Living costs in Singapore are among the highest in the world. Expats who move to the city-state can expect to pay large amounts for their accommodation and for day-to-day expenses. Car buyers in Singapore usually pay five to six times the price of a similar vehicle in the US or the UK.
Educational expenses are no exception. Expats who move to Singapore with their families find that the amount they need to spend on school fees can also be very high. There are about 30 international schools in the country. Each of these institutions maintains high academic standards and provides an extensive range of facilities for their students.
However, these amenities come at a cost. A report titled International School Tuition Fees in Singapore and Beyond by The Fry Group, a firm that provides tax and financial planning services, reveals how much expats should budget for annual tuitions:
- Pre-preparatory level – $27,300
- Preparatory level – $30,300
- Senior school – $35,100
The report also states that fees have been rising rapidly. Between 2010 and 2015, school tuition fees rose by 23.2%. It is expected that fees will continue to increase in the coming years. By 2020, they are expected to be 52.3% higher than their 2010 level.
What are the total school fees payable to an international school?
The rate at which fees have been rising is greater than the increase in the consumer price index in Singapore.
Source – The Fry Group
What implication does the continuous growth in school fees have for expat parents? Data compiled by The Fry Group indicates that a family with two children, one of whom is five years older than the other, can expect to pay about $110,800 more in school fees for the younger child.
The following table illustrates this point by assuming that the elder child started school in 2010/11 and the younger child, in 2015/16. School fees are for the period from reception to Year 13.
Year of admission
Total school fees for reception to Year 13, by year of admission. S$
Local schools can be a good option
A recent OECD survey that assessed maths and science abilities of 15-year-olds in 76 countries across the world ranked Singapore at #1. Singapore’s local schools have a formidable reputation and the competitive academic atmosphere among children can produce excellent results.
But admission to these schools can be difficult. There are a limited number of seats available for international students and those whose parents are Permanent Residents (PR) of Singapore. Although a fixed number of places are not allotted to foreigners, it is estimated that 4% of national school places are for expat school children and another 9% for PRs.
The admission process guarantees a place for Singaporean citizens and PR children. The applications of foreign students are considered for the remaining places. While it is possible for an expat’s child to get admission to a local school, there is no guarantee of this. Consequently, for many expats, the only option is an international school.
Differences between local schools and international schools
The quality of education at both local and international schools is of a very high standard. An important area where the two differ is the size of the classes. National schools will have more students per classroom while in international schools, the number is usually much smaller.
There are several other areas where the two differ:
- Local schools get an early start with most requiring students to reach by 7 or 7.30 am. School hours are usually over before 2 pm. International schools begin classes later, but have a long day. Typically, school hours may be from 9 am to 3.30 pm.
- The two types of schools do not follow the same holiday schedule. All local schools have a common calendar, but international schools do not need to abide by this. Consequently, the holidays at international schools can differ.
The fees at the two types of schools are very different, however.
How much does a local school charge for international students?
Although Singapore’s citizens pay very low amounts as fees and other charges to local schools, the same is not true for PRs and international students.
The following data from the Singapore's Ministry of Education provides an idea of the wide variation in fees:
Secondary school fees
Total Monthly fees S$
International student (ASEAN)
International student (Non-ASEAN)
The yearly fee payable by an expat at a local school is substantial but is only a fraction of what is payable at an international school.
Making the choice between international schools and local schools
Many expats don’t really need to make a decision about which type of school to opt for as admission to local schools is difficult to obtain. But if an expat’s child does gain admission to a national school, it could be sensible to enrol. These schools impart a world-class education at a price that is far lower than what is payable at an international school.
(By Ravinder Kapur)