Commentary: For many overseas Singaporeans thinking of returning, what weighs on their minds?

Commentary: For many overseas Singaporeans thinking of returning, what weighs on their minds?

While many Singaporeans are going overseas, many are also coming back. Ivy Low discusses their motivations, opportunities and challenges.

singapore day 2017
More than 6,000 Singaporeans attended Singapore Day 2017 in Melbourne. 213,400 Singaporeans have gone overseas as of last year, compared to 157,800 in 2004. (Photo: MCCY)

SINGAPORE: “I was working in the UK for over a year. But the economy became uncertain after Brexit,” said Jean Ng, a Singaporean associate with an investment bank based in the UK.

It seems alterations in job prospects overseas is one key reason why Singaporeans today are looking to come back home to work.

A commentary on Channel NewsAsia a few weeks ago highlighted that more Singaporeans are going abroad to seek out new economic opportunities and pursue their passions.

It highlighted that we were seeing a greater inclination towards working and living abroad among younger people, and not necessarily with the aim to migrate permanently.

Indeed, many Singaporeans who have moved overseas are keen to explore coming back after living away for a few years, for a variety of reasons.


Changes in economic conditions overseas seen in Jean’s story aside, family commitments, especially caring for ageing parents, is often cited as the primary reason for many who return to Singapore.

This was especially true for one Singaporean we met, Bernadine Lee, who had moved to Australia previously.

“After working in Sydney for 16 years, I was keen to return to Singapore to work, to spend more time with my family, especially my elderly parents,” she said.

Singaporeans watch a live broadcast of Joseph Schooling competing in Rio
Singaporeans watch a live telecast of the 2017 Olympic Games in Rio. Six in 100 Singaporeans live overseas. (Photo: AFP)

Families with working spouses find returning to Singapore beneficial as they often have to grapple with challenges with childcare support overseas. High taxes and lack of opportunities due to visa requirements also motivate a few to come back.

Other Singaporeans cite more emotional reasons for returning home. 

Often, an affinity to home and Singapore’s way of life, accompanied by a desire to contribute back to the nation, motivate them to search for jobs back home.

We have seen a steady stream of overseas Singaporeans keen to return to Singapore in recent years.

Research at Robert Walters found that 82 per cent of overseas Singaporean professionals in our database are open to a move back home, if they can find a suitable job opportunity. Banking and financial services, and sales and marketing were the top two sectors that returning Singaporeans are keen to work in.


Returning Singaporeans may find plentiful opportunities back here.

Being a key business hub, many multinational companies continue to set up offices in Singapore and looking to use Singapore as a regional base for Southeast Asia.

In January this year, Ogilvy & Mather announced a three-year strategic collaboration with the Economic Development Board, to build up Singapore’s capabilities in modern marketing, foster Asia-led innovation in marketing services from its Singapore office and develop a strong pipeline of Singaporean talent.  

Singapore is also likely to see continued demand for local IT and digital specialists, as companies focus on improving their IT infrastructure and service platforms for customers.

Singaporeans stand to gain from continual investments in the local economy. Following the implementation of the Fair Consideration Framework, we have seen from our in-depth market analysis and client feedback that employers are increasingly focused on hiring local talent.

workers Singapore file
File photo of people walking on a street in Singapore. (File photo: Ngau Kai Yan)

Overseas Singaporeans enjoy a huge advantage within Singapore’s job market, even as competition remains stiff. Not only do they add to the numbers of people who can take up new jobs, Singaporeans with overseas working experience often bring with them a global mindset and an in-depth understanding of Singapore’s local work culture.


Despite strong reasons to come home, Singaporeans based overseas wrestle with several concerns when deciding to return.

Chief among them are questions about work-life balance and the worry that they may have to struggle with a more hectic pace, especially among those in developed countries such as the US or Australia.

After spending a period of time living in another country, some also cite the challenges of re-adjusting back culturally. 

This issue is more complicated for some overseas Singaporeans who have found their partners overseas or have families based with them overseas.

To help overcome such concerns, and ease overseas Singaporean professionals back into the local workforce, it would help if companies spoke frankly to candidates to understand what returning Singaporeans want from their employers back home.

Our research shows that the top three factors returning Singaporeans look for in an employment package include good salary increments, a clear career progression and flexible working arrangements.

Companies should also consider assisting with accommodation search and providing time off in the first few weeks when a Singaporean employee moves back home.

These little things go a long way in showing returning Singaporeans they are working for a company that values its employees beyond the bottom line.

Ivy Low is the International Candidate Manager at Robert Walters (Singapore) who runs the Balik Kampung programme which helps overseas Singaporeans find work opportunities and move back to Singapore.