Living in Singapore
Singapore is rather different from other countries in Southeast Asia, but there are still opportunities for teachers there. English is the country’s working language, and all public schooling is conducted in English. Thus, there isn’t much demand for ESL teachers in the city-state. However, there are opportunities for teachers, and especially for those who have official teacher certification in their home country.
Those who are able to find work will be rewarded with well-paying work in Southeast Asia’s most modern, comfortable and organized city.
One good thing about working in Singapore is that just about everyone in the country speaks English. English has been the language of instruction in the country’s schools since the mid-20th century, so only some older folks can’t speak English well. At the same time, the island’s 75% Chinese, 15% Malay and 10% Tamil people still speak their mother tongues at home to some extent, so if you’re keen to pick up a new language you’ll find plenty of classes to join and people to practice speaking with.
Eating in Singapore
Singapore enjoys a reputation as a food haven. To start with, its large populations of Chinese, Malay and Tamil (southern Indian) people lead to a diverse mix of food, as well as numerous attempts to develop fusion cuisines. Furthermore, the city’s large and diverse expat population means you’ll find a variety of international cuisines there. For cheap fixes of familiar food from back home, you’ll find that many of the western chain restaurants you know have set up in Singapore, including McDonalds, Subway, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and more.
Hawker centers are one of Singapore’s unique eating options. A few decades ago, the government decided that all the food carts and sidewalk shops were too disorderly and unsanitary, so it built giant food courts with picnic-table style benches and encouraged the food vendors with cheap rents to move their operations into the centers. You can now find hawker centers scattered around the island, and each one features a unique mix of cheap food from a variety of shops. Some shops sell the more traditional stir fries, Chinese soups, and Malay roti, but others experiment with Thai food, Italian food, and even muffins. You can often get a good meal at one of these centers for $3-5, which is cheap in comparison to the salary you’ll be earning.
If you want to cook at home, you won’t have to look far to find a modern supermarket where you can stock up on whatever you need.
As Singapore is the most westernized country in the region, you’ll also have the easiest time finding the activities you’re used to. Whether you’re looking for language classes, photography classes, sports clubs or a modern fitness center, you’ll find it in Singapore. The expat scene attracts lots of young professionals from around the world, and is a great place to meet people who are focused on their careers. Whether you go to mixers at wine bars or couchsurfing events, there’s a vibrant and diverse social scene.
One important note is that Singapore dampens the party with high taxes on alcohol. Expect to pay $2-3 for a can of the cheapest beer at the supermarket, and around $10 for a beer at most bars. There’s a similarly high tax on cigarettes.
Singapore’s public transportation system is a dream compared to every other city in Southeast Asia. The metro system is extensive, and the public bus system is almost as good. Buses are cheap, and you can even check online to find out how long you’ll have to wait until your bus arrives at your stop. The city-state uses electronic toll-gates which subtract credit from a car’s account, which discourages drivers from using the roads during peak times.
Some people buy motorbikes in Singapore just to ride for fun, but you’ll be able to easily go wherever you like using public transportation.
Teaching in Singapore
Unlike other countries in Southeast Asia, it’s probably not best to show up in Singapore and start looking for work. It’s a good idea to identify schools that you’re interested in and get in touch with them to see about their processes for hiring new teachers. You can look for positions on JobsDB Singapore, Jobstreet.com.sg, Monster.com.sg, and Jobscentral.
There are significant opportunities for foreigners to teach in private schools and international schools, as well as in some public schools. There are also opportunities to work at Singapore’s polytechnic institutes and junior colleges. There is also a significant test-prep industry, though foreigners will also have to compete with well-qualified Singaporeans for those jobs.
You’ll generally need to have a teaching qualification from your home country to teach in international schools and some secondary schools. However there may also be opportunities for graduates with good degrees and/or professional experience to teach subjects they are knowledgeable about. Singapore also offers paths for teachers to become career teachers in Singapore by undertaking courses at their National Institute of Education.
Check out my article on my year spent teaching in Singapore at Transitionsabroad.com.