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Teaching English in Singapore

Singapore, one of the wealthiest countries in Asia and 4th in the world, offers exciting job opportunities for teaching ESL primarily in Singapore City (the capital) at public and private schools, international schools, and language centers for adults and business professionals. Higher paying jobs can be found at the universities; e.g., National University, Nanyang Technological, and Singapore Management. Education is compulsory for children age six to fifteen, and parents are subject to a fine if they fail to meet this obligation established by the Ministry of Education. Students are high achievers, but they frequently revert to their own language interspersed with a little English, known as Singlish. Since English is the "working" language of Singapore, the demand for native English speakers to perfect the language skills of their students and prepare them for current and future business success is ongoing.

Credentials/ Qualifications/ Documentation / Hiring process

ESL teachers with citizenship from either the U.S., UK, Australia, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, or South Africa must meet the minimum requirement of a BA degree, preferably in English, Linguistics, or Education. TEFL/TESOL or CELTA certification is usually required, and police clearance from your home country is mandatory for approval by the Ministry of Education. Provide references and any awards along with your application.

Hiring is done year round, with training usually in July before the school year begins in January. Interviews and initial processing are done in advance by e-mail or Skype. After registration with the Ministry of Education, assistance will be provided for obtaining your work visa or Employment Pass (EP). This process does not take long, but be sure and have your original degree and transcripts included in the necessary paperwork.

Work Schedules & Salaries

Salaries are excellent, with an average of $2,400-$3,000/month for 25-30 hours of classroom teaching for an average 30 students per class. In addition, you will be required to spend extra hours, even on weekends, for parent-teacher meetings, professional development courses, and school functions.

Some employers pay an end-of-contract bonus (2-year contracts are the norm), reimburse airfare, pay a portion of your medical insurance, and provide a small allowance for relocation. Generally, ESL teachers will have a month's holiday in June and six weeks at the end of the year, as well as time off for numerous public and religious holidays.

Advantages

Singapore can be expensive, but as in most foreign countries, it all depends on your lifestyle. Do as the locals do and buy inexpensive Asian or Western food from the hawker centers, shop at local markets and prepare meals at home, and limit dining out at expensive restaurants. Food prices for staples and produce are reasonable for the most part; however, chicken and cheese are notable exceptions being very expensive here as they are in many other foreign countries.)

You should be able to save anywhere from $300-$500/month by living economically, sharing an apartment, or choosing one outside the city limits where rent will be half as much as in the city. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city is more than $2,500. Other popular housing options for ESL teachers are Housing & Development Board (HDB) 2-bedroom flats and more spacious apartments, where a large percentage of Singapore residents live. These are much less expensive and well above the standards for public housing in other countries. Located in self-contained neighborhoods or districts (e.g., Bukit Timah), residents have the convenience of shopping, markets, and other facilities within the housing blocks. Since utilities average $150/month for a small apartment with air conditioning, a necessity in Singapore's climate, look for housing on higher floors, if possible. Internet will cost around $30/month, and prepaid cell phones are popular.

(Note: Numbeo.com is an invaluable world database on the cost of living, health, housing, crime, and other information.)

Public transportation by bus, subway, or taxi is convenient, reliable, and affordable; e.g., $1.50/one way or $77/monthly pass. Tickets for the subway are cheap enough, less than $2, for longer distances.

Health care is excellent and often included, or subsidized by the employer, as outlined in the contract.

The warm weather is ideal for outdoor activities, going to the beach, picnicking, and getting away from the city on holidays or over a long weekend. Ferries run twice a day during the week, three times on Saturday, and five times on Sundays and holidays to Singapore's many islands. For example, Its a 40-minute trip to Kusu or St. John's. Round trip: Adults/$18, Children/$12. You'll have the opportunity on your vacation or break time to travel to nearby countries including Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam (one to three hour flights).

Possible disadvantages (or things to remember)

Start-up costs to relocate, including airfare and finding reasonable, comfortable accommodations, can be substantial, so plan on at least $2,000+ to cover these expenses. Most employers will assist in finding housing, and a few will actually pay for or subsidize it. Densely populated, you can expect lots of traffic, crowded streets and marketplaces, and busy shopping districts. Be prepared for a year-round, hot, tropical climate with lots of rain (more than 50% of Singapore is green with parks and nature reserves).

Job Outlook

Reliable sources on jobs for ESL teachers and information on Singapore in general include internationaltefl for a basic comparison chart by country, Dave's ESL Cafe, teachaway, and reachtoteach. Expat blogs and forums provide the inside scoop from other ESL teachers who work, or have worked in Singapore. Competition is stiff for jobs in Singapore, so relevant teaching experience and excellent qualifications are essential.

Conclusion

The island-city state of Singapore, the Lion City, holds an impressive position in international trade and finance, ranking second to Shanghai as the world's busiest port for cargo shipments. Living and working in this modern and cosmopolitan country can be an adventure and a unique experience. Singapore has an interesting, diverse culture composed of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Europeans, with more than 40% of the population from other countries. You'll enjoy a variety of cuisine, the art and music festivals, museums and temples, and tax-free shopping (a national pastime) at numerous stores and malls. Clean, neat, and practically crime free, Singapore has a definite appeal for ESL teachers seeking something different and exciting in the tropical environment of Southeast Asia.

Sharon L Slayton

November 2014

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