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I am planning to visit Singapore for 2-3 weeks, purely for tourism. However, I work for a U.S. employer. So, can I work remotely for my US employer while visiting Singapore?

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  • Since this has led to debate in the answers, can you expand on what your "work" would look like? Sep 28 at 9:25
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    If you're going "purely for tourism", why are you interested in whether you can work?
    – TripeHound
    Sep 28 at 16:21
  • Related: we collect the list of countries where you can get a digital nomad visa or where the country has realized which century we are in and have legalized this explicitly (that list consists of Canada, so far) at travel.stackexchange.com/q/45092/4188
    – chx
    Oct 2 at 1:42

5 Answers 5

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The answer is... it depends on your work!

Visitors entering Singapore for business or pleasure are issued a Short-Term Visit Pass (STVP) that allows them to do the following business activities:

Attend company meetings, corporate retreats or meetings with business partners. Attend study tours or visits, training courses, workshops, seminars and conferences as a participant. Attend exhibitions as a trade visitor.

(courtesy Ministry of Manpower)

The same page also has a longer list (too long to quote here) of other activities that can also be performed on an STVP if you notify MOM, including things like organizing conferences, commissioning equipment and participating in exhibitions.

So, can you work from Singapore for your US employer on an STVP? If you're a typical executive whose work consists of attending meetings, yes, you can! But if you're doing something like writing code for customers that aren't in Singapore, you're legally in a grey area. Realistically speaking, though, Singapore is very business friendly and as long as you're not getting paid by anyone in Singapore or trying to visa run your way around the 30-day visa free period, you'll be fine.

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    I think that list just doesn't include remote work for ones original non-Singapore employer because those lists were written when that was simply not a relevant phenomenon. I wouldn't be surprised to see it mentioned in an updated version
    – Hobbamok
    Sep 27 at 11:20
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    I am flabbergasted this is getting upvotes. None of the items in the list mention ACTUAL WORK. All those things in the list are normal on a business visa, which indeed allows such things, but not working. Sep 27 at 12:35
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    @SebastiaanvandenBroek The OP is on vacation for a few weeks, which is a very different situation from being a digital nomad for 5 years. Nevertheless, your answer claims there's a blanket prohibition on "work", which is clearly not the case -- it depends entirely on what your "work" consists of. Sep 27 at 13:44
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    @SebastiaanvandenBroek Is it actually expressly "against the law"? Or is it not specified because this is all new? I know of countries that allow it, even though there laws don't specifically say so. One of the countries I asked specifically said that working was fine as long as it was not for a local company and was not paid into a local bank account. To them it was about not taking jobs from locals. Remote work does not do this, and therefore there are countries that now informally allow it.
    – Midavalo
    Sep 27 at 14:52
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    @Midavalo it is, also see my answer. The law says you need a work visa before you start work. Digital nomads aren’t so new that Singapore didn’t have time to add an exception to the list shown here. The main issue is taxation. While countries do happily take the money tourists spend, those tourists tend to spend a lot of money in a short time. If someone is there (partially) for work, they on average don’t spend as much as a tourist while still using tax-paid facilities and infrastructure of a country. Some countries might still consider it a net benefit though, especially poorer countries. Sep 27 at 17:46
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Note: I am answering from a legal perspective, without any 'it's only a short time, you'll get away with it' suggestions.

The answer is no. The Singaporean government website states:

All foreigners who intend to work in Singapore must have a valid pass (commonly known as a work visa) before they start work.

There are very few countries that allow to just work remotely, even if the company isn't in that country, and the ones that do wouldn’t allow it on a visa suited for tourists, or visa-free arrival. Technically even answering a work email isn’t allowed but a country wouldn’t be smart to enforce and punish that. But go beyond that and the law is pretty obvious. There are many rules about labour and once you’re not a tourist mainly depositing money, they want you to follow those rules and pay taxes. It doesn’t matter where your employer is located. A local couldn’t just work for a foreign company and avoid paying taxes in their life either.

The term for this is digital nomad, there are SOME countries that have something resembling a digital nomad visa, but Singapore is not one of them. It does have a Work Holiday visa but it's heavily regulated and quite limited in who can apply. In any case, on a tourist visa (officially eVisa, but only needed for a selected number of countries) or visa-free arrival, work is never allowed.

Countries simply mostly haven't quite adopted to work nowadays being quite possible to do with just a computer and internet, and reasonable taxation on those people is a difficult thing to both determine and enforce. So usually the old work laws just apply, and you're not able to legally work any more than a manual labourer trying to get a job in a better-paying country.

Of course many people work remotely anyway and get away with it.

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    @Midavalo this is not an opinion, this is the structure for the vast majority of the world, including Singapore Sep 27 at 6:49
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    This answer is alarmist, mostly incorrect and does not answer the OP's question, which is not about becoming a long-term digital nomad (which I agree SG does not support), but doing casual work while on a short vacation. Sep 27 at 7:57
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    @lambshaanxy completely irrelevant. You may think it’s alarmist, but it’s the law. Stackexchange generally doesn’t condone breaking the law just because it’s casually and short-term. You may not like the truth but Singaporean law is very clear. But I am happy to hear from you where I am incorrect. Sep 27 at 12:33
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    Yes you quoted a source that explicitly explains what you can do on BUSINESS visa, which is, around the world, exactly intended for the reasons it lists, and NOT the same as a work permit. My claim about email is correct, but like I also said no country will enforce that because it makes no sense to be so anal about it. Sep 27 at 14:10
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    @SebastiaanvandenBroek That page has a section called "Exemptions", which links to the same page that I quoted. So, yes, in Singapore (unlike many countries) there are entirely legal exceptions! Sep 27 at 14:30
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So, can I work remotely for my US employer while visiting Singapore?

That can broken down into 2 different questions:

Is it legal?

Unclear. Most countries laws have not caught up with the realities of remote working and don't specifically cover this case.

What would happen if you do it?

Absolutely nothing. No one cares. Firstly, the likelihood of some officials finding out is extremely small. And even if they do, they wouldn't know how to handle it and what to do with you.

The laws are mostly written under the assumption that the work that you are doing is somehow causally related to your presence in the country. That's simply not the case for remote work and so it's all up to interpretation.

The strictest interpretation would be "You are not allowed to check work e-mail while in country". That's off course preposterous and no sane country would ever enact or enforce such a law as it would kill its own tourism industry.

So as long as what you are doing can be considered "reasonable" you are fine. Until we have a legal definition (through the courts or through an actual law) what "reasonable" means, I'd go with "what everybody else is doing".

The thing is, that millions of people do this every day and I haven't heard of a single case where that was a problem. The absence of court cases is also a sign that most governments are fine with the status quo and don't WANT to deal with it.

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    While this isn't wrong, I don't think Stackexchange should be giving advice in the way of 'you're probably not going to be caught'. I definitely interpreted the question as 'is it legal', not 'can I get away with'. Sep 27 at 14:20
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    "is it legal" is in many cases completely irrelevant to what actually happens. In Tennessee it's illegal for woman to drive unless there is man in front of her car waving a red flag. In this case my answer is "while it may technically be illegal , it's standard practice, millions of people are doing it daily without any repercussions and there is no incentive at all for the government to enforce anything" I'm NOT encouraging breaking the law, I'm saying the intent of the law doesn't apply here.
    – Hilmar
    Sep 27 at 14:55
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See answer to #10 in here: legal500.com/guides/chapter/singapore-corporate-immigration

It clearly says:

Remote work can be carried out provided that the work activities do not benefit a local Singapore entity. In such scenarios a work pass sponsored by a Singapore entity is not required.

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    What is this site? How are you affiliated? What is the source of this claim? Presented as is, this is spam.
    – chx
    Oct 2 at 1:26
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In the EU it is the location of the company for which you work that decides where you must pay taxes. If I live in Germany and work as a fixed employee for a Danish company, the taxes must be paid in Denmark. But only as a fixed employee. As a freelancer I would have to pay taxes in Germany, because then I would have my own company in Germany. This is due to the EU laws, to which all other laws must conform. The sentence "The above activities should not involve a contract of service or a contract for service with an employer in Singapore." could hint that it is something similar in Singapore. It should be checked of course.

EDIT:

This used to be the rule of thumb, before covid. Danish tax has clarified the rules and now it is affected by work-from-home days: "If, as a result of corona/COVID-19, you are working more from home (in your country of residence) than you used to, it could mean that you are liable to pay tax in both your country of residence and in the country where you work. As result, you should check your tax assessment notice and consider whether you need to make any changes for 2021." (https://skat.dk/data.aspx?oid=17032&lang=us)

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    The EU with free movement is quite a different situation though. Sep 27 at 14:22
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    I don't think this answer is really relevant to the OP's question, but I also believe it is wrong. It doesn't matter where the company you work for is based, it matters where you work. If you place of work is in in Denmark you pay Danish tax, if it is in Germany you pay German tax. And, yes, this is impacted by work-from-home. Sep 27 at 21:16
  • Concerning the relevance i was looking at the sentence: "The above activities should not involve a contract of service or a contract for service with an employer in Singapore." It seems(!) that this is the criteria for when you don't need to notify MOM. If someone could verify this then the OP would be safe, since he has a contract with a US company.
    – erikf
    Sep 28 at 4:51
  • @JackAidley: You are right work-from-home will/may affect this. It all depends on the tax agreement between the 2 countries. I edited the post.
    – erikf
    Sep 28 at 5:02
  • I don't think that's quite right. The EU doesn't have unified tax rules. For example, if you are a tax resident of Hungary, you do have to pay taxes (and other levies) here, regardless of where you are employed. Hungary is also special in the sense that it levies tax on your worldwide income, regardless of where you actually reside. Without double-taxation agreements coming into play, Hungarian nationals pay the taxes twice. Although the tax code does allow for the deduction of income taxes paid abroad, only income taxes, which is just a fraction of what you actually have to pay after salary.
    – Riwen
    Sep 28 at 10:08

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