How to Hire a Foreign Domestic Worker in Singapore

Are you thinking of hiring a helper to care for the kids while you and your partner are at work? This is our experience of direct hiring a foreign helper in Singapore. I hope it helps.

Before I begin, a word:

Hiring full-time help is a luxury in some parts of the world. In others, it’s quite common. We lived for a while in the UK. I remember a work colleague arranging to arrive earlier than everyone else and leave earlier too, simply because he had to drop off/pick up his son from day care. Live-in nannies are wildly expensive in Europe, and I’m sure in the US too. In Singapore and Hong Kong though, hiring help (usually foreign) is quite common.

In Singapore there are special visas for foreign domestic helpers and even a cookbook written in English and Tagalog, to leave “no room for misinterpretation and confusion when the domestic helpers are using these recipes.”

(Interesting side story: Filipino domestic help make up a third of all foreign helpers here in Singapore, so they’re a pretty sizable group.)

As you can see from my ‘About’ page, I’m from the Philippines. I once mentioned to a colleague in passing that our helper back home did this-and-that, and he was all incredulous like, “You have helpers in the Philippines?” I laughed and said, duh, yes we did.

For a short and sweet primer on how Filipina nannies anywhere have made their mark on the families they care for (and who care for them too), read this essay by Anthony Bourdain on his December 2015 CNN Parts Unknown episode.)

Anyway, onward.

***

1. Carefully consider if hiring a full-time helper is right for you.

There are many alternatives to hiring a full-time helper: having family members help care for your baby (Squishy loves his lolas and lolos but both of our parents live abroad), childcare centers (Singaporean citizens enjoy child care subsidies, so if you’re a citizen this is a very good option), part-time nannies, confinement ladies (for very young babies), or even the option to become a stay-at-home parent. What works for one family would depend on their individual circumstances.

You must know though, that periodic costs of hiring a full-time helper include:

– her salary (certain embassies may impose minimum salaries);
– the foreign worker domestic levy of S$265 (concessionary rates available to citizens) — you can pay this via GIRO thereafter;
– required insurances and any medical expenses;
– air tickets home;
– living costs (e.g. food, etc.)

You’re also required to provide acceptable accommodations for her and let her have adequate rest, and I cannot believe we need guidelines for that because that’s just basic human decency, yes?

Note we went the direct hire route and already had an eligible helper in mind, which may not be the case for everyone. Our helper is also from the Philippines, so the process below is specific to the country.

As an employer, you also have to fulfill certain requirements and attend an Employers’ Orientation Programme. I did my EOP online so it was quite convenient.

2. Select a licensed agency to help you out.

Although we already knew who we wanted to hire, we had to go through a licensed agency. The Philippine Embassy in Singapore requires helpers who’ve worked less than 2 years at the same employer to process home leave (also known as OEC) requests through an accredited agency, so we didn’t really have much of a choice, since we wanted to have Ate C come home with us when we went back to the Philippines for Christmas.

Besides, licensed agencies already have partner agencies in the helper’s home country which would make things like arranging locally required assessments or medical exams, following up, etc. convenient and hassle-free for employers.

We selected Hart Consultancy Manpower (#02-26 in Lucky Plaza, they’re located on the second floor, near the lift fronting Orchard Road), after canvassing around five agencies in the building for whichever had the lowest fees.

After reading blogs like Pinktini’s and Get Brainy’s, I discovered that there used to be an option for employers to handle the MOM leg themselves (which would’ve been cheaper, since we pay only for the Philippine processing), but we were told that this option was no longer available at the time we applied (September 2015). 😦

As of September 2015, Hart charged S$2,350 for MOM (Singapore Ministry of Manpower) and POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) processing – trust me, this was the lowest we could find then.

Hart’s S$2,350 fee includes:

POEA Processing
a. Authentication and verification of Employment Contract with the Philippine Embassy
b. TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) training and assessment
c. POEA insurance
d. Pag-ibig membership
d. Phil Health insurance membership
e. OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) membership and seminar
f. OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate) / Exit Pass – Though I hear that the current president is doing away with the OEC for eligible workers, FINALLY
g. A one-way airline ticket (Manila – Singapore)

MOM Processing
a. MOM application and issuance
b. Medical fee in Singapore
c. Settling-In Programme (SIP)
d. Thumb-printing
e. Fetching from the airport and lodging for a few days while her work permit and SIP is sorted
f. Work permit collection

The fee excludes personal expenses such as: medical fee in the Philippines; transportation; photos and photocopies; and lodging while attending Philippine-government mandated seminars like OWWA, TESDA, etc (although Hart provides free accommodation for 2 nights during the TESDA seminar, with food). Hart recommends around Php 7,000-8,500 for personal expenses.

Hart’s fee also excludes the S$5,000 security bond and medical insurance required by MOM and the S$2,000 performance bond required by the Philippine Embassy for direct-hire employers. The Philippine Embassy actually requires a S$7,000 bond for direct-hire employers, but because we were going through an agency and Hart already had a standing S$5,000 bond with the embassy, we only had to pay the premium for the S$2,000 extra.

We bought:
Medical insurance and security bond from NTUC Income for S$263 (Plan B)
– S$2,000 performance bond for the Philippine Embassy from Ergo Insurance (through Hart) for S$70

The whole process takes 5-7 weeks.

That’s pretty much it. Most of the legwork will be done by the agency.

The biggest hiccup we had throughout the process was Ate C’s medical exam in the Philippines.

In Singapore, all helpers have to be screened on arrival and every six months for four types of infectious diseases: tuberculosis, HIV, syphilis, and malaria. Ate C cleared this exam.

The Philippine leg also has its own medical exam, which was conducted through Hart’s partner clinic. Hart’s partner clinic initially assessed Ate C as “Unfit to Work” on the basis of the technician’s read of her X-ray results. Because Hubby’s family had hired Ate C as a helper for a while before we decided to bring her over, they were confident about her state of health. We paid for several repeat X-rays and exams to re-check the initial assessment (it ended up being incorrect). An “Unfit to Work” assessment, on its own, does not stop you from hiring an identified helper, as you can execute a waiver.

Also — don’t be tempted by anecdotes you hear of getting helpers through the tourist visa route, which is supposedly cheaper. Apart from stricter regulations where their work permits are likely to be rejected, you also don’t want to run afoul of the law, especially in Singapore. Better safe than sorry.

A final word: these women live far away from their own children and partners. Sometimes, they don’t see their families for long periods of time. They are rightfully considered one of your baby’s key caregivers, and as such have an important role to play in your kids’ healthy emotional development.

The least we can do is treat them fairly.

To paraphrase Anthony Bourdain in his essay, let’s try to do right by people who’ve been very good to us.

Thanks, Ate C!

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