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Expat rights in Singapore

Posted on Dec 08, 2012 by Sergio Ulloa ()


There are 5.3 million people living in Singapore, of which roughly 40 percent are expats. This percentage is predicted to rise in the coming years as foreign nationals qualified in specialist fields are actively recruited and headhunted by multinational companies based in Singapore. One would therefore be safe to assume that expats enjoy as many citizens' rights as they would in their home country, but is this really the case? We decided to have a look at a number of important areas in the life of an expat living in Singaporeto see what rights, if any, they have.

The first area we will look at is Healthcare and how it works for an expat in Singapore.

Expats are entitled to use both public and private health facilities in Singapore, and if an expat would like to visit a public medical facility for a simple consultation or outpatient treatment, they can easily make an appointment at their local polyclinic. Although Singaporean citizens and Permanent Residents receive subsidized medical care, expats do not and they must pay the full cost of their treatment.

The cost of a typical outpatient consultation is currently S$16 (USD 13) and most expats are willing to meet this cost personally. To help protect against more complicated and expensive medical treatment, expats will typically take out a private medical insurance plan that will provide coverage for inpatient and serious medical illness treatment.

One of the main advantages an expat has in Singapore in terms of healthcare, is that there is little difference between public and private health facilities in both the standard of treatment available and its cost. The public and private health sectors compete directly against one another so provided an expat has a health insurance plan to protect themselves against high medical costs, they can access a public medical facility or dental clinic for routine treatment in the same way a Singaporean national can.

The next area we will look at is Property. As most expats are in Singapore on short to medium term working contracts, we will focus our attention on the rights expats have when looking to rent a property as opposed to those wishing to buy.

Dealing with landlords is problematic regardless of where you may live and Singapore is no different. As an expat on the hunt for the ideal apartment, it can be tiresome having to deal with various landlords and negotiating a successful lease. In common with most countries, most of the legal rights with regard to leasing and renting property are on the side of the landlord. As such, the more sensible expats in Singapore will hire an agent to help them rent a property.

A property agent will help the tenant in a number of different areas, such as drawing up a list of suitable properties for viewing and then negotiating directly with the landlord on behalf of the tenant. Once the tenant has found a property they like, they should draft a Letter of Intent (LOI) which confirms to the landlord that the prospective tenant is keen to rent the property. Additional measures like a good faith deposit and a security deposit may also be required.

Once the landlord accepts the LOI, the agent and tenant must then negotiate a contract and it is here where the agent can be of great help to the expat. While most contract agreements come in the form of a standard template, the tenant should read it carefully and instruct the agent to add or remove certain clauses they are unhappy with.

In the event of a dispute arising between the expat and the landlord, the agent will intervene on behalf of the expat and work to resolve the issue directly with the landlord. The majority of these disputes can be resolved amicably; however, if a dispute becomes serious there are a number of legal avenues the expat can take to protect their rights.

It should be noted though, that in such cases the contract becomes crucial, and the court will view the tenants rights as those that are clearly defined within the terms and conditions of the contract. To avoid court actions, the expat may on occasion have to bite their lip and agree to resolve the issue despite the outcome not being entirely favorable to them.

The general advice for expats renting property in Singapore is to check with friends and colleagues for a reputable agent, and then work closely with this agent to secure the desired property.

This leads us to our final topic which is the Legal Rights of an expat in Singapore.

Singapore is a well run and efficient country with a legal system that has been designed to safeguard its citizens and its environment. Although some will naturally feel that on-the-spot fines for jaywalking, smoking in public, chewing gum, spitting and inadvertently aiding the breeding of mosquitoes are a little over the top, those who are caught committing certain offences such as robbery, assault and breaking and entering can receive a caning and a custodial prison sentence. The punishment for those involved with drugs and narcotics can be death, while being caught drink driving will result in a 10 year prison sentence. Singapore has strict laws but they are very effective and help ensure that it maintains social harmony.

The authorities in Singapore are very insistent that its laws, rules and regulations are equally applied to all citizens, whether they are Singaporean nationals, expats or tourists. If an individual commits a crime and is caught, the police and courts will try that person according to the country's basic law. This ensures that expatriates will receive their full legal rights in the event that they have committed a crime and are brought before the courts for punishment.

Overall, we can see that the rights of expats in Singapore are respected and upheld by the various branches of government, and that if an individual expat abides by the law they can really enjoy living in Singapore. On the flip side, if an expat is foolish enough to break the law, well, they are personally responsible for their actions and subsequent punishment.

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