Sick of Working in Singapore? 5 Ways to Get an Overseas Job and Work Abroad

singaporeans working overseas job

It’s no secret that Singaporean workers are a miserable lot. Long hours, bosses who border on flouting manpower laws, and salaries that barely cover basic living costs are just some of the complaints of the typical Singaporean worker.

In fact, JobStreet’s Job Happiness Index 2017 revealed that almost 1 in 2 Singaporeans are unhappy with their jobs. While the result has improved from the previous year, it still looks pretty dire.

Well, if you belong to the 45 percent that’s unhappy with your jobs, you could change what you don’t like, switch jobs or simply stop complaining.

But, if you’re certain that working here is a surefire way to end up depressed and unhappy, then you could potentially fly the coop and get a job overseas.

Granted, you’re not going to get a job within 24 hours of your first application. But turning your dream of working overseas into more than coffee shop talk is definitely achievable within a few years if you make it a priority.

Here are 5 simple ways you can steer your career in that direction.


1. Research on which country has overseas jobs for Singaporeans

There’s a reason so many foreigners are flocking to Singapore—getting a job here, whether as an expert or a worker, is easy.

When you are looking for a job overseas, unless you have a blindingly clear idea of which country you want to move to, it’s better to keep your options open.

Which country you should go to depends on your industry. For instance, many Singaporeans in the banking industry get posted to Hong Kong or China, but fewer manage to get jobs in places with ailing economies such as Spain.

LinkedIn has come up with this revealing little chart within the article Careers That Will Move You that detailed which countries are losing more people to migration, and which are gaining. Countries with strong economies take in more people because the economy is growing and there are more jobs.

Long story short: You might be in love with pasta and vino, but the Italians aren’t about to give you their jobs when there aren’t enough to go around.

How to get hired overseas

2. Pick an industry and role that gives you more mobility

If you’re lucky enough to have realised early on in your career that you want to get the hell out of Singapore, you’ll be able to pick an industry or course of study that will give you more mobility.

However, even if you’re already some years into your career, that doesn’t mean you’re trapped here for life. In fact, if you’re working for an MNC, you might already have a good chance of asking for a transfer. If not, you still have the opportunity to make a gradual transition into a more mobile role or build more transferable skills on the job.

The fact is, some jobs are more mobile than others. In the same article titled “Careers That Will Move You” on LinkedIn, here are the skills that people who’ve found overseas jobs frequently possess.

How to get hired overseas

As you can see, social media marketing is high on the list of desired skills. If you’re working in marketing or corporate communications, you would do well to try to engineer a move into the social media side of things if you’ve been largely dealing with traditional marketing.

Even if nothing related to your industry appears on the list, that doesn’t mean all is lost. Many of my friends in industries like banking, engineering, marketing, accountancy and law have found jobs overseas, and none of those appear on the list.

The trick is to find out just how you can mobilise your own job. Even within industries, certain specialisations make you more marketable overseas.

For instance, a lawyer who has experience in areas like banking or finance has a much higher chance of moving overseas doing the same thing than a divorce or criminal lawyer.


3. Try to move overseas within your current company

A surprisingly high number of Singaporeans I know who have managed to secure overseas jobs have done so by working for MNCs and then requesting to be transferred overseas. You might not get a transfer immediately, but if your boss knows you’re gunning for international experience and you’re thick-skinned enough to remind him about it from time to time, sooner or later an opportunity might knock on your door.

I see this happen a lot in banking especially. May, a 30-year-old assistant vice president at an international bank in Singapore, spent two years in Hong Kong at the same company.

“At many international banks, they cannot find locals to fill positions in other locations, hence they are open to people from other countries,” she says. “You become useful because they may need you to bring know-how and share best practices from Singapore.”

However, the opportunity to move didn’t just fall into her lap. “It didn’t happen by chance. My strategy was to indicate interest in relocation. I spoke with my boss about it and made enquiries about vacancies from time to time. So when a vacancy did open up, they naturally thought of me,” she says.


4. Build transferrable skills

Technically, virtually everything you do at work is a “skill”, whether it’s schmoozing with clients at a bar or mixing chemicals in a lab. But if your main skills are standing at the fax machine, you’re not going to go very far.

Technical skills in mechanical engineering, programming or science have proven to be very transferable. So if you’ve got such skills, keep it up and try to get awesome at them.

In non-technical industries, on the other hand, skills that are actually useful to overseas markets often contain an international and/or Internet component. For instance, social media marketing is in huge demand in countries where English is not a native language because businesses need native speakers to help promote their products on the Internet in English.

Also, language skills can be a distinct advantage, even if you don’t have to use the foreign language directly at work.

For instance, 38-year-old Herman, who is now working in Japan as an architect, credits his Japanese language skills with his success at finding a job there. “I flew directly to Japan for a few months to job hunt instead of applying from Singapore. It’s true that many companies did have lots of foreign staff who spoke only English. But it was easier for me to look credible at interviews because I could speak fluent Japanese.”

Lynn, a 30-year-old marketing manager based in Shanghai, also credits her Mandarin skills with helping her get hired in Shanghai. While those working in upper management at her job converse mainly in English, many of the junior employees are China nationals, and giving instructions to subordinates would be a pain without a strong command of Mandarin.

It’s high time to search for some SkillsFuture language lessons to give your resume and career a boost.


5. Meet people and network

Connections can bring you far. If you have a diverse network of international friends and colleagues, it makes finding jobs in another country that much easier.

So next time when you’re invited to a party or a work event, try to resist the temptation to head home, bond with Netflix and have an early night (which we all love to do). Instead, get out there and shake a couple of hands.

You never know which person you meet might be a recruiter or just may have a suitable position in their companies for you and can put in a good word for you.

Do you intend to find work abroad and why? Share your overseas job-hunting strategy in the comments!