Hi everyone, I am a Canadian entrepreneur that decided to move to Singapore recently. I saw lots of folks talk about Employment Passes online but there seemed to be less information about founders taking the plunge to move to Singapore from North America. In this written piece I will be sharing why I decided to move to Singapore to start a new business and how I was able to get my EntrePass VISA with the Singapore government.
Leaving a Post-COVID Toronto
I was about 3 months away from my 31st birthday before I decided to officially make the move to Singapore. It was right after the new year had started and 2023 was a shining new beacon for hope. My friends and family had finished celebrating the holidays like we normally do, and it felt like COVID was starting to soften restrictions so things felt like they were going back to the new normal.
I couldn’t help but feel like it was time to make a big change in my life. During COVID, I felt like I was stuck in a bit of a rut. There were moments when I loved what I did for work but as soon as I stopped learning and it became more grunt work — I didn’t enjoy it any more. I would then find other versions of escape such as gaming, cooking, or other outlets to pass the time and keep myself entertained.
When I look back at those COVID years (2019–2022), I did not want a replication of what I felt on a professional level, so this insight, along with the recent discussions and new years timing, I was newly prepared to make a big change.
Another thing that I needed to explore was surrounding myself with other entrepreneurs and founders where we could share the struggle and the successes. I didn’t quite feel like I had that in Toronto or Montreal and perhaps it was because I was too comfortable with the status quo that I was less open to meeting brand new folks (there’s obviously brand new talent coming into such an incredible tech hub every year).
When I read Steven Pressfield’s “Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Is,” it really resonated with me that if there is a burning desire for you to do something, you should physically plant yourself there to help accelerate your learning velocity. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people and absorbing knowledge through osmosis is always a good thing. Further, I had this infatuation with seeing how the ‘other side of the world’ lived, and so South-East Asia was such an intriguing place for me with the insane population growth, economic development, cultural differences, and opportunity.
A move needed to happen. I knew that if I didn’t do this, I might regret it, particularly as I was still young and I may not be able to do such drastic changes in the future if I had a family of my own to care for. Worst case scenario, I check it out for a few months and I move back home.
I am often asked how I landed on Singapore as my first destination. Of course I did the whole research on Google and Youtube so I could hear a ton of different expat stories… but it really came down to a few simple criteria.
1) Strong Travel Hub: Changi Airport is world class with flights going in and out. I suspected I would be traveling a ton so this would make a huge difference in my SEA experience.
2) Soft Landing: since I had never been to SG or much of SEA (aside for a vacation in Thailand 10 years ago), I wanted to make sure I had all of my basics taken care of (i.e. clean drinking water, English speaking, safe environment).
3) Community of Founders: when researching start-up hubs in SEA, there are a ton, but Singapore still stood out as one where I knew talent quality would be high and it’s also where there are corporate HQs and VC offices. Just to be around high caliber people was enough for me and probably the most important criteria.
I am not 100% sure I will settle here long term, but Singapore was the most logical to start my exploration.
Starting the Move
Ok, at this point, it took me about a month of discussions and mulling over the idea to actually decide to move, but there were now some logistics I needed to take care of. The 2 big ones were: #1 was what to do with my condo? I had a bunch of stuff in there that I needed to get rid of or move to storage so that I could rent it out. #2 how am I going to be allowed to live in Singapore? I needed a VISA and work permit. #3 how would my relationship with my long time girlfriend be affected? (I will cover this in another article).
I ended up just spending 1–2 weeks clearing out as much as I could from my condo into my storage locker, selling a bunch of things, and setting up my place as a furnished rental in downtown Toronto. I hired our friend who is a real estate agent who could help me find a proper tenant since I would be out of town. It took me 2–3 weeks to find a tenant after I had failed doing it without an agent at first.
For the VISA, I looked at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) website to see what kind of work permits there were and quickly landed on the EntrePass because I was looking to start a new business in SEA. The use case fit. I booked my one-way flight about a month before I flew and got lucky that I could convert all of my Amex points to Aeroplan reward points, which in turn allowed me to get the most insane flight for only 87.5k points + 120$ CAD for the airport taxes. YUL > LHR > SIN all in business class.
Applying for the EntrePass
The EntrePass requires you to write a decent amount of documentation on what kind of business you are or plan on running. They have a ton of questions about your past experience and proof points because they are relatively strict on who they let in. Below I will outline the things I had to do and the timeframes associated:
Step 1: Initial Application + Payment
I sent in my application on Feb 23, 2023 with payment. It took me about a week to put this package together — very annoying to dig up a bunch of old documentation):
- Public facing material such as speaking engagements that prove I am an expert in certain subjects
- Work history, responsibilities, education
- Other things related to startups (i.e. investments, exits, funding, etc.)
- Description of the business and plan for operations
- I had to go to a Canadian bank branch to send a wire transfer, and trusted that the Singapore government would receive all of my documents. It cost about $130 CAD.
Step 2: Receipt of Application
Feb 24, 2023 I got the first receipt email where they said it would take 8 weeks for processing.
Step 3: 1st Response from MOM
Mar 30, 2023 the MOM emailed me asking for clarification on a bunch of items. They particularly wanted me to send a bunch more documentation for shareholders agreements, raising money, current investments in startups, media coverage. They gave me 5 days to reply.
Step 4: Sending Additional Documentation
5 more emails exchanged between Apr 1 and Apr 5 where they wanted me to help clarify the business plan (which I did update to a slightly different venture since I had been in SG for a few weeks and acquired new knowledge).
I followed up on Apr 18 to see if they needed anything else, and they mentioned that their “evaluation had been complete” and that I would hear back from MOM in 2–3 weeks on the assessment.
Step 5: Application Approved!
On Apr 25, 2023 I got the go ahead email — woohoo. They issued an In-Principle Approval (IPA) document that served as my most important doc because it gave me a unique identifier number that I could use to book an appointment and even make a bank account. I was super happy that it was approved and I wouldn’t have to just leave the country to come back and reset my tourist visa.
Step 6: Booked my In-Person Appt
On May 3, 2023, I booked my in person appointment using the online portal. You couldn’t really get a time slot the following week as it looked like there was only availability 2 weeks out.
Step 7: In-Person Appt for Biometric Scans
On May 15, 2023 went to Clark Quay for the in person interview. It was a very painless process. Went to the offices and the queue was so efficient. I had never seen a place work so well for a government office. This was very unlike the ones I had been to in Canada and the UK. I was out of there in 20–30 min (picture taken, fingerprints taken, payment done, paperwork processed).
Step 8: Received Physical Card
The card was hand delivered by an agent from the MOM on May 22, 2023. I had to be home with my passport to show that I was the real person picking up the government-issued ID.
All in all, it took about 3 months from start to finish to get approved. Although I had a bunch of extra documentation to take care of, it still felt relatively painless to do. I did have confidence that I would get approved based on folks that I spoke to in Singapore while on a tourist VISA, so that was helpful for morale as well.
Hope this article was helpful to understand the journey that you will go on if you choose to apply for the Singaporean EntrePass!
This article was originally written on my Medium.