Living in Singapore – A Guide for PhD Students |

Living in Singapore – A Guide for PhD Students

Written by Mike Davies

The energetic city state of Singapore is nicknamed the ‘garden city’ for its commitment to ecological conservation. While studying in this dynamic country you will have the chance to discover what makes it a tourist hotspot as well as a global economic hub.

The guide covers useful information about moving to Singapore for your doctoral studies, including accommodation, living costs, part-time work, transport and banking in Singapore.

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Student life

While studying for your PhD you’ll find plenty to see and do in this thriving, multicultural city state. From the many ecological projects in the garden city to the bustling heart of the state, Singapore will give you a host of things to explore.

Culture and tourism

Because of its size, the garden city is sometimes also nicknamed ‘The Little Red Dot’. Despite being one of the smallest countries in the world, Singapore is a major force on the economic stage. Singapore is essentially a city-island, with a multicultural heritage made up of four ethnic groups: Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians, all with a strong unified Singaporean identity.

Singapore also boasts a thriving ecosystem of nature and wildlife, with rainforests, wetlands and nature reserves all easily accessible. A good way to discover Singapore’s history is through the heritage trails on the island, taking you to historical monuments and sites.

Sports and leisure

If sports are what you enjoy, there is plenty to suit all students. World-class facilities cater for all kinds of sports, even winter sports (despite a tropical climate!). The sunny and hot climate means that outdoor pursuits such as wakeboarding, windsurfing and dragonboat racing can be done year-round (except during monsoon seasons).

For those of you favouring city sights, the bright lights of Singapore are for you! You can choose from many of its shopping malls, museums and dining, along a thriving arts and cultural scene. The nightlife is varied with themed nightclubs (on an enormous scale!), live music, pubs and beach bars.

Food and drink

Singapore is a food-lover’s paradise and the hardest thing to do will be to choose which cuisine (Chinese, Malay, Indian and Peranakan) you want to try first. In fact, the cuisine is often touted as a reason to travel to Singapore and is not only delicious but is also great for convenience and price.

You’ll find food being sold at enormous open-air hawker centres, air-conditioned food courts, cafes and high-end restaurants, as well as everything in between.


Rent in Singapore can be quite expensive, but there are several different options to choose from if you’re looking to keep costs down.

Students in Singapore usually live either in halls of residence, in private hostels or in private housing.

University accommodation

On-campus graduate housing is generally available but demand greatly exceeds supply. Halls of residence are therefore reserved for full-time postgraduates with new students on research programmes often given priority.

Accommodation is fairly basic typically featuring a bedroom and communal living facilities. To give you an idea of pricing, the cost of student accommodation at the National University of Singapore is between $138 and $337 per week (USD $98-$239).

Private rentals

A privately-owned apartment or house can be rented directly from the owner. This can be an expensive option (potentially upwards of USD $1,400 a month for a single bed flat), so sharing with fellow students will help reduce the cost.

Private hostels

Hostels can be a good option for students but they vary in quality and in facilities so be sure to check the accommodation before deciding. Pricing rage from S$535 to S$1,500 (USD $395 to $1,110) per month.

For more assistance on student housing you should contact your university’s international office.

Living costs

Living in Singapore is more expensive than other parts of the world, being on par with other major international cities such as London. The National Univeristy of Singapore estimates that the average budget for a student living on-campus is $10,400 (USD $7710) including accomodation (depending on lifestyle and other factors).

Prices in Singapore

The following table gives an indication of prices for some common expenses during a PhD in Singapore:

Student Cost of Living in Singapore - 2024
Restaurant Meal S$14.00 (USD $10.32)
Cinema Ticket S$15.00 (USD $11.06)
Monthly Travel Pass S$128.00 (USD $94.34)
Monthly Utilities S$215 (USD $158.47)
Based on crowdsourced data published by Numbeo.

Working during your PhD

If you wish to work during your studies, you need to make sure you meet the criteria set by Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower. However, PhD students studying at one of Singapore’s six universities will generally meet these conditions.

During the holidays there is no restriction on the work you can take. However, if you are planning to work during the school term you will only be able to work for a maximum of 16 hours a week or if it is part of an industrial attachment programme conducted by your university.

You will also need to notify the Ministry of Manpower of your intention before you start work. The work you take must also be approved by the university you are studying at.


Opening a bank account is not compulsory but will be needed if you are to receive a stipend or to avoid paying unnecessary fees when paying for your day-to-day expenses.

There are numerous banking institutions in Singapore and all offer different services. Opening a bank account is generally easy, although it is worth checking what the requirements of individual banks are.

As a general rule, you will need the following to open a bank account:

  • Your student pass
  • Your passport
  • Minimum deposit amount may also be required
  • Proof of your current address

It’s also worth noting that as a foreign applicant you must visit a branch in Singapore to open an account. Moreover, processing this application can take a month or more so you will need to factor that into your financial plans.


Singapore's excellent geographical position makes it an ideal base to visit Asia and it is easy to explore Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, China or India (all no more than a 5-6 hour flight away). There are also a variety of transport options available within this small country.

Rail travel

Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system is one of the fastest ways to get around the city. This constitutes an extensive rail network that spans most of the city state, and most major sites in the city are within a short walking distance of a station.

Air travel

There are two major airports in Singapore: Changi and Seletar. Flights are available to most major cities in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Most journeys to and from Singapore are by plane and Singapore Airlines is consistently rated among the worlds best airlines by Skytrax.

Find a PhD in Singapore

If you’d like to study your PhD in Singapore then why not have a look at some of our current PhD opportunities in Singapore. You can also take a look at some of our other guides to PhD study abroad.

PhD Study in Singapore – A Guide for 2024

Singapore is an fantastic postgraduate destination for adventurous PhD students, making for a safe and innovative environment in which to study. Our guide explains fees, funding, visas and more.

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Last Updated: 08 November 2023