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Remote Working: Should You Arbitrage Between Where You Work & Where You Live

What differentiates Singapore remote workers from low-cost remote workers?

Remote working

Remote working is an attractive prospect for many employees in Singapore. Being able to avoid the daily commute to work means that our 9 to 6 job is exactly that – and does not stretch into a 7.30 to 7.30 commitment.

We can also manage our lives more flexibly and enjoy more work-life balance. We can take care of our children and elderly parents, prepare our own meals, and beat the office crowd to the gym.

If we land a remote working role, we usually have the flexibility to consider our work situation. We can continue remote working from Singapore or choose to arbitrage the lifestyle cost of living in a cheaper country.

Of course, if we are working in a role that requires our physical presence, especially in healthcare, retail sales, and jobs that require working with your hands, such as chef, mechanic, electrician and many more, then remote working may not be an option.

Remote Working From A Cheaper Regional Location

A full remote working role gives us the possibility to earn in Singapore dollars while spending in a cheaper location, such as Malaysia, Thailand or Indonesia. Our spending power instantly rises without any pay raise or having to work longer hours or in a more stressful position.

Making the decision to move is much easier if we only have to think about ourselves too. The reality is that our personal lives have been built in Singapore. Our family and friends live here, we may prefer to educate our young children in Singapore, and we may need access to Singapore’s medical facility for ourselves or elderly parents who live with us.

Before deciding, we may also have to consider the implications on our partner. They may not have the flexibility to work remotely, and the only other option is for them to find a role in the new location. If we choose to go to a low-cost location to arbitrage lifestyle costs, then their salary prospects may diminish. If we choose to move to another developed city where they can find an equally good-paying job, then we may not be arbitraging the lifestyle cost difference.

Read Also: Renting In Malaysia, Working In Singapore: How Feasible Is It For Singaporeans

What Differentiates A Singapore Remote Worker From A Low-Cost Remote Worker

If we work remotely in Singapore, we retain the ability to go into an office or have face-to-face meetings with colleagues or clients when the need arises.

While we can argue to no end that Johor is a short commute or even living in another regional city is just a few hours away by flight, the reality is that companies lose the ability to rely on such workers’ physical presence.

This is why, despite working in a remote role, we have an ethical responsibility to talk to our companies before moving overseas.

Of course, the main argument is that remote work should be remote work – with no need for physical meetings or attendance. Remote workers will then have to answer the next challenging question: what differentiates them from a low-cost remote worker?

Like remote workers, Singapore companies may be looking at ways to reduce their operational cost – potentially arbitraging on low-cost workers regionally with the same skillset but a lower cost of living. Similarly, companies can fly them down if they really need their occasional physical presence.

Laying The Groundwork For An Overseas Workforce

If the only reason we landed our remote working role is because of our existing relationship with the company, we have to question whether it’s only a matter of time before they find a cheaper remote worker.

Alternatively, remote workers can also be valuable if they are laying the groundwork for an overseas workforce. There are many instances where companies rely on a few overseas employees to set up their overseas operations.

This could start off as remote work and loose commitments for a future potential working space. From the company’s point of view, there are not many employees and no need to spend on an office space yet. Ultimately, though, they may have the ambition to start an overseas physical space – and their remote workers in that location may be expected to do more.

Do You Continue To Be Protected By Singapore’s Employment Laws

Once we become remote workers overseas, we also have to understand whether we continue to be protected by Singapore’s labour laws. As a developed nation, Singapore has stringent employment laws, governed by the Employment Act to protect workers. Again, discussing our remote working situation with our companies before moving will clear this up.

Alternatively, companies may prefer freelance arrangements with remote workers. This may mean an employee loses work privileges such as maternity/paternity, annual leaves, sick leaves and hospitalisation benefits, and more.

On top of this, freelancers will also not be paid CPF contributions – which is an important pillar for our retirement planning in Singapore.

Finally, we need to know where we are supposed to be income tax. While we need to pay income tax on income earned in Singapore to IRAS, this may not be true once we move overseas.

Read Also: Working In Singapore But Living In Malaysia. Which Country Do You Have To Pay Taxes In?

Moving Overseas As A Remote Worker In The First Place

For companies that are open to Singapore remote employees moving overseas, we may have to sort out our own overseas work arrangements. Our company may support this decision, but it does not necessarily mean they want to be responsible for employees moving overseas.

Countries like Malaysia, Thailand and even Japan may have a digital nomad visa for foreigners. Other countries may have similar short- or long-term resident visas.

With remote work, we are going to live and work in an overseas country, and it’s not just about working-from-anywhere on a holiday.

Read Also: Long Term Resident Visa: How Much Does It Cost To Live And Work As A Digital Nomad In Thailand


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