Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The long, long road to hiring a foreign domestic worker in Singapore

One of the things we worried about in our move back to Singapore was being able to find good nannies/maids who could help take care of our kids. For a while we contemplated getting relatives here on visit passes and having them help with the kids. Cheaper probably, but I didn't want to disrupt the kids' lives by having people come and go for short periods of time. So we opted to hire nannies. From the very start, we wanted to make sure whoever we eventually brought to Singapore with us would have spent sufficient time caring for our kids in Manila. It didn't matter if those nannies had no previous work records in Singapore. We were willing to go through the process of applying for an FDW (foreign domestic worker is the official term for maids in Singapore) as long as the people we found were good at what they do and showed genuine concern for our children.

Applying for an FDW in Singapore is actually quite straightforward. All the information you need can be found in the government's manpower website www.mom.gov.sg and these include a step-by-step process on how to do it as well as an online platform for submissions done electronically. The response time is absolutely brilliant as well as you can get results the following day (for in principle approval letters) or within the same hour (for issuance of work permits).

The whole process does take a bit of time though and a fair amount of money. Please see cost breakdown below:

Fees (for each FDW application):
Online application to get in-principle approval letter - SGD20
Insurance policy and Security Bond (obtained via phone call with policy mailed to residence) - SGD130
Entrance Test and Work Safety Seminar (required for first-time FDWs) - SGD35
Medical exam - SGD75 + SGD10 (X-ray)
Online application for issuance of work permit - SGD20 (or maybe SGD30, can't remember exactly)
Miscellaneous (photos, photocopies of documents) - SGD20
Transport costs (ferrying the nannies to and from the entrance test/safety seminar site, clinic for the medical exam, work pass division for fingerprinting and subsequently pick up of permits) - SGD20

Total cost = SGD330

Meanwhile, the whole process takes roughly 3-4 weeks from start of application to actual pick-up of work permits with most of the steps done via online. One still needs to accompany or drop off and pick up the FDW for a couple of things though such as the entrance test/safety seminar, the medical exam, document verification/ fingerprinting/ photo taking for work permit issuance and actual pick-up of work permits but each of these steps only takes half a day.

You could probably save yourself the hassle and pay a maid agency to do this for you but when I asked a friend of mine how much this would cost, it amounted to about SGD700 which is about twice the cost of what you shell out if you did it on your own.

In any case, we're finally done with the process. Our FDWs have their work permits and now it's on to the next task on our to do list. Get long term visit passes for our kids (and yes, it's quite ironic that our nannies have work permits already but our kids are still on short-term visas).

Our new home in Singapore

After a short hiatus in the Philippines where we realized we weren't quite ready to settle down yet, we were once again packing up our life to move back to Singapore. When we came back to Manila we originally intended to stay indefinitely and so we had sold all our furniture and shipped home about 6 Jumbo balikbayan boxes worth of stuff accumulated through our 7 year stay in Singapore. Coming back, we had to start building a home all over again. It didn't help that we rented an unfurnished apartment so all we had when we arrived in Singapore was a refrigerator and a washer and dryer. Everything else, we had to source on our own. Good thing though that with so many people coming and going in this country, there are so many places to find cheap and/or secondhand furniture.

Here are a couple of places we hit up for cheap and good home finds:

1. www.singaporeexpats.com

We actually sold all our furniture earlier through this site and so we thought we would be able to find some good bargains in here. However, we realized there were very few people posting classified ads on this site (since they started charging people for posting ads) and so we had to look for alternative sites and that's when we discovered...

2. www.craigslist.com.sg

Now this site is a goldmine. There are usually several posts in the furniture, garage sale and baby/kids section everyday from both owners or dealers of new and secondhand furniture. The selection offered a variety of items as well, from designer furniture (think John Erdos) to the more mass market IKEA furniture. This is actually where we got our bedframe/side tables (SGD68) and our sofa (SGD99) for a steal. It helped that when we were looking for furniture, most households were spring cleaning in preparation for Chinese New Year and were looking to offload household items. On the downside, you need to view the items first to check the condition of the item and arrange for transport, which is usually additional cost. However, even with the additional transport costs, items still come out cheaper than buying new.

Photo of our major craigslist find, our queen-sized bedframe with matching side tables (the other side table was put in storage). Japanese-style (close to the floor) so our 2 year old can easily climb up and down from the bed.

Photo of another craigslist find, our lovely purple sectional sofa with chrome legs which can seat 4 people comfortably. In photo as well is our daughter's pink chair and table (Mammut series) and coffee table (Lack series) both bought from IKEA.

3. IKEA Singapore

The landlord in our very first apartment furnished the unit with mostly IKEA items and when we left the unit, we bought those items from her at a discount. It seemed natural then to buy IKEA when we needed additional household items and furniture to complement whatever IKEA furniture we already had. We bought bulk of our furniture again from IKEA this time around (i.e. TV console, coffee table, dining set, kitchen items, bookcases, study tables and chairs). We saved on assembly costs as well since we set up our furniture on our own although we did have some slightly sore hands afterwards.

4. Neighborhood provision shop

We live right beside a busy market and an HDB complex with several neighborhood provision shops. From there, we were able to get plastic containers for storage, plastic cabinets, and odds and ends (kitchen items, batteries, wall hooks etc) at very low prices.

We also got a Free 32 inch flat screen TV when we signed up for the requisite cable, internet and mobile packages. Of course, we had to research a bit and figure out when the company usually had its promotions based on historical data and wait until they rolled it out which was actually within days of us arriving in Singapore.

So, quite a good haul there. Our apartment is now truly a home to be proud of and we didn't even have to spend that much to get it fitted out. Now if only I could get rid of this new craigslist addiction...