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Thinking Beyond Borders for Singapore

Thinking Beyond Borders for Singapore

January 2021 

Key message  |  Income tax  |  Social security  |  Compliance obligations  |  Immigration  |  Other issues

Key message

A frequent business traveler or short-term visiting employee who exercises employment in Singapore for more than 60 days in a calendar year will be subject to tax in Singapore on the income derived from the individual’s services performed in Singapore, unless exempt by treaty.

Income tax

Liability for income tax

A person’s liability for Singapore tax is determined by the source of the person’s income as well as their residence status.

Singapore adopts the territorial basis of taxation where an individual, whether resident or non-resident, is subject to tax on income derived from or accrued in Singapore. Foreign-sourced income remitted into Singapore by an individual is exempt from tax. However, this tax exemption does not apply to foreign-sourced income received by a resident individual through a partnership in Singapore.

The residence status of the individual would affect the tax rates to be applied on the taxable income.

An individual is treated as a resident if they reside in Singapore except for such temporary absences therefrom as may be reasonable and not inconsistent with a claim by such individual to be a resident in Singapore (i.e. Qualitative rule), and includes an individual who is physically present or who exercises an employment in Singapore for 183 days or more in a calendar year (i.e. Quantitative rule). Physical presence in Singapore for any part of the day shall be counted as one day in Singapore.

A non-resident of Singapore is generally someone who spends less than 183 days in Singapore during the year preceding the year of assessment. The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (“IRAS”) may, on a concessionary basis, assess an individual to tax as a resident for all years where their employment in Singapore is expected to cover a continuous period of at least 183 days straddling over 2 calendar years (i.e. 2-year administrative concession) notwithstanding that the period of employment in the year of arrival or departure is less than 183 days.

Definition of source

Employment income is generally treated as Singapore-sourced if the services are performed in Singapore, regardless of where the payment is made or the contract of employment is concluded.

Tax trigger points

A short-term visiting employee who exercises employment in Singapore for no more than 60 days in a calendar year (other than as a director or a public entertainer) is exempt from tax. The dates of arrival and departure are to be included in determining the 60 days.

Based on the above, a frequent business traveler whose stay in Singapore exceeds 60 days in a calendar year would be subject to tax in Singapore on the income derived from the individual’s work performed in Singapore. To the extent that the individual qualifies for exemption under the conditions of the dependent personal services article of the applicable double tax treaty, there will be no tax liability. Note that approval for tax treaty exemption must be obtained from the IRAS.

Notwithstanding that tax-exemption may apply in accordance to the local tax laws or the double - taxation agreement, there may be filling requirements for the employer and the employee.

Covid-19 tax support for non-resident foreigners

If non-resident foreigners were unable to leave Singapore due to travel restrictions caused by COVID-19 and have been working remotely from Singapore for their overseas employer during the extended stay in Singapore, the IRAS is prepared to consider the non-resident foreigners as not exercising an employment in Singapore for the period of their extended stay in 2020, if the following conditions are met:

1. The period of their extended stay is for a period of not more than 60 days; and

2. The work they have done during the extended stay is not connected to the business assignment in Singapore and would have been performed overseas if not for COVID-19.

If all the conditions are met, the employment income for the period of the extended stay in Singapore in 2020 will not be taxable. Normal tax rules will apply to determine the taxability of employment income for the period of extended stay in Singapore, if any of the conditions are not met. 

Types of taxable income

As a general rule, all payments (whether in the form of cash or benefits-in-kind) made by an employer to an employee for employment in Singapore are taxable, unless specifically exempted under the Income Tax Act or by concession.

The following payments made by the employer for employees based outside Singapore and travelling into Singapore for business purposes are not taxable:

  • accommodation
  • travelling and entertainment (which have been expended for business purpose)
  • per diem allowance not exceeding the yearly acceptable rate determined by the IRAS.

Tax rates

A resident is taxed on the resident’s chargeable income (after deducting applicable personal reliefs) at graduated rates ranging from 0 percent to 22 percent. Non-residents are subject to tax on employment income at a flat rate of 15 percent or at the resident tax rates, whichever is higher.

Other income of a non-resident individual is generally taxed at 22 percent unless specifically exempt or subject to a reduced treaty rate.

Social security

Liability for social security

All foreign individuals are currently exempt from participation in Singapore’s national social security scheme, the Central Provident Fund (“CPF”). Upon becoming a permanent resident of Singapore or Singapore citizen, however, participation in the CPF is compulsory.

Compliance obligations

Employee compliance obligations

Notification to file Income tax returns (Form B1/B/M) are issued by the IRAS in February each year. Individuals are required to complete and submit the form to the IRAS by 15 April. The IRAS may grant an extension beyond the 15 April deadline if there are valid reasons.

Employer reporting and withholding requirements

There is no requirement for the employer to withhold monthly taxes from the employee. Employers, however, are required to complete a return of remuneration form (Form IR8A) setting out the various payments under the employment for the year. The form is to be completed and given to employees by 1 March of the following year. For the Year of Assessment 2021, employers who have six or more employees (in total) for the entire year ended 31 December 2020 are required to submit their employees’ income information to IRAS electronically.

In the case of departing non-Singapore citizens, written notice (Form IR21 – Notice of Cessation of Employment of non-Singapore Citizens) must be given at least 1 month prior to the date on which the person ceases employment or leaves Singapore permanently, or for a period exceeding 3 months. In addition, the employer must retain any money that is due to the employee. The employer can release the money to the employee only when the IRAS grants the tax clearance, or upon the expiration of 30 days after receipt by the IRAS of the Form IR21, whichever is earlier. Form IR21 tax clearance is however not required for short-term visiting employees working for no more than 60 days in a calendar year.

Where a frequent business traveler travels to Singapore for business purpose for no more than 60 days within a calendar year, an employer must still file the annual Form IR8A by 1 March of the following year. However, if the employee had been in employment with the same employer for the full calendar year, Form IR8A is not required. If work/ employment passes are issued to the short term visiting employees who had exercised employment for 60 days or less and remained with the same employer for the full calendar year, the employer is required to provide the IRAS with the following information by 31 January of the following year to request a waiver from the Form IR8A filing requirement:

  • Full name
  • Foreign Identification Number
  • Schedule of physical presence in Singapore (Date of Arrival and Date of Departure) during the calendar year.


Work permit/visa requirements

A work pass will be required for a foreign individual who would like to be engaged in some form of business, profession, occupation or paid employment while in Singapore.

Generally, if the foreign individual wishes to work in managerial, executive or specialized jobs in Singapore, the foreign individual must apply to the Work Pass Division, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) Singapore, for a work pass regardless of the length of the assignment. A registered entity in Singapore will need to sponsor the work pass for the foreign individual.

It is the sole discretion of the MOM to grant an Employment Pass (EP) / S Pass to an individual typically taking into consideration an applicant's qualifications, work experience, salary, track records, skill sets and role to be performed in Singapore.

Other immigration consideration

Under the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) all employers in Singapore are required to consider the workforce in Singapore fairly for job opportunities. Employers should not discriminate candidates based on non-job related characteristics such as age, gender, nationality or race. In order to promote fair employment practices and improve market transparency, employers must advertise job vacancies on MyCareersFuture administered by the Workforce Singapore Agency (WSG) for at least 28 calendar days before submitting new EP / S Pass applications to ensure that job seekers are aware of the job opportunities and have a chance to apply for it.

Exemption from advertising on MyCareersFuture applies for the following:-

  • The company has fewer than 10 employees.
  • The fixed monthly salary for the vacancy is S$20,000 and above.
  • The vacancy is to be filled by an intra-corporate transferee as defined by the World Trade Organisation’s General Agreement on Trade in Services.
  • The vacancy is short-term, i.e. not more than 1 month.

Please note that all employers should practice fair hiring even if the job vacancies qualify for exemption from advertising. MOM will take action against employers who do not adhere to the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, which includes work pass debarment of up to a maximum period of 24 months.

In addition, employers are advised to hire and develop a Singaporean core by making efforts to attract and consider Singaporeans for job positions on merit, and to train and develop their potential and careers. MOM may place companies on the FCF Watchlist if they identify employers with indications of discriminatory hiring practices which include the following:-

  • Complaints of discriminatory HR practices (e.g. involving age, race, religion or nationality bias)
  • Hiring practices that differ significantly from industry peers. For example, employers with exceptionally high share of foreign Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs), or very high concentration of a single nationality.

Once the company is placed on the FCF watchlist, MOM will closely scrutinise their EP and S Pass applications. Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices will engage these employers to help them improve their HR practices. 

COVID-19 – Immigration and Travel Restrictions

All short-term visitors will not be allowed entry into Singapore, except those travelling via the Air Travel Pass and Reciprocal Green Lanes. These additional Safe Travel lanes have been set up by the Singapore Government with certain countries / regions to facilitate shorter term entry into Singapore.

For long-term pass holders, including those issued with in-principle approval (IPA), employers are required to request for MOM’s entry approval before they enter or return to Singapore. They will need to submit an electronic health declaration 3 days prior to arrival in Singapore.

As an effort to minimize the public health risks, all pass holders may be required to observe the below relevant health control measures, depending on where the pass holder is travelling from, and where he / she spent the last 14 consecutive days in:-

COVID-19 Tests:

  • COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction Test (PCR Test)
  • Serology Test
  • Pre-departure Test

Self-Isolation and Segregation Measures:

  • Stay-Home Notice (SHN)
  • SHN in Dedicated Facilities (SDF)
  • SHN Electronic Monitoring Devices

Depending on where the pass holder is travelling from, and where he / she spent the last 14 consecutive days in, the pass holders may be required to serve a compulsory SHN and take COVID-19 tests before departure, upon arrival in Singapore, and again towards the end of their SHN. The SHN may be for a period of 7 days, 14 days, or not required at all. The SHN is usually served in government-designated facility, except for travelers coming from approved countries who can serve it at home upon approval.

Other issues

Double taxation treaties

Singapore has entered into double taxation treaties with numerouscountries/jurisdictions to mitigate double taxation and allow cooperation between Singapore and overseas tax authorities in enforcing their respective tax laws.

Permanent establishment implications

A permanent establishment (PE) could potentially be created as a result of frequent business travel, but this would generally depend on the type of services performed and the level of authority the employee has.

Indirect taxes

Goods and service tax (GST) is currently applicable at 7 percent on domestic consumption. GST is levied on the sale of goods and services in Singapore by GST-registered traders and on goods imported into Singapore. Businesses whose turnover exceeds 1 million Singapore dollar (SGD) are required to register for GST.

Transfer pricing

A transfer pricing implication could arise to the extent that the employee is being paid by an entity in one jurisdiction but performing services for the benefit of the entity in another jurisdiction, in other words, a cross-border benefit is being provided.

This would also be dependent on the nature and complexity of the services performed.

Local data privacy requirements

Personal data in Singapore is protected under the Personal Data Protection Act.

Exchange control

Singapore does not currently impose exchange controls.

Non-deductible costs for assignees

Non-deductible costs incurred by employers relating to assignees generally include private passenger car expenses and medical expenses exceeding a certain cap.

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All information contained in this publication is summarized by KPMG Services Pte. Ltd., a Singapore incorporated company and a member firm of the KPMG network of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative ("KPMG International"), a Swiss entity, based on relevant provisions of the Singapore income tax legislations, regulations issued thereunder and judicial and administrative interpretations thereof, and the web sites of the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore, Central Provident Fund Board, Ministry of Manpower, Monetary Authority of Singapore and Personal Data Protection Commission.

The information contained herein is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act on such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation.