Getting the gas, water and electricity connected in your new home is fairly straightforward, as there is only supplier for each; gas and electricity are supplied by Singapore Power, while water is provided by the Public Utilities Board.
In order to get connected, householders need to establish a utilities account, which can be done by phone, by post, online or in person. You will also need to pay a deposit, usually of SGD$150. Your housing agent should be able to guide you through this process and provide the relevant paperwork, but if you decide to take care of these things yourself, the Singapore Power website is www.singaporepower.com.sg or you can phone them on 1800 2222 333. You will need to supply: a completed application form; a completed bank giro form; a copy of your Employment Pass; and your tenancy agreement. After submitting an application, your services will usually be connected the following business day.
Utilities Emergency Numbers
Electricity (24 hours)
Tel: 1800 778 8888
Water (24 hours)
Tel: 1800 284 6600
Gas (24 hours)
Tel: 1800 752 1800
Singapore’s standard electricity supply is 230 volts AC with a frequency of 50 hertz (230V/50Hz) and uses Type-G plugs and wall sockets (this is a flat three-pin plug as used in the UK). Electrical appliances need to be 230V/50Hz (although appliances set for 220 to 240 volts will operate) and so 120-volt electrical appliances designed for use in North America or Japan will not work in Singapore.
Having domestic help is extremely common amongst both expats and Singaporeans, whether in the form of a full-time live-in or a part-time maid, a cleaner, or a nanny. That this is a fairly conventional state of affairs is evidenced by the fact that there are around 210,000 foreign workers employed as domestic help (in around one in five households), with most coming from the Philippines and Indonesia, and smaller numbers from Sri Lanka, Myanmar, India, Thailand and Bangladesh (the only countries from which it is legal to employ domestic workers).
For some, the business of domestic workers is anathema; the idea of entrusting your home or, more importantly, crucial elements of child rearing, to a stranger (perhaps with little English or experience of the world) is difficult to contemplate, as is the idea of others being employed in a role that is akin to that of servant. For others, having domestic help is crucial to being able to start and raise a family, as the need for both members of a couple to work, and the working hours that are required in Singapore (some of the longest in the developed world), mean that for those bringing up young children, assistance can be vital.
It is also important to understand that in some respects, the way society is structured and organised takes domestic help for granted. For instance, many rental properties don’t have dishwashers, short-term or occasional childcare can be hard to find and there won’t be a crèche at the gym or the hairdressers, while taking time off from work pick up the kids from school or to attend to domestic tasks is not looked upon at all kindly. Much of Singaporean social life is also structured on the premise that you have help looking after the kids, and so people don’t tend to arrange dinner dates or social functions at times or in places that allow you to be home for bedtime.
The conditions under which domestic helpers (the term maid is not one that is considered respectful, although it will most certainly be used) are employed in Singapore varies and in most instances you should be able to find an arrangement that suits your needs.
Live-in domestic helpers are generally expected to work 14-16 hours a day. Tasks might include cleaning the house, washing and ironing, cooking and childcare, or gardening. A part-time worker might work a couple of hours a day on a few days a week, undertaking cleaning, washing clothes and ironing. The term nanny in Singapore doesn’t refer to a live-in childcare provider, but rather someone who will look after children (usually in their own home) for a couple of hours a day.
A part-time domestic worker is useful if you don’t need someone to take on every task around the home, or you feel uncomfortable having someone else living in your house. Alternatively, you can also hire on-call domestic helper services, where you request someone on a casual, irregular basis. Not having someone living in will of course also reduce your overheads.
With regards to the terms and conditions for employing domestic help, domestic workers are not covered under the Employment Act which stipulates hours of work, rest days, safety guidelines and retirement, amongst other things. Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower doesn’t believe it is possible or practical to regulate domestic workers’ conditions, however new laws did finally come into place in 2013 that entitle all full-time domestic workers to one day off a week, or to receive a set proportion of their monthly wage in lieu (usually around SGD$70), which has to be mutually agreed and cannot be enforced by an employer.
This has replaced the previous terms and conditions where domestic workers only received one day off per month, although recent evidence suggests that the new conditions are not being rigorously enforced, as they technically only apply to workers who signed contracts after January 2013, and so large numbers of domestic workers are still being denied this right. However, employers who do not adhere to the new law can face fines of up to SGD$10,000 and imprisonment for up to twelve months.
While there is no minimum wage for domestic workers in Singapore, on average wages for a full-time, live-in domestic helper are between SGD$400 – $600 per month, as well as a SGD$265 levy (some concessions are available) that is required to be paid to the government, plus a one-off security bond of SGD$5,000 which is insurance against a domestic worker transgressing work permit regulations (which are strict and place restrictions on marriage to a Singaporean, pregnancy or immoral activities), and which can be forfeited if you don’t repatriate a domestic worker at the end of their contract. Employers are also expected to pay for one round-trip air ticket each year to the worker’s home country and to provide decent standards of food and accommodation.
Other expenditure associated with hiring a domestic worker include Personal Accident Insurance, which must be taken out to a minimum value of SGD$10,000. This can be arranged through Augaries Insurance (116 Lavender Street #02-05, Pek Chuan Building, 6293 6232), Anda Insurance Agencies Pte Ltd (60 Eu Tong Sen Street, #01-13/14 Furama Hotel & Shopping Centre, 6534 2288) or NTUC Income Insurance Cooperative Ltd (75 Bras Basah Road, NTUC Income Centre, 6336 3322). If you hire a Filipino domestic worker, you will also be responsible for paying a placement fee (as the Philippines is the only Asian country to have ratified the International Labour Organisation convention on domestic workers), but in other cases the worker is responsible for paying this fee.
Employers are also required to ensure that domestic workers have a medical check within 14 days of their arrival in Singapore and a six-monthly medical screening. In addition, employers are required to bear the full cost of any medical care, including hospitalization.
A further obligation on employers is to attend an Employers’ Orientation Programme before a Work Permit application can be submitted. These programmes are conducted at PSB Corporation and Singapore Polytechnic (which also has an online version of the course).
In addition, there is a Settling-In Programme (SIP) for all foreign domestic workers who are new to Singapore. This mandatory one-day programme conducted in workers’ native languages aims to give them an introduction to Singapore, equip with them knowledge about their conditions of employment and safety information, and is required to be completed within three days of the worker’s arrival.
Most people in Singapore will either use their relocation agent or a specialist agency to find a domestic worker. This is because there are a number of bureaucratic procedures involved, and local knowledge and experience is helpful in making this process as smooth and efficient as possible. These include obtaining a work permit; arranging the payment of the security bond; organising insurance; sorting out travel arrangements; and booking in a medical screening.
In order to find a licensed and reputable agency for hiring domestic workers in your neighbourhood, it is recommended that you visit the Ministry of Manpower website, which provides the most up-to-date details of the many hundreds of authorised agencies in the city. Agencies will of course charge a fee for their services, which may well be in the range of SGD$1,000 – $2,000.
When you’re looking for a domestic worker, there are several factors that you might want to consider before you begin your search: nationality preference; age preference; whether they are new to Singapore or have worked here before; where they have worked previously; their language ability; religion; and their education level. Having a clear idea of the profile of the type of person you would like to hire will make your search quicker and more efficient.