How to Teach English in Singapore: A Guide to Landing Your First Job
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Singapore is an island city-state that never ceases to amaze, be it for its impeccable cleanliness, its controversial laws or its amazing variety of ethnicities, cultures, food and languages.
In a country where one of the official languages is English, one wouldn’t expect there to be a big need for ESL teachers in the country. However, although it’s true that this need isn’t as big as in, say, China or Thailand, the Singaporean government still welcomes qualified foreign applicants.
Competition is fierce though, and you’ll need to make sure you meet all the requirements to make the cut. So, let’s look at everything you need and what you can expect when applying for an ESL job in Singapore.
But first, here’s a little taste of what life could be like if you end up here as a teacher!
What are the requirements to teach in Singapore?
With such stiff competition, both because the majority of the population already speaks decent English and because Singapore is such a desirable place to live, having the right qualifications is what will make you stand out. Although some schools may be a bit more flexible than others (more on that later) when it comes to hiring new teachers, an ideal candidate would generally be required to have:
- Bachelor’s Degree – most schools will only consider candidates who hold a Bachelor’s degree or above – even better if it’s a field related to Education, English Language or English Literature.
- Teaching certification – In a country that poses such a strong emphasis on certifications, a TEFL would be considered the bare minimum to apply for an ESL teaching position, but the more qualifications and certifications you have, the higher your chances are to stand out.
- Experience – although experience cannot replace a degree or a certification, it will definitely boost your chances to get hired since most institutions require their teachers to have at least one year of teaching experience.
- Native-level English proficiency – native speakers are preferred but non-native speakers are also welcome to apply.
What does teaching in Singapore pay?
The average ESL teacher in Singapore makes between $2,500 and $3,500 each month.
Singapore was listed as the most expensive city to live in in 2020, only matched by Osaka and Hong Kong, but luckily a teacher’s salary here is usually more than enough to get by and even put a little something aside as savings. Your pay will largely depend on the type of school you’ll be working at as well as your qualifications and experience.
With a cost of living estimated at slightly below $3,000 USD, your salary of between $2,500 and $3,500 should be enough to cover all major expenses and, with a little bit of thriftiness on your part, you can even manage to save a few hundred dollars each month, which can easily turn into a nice little nest egg at the end of your teaching year.
If that’s your goal, you may have to make a few sacrifices like cutting back on partying, shopping, or opting for home-cooked meals or hawker food as opposed to fancy restaurants. However, at the end of the day, what will really make or break the bank will be accommodation.
Sharing an apartment (possibly a Housing & Developing Board flat – see the video below) instead of renting your own place can play a big role in significantly increasing your savings.
However, even though HDB does seem to offer the most sensible housing solutions, especially for expats, there seem to be mixed opinions on what living there is actually like so it’s probably best to do some research on your own before you commit to anything.
Watch this video to take a tour of an HDB apartment:
What is the visa process for Singapore?
Unlike many other countries, the visa application process for Singapore is very quick and straightforward and falls squarely on the shoulders of the employer. Once you secure a job, your school will take care of the rest and the only thing you’ll have to do is submit the necessary documents:
- 2 letters of recommendation from a previous employer/professor
- Copy of your degree certificate(s)
- Copy of your passport
- Copy of your TEFL certification
- Scan of a criminal background check
Once your visa is approved, you’ll be able to fly to Singapore where you’ll have to take a medical test within two weeks of entering the city.
Your school will then take all the documents and the result of your medical check and register you with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), which might take your fingerprints and a few extra photos.
If all goes well, you’ll get your work permit in the matter of a few days and it will be valid for up to two years.
If you’re still curious about what goes on backstage when applying for a Singaporean visa, you can check out the Ministry of Manpower website section on how to apply for a work permit, but don’t get overwhelmed as, like we said, you’ll be watching all of this from the sidelines!
What’s it like teaching in Singapore?
There are several types of ESL jobs in Singapore and the length of the contract will depend on the school you decide to work for, however most teachers are offered 1-2 year contracts.
Types of jobs and benefits
Public schools generally offer much lower salaries ($1500 – $3,000) when compared to International schools but also provide tremendous job security and great benefits (medical insurance, return flight, and often a generous housing allowance). As a public school teacher you can expect a total of 12 weeks of vacation time per year, national holidays included.
International schools pay some of the highest salaries ($3,000 USD and up) but are also the most demanding when it comes to requirements and workload. For some schools, a degree in English Language or Literature might not be enough and you’ll need either a post graduate diploma in education as well as enough work experience to ensure you can beat the competition. Fortunately, many international schools cover the cost of accommodation and medical insurance!
Private language schools
Another viable option would be to apply to private language schools, which are usually the ones requiring the fewest credentials – sometimes a TEFL certificate will be enough. However, working conditions will be quite different since these schools normally offer lower pay (starting from $1,500 USD), hardly any benefits and poor job security. Teachers here will often have to work at multiple schools to make a decent living and are also likely to work on weekends and holidays.
Private tutoring is always an option, with the usual advantages and disadvantages that come with it. Even though Singaporeans are taught English at school you might still be able to find some zealous students who are interested in private classes but it’s probably best not to count on it to be your sole form of income.
ESL teachers in Singapore are usually expected to work between 20 and 25 hours a week, not including prep time. Chances are you will only have to work Monday through Friday unless you work for private schools, in which case working weekends is almost guaranteed.
Check out this video to get a feel of what a day in the life of an English teacher in Singapore is like.
How do you get a job?
Regardless of whether you’re already in Singapore or the type of school you’re after, the best way to apply for a teaching job in the city-state is online. Even though the typical school year in Singapore runs from January to mid-November, teachers are hired all year round.
The application process works a bit differently depending on whether you’re applying for a position in a public or private school.
For public schools you’re likely to have to apply directly through the Ministry of Education website. You’ll then be contacted for an interview which will hopefully lead to a job offer. Bear in mind that the MOE will choose a school where to place you based on your experience and qualifications.
Since the Ministry of Education usually receives a high volume of applications, you could always try to apply to public schools directly in the hope of speeding up the process.
For private and international schools it is best to contact them and apply through their website or via email.
Here’s a list of the major international schools in Singapore so you can apply directly to them.
So, although the demand for ESL teachers in Singapore is not as high as in other Asian countries, candidates with the right qualifications stand a good chance of getting a job and experiencing what life is like in one of the most unique cities in the world.
Resources & FAQs
Can you teach without a degree?
No, schools in Singapore normally only accept candidates with a Bachelor’s degree or higher. Some private schools may make an exception for the right candidate though.
Do you have to be a native speaker?
No, in theory all nationalities are welcome to apply although native speakers are preferred.
Do you need a TEFL?
Yes, basically all schools will not consider your application if you don’t hold a TEFL certification.