In the Singapore expat community, it is almost expected to have part-time or live-in help. It is common to hear from agents, co-workers, and publications that “the availability and affordable household help is a definite perk.” My thoroughly unscientific research and observation found some families with more than one helper – one for the kids and another for the household duties. In my apartment complex I’ve seen two helpers for one little boy! After scouring several sources of information, the numbers are clear.
The government refers to foreign household help as Foreign Domestic Workers. Residents refer to them as amahs, maids, nannies, and helpers. They are grouped into 2 categories: new hires and transfers. New hires are 23 years or older and have never worked in Singapore. They must have at least 8 years of education. Transfers have been working in Singapore and are moving from one family to another. Like all foreign workers, the Foreign Domestic Workers (FDWs) must register with the Ministry of Manpower. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is a cross between the Department of Labor and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. James and I had to register with MOM when we arrived, but at least we didn’t have to undergo a medical checkup, pass a written test and purchase a security bond.
FDWs cannot come from just any country to live and work. MOM approves of the following 8 source countries: Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Most of the foreign workers sign up with an agency because most expats hire from an agency. Agencies run background checks, schedule medical examinations, and pay for the preparation of a green card. The agency's cost for preparing the foreign worker is a loan. Part of the preparation is passing a written test in English. Below is a copy of the MOM’s test an FDW must pass in order to obtain a worker's permit.
Click Here For Sample Test!
The expats pay fees to the agency and the government. The agency charges a general fee for their service, upward to $1,000. The expat is also responsible to pay the agency for the worker’s loan, $2000 on average. The MOM requires the expat, now an employer, to purchase a security bond for each worker, listed at $5,000 in one report and $10,000 in another. The security bond is in case the foreign worker runs away, gets pregnant or otherwise doesn’t return to her original country. The cost of the bond will be returned by the government once the contract expires and the employer purchases a return trip home for the employee. The government also requires the employer to purchase $10,000 personal accident insurance. If the agency pays for the bond and insurance, then the expat must pay the agency for the cost of each.
Once hired, the expat has standard payments to make. The helper receives a monthly salary of $300-$500. The salary depends on the age of the children and the duties required by the family. While there are no laws governing the hours of the workday or requiring employers to give an FDW a day off, most expats expect their helpers to work from morning to night with one day a week free. The government does require the employers to pay a monthly levy, or tax, of $345. The expat pays for meals, bedding, and toiletries. One website actually calculated the monthly cost to be $150 a month. The employer also pays for the government-required bi-annual medical check, $50.
Totaling the figures, a full-time live-in Foreign Domestic Worker in Singapore begins at $27,590. That’s a tidy sum.