Ah, the life of a freelance worker in Singapore! You get to sleep in if you’re a night owl or schedule your work around children’s activities. For those of you who thrive on variety, the freelance lifestyle offers plenty of that.
To begin with, what exactly is a freelance worker, otherwise known as a freelancer? According to Merriam-Webster, the term initially referred to a soldier who hired himself out to the highest bidder. Over time, a freelancer came to mean anyone who pursues a career without making a long-term commitment to one employer. You can think of freelancers as being corporate mercenaries.
Definitions vary, so let’s look at what the Singaporean government says. The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) states that freelance work falls under the self-employment umbrella. Freelance workers get paid for the services they provide. Other types of self-employment include owning an online business and commissioned agents (e.g., real estate and insurance agents). According to the Ministry of Manpower, freelancers are “own-account workers, who operate their own business or trade without employing any paid worker.”
In 2019, more than 211,000 resident workers in Singapore worked as freelancers, according to the Ministry of Manpower’s report. That accounts for roughly 8.8% of the resident workforces, comprised of both Singaporean and permanent residents. Most of these people treated freelancing as a side hustle.
Many people successfully combine freelancing with a full-time day job. However, in this article, we’ll concentrate on freelance jobs that can provide most or all of your income.
What are the Advantages of Freelancing in Singapore?
For some, freelancing may offer a way to recover from the financial challenges the Covid pandemic has thrown at them. It may also be a way to weather a career transition or set out in a different career direction.
Under best-case scenarios, freelancers make significantly more money than those who are tied to a single employer. Here are some other advantages of taking on a freelance job in Singapore:
- Control & flexibility: You can accept or reject assignments, and you can often control when you perform the work.
- Tax advantages: There are some caveats to this perk (see the What about taxes? section), but you can often claim tax reductions from travel, meals, and so on. Also, state and federal taxes aren’t withheld from each paycheck automatically.
- Improved work/life balance: Many freelance jobs eliminate the need for a commute. You can work from wherever you want to, as long as you can fulfill the assignment’s requirements.
What are the Disadvantages of Freelancing in Singapore?
If you live in Singapore or are contemplating doing so, you already know that Singapore is one of the most expensive places to live on the planet. When you factor in a pandemic that’s left economies worldwide reeling, you may need to look for a steady, predictable job that will cover your basic needs. Sure, there can be financial rewards to freelancing in Singapore, but there are also risks.
Here are some other potential disadvantages of freelancing in Singapore:
- Irregular income: When you start off as a freelancer, your pay will likely be on the low side. And if you don’t work on a regular schedule, you may not get paid on a regular schedule. You’ll probably experience both feast and famine.
- It requires superior organizational skills: If you don’t already have excellent organizational skills, you’ll have to learn them. Juggling multiple clients is essential to maximizing your freelance income.
- You won’t receive employer CPF contributions, so you need to plan for your retirement. Also, you’ll need to save up for your compulsory Medisave contributions. With income above $18,000, your Medisave contribution will be 8% of your earnings if you’re under 35 years of age. That contribution climbs to 9% if you’re aged 35-45.
What about Taxes?
As we’ve already discussed, the IRAS considers freelancers as self-employed. As a self-employed person, you must pay income tax and contribute to your Medisave account, the national medical savings scheme for permanent residents and citizens.
According to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS), how you’re taxed depends on whether you’re an employee or self-employed. Freelancers are often but not always considered self-employed for tax purposes. Check the IRAS article linked above to help clarify your situation.
If you’ve spent more than 183 days in Singapore and worked for all those days, you’re considered a tax resident. Your progressive tax rate will be anywhere from 2-22%, depending on how much you make.
As a non-resident, you’ll probably be taxed a flat withholding tax rate. The rate varies depending upon your type of income. For example, if you’re a freelancer who works in a professional capacity—think trainers, consultants, or coaches—you’ll pay 15% of your gross income or 22% of your net income in taxes.
Is Freelancing Legal in Singapore?
Freelancing is an open industry with few barriers or restrictions to entry. Depending on the industry you’re in, you won’t need any licenses. However, other trades, such as operating a food stall or ride-sharing services, may require licenses. For considerations on licensing, taxes, scope of services, and more, check out this advice.
Whether operating your own vehicle as a taxi is freelancing is somewhat of a gray area. You’re providing the car, but the platform provides the customers. Be advised, though, that Ryde or Grab drivers need a PDVL (Private Hire Car Driver’s License) to transport passengers by private car in Singapore. Also, you’ll need to attend a 10-hour training course where you pay $40 application fees. See how here.
In general, though, most freelancers, especially creatives, won’t need licenses. However, clients will probably want to examine your portfolio and, if applicable, your academic qualifications to determine if you’re a good fit for their project.
Can Foreigners Freelance in Singapore?
The short answer is that only Singaporean citizens or permanent residents can be legally self-employed. Foreigners aren’t permitted to work without a Work Permit, Employment Pass or S Pass.
The long answer is that there are two ways to circumvent the prohibitions against foreigners’ employment. First, you can set up a local business with a minimum of one Singaporean resident as a director. Second, you can apply for an Entrepass. To do that, you’ll have to incorporate a company and raise a minimum amount of funding. Similarly, you can seek partnerships with approved organizations.
What about if your partner or spouse is a Singapore resident? If you’re currently living in Singapore under a Long-Term Visit Pass (LTVP) or Dependent’s Pass (DP), you can’t legally work without a Work Permit, S-Pass, Employment Pass (EP), or Letter of Consent. An employer will need to apply for any of these authorizations from the Ministry of Manpower.
The Letter of Consent can also accommodate LTVP or DP holders residing in Singapore under their partner’s or spouse’s EP. As soon as the EP expires, though, the Letter of Consent is invalid.
How do Freelancers prove Income?
As a freelancer, there may be occasions when you need to prove your income. Getting a home loan, for instance, requires you to produce financial documentation.
The primary documents you’ll need are the IRAS-issued income tax statements. Some lenders will need the notice of assessment (NOA) for the latest year, but more often, you’ll have to provide them for the past three years. Your NOA can be accessed via the IRAS website with SINGPASS.
Be aware that lenders shave 30% off freelancers’ income to compute the maximum amount they’ll lend.
Another document that lenders accept at face value is a CPF contribution statement. Although you’re not required to pay into CPF as a freelancer, it would be wise to make voluntary contributions, at least during the feasting months.
The amount contributed towards CPF is determined by specific criteria. Therefore, knowing the prospective borrower’s age and the CPF contribution will allow a banker to calculate the gross monthly income of most applicants.
How do I start a Freelance Job?
Like anything else, a freelance job begins as an idea. Brainstorm the skills you have to offer prospective clients. Then decide on the skills you want to provide as a service. Ensure that:
- You enjoy using the skill you plan to offer.
- You are either competent at that skill or can become qualified with additional training.
- You can locate clients who will pay for your skill.
That last point is worth noting. You may “love” doing something, but if you can’t find or create a market for it, you won’t be able to make a living at it.
As freelance web designer Paul Jarvis explained in a Creative Class podcast:
“[When deciding on our freelance niche], we really need to think about: Is this a niche or a group of businesses that can sustain my business financially? Because it would be really cool if I did websites for indie bands, right? But indie bands don’t have any money! So that’s not sustainable!”
Suppose you don’t have any in-demand skills? Continue to think outside of the box, develop a skill, or keep your day job.
How can I get a Freelance Job with No Experience?
Credentials may help you get your foot in the door. At the outset, though, you won’t be able to command top rates. You may have to take on low-paying or even pro-bono gigs to gain freelance experience and confidence in your skills.
Freelancers in creative industries need to beef up their portfolios to attract their ideal clients. Realize, though, that a portfolio is always a work in progress.
Network with those already established in your field and pick their brains for what worked for them. Optimize your LinkedIn portfolio and ask for referrals. And check out GrabJobs for freelance job opportunities.
What are the 5 Best Freelance Jobs?
1 - Tutor
Tutoring can be personally and financially rewarding. Many private tuition teachers earn six-figure annual incomes. Fueled by kiasu parents who force their children to spend excessive amounts of time in tuition, this is a recession-resistant industry.
So what’s the profit potential for freelance tutors? Expect to make at least $20 an hour for primary students and $25 an hour for secondary students. Upper secondary students often pay upward of $40 an hour, while junior college students pay $50 or more per hour.
If loyal students recommend you, parents will gladly pay a premium price. And if you’re an ex-MOE teacher, you may even command $75 an hour and above. To reach the top income levels of freelance tutoring, consider teaching group classes.
👉 Browse Tutor Jobs on GrabJobs
2 - Social Media Manager
Here’s a skill you might have overlooked in your inventory: a social media manager. Do you obsess about growing your Instagram following? Then you might want to get paid to do the same thing for companies as their social media manager.
A freelance social media manager manages a business’s social media account, grows its following, and create posts and graphics. Depending on the job description, you may manage Facebook ads, too.
You’ll find these jobs in different flavors. Some may require writing skills, while others call for graphic design. Make sure to go after positions that match your skillset.
So much can you expect to get paid? That depends on factors such as how much work is involved and your experience. You may charge anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand per month for managing a small business’s accounts.
👉 Browse Social Media Jobs on GrabJobs
3 - Writer
Do you have a way with words? Then you might want to try your hand at freelance writing.
This is one of those creative jobs that requires you to build a strong portfolio and work hard to break through. Ensure that you have an excellent command of the language you’re writing in, or you’ll go hungry.
It’s hard to define how much a freelance writer can get paid. The pay can range anywhere from a few dollars for a random article on the internet to thousands of dollars for a long-form article in a well-paying publication.
👉 Browse Writer Jobs on GrabJobs
4 - Web Designer
Most Singaporean companies don’t employ in-house web designers. But at some point, these companies will realize that their websites look like they’re stuck in the last century and will hire a freelancer to bring their websites up to date.
Your skills, your portfolio, and how far you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone will determine the types of clients you’ll serve. If you’re self-taught, how much you can charge will depend on your technical mastery as well as your design skills. For example, if you offer UI and UX design, you can charge significantly more than someone who just does basic websites.
For a basic five-page website, expect to be paid at least $2,000 to $3,000. Learn UI and UX to ramp up your income.
👉 Browse Web Designer Jobs on GrabJobs
5 - Tourist Guide
To work as a freelance tourist guide in Singapore, you must obtain a license from the Singapore Tourism Board. You’ll have to attend the time-intensive tourist guide course to earn the coveted license. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, because those stiff requirements limit the supply of guides and keep fees relatively high.
Professional tourist guides in Singapore charge anywhere from $250-600 for a four-hour tour. On the higher end, expect to provide transportation.
👉 Browse Tourist Guide Jobs on GrabJobs
Is it worth it to Freelance in Singapore?
Whether it’s worth it to work at a freelance job is a question that only you can answer. And you may have to revisit that decision periodically. As your wants and needs change, you may decide that you’d prefer freelance jobs. However, you may also realize that full-time employment alone may work better for you at another stage in your life.
One of the major advantages of being a freelancer is that it allows you more control over your schedule and, in many cases, your income. For instance, if you want to take a week off, you’re free to do so. If you don’t want to take on a specific job or work with a particular client, you can politely decline.
Concentrating on specific clients or gigs may allow you to grow your income faster. However, if you opt out of too many opportunities, especially initially, you may find your income declines proportionately.
If you value flexibility more than achieving a certain income level right away, a freelance job may be a good fit for you. Carefully consider the Advantages and Disadvantages sections at the beginning of this article to help you decide whether to pursue a freelance job in Singapore.
So, there you have it – your definitive guide to top considerations for freelancers in Singapore!
If you’ve weighed the pros and cons of freelancing in Singapore and decided to give it a try, check out GrabJob’s freelance listings. GrabJobs is a recruitment platform and job website headquartered in Singapore. On our site, you’ll find a wide variety of job listings.
Hopefully, this article has provided you with a wealth of information to jump-start your freelance worker career. Remember, starting your search with GrabJobs is one of the most effective ways to help you find a freelance job in Singapore!