Guide to Hiring the Best Domestic Worker

Choosing a domestic worker can be nerve-wracking since not only are you bringing someone new to your home, but you are also making them responsible for your family's well-being. Nonetheless, the demand for FDWs is increasing in Singapore and, in some cases, you may not have any other option than to hire outside of your network. To make choosing the right domestic helper easier, we have written a guide on the most important aspects to consider when hiring an FDW.

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How to Find Your Domestic Worker

You can hire a domestic worker through a couple of channels, with the most common being through an agencies or direct hires. Agencies will cost you several thousand dollars but they will usually take care of all the costs associated with getting your FDW set up in your home. Direct hires are good for people who already have a particular domestic helper in mind through introduction and want to save on the agency fees. However, while direct hires are cheaper, you will still be responsible for all associated costs of hiring and transporting your domestic worker.

Agency tips and precautions

There are hundreds of agencies in Singapore, each with their own services and reputation. If you are not sure where to start, the Ministry of Manpower has a directory that will help sift through accredited agencies. Agencies tend to hide their fees, but the average cost is reported to be around S$2,000 and can rise up to S$3,000 depending on the agency and your circumstances. The fee includes work permit and immigration paperwork, interviews, training and transportation for your domestic helper. Agencies will also charge your FDW with something called the "placement fee", which she will be responsible for either through a loan or by getting it taken out of her salary. According to the MOM rules, the placement fee should be no more than 2 months of your domestic helpers's salary.

When you search for your domestic worker, you should consider agencies that have an above average retention rate (% of FDWs who stay with their employer for over a year) and placement volume (number of work permits an agency has applied for). You should also make sure the agency's transfer rate (domestic workers who have transferred more than three times to different employers within a year) is as low as possible. Making sure those things are checked off during your search will help you find a reputable agency that delivers quality service.

Agency QualificationIndustry Average
Retention Rate47.27%
Placement Volume61.7%
Transfer Rate1.5%

You must make sure the agency is accredited and has not received demerit points from the MOM; otherwise, you may run the risk of poor service, absurdly high fees, hidden costs and poorly trained FDWs. When you are searching for an agency, you should read the MOM's reports on which agencies are delinquent as the MOM has closed over 95 agencies since 2006 and has 11 agencies currently under surveillance. Finally, a quick Google search shows that some of the agencies whose licenses were revoked have started operating again; it would be wise to avoid working with those agencies.

Direct hire tips and precautions

If you do not wish to go through an agency, it is possible to hire a domestic worker directly from the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) website. This is not to be confused with hiring a domestic worker who is working in Singapore with an expiring contract—which is known as a transfer hire. With direct hires, you have more freedom to choose your domestic worker, can save a few thousand dollars and allow your domestic helper to avoid paying the agency placement fee. Though you will have to submit paperwork yourself, the Ministry of Manpower has made the process quite convenient and easy to understand.

You should be aware that if you are hiring a domestic worker from the Philippines, you must go through an agency due to the Philippine Embassy requirements. This is because the OEC (home leave) application that the Philippines requires for your Filipino FDW's home leave must be processed through an accredited agency. Also, while a direct hire is much cheaper and reduces the risk of running into a shady agency, it will leave you vulnerable if something happens between you and your FDW. You will also have to make all of the arrangements associated with hiring your domestic worker, such as her plane ticket, additional training and immigration paperwork.

How to Pick the Right Domestic Worker

Whether going through a domestic worker agency or doing a direct hire, narrowing down your search to several criteria will make choosing the right domestic worker easier. There are 243,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore currently, with countless new ones applying to domestic worker agencies every day. This makes the sheer number of available domestic workers to choose from daunting, especially since there is no way of knowing who actually possesses the right skills and personality. However, there are a number of things you can do to simplify your search, including understanding the industry's demographics and wages, knowing which skills you want from a FDW and taking the proper precautions against possible abuses.

FDW demographics

The demographics of foreign domestic workers in Singapore are as such: around 52% are from Indonesia, 30% are from the Philippines, 15% are from Myanmar and the rest are from other countries including Myanmar, Sri Lanka and India. While the domestic workers advertised on agency websites are immediately available, you should be aware of current and future legislation from abroad banning new foreign domestic workers from entering Singapore. This is currently the case with Indonesia, Malaysia and temporarily with the Philippines, limiting the number of new FDWs coming into the market and making the hiring process more competitive with less choice.

Nationality% Working in Singapore
Malaysia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, Hong Kong7%

Qualifications and Wages

In general, more experienced FDWs command higher salaries. While the Philippines and Indonesia imposed a minimum wage of S$570 and S$550 respectively, you can expect to pay even more based on their qualifications, language skills and any training certifications she has attained. Certain FDWs have received accredited training in elderly or child care, are university educated or have extensive working experience in Singapore. FDWs with these credentials can make your life much easier and can definitely be worth the higher wage.

Anecdotally, Filipino domestic helpers are a good choice for someone who doesn't want a language barrier, since English is commonly spoken in the Philippines. If religion or culture is important to you, you should choose a FDW who most closely resembles your own background. Those who need a FDW who can take care of their children will be better off with a domestic worker who has children back home or has extensive childcare experience. Those who need a domestic worker to take care of a special needs child or elderly relative may do better with a FDW who received specialized training.

Transfer FDWs

Transfer FDWs are becoming very popular in Singapore due to cheaper fees and faster hire times. Unlike new hires, transfer FDWs are already in Singapore, either looking to finish their current contract with a new employer or looking to extend their work permit. You can hire them directly and apply for the proper paperwork through the Ministry of Manpower's website. One of the benefits of transfer FDWs is that she can usually start within a few days, compared to the several weeks of process required for new FDWs. Also, because the FDW already has experience working for a household in Singapore, training and adjustment periods are relatively shorter. However, you should be wary of FDWs who have switched employers more than three times in one year as this can mean that the FDW has been having issues retaining her employment.

Precautions when choosing your domestic worker

There are several precautions you must take when hiring a FDW, regardless of your channel of hire. Using a reputable FDW agency and making sure she is legally allowed to work in Singapore (not underage, trafficked or otherwise) is the first step to making sure she will be a safe fit for your family. Knowing what qualities you want in your FDW is also imperative, whether it's culture, language skills, training and level of experience, as this will increase your chances of getting along with your helper. You can also check the Ministry of Manpower's website for FDWs who were blacklisted or complained about to make sure you are not hiring someone who has committed crimes against their previous employers. However, you should take some of the complaints with a grain of salt as there are no investigations conducted to prove the claims.

Additionally, once you have found your ideal FDW, you must maintain a proper employer-employee relationship to reduce potentially life altering risks. You have to understand and follow the Ministry of Manpower's regulations for proper employer work ethic by giving your FDW a day off, paying her the legal wage, giving her adequate medical coverage and understanding that she is an employee who requires basic human rights. At the same time, you should conduct proper screening, especially if she is requesting a high wage, to make sure she is actually trained in the things her FDW profile stated.

Next Steps After Choosing Your Domestic Worker

After you have found a FDW, there are several steps you should follow to ensure easy transition into employment. You will have to attend the Employer's Orientation Programme, submit your domestic worker's medical exams and purchase FDW insurance. If you are hiring your FDW directly, you will be responsible for paying her airfare and transportation to your home (unless she is a transfer). After that, you should giver her some time to let her settle into your household before you begin your training.

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Anastassia Evlanova

Anastassia is a Senior Research Analyst at ValueChampion Singapore, evaluating insurance products for consumers based on quantitative and qualitative financial analysis. She holds degrees in Economics and International Business Management and her prior working experience includes work in the capital markets sector. Her analyses surrounding insurance, healthcare, international affairs and personal finance has been featured on AsiaOne, Business Insider, DW, Vice, Her World, Asia Insurance Review, the Australian Institute of International Affairs and more.