Freelancing in Singapore and how it works

All you need to know about freelancing in Singapore, from day rates to recruitment:


Helping freelancers find work has been a key part of the last 10 years of Cogs history.  Our network of freelancers within the local Singapore market is growing from strength to strenght and thought we would share some important insights and information.

What is freelancing in Singapore?

By local definition, freelancing would mean that you are a self-employed professional contracting your skills to a company or organization of your choice. Because you’re providing a service of your own, you would be liable to supply the necessary tools for the work and also note that unlike employed workers, won’t be given the same staff benefits eg, annual leave, medical, CPF. There are exceptions to certain companies that do start giving pro-rated benefits for long term freelancers, but it is dependent on the agreements, be it verbal or non-verbal.

You’d also have to be legally able to work in Singapore eg. If you’re on a tourist visa and represent yourself as a freelancer without notifying the Ministry of Manpower of your purpose of visit for business allowed, then you’d be in for some long chats with the lovely officials here. It’s very important to note that it is an offence to work without a valid permit here, and that could result in a fine and/or jail time plus a ban from re-entering the country. Yes, very serious stuff! And that means you won’t be able to enjoy the infinity pool atop the Marina Bay Sands, ever~!

In all honesty, till today there is still some stigma on self-employment in Singapore. There are a few factors contributing to that, but one aspect could be with a more family orientated and security led society, having a solid career as an employee tends to be more held highly upon. It’s only in the last 2-3 years that this group of people have grown more confident of themselves as a talent resource and find it a more flexible and viable working option.

Do I need to set up a company?

This is grey area at the moment because there isn’t an act for freelancing here that states you must, but ideally it is essential. Why? Because it would mean that you are providing a service, business to business, which makes the invoicing much more legit to process at the end of the day, plus it opens multiple doors to working with companies that otherwise have a very high audited process of only dealing with registered suppliers. We’ve all heard of stories where freelancers sometimes get deferred payments to their work after many months (longest we’ve heard of was 2 years) and it’s not a healthy situation for any self-employed professional to encounter. There is possibility that the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) would look into a Labour Movement in the future to streamline the freelance industry in Singapore. But in the meanwhile we strongly recommend you look into setting up a registered sole business or limited liability partnership via ACRA (if you are a team of freelancers) for a small fee.

Day rates or hourly rates?

Most freelancers here are used to going by hourly (man hour) rates or by project basis, so it really depends. How we represent freelancers here at Cogs Singapore is that we find the daily rate to be most ideal.

There are just a few notes to bear in mind about rates here.

  • Your rates would be dependent on how highly in demand your skills are, and the level of experience you have. Better talent can charge more, and the more you charge the more expectations of your expertise will come from the client.
  • There are differences to charging based on the nature of the project and the company. It’s quite good to develop a range of your rates for the service level you’d be providing since nature of projects change from time to time. Looking at what other similar freelancers charge vs how good you are is usually a good way of coming up the numbers.
  • Be flexible on a job by job basis. People who charge less and actually outshine the ones that are inflexible and/or charge more, tend to be called back repetitively. Doing a good job for a small freelance stint can bring in many months of recurring income and lots of respect from the client. This is especially good to note for anyone who hasn’t been doing it for a long time or just started and are not sure how to go about it.

How do I get paid?

In most cases many companies here follow a 30 day payment model. This would be you submitting your invoice for the work done after the assignment is complete and making sure you supply them all the correct information to credit the payment to you, either by bank transfer or cheque. If your area of work requires you to travel extensively for client meetings or chalk up any additional expense, then do make sure you sort that out before you agree to the assignment because claims are usually less straightforward. It could be that you need to fork it out first and charge them as a total at the end, or work out a system where they pay as you claim. Either way, make sure you consider this as a possibility of costs incurred for your service.

This all sounds good, how/where do I start?

Even self-employed professionals should have an updated CV or a deck/folio of projects to showcase for when seeking work, particularly online. Because most of the time recurring activity is spurred by word of mouth, it will take you that little bit extra effort to market yourself properly as a reliable freelancer. It’s worth the hassle because it will also keep you updated on the changes in different requirements of companies if they know you are constantly touching base with new work you’ve dabbled in which might pique their interest.

There are many pros and cons to freelancing. The way we see it, it’s becoming a strong option for talented young individuals who crave diversity, through to seasoned long time permanent professionals that are looking for a breath of fresh air and jump onto that entrepreneurial bandwagon. Freelancing can be a very flexible and lucrative system of working for parents who want to spend more time with their children or the intrepid folk who prefer to scoot off to an exotic destination every few months. Whatever the reason, if done with good effort and the right process is a win-win situation for both yourself and the companies out there that need your talent.

How can Cogs Agency help?

We are regularly briefed in Singapore on short and long term contract in design, UX, creative, project management and technology.  We don’t post all of our roles on the cogs website since some are only live for a few hours until we book the right person in.  Across all of our offices we work with lots of freelancers and on any given day will have around 200 people working in agencies, start-ups and in house in brands so we have heaps of experience in this area.  We will help negotiate your rate and other key terms such as notice period, overtime, expenses and working hours.  Then after you start we’ll deal with your timesheets and invoicing.  In short we are your agent!

Over the next couple of months we’ll also be getting some personal insights from a few of our regular freelancers to get dibs on their perspective of cracking it solo here, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, for more information, see our Guide to Living and Working in Singapore or check out our most recent salary survey to see what the freelance salary market is like.

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