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Selling Digital in Singapore; The Workpass Exemption

The first in our 'selling in Singapore' series.

Singapore is all about that digital way of life, from the IMDA Industry Digital plans to the Smart Nation initiatives. But when it comes to turning plans into action, especially in the world of ERPs and CRMs, it's a whole different ball game. According to Gartner, a whopping 55-75% of ERP projects flop, and it hits home even harder in Singapore.

So, what's the key to success? Confidence in implementation. We're talking:

  • Solid Track Records: Show 'em what you've achieved.
  • Awareness of Potential Difficulties: In translating a global solution to local context, especially for HR, Finance, and Sales.
  • Stakeholder Rapport: And the potential blockers in the business beyond leadership.
  • Ground Support: Have boots on the ground to support critical implementation phases. 

This is something we’re proud to help companies with:

  • Talent Services: To save you time and money by hiring the right people that your business needs.
  • Growth Consulting: Lean on our 10+ years of sales experience in the Singapore market.

But if you're just dipping your toes and sending in your existing squad, there's a Singaporean regulation you cannot push to the side.

The Work Pass Exemption

Only when implementation kicks in (trade exhibitions and business meetings are fine), will your staff will require a valid visa to do the work needed in Singapore. 

Activities such as ERP implementation can fall under “Specialised Services” relating to New Plant/Operations/Equipment, which qualifies for a Work Pass Exemption. How it works:

  • A Short-Term Visit Pass (STVP) is granted, usually for 30 days, when you arrive into Singapore. You will need to notify the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on the activities you will be performing during this period - upon which an exemption of 30 days is granted. 
  • If your project needs more than 30 days, you can apply for an extension of the STVP (for another 30 days usually) then notify MOM again. You can repeat this for up to 90 days in any calendar year. That last bit is very important: Up to 90 days in any calendar year.
  • To clarify, the total number of days exempted under this scheme per person is 90 days in a calendar year, so if you had 60 days of exemption in March, don’t be surprised if your 30-day STVP is rejected for an extension in August.

This can present a challenge. If your planned client’s implementation phase is suddenly disrupted because you didn’t plan properly and the government just sent your engineer packing to the nearest airport, it’s not going to reflect well on your company in the market.

So what do you do if your client’s implementation phase is going to go beyond 90 days? We have a few solutions for you: 

    • Rotate implementation staff in 90-day cycles:
      • It’s administratively simple and gives the client more confidence.
      • However, this plan requires sufficient resources, excellent communication and planning across the staff, cost and rapport.
    • The client can hire your staff and apply for a Workpass for them
      • Allows your staff to be attached to your client, this can work very well if the client’s HR is familiar with the arrangements. 
      • However, excellent rapport with your client would be needed, their HR department would need to be experienced, and your staff would have to go under a separate country’s payroll (insert tax implications), and that’s even if their credentials are compatible with the Workpass requirements. 
    • Use remote hires or a partner to apply for the Workpass for your staff
      • This plan is less troublesome for your client and suitable if your staff are working on several projects in the market for different clients.
      • However, you have the same problems as the previous plan. 
  • Set up a local entity and hire your staff under a Workforce: 
      • This plan is beneficial for long-term growth as it signals your permanence in market to clients. It’s also easier to scale teams as needed in the market. 
      • However, it’s more administratively ambitious, your revenue will land in Singapore and your staff will go under a separate payroll (insert tax implications).
  • Plan implementation phases around the Dec-Jan period: 
    • It’s administratively simple and with no additional cost or staffing requirements.
    • However, this plan still allows only 180 days max across two calendar years.

Need more tailored support? 

Regulations and processes can be extremely tricky to navigate when entering a new market, especially when you’re also penetrating the corporate networks and building your first sales relationships. 

Strategising which is best for your business is crucial before making a decision. That’s exactly what we’re here to help you do! 

Connect with us to see how we can help enter a new market seamlessly.

Stay tuned for the next lesson in the ‘Selling Digital in Singapore’ series where we’re covering in-house incumbents and government sponsors; who to compete against and differentiate from.


ARTICLE by Anthony Sochan, Co-Founder, 5 March 2024

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