Choosing somewhere to teach in Asia can be a daunting task. Korea, Taiwan, Japan, China, these all sound like great options, and they probably are, but where can you save the most money? Assuming you read titles, you probably already know that teaching English in Singapore is a great choice.
The pay for most teaching jobs is $4500 Singapore dollars a month (which is roughly the same in NZ dollars, and $3500 USD). Add in the low tax (around 2%) and it becomes one of the best salaries you can get as a rookie teacher anywhere in Asia, and possibly the world, without a teaching degree. You do, however, need a degree, and unlike most countries in Asia it should be in something related to English or teaching (you might be able to get away with another type of degree if you are lucky and have experience). A BA in English is perfect, as is anything in linguistics or education.
Update: I haven’t worked in Singapore for 5 months now and apparently the pay scale may have changed at some of the schools. It used to be $4500 at the schools I knew of but now it may vary depending on experience and number of students. If you do end up getting paid less it’s easy to top up your income by doing private classes. I was asked a few times to do these but I was a bit lazy! I’ve heard private tuition pays well and is easy work.
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Accommodation in Singapore
While Singapore is thought of as an expensive place to live, you can do it cheaply. Forget about renting a nice apartment in the city if you want to save money. The cheapest places to live are called HDB flats, where you can rent a room for as low as $500 a month. I pay $600 (which includes power, internet and phone) and this gets me a half-decent room in the suburbs, close to the school I work at. On the other hand you could live like it’s the last days of Rome and have a two-year, cocaine-fueled whirlwind ride full of caviar, models and city views (minus the cocaine of course, this is Singapore) and save nothing. I’m happy living the anti-expat lifestyle and saving as much as I can, travelling as much as I can and planning my world trip. Update: I’ve now been travelling full time for almost a year – teaching English in Singapore has definitely allowed me to go pretty much anywhere in the world that I want to (and I still have enough money for another 2 years of travel!).
Day to day living
Living in Singapore is actually pretty cheap, as long as you don’t have that aforementioned drug habit or some kind of shopping addiction. You can get a decent meal in a hawker centre or food court for as little as $3, but I usually spend between $4 and $6 per meal, still so much cheaper than back home. You could probably cut down your spending a lot by cooking your own food, but I’m too lazy for that. I don’t drink coffee which saves me a lot, and I have cut my alcohol consumption down, so I’m finding it easy to keep to my budget.
Further reading: Moving to Singapore? Check out this post!
How it all adds up
The $4500 salary gets cut by $250 to cover the tax bill at the end of the year (the tax bill is never as much as you put away; the first seven months I worked I ended up paying $111, so I received about $1600 back). With $4250 in the hand, it gives me $1250 a month to live on. Take out $600 for rent and it leaves me with around $150 a week for food, transport and entertainment, with a bit left over. If I was really tight I could do it on $100 a week, so you can see that $150 shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for anyone. For the first three months I decided not to save anything and build up a surplus that I’d use for holidays and big purchases. This worked well and has allowed me to keep to my $3000 a month saving goal really easily. If I finish my two-year contract I’ll get a $7000 bonus, $1500 for flights, and a few thousand in tax returns which will make up for that initial three months.
Teaching English in Singapore: The job
If you don’t have a teaching degree you’ll end up in a tuition centre. This is really easy work. The kids already speak fluent English, so it’s just teaching them phonics, reading, creative writing and simple grammar; in other words, all the easiest bits from normal English teaching jobs. There is also almost no marking or lesson planning! It does get a bit boring and repetitive, but I’m OK with that. The main drawback would have to be the working hours. The busiest days for tuition centres in Singapore are Saturdays and Sundays, which means you will have to work all weekend. Your weekend will become two consecutive days during the week, most likely Monday and Tuesday. This has its ups and downs, but there is no finer way to kill a social life than having to work 9 am – 6 pm every Saturday and Sunday. On the plus side, you won’t have to start work until 3 pm on weekdays.
I never got any paid vacation time while I was teaching in Taiwan so I didn’t travel. Here I get a holiday every three months, including two weeks over Christmas. I’ve been to Java, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Sumatra, and taken a trip through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos with family. I’ve also gone on weekend trips to Malaysia and Bali and have just booked my flight home to New Zealand for Christmas. Because I built up a good surplus during my first three months I’ve been able to take these trips without reaching into my savings.
If you want to save a lot of money and travel at the same time, look no further than a stint teaching English in Singapore. Comment or message me if you have any questions or want some more information.
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Tuesday 14th of January 2020
I'm looking to teach in Singapore and I have a few questions for you. Is there an email address I can get hold of you on? :)
Tuesday 30th of March 2021
Giulia did you end up getting a teaching job last year?
Wednesday 15th of January 2020
Hey Giulia, yip give me an email at email@example.com
Thursday 1st of August 2019
HI Jon I have a degree in Education, mastering in PE, Biology. I have 3 and a half years experience teaching ESL in Taiwan. I am looking to change countries and see Singapore is a nice pick, but I am wondering about how easily I can participate in activities with others and do some sport coaching etc. for extra experience. Are there opportunities for that and where can I find them or find information?
Thank you in advance for any help you can give.
Friday 2nd of August 2019
Hey Catherina, that's a long time in Taiwan! Singapore is a good option to look into. You'll definitely more money but if you get a job like I had you'll have to work all weekend, which might make it hard to do coaching etc (although you should be able to find something during the week). I'd say you'd be able to find that kinda thing if you want though. Let me know how it goes!
Sunday 10th of February 2019
What are names of some tuition centers that do not require a degree?
Wednesday 13th of February 2019
Hey Donna, I have no idea, all the ones I looked at required it, but those were just the popular ones so smaller operations might not be so picky. Cheers!
Sunday 23rd of December 2018
Does Singapore immigration have an age limit for permits to teach English for a year or more?
Friday 4th of January 2019
Hey Joseph, I'm not too sure but I did hear companies were reluctant to hire over 30s these days, something to do with tax / visas or something. I can't confirm that though so just have a go at applying to one of the schools I mentioned and see what they say. Cheers!
Wednesday 12th of December 2018
Hi Jon Thank you for your help. Japan is a nice place to live. Nature places are good here. Culture is respectful and usually polite. It's ok for a year or two. As for savings here it is very difficult to save money here. Peppy kids club ( ITTI ) one of my first companies here hires from outside of Japan regularly. It's easy work load about 16-18 teaching hours a week. But usually 1 -3 hours of travel daily to your 4 different school locations each month. Tokyo was extremely busy I didn't like it. Yokohama area I liked alot. Kyoto is a very interesting place to visit. Kansai ( Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto ) is quite good to live.
Tuesday 18th of December 2018
Hey Ian, cheers for the advice -- I'll be looking into Japan / some other options in the next year or two.