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8 min read

How to pay contractors in the Asia-Pacific Region: A Complete Guide

Contractor management

Author

Gabriele Culot

Published

March 11, 2024

Last Update

July 03, 2024

Table of Contents

Levels of digitalization

Openness to Modern Work Approaches and Global Mobility

Key considerations for compliant contractor payments in APAC

Global digital payment platforms

Local digital payment platforms

Bank transfers

Other payment methods available in the APAC region

The importance of an independent contractor agreement

Supercharge your contractor management with Deel

Key takeaways
  1. APAC region businesses have a diverse range of options when it comes to paying their contractors, each with specific features and limitations
  2. Ensuring contractor relations, including payment and classification, are legally compliant is vital to the success of any business
  3. Understanding the regulatory landscape demands staying informed on tax obligations, including self-employment tax and accurate contractor reporting practices

The Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, encompassing a vast area from East and Southeast Asia to Oceania and the Pacific Islands, represents an incredibly diverse tapestry of cultures, economies, and technological landscapes. This diversity is not just linguistic or cultural but extends to significant variances in economic development, digital infrastructure, regulatory environments, and societal norms.

APAC's sheer geographic size covers approximately 30% of the Earth's land area, with populations ranging from small island nations like Fiji to populous giants such as China and India. This results in a region that is home to over 60% of the world’s population, varying widely in terms of demographics, with aging societies in countries like Japan and young populations in countries like the Philippines.

Levels of digitalization

The level of digitalization across the APAC region varies dramatically. On one end of the spectrum, countries like South Korea, Singapore, and Japan are global frontrunners in digital infrastructure, boasting some of the world’s fastest internet speeds, widespread adoption of digital payments, and advanced e-government services. These nations have robust digital economies, with tech-savvy populations highly receptive to new technologies.

Conversely, other parts of the region are still in the nascent stages of their digital journey. Nations like Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia are grappling with challenges like limited internet penetration, lower smartphone ownership, and budding e-commerce sectors. However, even in these emerging markets, there is rapid progress and a palpable eagerness to leapfrog to advanced digital solutions, bypassing traditional infrastructural development stages.

Openness to Modern Work Approaches and Global Mobility

The APAC region’s openness to modern work approaches, including remote work, freelancing, and digital nomadism, is as varied as its levels of digitalization. 

The gig economy and remote work have also found fertile ground in Southeast Asia, where the combination of a young, adaptable workforce and escalating digital penetration has paved the way for new work paradigms. Platforms connecting freelancers with global opportunities are increasingly popular, and coworking spaces are sprouting up in major cities to serve both local and traveling professionals.

Discover the ins and outs of doing business in Southeast Asia

However, traditional work models remain predominant in several APAC countries, where cultural norms and business practices favor in-office presence and structured employment relationships. In these contexts, shifts towards more flexible work arrangements are gradual and often driven by multinational corporations and startups.

Key considerations for compliant contractor payments in APAC

While the specifics of local regulations can vary between different countries in the region, some considerations are essential no matter where your business operates or where you choose to hire contractors.

Worker classification

Misclassification occurs when an employer classifies full-time employees as independent contractors, which can lead to legal challenges and penalties under APAC employment laws. Businesses must carefully assess their working relationship with contractors, using tools like the W-8BEN tax forms (for US companies) for international contractors to prevent misclassification issues.

Why is it important to avoid misclassification?

  • Legal and financial consequences: Misclassifying employees can lead to penalties, back taxes, and legal repercussions
  • Compliance with labor laws: Correct classification ensures adherence to applicable local laws, including minimum wage, overtime, and employee benefits like health insurance
  • Reputation: Proper classification practices uphold a business's reputation and integrity in its professional relationships and with regulatory bodies
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Local labor and tax laws

Each APAC country has its unique set of labor and tax regulations that govern the hiring and payment of self-employed individuals. From social security contributions in Singapore to income tax obligations in India, businesses must ensure compliance to avoid serious legal repercussions.

Payment methods and currency fluctuations

Choosing the proper payment method is crucial for seamless transactions. Additionally, companies must account for exchange rates and transfer fees, especially for payments to international contractors in APAC.

Global digital payment platforms

To optimize the payment process and ensure compliance, businesses can turn to global payroll services and contractor management platforms like Deel. These platforms offer solutions for automated payments, compliance checks, and managing contractor agreements, simplifying the onboarding process for international contractors in the APAC region.

PayPal

Well-established globally, PayPal is a versatile digital payment system that supports transactions across countries, including the APAC region.

Pros

  • Wide acceptance with both consumers and businesses
  • Supports multiple currencies and international payments
  • Offers buyer and seller protections

Cons

  • Fees can be high for currency conversion and cross-border transactions
  • Account limitations or freezes can occur, often without immediate explanation

Stripe

Geared towards online businesses, Stripe provides a comprehensive suite of tools for handling online payments and has been expanding its services in the APAC region.

Pros

  • Robust API for custom integration and e-commerce support
  • Supports multiple currencies and international payments
  • Advanced features for subscription services, fraud prevention, and more

Cons

  • More suitable for technically savvy users or businesses with development resources
  • Charges per-transaction fees, which may be higher than some local alternatives

Wise (formerly TransferWise)

Offering "borderless" accounts, Wise is well-suited for contractors and those doing business in multiple currencies across the APAC region.

Pros

  • Transparent fees and real exchange rates
  • Multi-currency account allows for receiving and holding funds in different currencies
  • Makes international payments simple and cost-effective

Cons

  • It is not a direct payment solution, primarily for transfers
  • Account setup requires verification, which can take time+

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Local digital payment platforms

APAC countries also boast various local digital payment platforms made to meet the unique needs and preferences of consumers across the region.

Alipay

Primarily used in China, Alipay is a leading digital wallet platform that has expanded its services across APAC countries, catering to Chinese tourists and international transactions.

Pros

  • High penetration in the Chinese market, excellent for businesses targeting Chinese customers
  • Offers escrow services, enhancing transaction security
  • Supports QR code payments for easy offline transactions

Cons

  • Primarily designed for users with Chinese bank accounts
  • English language support and international user interface may be limited

WeChat Pay

Similar to Alipay, WeChat Pay is deeply integrated into the Chinese market through the WeChat social app and has been extending its reach in the APAC region.

Pros

  • Massive user base from WeChat social network
  • Versatile, supporting various types of transactions, including in-app, online, and retail
  • Real-time P2P transaction capabilities

Cons

  • Mainly focused on Chinese users and tourists abroad
  • Relatively less known among non-Chinese businesses compared to Alipay

GoPay (Indonesia)

GoPay is part of Gojek, Indonesia's super-app that offers a wide range of services. GoPay facilitates digital payments for services within the app and at a growing number of offline merchants.

Pros

  • Integrated with Indonesia's leading app for ride-hailing, food delivery, and more, making it highly convenient
  • Offers features like GoPayLater for deferred payments
  • Cashback and promotional discounts are frequently available

Cons

  • Primarily available in Indonesia; limited use outside the country
  • Requires a Gojek account, which not all may prefer to have

Paytm (India)

One of India's largest digital payment platforms, Paytm offers many services, including mobile recharges, utility payments, and online and offline shopping payments.

Pros

  • Wide acceptance among merchants across India, both online and offline
  • Offers additional financial services like banking, investments, and insurance
  • Frequent cashback offers and promotions to save on transactions

Cons

  • Complex app interface due to the vast array of services offered
  • Customer support challenges have been reported

GCash (Philippines)

GCash is a mobile wallet app that offers functions like sending money, paying bills, and online shopping, making it a versatile digital payment solution in the Philippines.

Pros

  • Extensive network of merchants and billers
  • Offers additional financial services such as savings and investments
  • Easy to cash in and cash out through a vast network of partners

Cons

  • Requires verification for full access to services, which can be a lengthy process
  • Can have high fees for certain transactions or cash-out options

GrabPay (Southeast Asia)

Associated with the Grab super-app known for ride-hailing, GrabPay extends its utility to payments for various services within and outside the Grab ecosystem.

Pros

  • Integrated into a widely used app across Southeast Asia, offering convenience
  • Earn rewards points for transactions that can be redeemed for discounts
  • Supports QR code payments for easy use at merchants

Cons

  • Limited to countries where Grab operates
  • Relies on linking a bank account or credit card for top-ups, which might not be preferred by all users

OVO (Indonesia)

A leading digital payment service in Indonesia, OVO is widely accepted in malls, coffee shops, and online platforms, supporting everyday transactions seamlessly.

Pros

  • Broad merchant acceptance across Indonesia
  • Offers cashback and rewards points that can be used for future transactions
  • Can be used for bill payments, mobile top-ups, and more

Cons

  • Limited functionality outside Indonesia
  • Relatively high cash-out fees to transfer money from OVO to bank accounts

LINE Pay (Japan, Taiwan)

Part of the LINE messaging app, LINE Pay offers convenient mobile transactions, focusing on markets like Japan and Taiwan, where LINE has a strong presence.

Pros

  • Seamless integration with the LINE messaging app, enhancing user experience
  • Wide acceptance in Japan and growing in Taiwan for both online and offline transactions
  • Attractive reward and cashback programs

Cons

  • Primarily geared towards users in Japan and Taiwan

  • Deposits and balance top-ups require a local bank account or in-app purchases

Bank transfers

Bank transfers in the APAC region are facilitated through a mix of traditional and innovative systems.

Real-Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) Systems

These are specialized bank transfer systems used in various APAC countries to facilitate high-value, real-time fund transfers between banks.

Pros

  • Immediate processing and settlement of transactions
  • High security and reliability for large transactions
  • Direct wire transfer between bank accounts without intermediaries

Cons

  • Typically used for high-value transactions, minimum amount limits may apply
  • Generally operates only during business hours
  • Fees can be higher compared to other transfer methods

Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT)

A global financial messaging network that banks and financial institutions use to securely transmit data and instructions through a standardized system of codes.

Pros

  • Global reach, enabling international bank transfers to and from APAC countries
  • Trusted and secure communication between financial institutions
  • Can handle various types of financial transactions beyond transfers, such as letters of credit

Cons

  • Transfers can take several days to process
  • Fees can be high, with charges from both sending and receiving banks
  • Complexity in filling out transfer forms correctly to avoid delays

Immediate Payment Service (IMPS) - India

An instant payment system created by the National Payments Corporation of India, enabling round-the-clock money transfers through mobile, internet, and ATM channels.

Pros

  • Instantaneous transfers, available 24/7, including holidays
  • Low transaction fees, making it cost-effective for smaller transfers
  • Wide adoption among Indian banks and financial institutions

Cons

  • Primarily available within India
  • Transaction limits may be lower compared to other bank transfer methods

PromptPay - Thailand

A government-initiated service allowing instant transfers in Thailand using a mobile number or national ID as an identifier.

Pros

  • Instant and available 24/7
  • Low or no fees for consumers
  • High levels of adoption and trust

Cons

  • Limited to domestic (within Thailand) transactions
  • Requires registration with a Thai bank and linking of mobile number or ID

Fast And Secure Transfers (FAST) - Singapore

FAST is an electronic funds transfer service that allows customers of participating banks to move Singapore Dollar funds between banks in Singapore instantly.

Pros

  • Instant transfers, 24/7 availability
  • Secure and efficient method for domestic transfers
  • Broad participation from Singaporean banks

Cons

  • Limited to Singapore Dollar and domestic transactions only
  • Transaction limits may apply, set by individual banks

New Payments Platform (NPP) - Australia

An advanced payment platform that allows Australians to make real-time, data-rich payments between accounts at participating financial institutions.

Pros

  • Real-time transfers, any time of day
  • Allows for a wealth of information to be included with payments
  • High security and fraud prevention measures

Cons

  • Participation by banks is voluntary. Not all accounts may be NPP-enabled
  • Primarily for domestic transactions within Australia

Other payment methods available in the APAC region

Other payment methods available in the APAC region

Beyond the options mentioned above, more traditional methods like cash, credit card payments, money orders, and checks continue to play a role in the APAC contractor payment landscape. However, depending on the country, their spread and availability may vary.

While small businesses or individual contractors who prefer traditional banking relationships and straightforward transactions might find these methods align with their operational style, these traditional methods may not mesh well with modern compliance requirements, increasing the risk your business may be exposed to.

Moreover, the evolving digital economy and the push toward electronic payments suggest that the relevance of cash and checks may continue to wane in favor of more secure, efficient, and traceable payment solutions.

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The platform experience is great, and not only for me but also for our team members who use it. They are always saying how easy it is to add things like hours or expenses, and they find it great that they can withdraw their money in crypto

Lizette Kuld,

Head of People & Culture, Moralis

The importance of an independent contractor agreement

Once you accounted for all the practicalities and know what payment solutions best fit your needs, having a well-drafted contractor agreement is one of the most important steps you should take when beginning a business relationship with contractors in the APAC region. This document not only defines the scope of the work and the expectations from both parties but also provides a legal framework that can protect the interests of both the hiring company and the contractor. A comprehensive contractor agreement should include the following information:

  • Scope of work: Detailed breakdown of the services to be provided
  • Payment terms: Payment amounts, schedule, and method (e.g., direct deposit, upfront, milestone-based)
  • Duration: Start and end dates of the contract or project milestones
  • Confidentiality and intellectual property rules: Terms regarding the use of confidential information and ownership of work
  • Termination clause: Conditions under which the contractor agreement can be terminated

Download a ready-to-deploy contractor agreement template and skip ahead in the process of setting up compliant work relationships.

Download the template

Supercharge your contractor management with Deel

In the current landscape of business relations, the adherence to employment laws, the clarity of contractor agreements, and the effective management of contractor pay significantly affect the operational success of businesses in the APAC region. Whether dealing with direct deposit methods, navigating the complexities of payroll processing, or understanding the functionalities of digital payment platforms, the goal remains to foster seamless, compliant, and mutually beneficial relationships between businesses and their diverse workforce.

By integrating a solid understanding of tax forms, regulatory requirements, and the nuances of labor laws into their global payroll systems, business owners can avoid common pitfalls like a misclassified workforce, ensuring compliance and fostering a productive, efficient, and compliant working environment.

Deel offers solutions to all your contractor management wants and needs. Cut the hassle of contractor onboarding, employee benefits administration, and the risk of misclassification, and streamline your payroll services for your entire workforce. From easy employment contract creation to seamless payments, we can handle it all. 

Learn more about Deel

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