Hello again Elisabeth
      Could I also know if you informed MOM in your application that you already received à six month contact.
      Thank you.
      Sabrina

  20. Aleksandra says:

    Hi Edna,

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing this information with all of us, it’s extremely helpful!

    I’ve got my in-principle approval letter, and as I will get WHP only when I’ll go to Singapore I was wondering if I need to do any visa just to come to Singapore. Or EU passport with the approval letter will be enough?

    Regards
    Aleksandra

  21. Hello,

    Does anyone know if the WHP is available to a post-grad who has under 25 but has been out of school for more than 12 months? It is unclear to me from the Singapore immigration website. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

    Best,
    Matt

    • Felix Böhm says:

      Hey Matt,
      same thing here. Could you find out something about it?

      Thanks for your help,
      Felix

  22. Thanks for this great post. I have a question about the new age bracket being 18-25.. I want to get my pass while I am 25 and land in Singapore in my final days before my 26th birthday. Is this allowed? Do you have to be under 26 for the entire duration of the 6month visa?

    • Stephanie says:

      I have the exact same issue and enquiry too. If anyone has experience about the age bracket, would love to hear from you thanks!

      • Hi!
        Did you find details for the age bracket? I’m 25 (turning 26 in november) and I wanted to know if I can still apply for the WHP or if candidates need to be UNDER 25…

        Many thanks!

        • Stephanie says:

          Hi Marie,

          I called the Ministry of Manpower and they said that so long as you are 25 at the time of applying, then you’ll be fine!

          Stephanie

  23. Hi Edna,

    I got an internship for six months in Singapore and the company is asking me
    to apply for the working holiday visa. I have all the documents required but
    I don’t know how to fill the section ‘address in Singapore’.
    Could you kindly let me know if I have to get an address in Singapore before filling the form or I can simply write Not applicable?
    For the moment I study in France and my internship starts on 4th January 2016 .

    Kind regards,
    Corina

    • Hey,

      So I received an internship offer for 6 months (Starting 12th Jan, 2016). I just applied
      for the WHP. I hope I receive their approval as soon as possible. Any advice from you in terms of
      housing would be great.

      Cheers,
      Sunaina

    • Sabrina Briche says:

      Hello Corina
      Could you please let me know if you entered Singapore with à return air ticket?
      Thank you
      Sabrina

  24. Hi Edna!
    I am so glad I found your post! I am going to apply WHP in April and I am really worried that my application will be rejected. I am an international student studying in US right now. I actually did my secondary and junior college in Singapore. I already get an internship in Singapore will probably apply more to have my options open. Do you think that it will be a disadvantage for me to get WHP since I am still pursuing my undergrad degree? Or have you heard anyone who get rejected? Thanks in advance!

  25. Vinoth rajendran says:

    Hi , I had applied for WHP and got rejected as well. My qualifications are B.E ( Mechanical engineering)& MSc (Advanced Engineering Management) at Leeds Beckett University in Leeds, Uk. The reason for rejected is
    “We regret to inform you that your application is not successful as the institution where you are currently pursuing your tertiary education is not eligible for the Work Holiday Pass (WHP)”. Please guide me to reappeal.

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