Hiring a domestic helper in Singapore: how to interview and employ a maid

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Hiring a helper in Singapore can be an absolute blessing when it comes to juggling our careers, kids, running a household and trying to keep up with the rest of our lives. Extra time with the kids instead of drowning in a sea of laundry? Yes please! But how do you go about finding the perfect extra pair of hands to whip up endless batches of homemade muffins, host the perfect playdate, and still manage to keep your house looking like a bomb hasn’t hit it? It’s a tall order and a minefield for sure! We’ve come to the rescue with our guide to what steps you need to take to employ a helper, tips on how to find the right lady for the job, and some all-important interview questions…

Employer requirements for hiring a helper
Before you go about employing your first FDW, you need to check the current criteria as stated by Ministry of Manpower (MOM), but in a nutshell you’ll need to be:

  • At least 21 years old
  • Have no undischarged bankrupt proceedings against you
  • Have the mental capacity to fully understand and discharge you responsibility as an employer

If you are hiring a helper for the first time, you must also attend an Employer Orientation Programme: an easy peasy online exam to check that you know to treat your helper like a fellow human being…

The pesky paperwork needed for hiring a helper
If you have decided to use an employment agency to process the paperwork necessary to legally employ a helper, they will handle all of the documentation and submissions on your behalf. Phew. However, hiring directly is also an option, and often saves you some money in the process. If you are going it alone then once you’ve agreed working terms with your new helper (days off, work expectations, pay, etc), then you will need to swiftly get the pesky paperwork sorted:

  1. Apply for her work permit from MOM. This can be done online (make sure you have your SingPass to hand) and you will need to make a payment of $30.
  2. Buy a security bond. Once purchased this will be registered automatically with MOM. Also purchase personal accident and medical insurance. The more cover you can afford, the better. The bond and the insurance are often sold as one package: expect to part with around $250 for two years cover.
  3. Once your helper has arrived you will need to send her for a medical exam within 14 days of her employment with you. MOM will send you a letter which your helper will take along with her to any GP for her check-up.
  4. Set up your monthly GIRO to cover your helper’s monthly levy (current charges are $60 concessionary rate – applicable if you are Singaporean and have a child or elderly person living in your household – or $265 for everyone else).
  5. If your helper does not have a bank account then it is a good idea to set one up and arrange her salary by monthly transfer (current average salaries for an FDW range from around $500-$700 per month). POSB offer a Payroll Account which is easy to open and designed especially for helpers.

Hiring a helper: The questions you need to ask in The Interview!
1. Check transfer and work history: If she is leaving a contract early then find out why, and even if she is transferring from a completed contract, do check her reasons for moving on. Investigate thoroughly and don’t always believe what you are being told in terms of back story – always check for yourself via references.

2. Personal situation: Her personal situation (her marital status, etc) may have some bearing on her interactions and capabilities as an employee, so do find out what you can (which may not sit easy for those of us who feel like a nosy parker asking such personal questions!).

3. Religion: Often helpers from Indonesia are Muslim, and as such are unable to handle or eat pork (not ideal if you live on bacon sandwiches) or interact with the family pets. Equally many helpers do not live by strict religious codes but do check what personal boundaries she may have when it comes to what she can and can’t do/eat/touch because of religious restrictions.

4. Her Future Plans: The chances are your FDW is working here to help out family back home, and probably intends to return one day to her home country. Her plans may have relevance to how long she stays with you, but also by knowing her aspirations you can help support her towards her goals. We love a woman with a plan!

5. Children: If childcare is something that your helper will be involved in, then you need to make sure she likes small people! If your potential FDW is a fan of kids then check what kind of playmate and carer she might be to your children. Find out what games she likes to play, what nursery rhymes she knows, and what are the typical kind of meals would she prepare for your child?

6. First Aid: With young kids in the house prone to bouncing off walls it is essential that your potential helper knows some basic first aid. Check whether she has taken any first aid courses, and if not would she be happy to go on one? Give her simple first aid scenarios to respond to (we asked a helper what she would do if our toddler bumped his head and she said she would make him a sandwich – we didn’t hire her).

7. Her Daily Routine: Engage her in a chat on how she spends a typical day in her current job. Suggest some tasks she would be expected to do within your household and get her to rank them one to five. If you are looking for a Nigella in the kitchen, but she would rather get on with the ironing, then chances are the fit is not going to be great for either of you.

8. Cooking: Check her culinary skills and ask her to name ten meals she is confident in cooking. If she really does know how to cook this will be easy for her. If cooking isn’t her bag then then you can decide how important her kitchen skills are in the grand scheme of things.

9. Pets. If you have furry (or slithery) creatures in your home (the kids don’t count) then check whether she has cared for pets before and make sure she is happy to hang out with your fur kids. 

10. Off Days (or Days Off as we would say): Ask her if she has any hobbies and what she enjoys doing when she is not working. Her answers will give a really good clue as to her character.

11. Marketing (Grocery Shopping): How does she feel about doing the marketing and which supermarkets in Singapore is she familiar with? Is she used to budgeting and making grocery decisions by herself?

12. Food: What does she like to eat? Does she prefer her own food, or will she be happy to eat whatever you guys are eating? Does she expect a food allowance? Is she allergic to any food? Are there foods she is unwilling to handle? Food can be a huge minefield if you end up with a helper who only eats meat when your family are strictly vegetarian!

13. Drinking/Smoking: Encourage honesty and ask her if she drinks alcohol and/or smokes. You may have strong views, and if she does partake in the odd beer and like a cigarette with her friends on a Sunday this may not be a deal-breaker for you, but if she lies about it then that can cause issues later down the line.

Our tips for finding The One
As a team of working mums, we here at HoneyKids’ HQ are all blessed with amazing right-hand women who help the juggle of life that bit easier. Our tips for finding a good ‘un?

  • Take your kids with you when interviewing: the ones who try and make a connection with your child are the ones to put at the top of your hire list.
  • Speak slowly and use simple English: Going into an interview in full Cockney slang is not going to get anyone very far (yes, husband, I am talking about you).
  • DON’T listen to all the horror stories. For the all the ‘my maid tried on my bikini’ stories, there are many, many successful relationships.
  • Keep your ear to the ground for recommendations. The Facebook online groups often have details of fabulous helpers looking for new employment.
  • Arrange for a second interview in your home, preferably when the kids are around for her to interact with.

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