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Updated 31 May 2012


Singapore is quickly becoming a vibrant, multi-cultural society. The city-state has a population of just over 5 million, about 100,000 of which are expatriates. This cosmopolitan community is drawn to the high standard of living, climate, political stability, and state-of-the-art infrastructure; although densely populated, the city-state is renowned for its clean, specious green parks and recreation areas within the urban sprawl. Vibrant arts and entertainment scene and the rich tapestry of cultures make for an interesting place to call home, and while the conservative attitudes to some things like drugs might put some rowdier travellers off, it does make for an excellent, safe place to raise a family.

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Expat parents moving to Singapore have little to worry about when it comes to educating their little ones. Singapore's education system is one of the best in the world, and the city-state is fast becoming a knowledge-based economy, with tourism bodies coming on board to attract international students to the country on various programmes to attend Singapore's excellent schools and tertiary education facilities. Its English-medium education places a strong emphasis on both English and mathematics from an early age. There's also a good choice of schools for a country with a population of just 5 million – incredibly, there are 1,000 private schools in the city-state, and many more public schools.
Expat parents might find themselves somewhat overwhelmed by the various councils and school classifications that fly about in acronym-loving Singapore. But don't worry – having all those regulatory bodies ensures a high standard in Singapore schools and ultimately takes a lot of the stress out of finding a school for your child in a foreign country, which can be a potential minefield elsewhere. Singaporean students often come top in international tests, and the country's main universities are amoung the top 100 in the world. 
Because Singapore's public schools are English-medium schools, they are often appealing to expat parents as their fees tend to be considerably lower than private international schools. However, public schools will usually give first priority to Singaporean students, then consider those with permanent residency visas, and finally consider those students on other temporary visas last. By contrast, Singaporean students need to have special permission from the Ministry of Education to attend a private or international school, so odds are you'll find it easier to place your child in an international school. In short, if you're relocating for the long term, you might consider placing your child in a reputable Singaporean public school for the winning combination of lower fees and a solid, world-class education. But for those moving only for a short time, the international schools will not only be easier to apply to to from abroad but will mean a smoother transition for your child from his or her school at home, and back again.
The Expat Arrivals Schools Guide for Singapore is intended to shed some light on the mystery of the school system and to give you the all-important insight you need to make your transition abroad as smooth and seamless as possible.
"No matter where you’re moving, few tasks can feel more daunting than selecting the best place for your student to continue their education, and quite frankly, the questions can feel endless: What curriculum is best? Will my child get the attention he needs? Will she be able to integrate back into our home system? Will he be best prepared for college entrance exams? Will she be safe? Can I afford it? Will he make friends easily? Will she overcome the language barrier? And more..."

Public Schools in Singapore

For many expat parents moving to a foreign country with their little ones, the decision of whether to enrol their kids in an international school or a public school is an easy one – there may be a language barrier, or expat kids may not be allowed to enter into local schools at all by law. However, Singapore's public schools are English-medium, maintain high standards, are closely monitored and standardised by the Ministry of Education (MOE), and are moreover often much cheaper than private or international schools. They may be worth looking into if you plan to stay in Singapore for a long time, or if the Singaporean school syllabus is similar enough to that in your home country. Bear in mind that enrolling in a public school entails a non-refundable biennial donation to the national education fund of 1,000 SGD, payable in advance.
Singapore students usually start school at 6 years old. Primary schools run from Primary 1 to Primary 6, while high school runs from Secondary 1 to Secondary 5, followed by Pre-University 1, 2 and 3. The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is held at the end of Primary 6, while GCE O Levels are held in Secondary 4 and 5 and GCE A Levels at Pre-University 12 and 13. Note that no foreign students will be enrolled in Primary 6, Secondary 4 and 5 or Pre-University 12 and 13, as they won't be sufficiently prepared for the exams at the end of these years.

Admission Exercise for International Students (AEIS)

The first step to  enrolling a child in the public school system is to find the school of your choice and apply for admission. A provisional acceptance will be granted if your application is successful, which will then be granted in full once the student passes a standardised test called the Admissions Exercise for International Students (AEIS). This is a compulsory test for all students whose parents are in Singapore on an S Pass or R Pass work permit. Your child can take the test without finding a school first, but he or she will then be placed by the government in a school and you will not be able to transfer to a different one.
The AEIS is held at individual schools in September or October annually. It's a standardised test for those entering Primary School 2-5 and Secondary 1-3 the following year, and tests proficiency in Maths and English. You will need to apply online on the Ministry of Education's web site in order to do the test. After the test you will be offered a place in a school based on how well the student performed and the availability of seats. The standards are quite high, so you should prepare your child accordingly.
If you are unable to be in Singapore for the first test in September/October, it's also possible to take the Supplementary Admissions Exercise for International Students (S-AEIS) in February/March the same year the child is due to be enrolled. However, remember that this would affect your choices when it comes to choosing a school, as some more popular schools will already be full.
Those enrolling in Primary 1 will need to take the Primary One Registration Exercise. Children born between 2 January 2006 and 1 January 2007 (both dates inclusive) can participate in the 2012 Primary One Registration Exercise for admission to Primary One Classes in 2013. The test takes place at the primary school on specific registration days between July and August each year, with the test day depending on what phase of the process the child in eligible for. Singaporeans go first, then foreign nationals with permanent residency, then finally those without permanent residency. On the test day,  parents will need to produce all the (original) documents needed to register their child. A list of the number of vacancies at each primary school is made available on the Minstry of Education's web site ( in June before the tests start. Singaporeans are given priority over permananet residents, who in turn are given priority over non-permanent residents.
Once the student passes the test, the school will issue a Letter of Acceptance (LOA), which expat parents can use to apply for a Student Pass (STP) on the child's behalf at Singapore's Department of Immigration. If the child is already on a Dependence Pass (DP) or Immigration Exemption Order (IEO), however, it isn't necessary to apply for the Student Pass, and the child can simply be enrolled in the school once the AEIS has been completed successfully.

Private and International Schools

There's a large expat community in Singapore, which means there's also a large number of international and private schools. Singaporean students are forbidden to attend these schools without special permission from the Ministry of Education, so as a result, many of them consist largely of international students. There are two classifications – Private Education Institutions, or PEIs (also sometimes called Private Education Organizations or PEOs), and Foreign System Schools , or FSSs (also simply called International Schools). The former are private schools and tertiary education facilities which offer Singaporean education qualifications and/or post graduate degrees and diplomas, while the latter offer curriculums in line with those of other countries.

Singapore's Council for Private Education (CPE) is charged with overseeing private and international schools in Singapore. All institutions that intend to admit international students are required to register with the CPE. On registering, they are given an EduTrust certification. EduTrust is a certification scheme to uphold standards in private schools in Singapore. International schools which intend to admit children on Student Passes (STPs) – in other words, most international students – are required to be EduTrust certified, so be sure to double-check that the school of your choice has this certification before you apply.

Admission to private and international schools

For the most part, international schools accept applications throughout the year, although keep in mind that some more popular or prestigious schools have waiting lists of up to three or four years for some grades. It is best to apply for admission as soon as possible. Many schools, especially top-tier schools, will have their own tests for English or maths proficiency to determine which grade your child should be placed.
Generally speaking, you will need most if not all of the following documentation to apply for a place at an international school:
  • At least two passport-sized photos of your child 
  • A copy of your child’s birth certificate
  • Copies of the passports of the child's parents
  • School records (including official transcripts or report cards, standardised test results, etc) for the last two or three years
  • Request for Release of Transfer of School Records
  • A copy of the first two pages of your child’s passport 
  • A copy of the child's Dependent Pass (DP) or Student's Pass (STP) (if applicable)
  • A completed copy of the particular school's Application for Admission form
  • A copy of your child’s immunisation certificate and any relevant doctor's reports
Note that some schools will request that fees be paid in advance, and others will have non-refundable admissions and/or registration fees. Most will require you to fax through copies of all documentation, and then post hard copies, to confirm a placement.
Students who are moving to Singapore will need to apply for a Student's Pass at the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority before they arrive in Singapore, although this can be done concurrently with applying for a place at a school.

Tuition and Fees

The fees at public schools in Singapore are standardised by the Ministry of Education. Foreign students are charged slightly higher fees than local Singaporean students. For the 2012 academic year, for international students the annual costs are 356 SGD for primary school, 486 SGD for secondary school and 772 SGD for junior college.

The fees charged by private and international schools will vary from institution to institution. Some of the more exorbitant fees peak at over 8,000 SGD in primary school and 10,000 SGD a year for Grade 12 students, and twice that for boarding school. In addition, some schools will charge up to an additional 10,000 SGD in various admission and registration fees, although usually you only have to pay these in your child's first year. There are also additional fees for uniforms, bus services, canteen lunches and in some cases extra-curricular activities and school outings.

School Term and Fees

Schools start between 7:45am and 9am depending on the institution and end at around noon for kindergarten, or 3pm for primary and high school students. Extra-curricular activities take place after school for about an hour or more.

Public schools in Singapore are split into two semesters of two terms each. For the 2012 academic year, the term dates for both primary and secondary schools are:
  • Term 1: Tuesday 3 January to Friday 9 March
  • Term 2: Monday 19 March to Friday 25 May
  • Term 3: Monday 25 June to Friday 31 August
  • Term 4: Monday 10 September to Friday 16 November
Private and international schools may follow the Singapore school dates or may align themselves to schools in other countries or international school terms. It's best to check with individual schools. Most will publish their school term dates on their web sites.

Home Schooling

Perhaps surprisingly for a country with such a focus on education, Singapore doesn't have as much of an established home-schooling community as there is in countries like the USA, where there are over a million home-schooled students (Singapore has just a few hundred). With such a good, affordable public school system and a range of international schools to choose from, it may be worth investigating schooling options thoroughly before choosing to home-school your kids. Of course, there are benefits to home-schooling – in particular, if you'll only be in Singapore for a short time, you won't need to bother with logistical issues like uniforms and application fees. If that's the route you choose to go, there are a handful of blogs, online home-schooling resources and home-school groups you might find useful. The Singapore Homeschool Group ( is a good start.
Note that by law, children in Singapore of a certain age must be enrolled in school. To home-school you children it will be necessary to apply for an Exemption from the Compulsory Education Act at the Ministry of Education.

Nursery Schools

Nurseries and kindergartens in Singapore provide three years of pre-school education for children aged three to six. These are run by a wide range of private institutions, including religious groups, business groups and some international schools. There are hundreds of pre-schools registered with the Ministry of Education, including 247 pre-schools run by the People's Action Party, the party that has governed Singapore since 1957.

As with all education facilities in Singapore, there are certification programmes in place to ensure that schools maintain high standards. The Singapore Pre-School Accreditation Framework (SPARK) is a quality-assurance framework run by the Ministry of Education. When investigating a pre-school, make sure it carries the SPARK accreditation. In addition, the MOE oversees two excellence awards for kindergartens. One is the Good Practice Award for Kindergartens, which was introduced in 2010. In addition the MOE, in association with the Association of Early Childhood Educators (AECES), plans to introduce an Award for Kindergarten Excellence from 2012. Be on the lookout for these extra accolades if you're hunting for a really top-notch kindergarten.

Tertiary Education

The National University of Singapore (NUS), the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) offer a range of tertiary education courses. There are also a range of polytechnics which train middle-level professionals in specific workplace skills. Most have comprehensive course listings on their web sites. To attend a tertiary institution in Singapore, you'll need to first apply at the institution and then apply for a Student's Pass at Sigapore's Department of Immigration.

Tips for Choosing a School for your Child

Whether you’re a seasoned expat who’s had to sift through countless school choices, or you’re a first-time assignee who’s never had to do more than pack your child’s lunch and make sure they board the bus without any problems, it’s always a good idea to think about some key principles when making decisions about your student’s education. There is a vast assortment of choice when it comes to things like curriculum, teaching philosophy, extra curricular preferences and general experience in private and international schools. We find it’s helpful to keep the following in mind when doing you preliminary research.


The Experiential Element

This is not typically the first thing on an expat parent’s mind, but nonetheless, it’s an important element that’s worth some serious consideration. Relocation can be challenging for students, and it’s not strange to be asking yourself, “Have I just ruined by child’s life?”
It’s a normal anxiety that many expat parents deal with, and obviously the best way to do battle against it is to think carefully about your child’s preparedness for a new school context and your child’s ability to enjoy, succeed and grow. Anything radically different from a child’s previous experience must be considered with great care. Evaluate your child’s needs, and try to find a school in Singapore that best aligns with his or her priorities. If your child has special needs, make sure the school can meet them; and if your child has a certain interest, make sure the school offers courses or activities that will draw out and foster this interest.


This point is central to the decision-making process, especially if you have kids in secondary school approaching the time when the college application process begins. Most expat parents tend to choose a curriculum that aligns with that of their home country, but nonetheless, you’ll want to make sure the curriculum is challenging enough for your student. For those with older kids, find out what standardised test the curriculum is geared toward, and find out what diplomas are granted upon graduation. It’s worth noting that the International Baccalaureate curriculum is accepted in many countries, as is the public school qualification in Singapore. 

Besides these fundamentals, you’ll also want to have a close look at the kinds of extra-curricular options a school offers. Does the institution have good sports programs, does it encourage kids to partake in community activities, does it offer art and music courses, and are their clubs that allow students to develop certain skills, like leadership and debate?

Some schools will emulate the home environment of the school's curriculum, while other schools opt for a more international, multi-cultural approach. You'll need to decide whether the goal is to give your child an international experience, or whether the act of living in Singapore is enough of a cultural experience for your family. If your stay is a short one, remember that it may be preferable to place your child in a school where the curriculum will flow seamlessly from your child's old school to the new one and back again.

Teachers and Class Size

A school is only as good as the teachers within it, and arguably, the determining factor that influences a child’s education and development is a good instructor. Though it can seem “impossible” to find out how “good” a teacher may be, there are some basic questions that parents can ask to draw some general conclusions. Find out if the school requires teachers to have any certifications or advanced degrees, find out if the school encourages their employees to take part in professional development courses, find out about average teacher turnover, and above all else, find out about average class size. Even the best teachers can become swallowed by a giant sea of eager students. Lastly, visit the school and meet the teacher. Are they friendly? Enthusiastic? Knowledgeable about the curriculum and confident about the school?


It's essential for expat parents to consider geographic proximity and travel time to and from school. Though traffic and congestion isn't as hard to handle as in destinations like Bangkok and Beijing, it still exists, and there’s nothing worse than a long commute with little ones in the back seat. Singapore is a relatively small city state with good infrastructure, and for the most part a drive to school shouldn't take you as long as it can in other city states like Dubai. Most expats find the best thing to do is to find a decent school close to their place of work, and then find a home that's a reasonable distance from both of them. If living far away from your chosen school is unavoidable, it's important to make sure that the school has a private bus transport system or that there's a public transport system with routes past your residence. This shouldn't be too much of a problem in Singapore, however, as the metro train lines are extensive, easy to use and safe.

International Schools

British International School of Abu Dhabi


Address: Behind Abu Dhabi University, Al Ain Rd (#22)
Telephone: +971 (2) 510 0100       
Gender: Co-educational
Teaching Language: English – students must have an adequate level of spoken and written English to be enrolled.
Average Class Size: Class sizes are limited at 22.
School hours: 7am – 2.30pm

Boarding facilities: none


Though only opened in 2009, the British International School has already developed an accomplished reputation in Abu Dhabi. The institution is part of the Nord Anglia Education group, a body that’s become old hand at delivering excellent education opportunities to foreign communities based abroad.  Though the school upholds the English National Curriculum, it looks to gain International Baccalaureate (IB) accreditation in the near future, and accepts students of all nationalities with open arms. In short, the well-qualified staff concentrate on providing an international context to a typically British-style of teaching. Parents are encouraged to get involved in their student’s school life, and students are encouraged to not only become confident, open-minded and respectful members of their classroom, but well-rounded contributing members to a global community.

What the school says

Though only opened in 2009, the British International School has already developed an accomplished reputation in Abu Dhabi. The institution is part of the Nord Anglia Education group, a body that’s become old hand at delivering excellent education opportunities to foreign communities based abroad.  Though the school upholds the English National Curriculum, it looks to gain International Baccalaureate (IB) accreditation

What the inspectors say 

Though only opened in 2009, the British International School has already developed an accomplished reputation in Abu Dhabi. The institution is part of the Nord Anglia Education group, a body that’s become old hand at delivering excellent education opportunities to foreign communities based abroad.  Though the school upholds the English National Curriculum, it looks to gain International Baccalaureate (IB) accreditation


The school adheres to an English National Curriculum, and plans to become IB accredited in the near future. Special emphasis is placed on differentiated teaching, meaning that the curriculum can be amended according to the needs of the pupils. Additionally, personal, social and health education permeates all levels of learning. Finally, Arabic and Islamic Studies classes are included in the curriculum to meet the standard requirement of the UAE Ministry of Education.

Sports & Extracurricular Activities

The British International School of Abu Dhabi is a firm believer in the value of extra-curricular activities, and not only do they provide students an assortment of options to choose from, they also provide world-class facilities that make many of the activities unforgettable. Activities vary among years, but include: Football, Rugby, Swim Team, Art Club, Chess Club, Cross-Stitch Club, Choir, Drama Club, Basketball, Science Club, Student Newspaper and even Yoga!


New students to the school are required to pay a once-off registration fee of 500 dirhams – payable upon acceptance.
Early years: 46,497 dirhams ($12,554 or £7,904) a year. Years 1-5: 54,457 ( - ) dirhams a year. Years 6-9: 55,772 ( - ) dirhams a year. Year 10: 62516 ( - ) dirhams a year


While no entrance exams are required for admission, students are assessed the first day of enrolment for the purpose of tracking and evaluating their development through each school year. The school accepts rolling admissions, and parents can apply online or in-person. However, if application is made online with scanned copies of documents, the originals must be sent to the school prior to enrolment.
Applications are reviewed within a two week period, at the end of which parents receive written responses. If your student is accepted, you’ll receive an official “Offer of Enrolment”, which must be accepted or declined by a given due date.


Quotes from Teachers

“BISAD welcomes families of all nationalities and offers British Education delivered within a truly international community enriched by the diversity of our community and the variety of cultures that help and support our global world.Our Staff are dedicated to high quality learning and supporting our pupils to reach their full potential.  We want our pupils to thrive academically, socially and emotionally and leave our school as lifelong learners who are ready to embrace the challenges ahead of them and to prepare them for life in a global society.BISAD welcomes families of all nationalities and offers British Education delivered within a truly international community enriched by the diversity of our community and the variety of cultures that help and support our global world.Our Staff are dedicated to high quality learning and supporting our pupils to reach their full potential.  We want our pupils to thrive academically, socially and emotionally and leave our school as lifelong learners who are ready to embrace the challenges ahead of them and to prepare them for life in a global society.”
 – Lesley-Ann Wallace


Quotes from the parents

“Both my ankle-biters are here, and in my opinion, though it may have had one or two teething problems in the beginning, you can’t get a better top-quality British School”.
-Joan, mum of a Year 4 and Year 7
“There were definitely some issues in the beginning, particularly with the still developing senior school, but now with the new head, everything seems to be sorted, and the primary years program is solid”.
-Sine, Mother of an 8-year-old
“The first principal left a year and a half ago. Let's just say, I don't think anyone shed any tears about it! The new principal, Mrs Wallace has been with the school for a year and has been fantastic. She has upgraded the management team, has a very clear vision of where she wants the school to be and ensured that the teaching staff is excellent. The class sizes are small and the atmosphere is very secure and warm. You should take a look round the school and/or make an appointment to see the principal.”
Rose, British mum to a Year 3 student
[I have removed quotes from kids]


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