With its fascinating blend of both old and new, history buffs and technophiles alike will find themselves right at home in the city-nation of Singapore, where the rich traditions of multiple Southeast Asian cultures lie nestled together in the shadows of towering modern skyscrapers. A first-world nation with easily visible influences from times long past, those who have the qualifications and desire will truly find the best of both worlds teaching in Singapore.
Given the fact that Singapore is literally an entire nation composed of a single city, the choices in the types of locations are slim. There are no “rural” areas of Singapore. However, there are decisions to be made about which part of the city individuals teaching in Singapore might want find a teaching job or decide to reside in.
The city itself is divided into 5 regions, North, West, North East, Central, and East, with schools being spread relatively evenly across each region. Each region is home to more than 500,000 people at minimum, but some regions, such as the North, are essentially suburbs and will be far less crowded on a daily basis than, say, the Central region, which is home to the city’s central business district.
Commute times to teaching jobs in Singapore can vary greatly depending on which region a teacher calls home and which region their teaching position is located in; although regardless of location, Singapore has a very modern and efficient public transportation system. As the island on which Singapore sits is only 25 kilometers wide from North to South and 45 kilometers from East to West, even the absolute worst commutes possible should take no more than 50 minutes.
While Singapore has four officially recognized languages, English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil, almost all professional settings in the city utilize English as the language of business. Therefore, the demand for native speakers to teach English in Singapore trumps all other subjects by a wide margin. If your goal is to teach abroad in Singapore, teaching English will be by far your best bet.
Public schools provide the best all-around package for teachers in Singapore, often combining a base salary with medical insurance, a housing allowance, and reimbursement for round trip flights, all under the protection of a binding teaching contract. Teaching in Singapore at public schools requires teachers to apply for jobs through Singapore’s Ministry of Education or by contacting the school itself. The Ministry does receive a very high volume of applications, so contacting a school directly can sometimes be a useful strategy in order to obtain a teaching job in Singapore quicker. Competition is stiff for teachers who want to teach in Singapore in these types of positions, so previous experience and/or further educational degrees, while not explicitly required, will be what separates applicants from the pool.
International Language Schools can also provide opportunities for native English speakers to teach abroad in Singapore. Although further credentials, such as a college degree and some type of post graduate work relevant to education, are required to work at international schools in Singapore. Naturally, these teaching positions come with a nice bump in salary and the likelihood of added benefits to the teacher’s contract as well.
A third type of school, Private Language Schools, require the fewest credentials, but the working conditions are often quite different. Many of language schools in Singapore require only a TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA certificate, but teachers will work weekends and holidays, as these are the busiest times for language schools.
Classroom environments are consistent across most types of schools in Singapore and the official language of instruction is English, making most foreign teachers’ jobs much easier. A typical week of teaching English in Singapore entails roughly 20 to 25 hours of actual instruction plus the necessary prep time for each class.
The typical school year in Singapore runs from early January until mid-November each year, although teachers are continuously being hired all year round. Vacation times for teachers follow the national public school schedule with one week long breaks occurring in the middle of each semester (mid-March and mid-September). Two one month breaks are observed: one between semesters, typically the full month of June, and one at the end of the calendar year.
Historically, Singapore has been a relatively cheap place to live when compared to other major cities in the region, though this has begun to change rather drastically in recent years. Therefore, salaries for individuals who teach English in Singapore are quite good. The average monthly salary is about $2500 to $3000, while the cost of living in the city is only about $2000 to $2400 per month, depending on housing arrangements. Teacher’s salaries allow them to pocket upwards of $500 per month teaching in Singapore. This can come in handy at the end of a contract year, when you want to return home with a good amount of savings or continue your travels.
Day to day expenses will vary in comparison to major U.S. cities depending on the type of goods being purchased. Food is, in general, cheaper in Singapore when compared to American cities, and the cuisine of Singapore is world renowned. It is quite possible to find a delicious full meal for just a few dollars and the city’s many hawker centers are great locations for trying all sorts of regional foods for very reasonable prices. Other goods like clothing or shoes will tend to see a 10 to 20 percent markup over U.S. prices due to the fact that they must be imported. Something like a pair of jeans could cost upward of $100, though much more reasonably priced options are available if brand names are not an important factor.
As the city is very compact and is home to well over 5 million people, apartment style living is the norm in Singapore. Since every apartment complex in the country is within commuting distance of the central business district rent can be quite pricey. Although many public schools assist teachers in finding and paying for their accommodation as part of their contract for teaching in Singapore. Rental rates in Singapore are very comparable to what one might expect to pay in the area around New York City. Welcome to Big City living!
Economical use of space is important when trying to house a very large population on a very small island, so don’t expect apartments to be huge by any means, but conditions are still more than livable. One advantage to this is the fact that paying to cool the apartment should cost less, an important note when living in a city situated essentially on the equator. Average daily temperatures in Singapore commonly reach into the high 80s (30 to 32 degrees Celsius) with very little variation throughout the year.
Visas: To being teaching abroad in Singapore, teachers will need to acquire a Singapore work visa, which requires teachers to first secure an offer of employment from a school. Once a school has officially hired a new teacher, it is then the school’s responsibility to apply for the teacher’s Work Permit or Employment Pass. In some ways, this method can make the visa process simpler as incoming teachers will always have an ally (the school) in filling out and submitting the appropriate paperwork. Required documents include copies of educational certificates and verified transcripts, along with the standard requirement of a valid passport. All things considered, the visa process needed to teach abroad in Singapore is relatively simple and quick. From start to finish, many teachers submit and receive their visas within just a few weeks.
Make no mistake, finding a teaching job in Singapore is substantially more difficult than in many other countries. Teachers in Singapore are expected to have extensive qualifications for most positions and the few teaching jobs that don’t require degrees fill up very quickly. Still, if you have the experience and the luck to be offered a position, teaching in Singapore can be very lucrative.
Despite the elevated cost of living, it is still possible to save a good chunk of money while working in Singapore; and when you’re finished or on a break, Singapore provides a great home base for further travels in Southeast Asia. As far as Asian countries go, Singapore is thoroughly modern and a language barrier is essentially non existent as almost all day to day activities in the city can be conducted in English.
When considering all the potential challenges involved in teaching abroad in Singapore, finding a teaching vacancy may be the biggest challenge to overcome. Once you land a teaching job in Singapore, all that’s left to do is to arrive, work, and explore!