Study in Singapore

Key facts for international students in Singapore
Updated 2020-05-08 12:05

Singapore is home to four large ethnic groups: Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian, whose influences and multi-cultural heritage form a strong Singaporean identity – and surely reflect in its amazing food culture! As a world leading financial centre it maintains strong connections with the West and while being one of the world’s most expensive cities (according to the latest Mercer Cost of living Index), it also remains one of the most popular expat destinations worldwide.

Why study in Singapore?

Quality education and high employability

Singapore has one of the best education systems in the world as government initiatives focus on the value and importance of educational innovation being part of the country's economy.

In fact, two Singapore universities ranked among the top 15 worldwide following the QS World University Ranking in 2019; and a series of global reports have recognized Singapore's world-leading research and innovation. A degree from Singapore will open many doors.

Despite being one of the most expensive cities in the world, it ranked high in the QS Best Student Cities in 2019 in 20th place. And as an international student, you can get a scholarship!

The gateway to Asia

Exploring other countries in Southeast Asia is so easy as Singapore's excellent geographical position makes it an ideal travel base. It's not uncommon to take a weekend trip to Malaysia or Thailand. And Indonesia, Cambodia, China or India are no more than a 5-6 hour flight away.

The academic environment in Singapore

Singapore may be small but in the realms of higher education and research, it's known as one of the best worldwide, as education has been a government priority and key driver for its economic development. Over the last two decades higher education gained prominence and Singapore is now home to world-leading universities. The 5.7 million city-state attracted around 65,000 foreign students in 2018. You'll feel part of the melting pot.

The teaching culture in Singapore

You'll attend reading lectures to cover the theory at a pretty quick pace, and more practical tutorials where you'll have the opportunity to ask questions and do exercises, presentations, group work and individual work. Most locals print out materials before class, as lectures tend to be rather fast ' not for slow writers!

You may find that students ask fewer questions during class than you may be used to back home. Nonetheless, grades are mostly dependent on the final exam, as well as in-class performance, group projects or papers.

You'll address the teachers formally using 'Mr' or 'Mrs' and the last name.

The teaching language

The teaching language will be in English and you'll need to comply with the university's English language requirements as part of the application process. There are usually a number of ways how to do this; check with the university of your choice:

  • Take a language proficiency test, for example, IELTS or TOEFL. Check in advance which certificates are eligible at the university of your choice. To get the best chance of acceptance, you will need high scores.
  • Provide proof of previous qualification to confirm your level of English or that you meet possible English language exemptions.

Singapore's main universities

Singapore's two leading universities, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) rank among the top 15 worldwide, according to QS.

National University of Singapore (NUS)-#11

Founded in 1905 NUS is an autonomous, research-intensive university, and the oldest and largest institute of higher education in Singapore. Following the latest 2019 QS World University Rankings, it made it to 11th place in the world and consistently ranked 1st in Asia.

To date there are 17 faculties and schools across three campuses as well as three Research Centres of Excellence (RCE) and 30 university-level research institutes and centres, offering a global approach to education and research while focussing on Asian expertise and perspectives.

The university is home to about 38,000 students including about 30% international students from 100 countries and it also offers various student exchange programmes, and entrepreneurial internships at nine NUS Overseas Colleges as well as joint or double degree programmes with top universities. In fact, eight out of ten NUS undergraduates take part in study-abroad programmes with over 300 universities in more than 40 countries.

The National University of Singapore is also very active in entrepreneurial education, focussing its activities in four areas: experiential education, business incubator, entrepreneurship development and entrepreneurship research.

If interested, don't hesitate to browse the NUS website.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) - #12

NTU is a young research-intensive and comprehensive university with over 33,000 students attending eight colleges and schools. Following the QS World University Rankings, it ranks right behind NUS at 13th place worldwide and 2nd in Asia, with strong marks in engineering.

It was formed in 1981, but has a history of antecedent institutes in 1956, prior to Singapore's independence from the UK. Today it is renowned for its longstanding expertise in engineering, business and education and also offers medicine, science, the arts and humanities with plans to focus on five research thrusts: Sustainable Earth, Secure Community, Global Asia, Healthy Society and Future Learning. Did you know that NTU's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine is a joint medical school with Imperial College London, one of the top 10 universities worldwide? It is also home to the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering, the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight, and the Earth Observatory of Singapore.

Nanyang Technological University offers 400 partnerships including global education opportunities with top universities such as MIT, Stanford, Waseda or Tokyo University, as well as joint PhD programmes and joint laboratories with industry leaders like BMW and Robert Bosch. The university is home to about 30% foreign students.

To find more information on this university, check out their website.

Entry conditions

International applicants should have completed twelve years of general education and hold a recognized secondary (high school) qualification such as A-levels or equivalent, and a minimum level of English proficiency. Certain courses may have special or higher entry requirements, minimum entry marks or grades, or require ability tests. As selection procedures and requirements depend on the university and programme of study, it's best to check with the university of your choice. Outstanding achievements ' academically as well as sports at the Olympic level are equally valued.

Once accepted, you'll get just two weeks to apply for a Student's Pass online through the Student's Pass On-Line Application and Registration (SOLAR) system, after which you should receive an in-principle approval (IPA) letter. This IPA letter incorporates your visa and is crucial to get through security checkpoints. Note that upon arrival, all students have to undergo and pass a medical examination and will be screened for HIV and TB (chest X-ray) - fees apply. Medical degrees also require compulsory Hepatitis B and C screening blood tests. A clean bill of health is necessary before you can get a student pass. Check with the Singapore embassy in your home country and the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority.

Exchange programs and scholarships

Don't let tuition fees and high living costs deter you from studying in one of the world's greatest cities - most universities offer exchange programs or scholarships. So make sure to check with the university of your choice.

In fact, there are many scholarships, grants and fellowships that abound for international students who know where to look! Scholarships are usually granted based on academic merit and good co-curricular records. It's well worth checking out the following: The Singapore Scholarship of the Embassy of the Republic of Singapore, Lee Kong Chian Graduate Scholarships at the National University of Singapore, INSEAD Syngenta Endowed Scholarship(s) for Emerging Country Leadership, INSEAD Nelson Mandela Endowed Scholarship, ASEAN Foundation Research Scholarship, United World Colleges (UWC) International Youth Scholarships, Asian Development Bank (ADB) -- Japan Scholarship Programs or the Science and Education for Agriculture and Development (SEARCA) Graduate Study Program.

Living in Singapore

Cost of living in Singapore

Tuition fees are not cheap and average around S$35,000 among foreign students who paid between S$30,000-60,000 for a higher degree in 2019 depending on the university and degree programme. They may be high, but they are often less than in many other Asian nations. The estimated costs of living for international students range from S$1,000-2,500 per month, which vary depending on lifestyle and course of study. However, many foreign students manage to receive scholarships or grants to fund their studies.

Students are allowed to work for up to 16 hours part-time and full-time work in between terms without a work permit.

Student housing

Finding affordable accommodation can be a challenge. Depending on the area, type of accommodation and number of people sharing, rentals cost between S$500-1000 per month.

Check with your admitting university's housing office. On-campus graduate housing and university residences are generally available but highly sought after. University residences are usually reserved for full-time postgraduates and priority is often given to research programme students; or there's a pre-defined time period of one year, which may not cover the entire duration of your course.

Alternatively, there are a number of options, such as:

  • Private hostels can be a good option but vary in quality and facilities with prices from S$400-1200.
  • Private apartments rented directly from the owner are the most expensive option with prices from S$3500 upwards. Sharing with fellow students will definitely reduce the costs and you can expect to pay around S$1000 per month per person.
  • Housing Development Board (HDB) flats can be a cheaper alternative to private housing as you can rent a room with prices starting at S$500 per month or an entire flat for up to $1,500 per month.

Arranging for a short-term hostel stay in advance can save you stress upon arrival.

What to do

Singapore has a thriving arts and cultural scene, plenty of shopping malls, museums and is also a food-lover's paradise! And when the sun goes down, the efficient business city transforms into a buzzing nightlife hub with themed nightclubs, pubs and live music bars. Check out the areas around Clarke Quay or Orchard Road.

Despite Singapore's famous skyscraper skyline, it is also home to an easily accessible ecosystem of rainforests, wetlands and nature reserves. The island's heritage trails are also a great way to discover its history, monuments and sites. If you are into sports, there's a wide range of world-class facilities - even winter sports (!) or outdoor activities like windsurfing, wakeboarding or dragon boat racing.

Singapore's public transport is super easy as there is an extensive network of MRT sky trains and buses covering most places.

Local meals you should taste at least once

Singapore's location and busy port have made it a melting pot infusing the city-island with flavours of its surrounding countries like Malaysia, China, Indonesia, India, Thailand, Vietnam and even Japan, turning their influences into a gastronomic delight.

Many people may think food is expensive when going to a restaurant in Singapore; however, there are many food options on and off campus with hawker centres being the cheapest and often most delicious 'food courts' of Singapore. From chicken rice, chilli crab, fish head curry, laksa soup to dim sum and hand-pulled noodles, you should try it all!

Did you know?

Singapore is sometimes nicknamed 'The Little Red Dot', referring to how it is depicted on many maps of the world and of Asia. It may be one of the smallest countries in the world of no more than some 719km², but it is a major force on the economic stage.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.