It’s not a stretch to say that Singapore might just be one of the most unique places the planet has to offer. A city-state, comprising 238 square miles, Singapore is ranked as the 176th biggest country in the world, a third the size of London.
Yet, it’s an incredibly diverse small nation and one that has some truly staggering statistics. An economic powerhouse, Singapore boasts the 2nd best GDP per capita for all countries. Its citizens practice a wealth of different religions, from the dominant Buddhist church to Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and more. It also has one of the best life expectancies in the world, a fantastic healthcare system, top-of-the-range infrastructure (including high-speed internet – a blessing for teachers!) and low rates of crime.
A multi-lingual city-state, Singapore’s lingua franca is English, but there are plenty who speak Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. That’s a testament to Singapore’s multi-racial and stunningly diverse geological landscape, as one of the ‘Four Asian Tigers’, alongside South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Naturally, it sounds like a pretty good spot for TEFL teachers, with a fantastic standard of living, an outperforming economy, linguistic diversity and – surely – an excellent schooling system. Is this the case? How hard is it to find work in Singapore, are the wages and cost of living manageable for teachers, and what kinds of work are on offer to qualified TEFL teachers?
What’s it like to teach English in Singapore? Let’s explore one of the smallest, but most exciting countries the planet has to offer.
Singapore: An overview
So we’ve touched on some of what makes Singapore special, but what else does the city-state offer to visitors?
It may be a small country, but it consists of 63 islands. That means – you guessed it – plenty of gorgeous shorelines, as well as easy access to countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. While industrialisation wiped out a substantial amount of the local nature, there’s still plenty to see, including the staggering Singapore Botanic Gardens and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. There’s plenty to see and do culturally, including the National Gallery of Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum for modern art lovers, as well as a rich tradition in literature, known as SingLit.
If you’re into sports, how does an F1 track, a basketball team, a professional football league and a smörgasbörd of indoor sport sound? If you’re more into music, there’s the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and a thriving music scene. Either way, you’ll need to feed yourself, and Singapore has some of the most exciting street food on the planet. Owing to its multiculturalism, Singaporean food takes influence from Chinese and Malay cuisines, blending different styles to create sumptuous dishes from breakfast through to dinner.
You’ll also find a highly educated populace in Singapore. Adult literacy rates are at 97%, and youth literacy rates are at a whopping 99.7% – some of the best figures in the world. That’s despite a mere 2.8% of government spending going towards education.
With English being such a commonly used language in Singapore, TEFL teachers might not instantly think to go there for work. However, there are English teaching jobs for native English speakers from other countries, in both the private and public sectors, as well as a range of international schools. In terms of age ranges, Singaporean kids spend six years in primary school, four to six years of secondary school, and one to three years in post-secondary school.
Requirements for teaching English in Singapore
To teach English in Singapore, English teachers are required to hold both a bachelor’s degree and an accredited TEFL certification. The job market for TEFL teachers in Singapore is highly competitive, and employers such as international schools and public schools will require you to sign at least a two-year contract.
As with anywhere in the world, you’ll need a TEFL certificate. For Singapore, a Level 5 qualification is a great option, with comprehensive training and excellent theoretical grounding that Singaporean employers will appreciate. A 120-hour TEFL certificate is also a solid choice if you’re looking to teach English in Singapore. TEFL courses, wherever you’re going, are of great value on a CV, and teaching jobs will come easier.
Accreditation is also a crucial part of the process. If your TEFL certificate comes from a high-quality course provider, accredited by top industry authorities, it means that the course materials are of the highest standards. Employers around the world won’t take your TEFL certificate seriously if it’s from an unreputable, unaccredited provider and it didn’t have at least 120 hours of training involved.
Degree or No Degree?
You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in order to teach in Singapore, in any subject. This is in order to gain a visa, and also because of the competition for teaching places. Qualifications such as degrees are highly prized in Singaporean culture, and so not having a degree can mean being ruled out of a Singaporean visa.
While qualifications are the most important aspect, teaching institutions in Singapore generally require applicants to have teaching experience. At least one year of teaching in a well-regarded school or English teaching business will create more desirable outcomes for applicants to Singaporean schools.
Although other countries might make you feel as though you’re jumping through hoops for a visa, Singapore makes it relatively straightforward. It’s up to your employer to sort your visa out for you, but it pays to make it easier for them.
What will your employer need to process your visa?
- Two recommendation letters from a previous employer or professor (experience really matters!)
- Degree certificate(s) copy
- Passport copy
- TEFL certification copy
- A criminal background check (signed and copied)
Within a week of arriving in Singapore, you should be subject to a health check. If all is well, the Ministry of Manpower (MoM) will process these results, along with your other paperwork. Employers are required to provide a range of important documents, as described in this guide.
How much can you make teaching English in Singapore?
With Singapore’s enormous wealth, it’s little surprise that there are motivations beyond the landscape that bring talent to the 63 islands.
A powerhouse economy, especially in relation to its size, Singapore offers excellent wages across a range of industries. In terms of salary for teaching English in Singapore, it’s really about where you get a job teaching English, as the wages can be quite variable.
In public schools an English teacher can expect to earn between SGD$1500-3000 a month in a full time classroom job, which is the equivalent of £930-1800. However, the benefits are considerable for a job in the public sector, with some schools including an allowance for accommodation, medical insurance, return flights and up to as much as 12 weeks of holiday. That’ll give any ESL teacher ample time to really explore Singapore’s 63 islands, as well as neighbouring countries!
Finding a teaching job in a private language school might seem like the most lucrative option, but that’s not necessarily the case. Though wages tend to start at around £1200 per month, there’s not a huge amount of opportunity for pay rises, unless with inflation. What’s more, the cost of living in Singapore can become considerable – as we’ll get to – so you may need to top up that primary income with private lessons.
The best English teaching wages in Singapore are to be found in the many international schools. As for-profit institutions, these fee-paying schools are, naturally, better resourced than contemporaries in the public sector. For these kinds of jobs, teaching experience and qualifications are very important, and so having a Bachelor’s degree in English or English Literature would come in very handy. Having a post graduate diploma, even more so. What’s more, if you know other languages fluently, it’s a big plus – students are often multilingual in these schools, and so skills beyond the English language will surely help.
A typical wage for an English teacher at an international school is around £2500 per month. Be prepared for a hard workload, and students who might already have excellent English abilities!
Types of teaching jobs in Singapore
Across Singapore, there are a litany of options for TEFL teachers to explore different kinds of roles. From public schools to private tutoring, and a suite of elite international schools, the tiny island nation punches well above its size in terms of educational opportunities.
As a tiny but powerful economic centre, Singapore attracts talent from across the world. This means there are families from far reaches of the globe that require top-class, often bilingual, education. The local population’s high English proficiency also shows the importance of English language teaching in Singaporean society, with government-run schools asking a lot from TEFL teachers – in return for excellent salaries and benefits.
Let’s explore the options:
Government-run schools require ESL teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate. While not necessarily the highest-paying jobs, Singapore has an excellent public education system, and the benefits for teachers are excellent (more on them, later!). Applying through the Ministry of Education before heading to the Lion City is the best bet for these types of jobs.
Cost of living in Singapore
Now we know what wages are like for English teachers in Singapore, what about the lifestyle?
Well, there’s a reason wages are so high – it can be very pricey to live there. Singapore was ranked as the joint-most most expensive city in the world by the EIU. What makes the Lion City so expensive for visitors?
A large part of it is down to a high price for discretionary services. Petrol is expensive, due to Singaporean efforts to reduce the use of cars. Alcohol, tobacco and clothing are also costly, in no small part down to import tax. Defenders of Singapore have claimed that the cost of living will decrease and that Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine have had an acute impact on the cost of everyday items.
So, what does this mean for the English teacher in Singapore? While some employers will undoubtedly help with accommodation, the typical cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment in Singapore is close to £2,700 in the city centre, and £1,900 just outside the main metropolis. For families needing a 3-bedroom space, you can expect to pay as much as £5,400 a month in the city centre, and £3,300 in the suburbs.
For basic utilities, you can expect to pay around £125 a month, while a pint of beer will cost about £6. It’s not all bad news, though – food is relatively cheap, with a solo meal at an inexpensive restaurant costing about the same as a pint of beer. For two, somewhere more upscale, you’re looking at £55.
However, taxes in Singapore are considerably less than in other nations, so you’ll be able to save some of your income.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Can non-natives teach English in Singapore?
TEFL teachers from all across the world can apply for English teaching jobs in Singapore, although in some cases, native speakers are preferred.
Q. What are the requirements to teach in Singapore?
To teach in Singapore, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree (for some jobs, English or English Literature degrees are preferred) and at least 120 hours of TEFL certification.
Q. How much do English teachers earn in Singapore?
English teachers can earn excellent wages in Singapore. Starting wages for teachers new to the Singaporean school system typically start at £1,500 a month with benefits, and can rise up to £3,000 a month – although this can vary depending on the kind of institution you work for. Teaching jobs in Singapore generally have benefits including medical insurance, accommodation allowances and more.
Q. Are English teachers in demand in Singapore?
Schoolchildren learn English from an early age in Singapore, and it’s the most widely-spoken language across the 63 islands. Teachers are in demand, but it’s best to secure work before heading out to Singapore, rather an applying in person. An ESL teacher can work in private schools, public schools, international schools, or as a private tutor.