For too long Singapore has been dominated by its larger cousins in the global market for TEFL/ESL destinations. It is natural to head to Thailand and Vietnam, completing ignoring this inspiring compact island. No more should the Lion City just be a refuge to teachers from Thailand looking for some civilisation while on a holiday break. Lucrative TEFL/ESL opportunities exist that allow teachers to save and provide for a lifestyle teachers in Thailand and Vietnam can only dream of. Salaries are high, classes involve mostly adults, and schedules are usually done in blocks – all highly rated in any TEFL/ESL job.
Singapore has a lot to offer which other countries don’t. Firstly, in the region of South East Asia, TEFL/ESL salaries far outstrip those of neighbouring countries. Teachers can expect to start at USD 2500 a month, most likely beating the USD 3000 mark. While the cost of accommodation may seem high on this small island, other costs such as transport and food are incredibly cheap when compared to the Europe, and even the US. This provides for a very comfortable lifestyle indeed, where teachers can experience the world famous diverse cuisine, spend money travelling, and of course save.
The job search in Singapore is undeniably best done on the ground when you get there. This is convenient as Singapore is a major international flight hub, and visitors from native English speaking countries can enter freely for stays between 30 – 90 days. While arriving with nothing may worry some teachers on a shoe-string budget, it is important to remember that unlike Japan, costs are low, and the market isn’t already saturated by other English teachers in the same boat. Some jobs are advertised online, mainly on TEFL.com and ESL Cafe’s international job board. However, these may not necessarily be the best deals, and the on the ground job search allows you to negotiate an all round better deal.
Who will employ you when you get there? For an island with a population of around 4 million people, Singapore has a high density of Educational colleges and private institutes. There is a palpable feeling in the air of everyone trying to better themselves. This means business and money to the TEFL/ESL teacher. A CELTA/Trinity TESOL candidate’s best bet, like elsewhere in the world, is to contact the major private language chains; Berlitz, The British Council, Cambridge Institute, GEOS, Linguaphone, Shines Education, Wall Street Institute and many more that are dotted along Orchard Road. Job opportunities can also be had in the Straits Times online job classifieds at st701.com. The benefits of turning up on the spot are obvious; it will look like you’re in it for the long(ish) haul, you can impress with a professional appearance and demeanour, and more importantly, you can negotiate your salary with your future employer.
It will please many aspiring applicants to know that TEFL/ESL job seekers in Singapore don’t necessarily need certification in CELTA/Trinity TESOL, although it will drag down your salary. More important is having a recognised, three year degree, which the government requires for immigration purposes. Don’t let this worry you though. Obtaining the necessary Employment Pass is a very simple process, merely requiring some forms to be filled in. This can be done in Singapore and you don’t have to leave the country to complete the process at a High Commission of theirs. It may be of interest to note that if you earn above SGD 4000 a month, you don’t need to undergo a medical examination.
Who will you teach is an often underestimated question and it is very important to note that teachers are extremely unlikely to be actually teaching native Singaporeans. Having been a colony of the United Kingdom until 1963, and having English as the official language, means English is very well established there. This may not be reflected in standards of local English, but for the most part, this is dealt with by the government during a child’s education. You are far more likely to be teaching (in quantity order from my experience) mainland Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Filipino, Japanese, Thai, and even Burmese citizens. This provides for a very enjoyable experience because, more than likely, you’ll have multilingual classes to teach. Furthermore it may be exciting to note that Singapore has far less kids’ classes than the rest of Asia. Naturally, this is due to the fact that English is the language of class in state schools.
Moving on from just the aspect of work, Singapore as a destination for expats, offers a very comfortable tropical lifestyle. The weather is characterised by two distinct seasons; wet and dry, and every day is hot! The vast majority of schools will employ air conditioning though to make the teaching experience far more comfortable. Singapore is renowned for its multi-ethnic cuisine. The real joy of living there is being able to choose from Chinese, Malaysian, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese and European cuisine every day. Food is incredibly cheap, with amazing outdoor (but covered!) food courts providing for a fiesta of food to brighten any day. Fresh fruit juices and exotic cut fruits at rock bottom prices will make you feel great.
Accommodation on the island is where serious thought must be considered. Occupying a relatively small island with 4 million people naturally means rents are high – far higher than neighbouring countries. The vast majority of people occupy an apartment in a block of flats. These come in two levels of quality; HDB (a form of public housing provided by the government) and condominiums (high quality private apartments, usually but not always, with shared facilities like swimming pools, gyms etc). HDB flats are generally older and of lower quality (and sometimes without air con), but are of course cheaper. Condos can be anything from satisfactory to breathtaking. Rents for HDB flats start at around SGD 800 a month, with condominiums starting at around SGD 1500. Obviously, costs depend on a lot of factors, location being a major one. My own private recommendation would be to look for a refurbished HDB flat, rather than a cheaper, lower quality condo. I would also strongly dissuade anyone from seeking an apartment around the long Geylang Road, being the red light district, as it is extremely seedy.
In terms of cultural and leisure activities Singapore has somewhat to offer. Firstly, let’s deal with the common derisory remark that Singapore is one large shopping mall. This is true to an extent, and there are very many malls. This will obviously be music to the ears of those who like shopping, and potentially nightmarish for those who don’t. Sampling new food at food courts and restaurants is a very special Singapore experience, as is exploring the different quarters; Chinese, Indian, Malay, Korean, and Thai. The centre of the island is still virgin jungle and ideal for trekking, most notably Bukit Timah and Macritichie Reservoir Park being the most authentic jungle. Beaches are OK in Singapore, but the sheer amount of large boats out in the harbour may discourage you from swimming. An array of smaller islands around it are also great for exploring; particularly Kusu, Ubin, Lazarus and haunted Hantu. The island resort of Sentosa is usually very busy and a bit overrated in my opinion for leisure and entertainment.
In conclusion, for an aspiring teacher looking for a place to start, or for an experienced one seeking a fresh start, I would strongly recommend Singapore. Reasons of income, food, and climate make this a very attractive destination for TEFL/ESL. Flexible immigration makes this a good place to make your TEFL/ESL debut, while the above factors make the city a great place to linger for a few years. Singapore offers enough of the great things about Asia while low on the downsides that make other countries harder to live in such as crime, pollution, begging/touting. So, when considering Asia as an English teaching destination, don’t rule out the Lion City.
About the Author
Will Pearson taught in Singapore from 2007 to 2009 at Shines Education and the Cambridge Institute. After completing his stint there, he returned to the United Kingdom to devote his time to developing supplementary TEFL/ESL materials. In October 2009 he set up http://www.handouthub.com; a site where English teachers can subscribe to download photocopiable TEFL handouts and ESL worksheets for use in their classes. Will currently lives in Madrid, Spain.