Working in Singapore: Getting a Legal Work Pass in Singapore


Based on my personal observation, many if not most Indonesian people prefer to work in Singapore. This may be due to the vicinity to home, favourable currency exchange rate with stronger Singapore dollars, safe and clean environment and other general reasons such as career development and exposures to foreign culture.

I have been in both ends of the rope, meaning I have held a work pass and I have applied for a work pass for my colleague. This provides me different point of views from both ends and a great insight into how this whole process takes place.

What you need to know:

  1. Your work pass is only valid when you are employed by your employer

To be able to work in Singapore, you would need a valid work pass issued by Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower applied by your employer. This would mean that if you decide to resign from your current employer, your current work pass would be cancelled and your new employer would be required to apply a new work pass for you to legally work in Singapore; although the work pass is still within its validity period.

This point is pretty straightforward but based on my personal experience, I have encountered many job seekers who informed me that they have been holding a valid work pass for 3 years and thus, they assumed that they can easily hop into another job while holding to the same work pass within 3 years.

After your work pass is cancelled, a Social Visit Pass will be issued to you automatically from Ministry of Manpower, you will receive this from your employer. This will normally be valid for 30 days and cannot be extended, unlike usual tourist Social Visit Pass which can be extended for another 30 days.

Therefore, if you are in the middle of transiting between employments, you need to ensure that your new work pass is issued by your new employer within this 30-days timeframe.

  1. Self-Assessment Tool

Let’s visualise the process after you are confirmed for hiring and have accepted the employment offer. Generally your employer will check your work pass eligibility using Self-Assessment Tool provided by Ministry of Manpower. Three types of work passes for working class foreigners are Work Permit, S Pass and Employment Pass. There are other work passes as well but these three are the most applicable ones for Bachelor degree graduates.

You can try checking your own work pass eligibility using the same website too, but you need to know that the actual application result may be different because the actual application will also consider your religion, race and gender among other things in the Self-Assessment Tool. This is to ensure that the country maintains its cultural mix in its society, all for our harmonious living with each other.

  1. Work Pass Application

Your employer would apply for your work pass based on your eligibility from Self-Assessment Tool result. The approval process takes 7 working days.

You can check your work pass application status online too. Not to generalize all work pass applications from Indonesian applicants, I have heard from my fellow Indonesian friends that their work pass applications status were pending for vetting agencies and the approval may take up to 2-months time. This information of course may result in cancellation of employment if your new employer requires you to commence work in less than 2-months time.

Vetting agencies usually refer to other Singapore’s government agencies and the Ministry of Manpower has requested those agencies for further information about you. For all we know, our information and data are stored and kept in the records the moment we passed the immigration arrival check for security purposes.

Thus, if you have violated the law previously, for instance, you bring in an excessive amount of cigarettes to Singapore and the cigarettes were confiscated by the official officers stationed in the airport. You are required to pay fine for bringing in prohibited items to the country and your information in your passport such as full name, date of birth, passport number etc are recorded in their internal system.

When the Ministry is assessing your work pass application, they may run a check of your information against their internal system and eventually discovered this incident. This example is not absolute and your work pass application approval may not necessarily depend on this sole factor too. But it is good for all of us to ensure we follow the law wherever we go. In the end of the day, the sole purpose of all these checking processes is to ensure that the country welcomes someone who is a good, law-abiding person, which I daresay is the requirement of all countries towards foreigners working in their respective countries.

In the above example, the vetting agency is Singapore’s Immigration and Customs Authority. Depending on how long the officers able to verify the information, that’s how long the work pass may stay pending. Based on the information I gathered from friends whose work pass applications fell under this pending status, it generally takes 7 working days to be approved. However, this is strictly on case to case basis.

  1. In-Principal Approval Letter

After your work pass is approved by Ministry of Manpower, your employer would send you an In-Principal Approval Letter which means that your work pass application is successful, only if you complete further processes specified on the letter. You may be required to undergo a medical check-up and sign a declaration letter which is attached to the In-Principal Approval Letter.

It is advisable to undergo the required medical check-up in Singapore because the doctors and medical staff in Singapore understand about this requirement and thus, the process would be faster. The medical check-up result is usually ready in 3 working days. You need to collect the result and submit it to your new employer.

  1. Work Pass Issuance and Notification Letter

Your employer would proceed to issue your work pass. They would send you a Notification Letter, which states that you are now legally allowed to work in Singapore although your work pass card is not ready.

Usually for first-timers working in Singapore, you would be required to go to Ministry of Manpower’s office for your work pass card registration, finger-printing and photo-taking. This process would also activate Auto-gate facility in Singapore’s Changi Airport. This may take up to 7 working days. The card will be delivered to your employer.

If you are working in Singapore and have undergone the card registration process above, it is unlikely that you will need to register your card again because your information and data are already available in their records.

You may wish to note that the procedure does not require you to dig into your own pocket for money. Work pass application and issuance fees are to be borne by your employer and your medical check-up fees would be reimbursed by your employer too.


All in all, I understand that you may think this process is complicated, especially for first timers and you do not have any friends or acquaintances who are already working in Singapore and can explain the process more thoroughly. In the end of the day, we need to know that the purpose of this process is to ensure that Singapore remains a safe (by this, I mean no illegal workers and foreigners whose culture and lifestyle may not fit well into the country’s own culture and lifestyle) and regulated nation, which is essentially one of the very reason that you may choose to work in Singapore.


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