Navigating the Singapore school system for foreigners can be a very daunting task. There are multiple routes to take, and each one comes with a whole set of decisions to make.
For example, your child could go through the Singapore local school admission for foreign students, which would involve AEIS, short for the Admissions Exercise for International Students. Your child could also choose to enrol in one of the best international schools in Singapore and continue this pathway up until university.
One of the first few questions you’ll ask is which route you should opt for – local schools or international schools? Then comes the technicalities of the exams to take and the enrolment processes. You’ll also want to know the school fees in Singapore for foreign students in these institutions.
In this article, I will guide you through your queries, one by one.
Local schools or international schools for international students in Singapore?
Let me start by bursting the bubble.
- Getting a spot in a local school is not easy
- The Singapore international school fees are not cheap.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can cover this topic properly.
Ultimately, you want to pick a school that best fits your child. Comparing local and international schools comprehensively will take a whole article, but in summary, below are some of the factors you must look into.
All local schools in Singapore, save for the independent schools, are in line with the Singapore curriculum.
International schools follow different systems, which could be based on, among others, the International Baccalaureate (IB) system, the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) and the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE).
International schools can be two times (or more!) expensive than local schools.
To give a quick example, primary school fees in Singapore for foreign students is $415 (ASEAN) and $650 (non-ASEAN) per month in 2019. Singapore international school fees, on the other hand, can run between $13,000 to $47,000, just for the first year of school.
I will cover more about school fees in the later sections.
School hours and holidays
Local schools tend to start earlier, at around 7.30am, while international schools can start as late st 9am.
Local schools follow the local school terms, with the March, June, September and December holidays. (View the school terms and holidays on the MOE website.) School terms for international schools vary greatly, so you should look into the respective websites.
If you have more than one child studying in Singapore, you may want to ensure their timetables overlap as much as possible for ease of planning vacations and so on.
I personally believe that the two main considerations should be the cost and the environment you’d like your child to be immersed in. Can you afford the Singapore international school fees for the whole duration of your child’s study? Also, would you prefer your child to mingle with Singaporeans and get the true-blue feel of local life, or would you prefer your child to be surrounded by kids from a variety of cultures and backgrounds?
The curriculum matters too, of course, but ultimately, local and international schools can both offer a high quality of education. Whichever cert your child will be awarded can be used to advance to top universities, not just in Singapore but also globally.
An introduction to the local education system in Singapore
If you’re not already familiar with the stages of education in Singapore, you should get an introduction through MOE’s website.
As a super quick guide, here’s the pathway:
- Pre-school (3-6 years old)
- Primary (6-12 years old)
- Secondary (12-16 years old)
- Post-secondary (16-19 years old)
The major examinations would be the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE), taken on the last year of primary school, as well as the Singapore-Cambridge GCE “O” Level examinations, taken on the last year of secondary school.
Students who progress to a junior college, which is essentially a pre-university (and post-secondary) centre, will sit for the GCE ‘A’ Level at the end of the two-year course.
Polytechnics and art institutions are also considered post-secondary institutions and they lead up to a diploma.
Singapore local school admission for foreign students
International students in Singapore are able to apply for mainstream primary schools, secondary schools and junior colleges in Singapore. Getting in would be a different question.
Primary school admission for foreigners in Singapore can begin at the Primary 1 level. Due to limited vacancies, there is no guarantee of admission.
You should apply during Phase 3 of the Primary 1 Registration Exercise, which begins in early June with the submission of an indication of interest online. Only those who receive mail from MOE in early October which says that their child can be offered a place in Primary 1 are eligible to register in-person in late October.
AEIS and S-AEIS
Students who wish to gain admission in Primary 2-5 or Secondary 1-3 will have to go through the AEIS. This exercise of Singapore local school admission for foreign students takes place in September or October each year and it involves a centralised test on English and Mathematics.
Again, admission is not guaranteed. Placement depends on the vacancies available as well as your residential area in Singapore (as your child will be prioritised for schools in your home’s vicinity).
On top of that, your child will have to compete with other applicants. This is why AEIS tuition is a popular choice amongst children of expats. You can find tuition teachers that are well-versed in the AEIS syllabus on SmileTutor. This would really give your child an advantage.
If for any reason you were unable to apply for the AEIS in time, you have a second chance: the Supplementary Admissions Exercise for International Students (S-AEIS). This is conducted in February or March for admissions in April or May the same year.
For admission to junior colleges, your child should apply to the schools directly between October to December. The same process of direct applications goes for universities in Singapore for international students.
Local school fees in Singapore for foreign students
The school fees in Singapore for foreign students are standardised by the Ministry of Education.
The trend for the past few years would be an upward hike, with school fees getting more expensive each successive year.
Below, I’ve listed the 2019 and 2020 school fees in Singapore for foreign students.
Local school fees in Singapore for foreign students – 2019
|Level||Student Type||Monthly School Fees||Monthly Miscellaneous Fees||Maximum Total Monthly Fees|
Local school fees in Singapore for foreign students – 2020
|Level||Student Type||Monthly School Fees||Monthly Miscellaneous Fees||Maximum Total Monthly Fees|
Do note that there are schools in Singapore that fall under the autonomous and independent categories. Students in autonomous schools need to pay autonomous school fees, on top of the monthly school fees, while independent schools charge their own set of school fees.
Best international schools in Singapore
There is a long list of international school in Singapore. If you’re making a search, you should jump straight to the list of top international schools in Singapore for expats’ children to have an idea of their admission criteria, curriculum and facilities available.
Among them are:
- Nexus International School Singapore
- One World International World School
- San Yu Adventist School
- Tanglin Trust School
- Singapore American School
Some international schools cater to students from as young as infants to those aged 18 and above. Others specialise in a specific level (like private primary schools in Singapore) and may even adopt special teaching methods.
For example, Modern Montessori International and Brainy Child Montessori subscribe to the world-renowned Montessori method which emphasises a student-led and experiential learning environment for young children. (Do note that many preschools in Singapore, save for MOE kindergartens are open for international students.)
How to pick among the best international schools in Singapore?
I’ve given some help on how to choose between local schools and international schools in Singapore, but if you decide on the latter, how can you decide among the many best international schools in Singapore?
Honestly, with the wide offerings of international schools in Singapore, the best way is to weigh a whole basket of factors.
Here are the questions you should ask yourself:
- What accreditations have the school been awarded?
- What curriculum does the school use?
- Where is the location of the school?
- What are the class sizes?
- What is the teacher-to-student ratio?
- What are the second languages taught?
- Does the school offer educational excursions?
- What facilities are available in the school?
- When are the school term and holidays?
- Does the school allow for much parental involvement?
Of course, the final factor would be the cost. As I understand that cost is a concern among many parents, I’ll cover it separately in the next section.
Singapore international school fees
As mentioned, school fees for international schools in Singapore vary greatly.
To give you a sampler, here are the approximate fees of some of the best international schools in Singapore, rounded off to the nearest thousand.
|Nexus International School Singapore||$29,000||$29,000||$32,000|
|One World International World School||$17,000||$17,000||$20,000|
|San Yu Adventist School||N.A.||$12,000||$14,000|
|Tanglin Trust School||$29,000||$31,000||$38,000|
|Singapore American School||$29,000||$32,000||$34,000|
Please note that the prices listed above are the latest rates published on the respective school’s websites. There may also be application fees, registration fees, and other costs related to meal plans, materials, enrichment programmes, and insurance that will run into additional thousands of dollars. Some of the rates listed above are also not inclusive of the 7% GST.
Is your child ready to be among the international students in Singapore?
With this article, I hope that you have a clearer idea of what it’s like to study in Singapore for international students.
If you’re opting for a local school, I’d like to advise you to seek out alternative options in private schools as a back-up plan as it’s very hard to know whether or not your child will receive a place. Welcome to Singapore, where the competition is tough.
All the best!