Learning

Ultimate Guide to Studying in Singapore

Located in Southeast Asia, Singapore is consistently ranked as one of the best countries to study globally

The bustling island nation is home to many world-class schools and universities, making it a top destination for international students of all ages and levels. Partner this with a safe, multicultural environment, and it’s no wonder many parents have set their eyes on Singapore for their children’s education. 

Relocating to Singapore? Learn how the education system works in Singapore and how you can transfer your child to a Singapore school.

What to expect in this guide:

Why Study in Singapore?

Hub of academic excellence

Singapore’s education system is consistently praised for being highly effective and competitive, especially in science and mathematics. In fact, Singaporean students are above average in reading, mathematics and science, according to the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). 

In addition, Singapore is home to many world-class international schools and universities, such as the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University. This means that your child can access high-quality education at any age or grade level. 

Multicultural population

Singapore is a melting pot of cultures, languages and nationalities — making it all the more attractive for international study. 

Many international schools have a diverse student population, which means your child can make friends with children from all over the world. 

The benefits of sending your child to a diverse international school are endless — and best of all, the learning doesn’t end there. Your child will be exposed to Singapore’s rich culture and heritage in everyday interactions with others. 

English proficiency

English is one of Singapore’s four official languages (the other three being Chinese, Malay and Tamil). Most classes are taught in English, which can make the transition easier for international students. 

If you are moving from a non-native English-speaking country and your child needs individualised support, international schools offer comprehensive English as an Additional Language (EAL) programmes

International schools also understand that retaining your mother tongue is very important for families, and provide students with opportunities to build up their foundations in a fun and engaging way. 

Exposure to world-class companies

Singapore has a strong, stable and business-friendly economy, making it attractive to international investors and companies that want to establish their presence in Asia. According to the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), the country “receives more foreign direct investment (FDI) than most of the world’s developed economies”, and is the 4th largest recipient of FDI in the world. 

Additionally, Singapore has a highly diversified economy bolstered by industries like aerospace, electronics and medical technology (to name just a few). 

Many multinational companies, such as Unilever, P&G, Google and Meta (Facebook), also have their Asia headquarters in Singapore. This means your child will have access to global career opportunities whether they decide to move abroad or stay in the country. 

Sustainable infrastructure 

In 2021, Singapore claimed the top spot in the CMS Infrastructure Index, which ranks 50 countries by their “attractiveness for infrastructure investment.” This is partly due to the Green Plan 2030 — the national government’s plan to transform Singapore into a “greener and more sustainable city.” Singapore has also been described as a regional infrastructure hub and one of the greenest cities in the world. 

All parts of the island are easily accessible by car or public transport, and international travellers are greeted by one of the best airports in the world. 

Singapore also has a highly developed communications network, with one of the fastest Internet speeds globally. These infrastructural developments make Singapore one of the most attractive places to study for international students. 

Safety and governance 

It’s natural to be anxious about your child’s safety. However, Singapore is considered as one of the safest cities in Asia, and has a very low crime rate.

Public transportation is easy, accessible and affordable, with many tourists and locals taking the buses, taxis and MRT (subways) around the island. 

Singapore also goes to great lengths to maintain public safety and cleanliness. The country has a reputation for high fines and strictly enforced laws, but these are in place to ensure the safety of its citizens and visitors. 

The K-12 education system in Singapore

Before we delve into the Singapore education system, it’s important to understand the difference between public and private schools. 

  • Public schools are government-funded and follow the national curriculum set by the Ministry of Education (MOE). Priority is given to Singapore Citizens (SC) and Permanent Residents (PR), with only a few places available to international students annually. 
  • Private schools are not government-funded, and they are not required to follow the Singapore national curriculum. The syllabus can vary from school to school, with some being patterned after other countries’ educational systems. 

The education system in Singapore can be broken down into four levels: 

  1. Preschool (optional, 1 to 3 years) — 3 to 6 years old  
  2. Primary school (6 years) — 7 to 12 years old
  3. Secondary school (4 to 5 years) — 13 to 16/17 years old 
  4. Post-secondary school (1 to 3 years) — 18 to 20 years old 

Preschool, also known as nursery or kindergarten, is not compulsory but is a popular choice among many parents. Most kindergartens offer full-day and half-day programmes, with an emphasis on teaching foundational skills like reading, counting, addition and more. The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) oversees kindergartens and child care centres all over Singapore. 

In public schools, formal education is divided into two stages: Primary (6 years) and Secondary (4 to 5 years). 

During their last year of Primary education, students must take the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) — the results of which will determine their Secondary school placement and academic stream. On the other hand, private school students must meet their school’s requirements before enrolling in a Middle Years (equivalent to Secondary) programme. 

After graduating from Secondary school, students can then enrol into a Post-Secondary programme which generally lasts from one to three years. 

Once a student earns a high school graduation qualification (e.g. Singapore-Cambridge GCE A Level, American Advanced Placements (APs), or the highly respected International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma, they can choose to continue their studies by attending a college or university of their choice. 

Types of Schools in Singapore 

As mentioned earlier, there are two types of schools in Singapore: public (also known as mainstream) and private. Most international students attend private schools, as public schools prioritise Singapore Citizens (SCs) and Permanent Residents (PRs). 

Public (Mainstream) Schools 

International students will be considered for enrolment to Singapore’s public schools once all SCs and PRs have been allocated a place. 

If you’re planning to apply to a public school in Singapore, here’s what you need to know: 

  • Most mainstream schools follow the national curriculum set by the Ministry of Education. 
  • As classes are taught in English, your child must be able to speak English fluently before they can be admitted into a public school. 
  • As part of the curriculum, your child will need to learn one of Singapore’s Mother Tongue Languages (MTL) in primary school. The official MTLs include Chinese, Malay and Tamil. 
  • If your child is entering Primary 1 (P1), you need to register during Phase 3 of the P1 Registration Exercise. Learn more about P1 Registration for international students.
  • Students entering Primary 2 to 5 or Secondary 1 to 3 must take an Admissions and an English proficiency test before they can be considered for admission. 

If your child is admitted into a Singapore public school, you can expect them to receive a rigorous, high-quality education with plenty of opportunities to develop their strengths and pursue their interests. 

That said, it’s not that easy for foreigners to enrol in Singapore’s mainstream schools. Places for international students are very limited, and you will have to pay higher tuition fees compared to local Singaporean families. If you’re applying to a public school, you should have a backup plan in case your child is not offered a place. 

Private Schools

Private schools, also known as independent schools, have more flexibility when it comes to curriculum, course offerings and tuition fees. Many of these schools cater to Singapore’s expatriate population, making them a great choice for international students as well. 

Most private schools are either country-specific or international. 

  • Country-specific schools, such as British or American schools, follow a certain country’s national curriculum. They’re a great choice for expat families who foresee returning to their home country at the end of their post in Singapore, or if they plan to send their children to a specific (known) country abroad for university/college. 
  • International schools, on the other hand, follow a globally-oriented curriculum (such as the International Baccalaureate (IB). Students are exposed to a wide range of cultures and languages, with some schools having over 50 different nationalities represented in their student body. With a strong emphasis on diversity and inclusion, international schools are on top of the list for many foreign parents. 

Whether you choose a country-specific or international school is up to you and your child.

Keep in mind that the curriculum and culture can vary widely from one school to another. Some schools, for example, focus more on academic results, while others provide a more holistic education, providing the necessary academic, physical, social, emotional and life skills that children will need for future success.

That said, applying to an international school is fairly straightforward as long as you have completed the requirements. You should also be aware that private schooling in Singapore can be quite expensive. However, these higher fees also mean that your child will receive high-quality education under your chosen curriculum and enjoy access to world-class facilities. 

Application process

The application process will vary depending on your school of choice in Singapore. 

For mainstream schools: 

  • Fill out the required forms for application and pay for any fees: 
  • Have your child take the AEIS or S-AEIS test (if applicable). 
  • Wait for the release of school offers. If your child has been offered a place, you must report to the offered school within the reporting period. Otherwise, your child’s slot will be offered to other students. 
  • Your child will need a Student Pass to study in Singapore unless they have a Dependant’s Pass (DP), Immigration Exemption Order (IEO) or a Singapore Permanent Residency (PR). Visit the ICA website for more information on applying for a Student Pass
  • Submit parent or caregiver particulars to the school. If your child has a caregiver, they should be a Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident over 21 years old. 

For private schools: 

  • All international schools in Singapore must publish their Admissions Process on their public website. Check out the process on the website and reach out to the school directly to start the admissions process. 
  • Your child may be required to take certain entrance tests and an English language proficiency test (if relevant) to ensure placement in the grade that’s appropriate for them, and to determine whether they require additional EAL support.
  • Apply for a “Verification of Vaccination Requirements (VR) (for entry to Singapore)” document from the Health Promotion Board (for foreign-born children aged 12 and below, who are first-time applicants for long-term immigration passes in Singapore). 
  • If your child is offered a place, the school will guide you through the Student Pass application process (if required). A Student Pass is not required for children holding a Dependant’s Pass (DP), Immigration Exemption Order (IEO) or a Singapore Permanent Residency (PR).
  • Submit parent or guardian details to the school. 

How much does it cost to study in Singapore? 

The school fees you pay in Singapore will depend on the type of school your child attends. 

School fees in Singapore public schools 

Singapore government school fees vary depending on your child’s residency status. As a foreigner, you will have to pay a monthly tuition fee as well as miscellaneous fees. 

This table* shows the monthly tuition fees in mainstream primary and secondary. 

Residency StatusMonthly Tuition Fee for Primary School Students (2023)Monthly Tuition Fee for Secondary School Students (2023)
Singapore CitizenFree$5
Permanent ResidentS$255$500
International Student (ASEAN)S$515$900
International Student (Non-ASEAN)S$875$1,750

School fees in Singapore international schools 

Just like in other countries, private schooling in Singapore is more expensive compared to public education. Tuition fees can range from S$12,000 to S$50,000 a year, depending on your chosen school. 

Additionally, tuition fees are subject to a Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 7%, increasing to 8% from January 2023. 

Some schools offer flexible payment plans and scholarships. You can reach out to the school’s Admissions Team directly to confirm if they offer payment options, scholarships or discounts. 

How to choose the right school for your child in Singapore

Choosing the right school is not always straightforward. Here are a few tips to help you select a high-quality school where your child can learn and thrive.  

Research the available curriculums 

The curriculum you choose should be aligned with your child’s learning style, strengths and interests.

You should also consider your child’s aspirations before they enter Secondary school, as the pathway they take can impact their future opportunities. A good curriculum will provide your child with a strong academic foundation while giving them the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the future. 

Speak to admissions officers 

If you are choosing between two or more private schools, speaking to the Admissions Team will help streamline your search. They are a great resource for information that you may not find online, especially when it comes to school culture and non-academic programmes. 

You can also request virtual or in-person campus tours to give you a better idea of what the school experience will be like.

Compare school fees

Whether you’ve chosen a public or private school, tuition fees in Singapore can be quite costly. Researching school fees will help you determine how much to set aside per month or year for your child’s education. 

Keep in mind that school fees do not end at tuition. You may also need to pay for school buses, uniforms, lunches, learning materials and extra-curricular activities. Knowing these fees will help you choose a high-quality school that’s within your family’s budget. 

You should also consider the total ‘lifetime’ cost of education.  The fees that you can expect to pay can (and do) dramatically increase through the older grades, so you shouldn’t just compare fees in the grade being considered for admission.

Ask about facilities and extra-curricular activities

Many international schools offer world-class facilities such as auditoriums, swimming pools, tennis courts, eSports facilities, technology labs and more. It’s important to know how often your child will be using these facilities and how they will benefit your child’s education. 

In addition, you’ll also want to look at the extra-curricular activities (ECAs) that are available to your child. ECAs help children discover new skills and interests in a safe learning environment. 

Aside from checking the list of available ECAs, you should also confirm with the school if they are free of charge or whether separate additional fees must be paid. 

Check the school’s location 

Location is an important consideration when choosing a school in Singapore, particularly for young children. It’s important to know how close the school is to your home and what your child’s transport options will be.

Door-to-door school bus services are available to most public and private school students. You can approach the school directly for more information on bus options and fares. 

Some schools offer complimentary shuttle bus services from nearby MRT stations as well, so feel free to ask the school if they have this arrangement in place. 

Connect with other parents or guardians 

School culture is a very important factor in any child’s education, yet there is no way to experience it without enrolling in the school first. Connecting with other expats or foreign families can help you determine which schools may be a good fit. 

You can ask questions such as: 

  • ‘What is the school environment like?’,
  • ‘How does the school provide learning support?’,
  • ‘How does your child feel about going to school?’, and more. 

These testimonials will help you select the best possible school for your child based on their educational needs and personality. 

Find the best school for your child in Singapore 

Choosing a school for your child requires a lot of research, especially if you’re considering a school abroad.

Our Admissions Team at XCL World Academy is here to answer all of your questions about studying in Singapore and your child’s educational options. We understand that starting or switching schools can be a challenging and stressful undertaking. There are likely dozens of questions that you may have before deciding to entrust a school with your child’s future.

Contact us today to learn more about our curriculum, core values and programmes. You can also request a virtual consultation or a personalised campus tour.

Whether you’re in Singapore or abroad, our team will be happy to guide you and your child throughout the application and admissions process. We look forward to welcoming your family into our diverse and inclusive school community!

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