The Cost of an Overseas University Education (for Singaporeans)

While most parents hope that their child can study in one of the six local universities in Singapore, this may not always be possible due to a range of reasons.

For one, there are some students who are unable to produce the minimum results to gain entry into the local university and course of their choice.

Next, their child may be interested in pursuing a course that is not available in Singapore such as Veterinary or Psychology. (In Singapore, to be a practicing psychologist, you will need to have a Ph.D. to be a recognised clinical psychologist. Ph.D. for the course of Psychology is not offered in Singapore.)

Lastly, the child may be more interested in pursuing the course at one of the prestigious universities, as many of the well-known professors and experts are there. 

As a parent, you would likely want to give your child the widest range of opportunities. In this article, we explore the cost of an overseas university education and how we can fund it should the need arise. 

In a Nutshell

The most popular destinations for tertiary education would be the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. In the table below, we explore the exact fees for a popular undergraduate degree of choice, law. 

 Tuition Fees (for 4 years)Living Expenses (of a student; for 4 years)Total (tuition + cost of living)
United StatesUSD $261,568USD $119,344USD $380,912 (SGD $506,613*)
AustraliaAUD $184,000AUD $81,164AUD $268,164 (SGD $273,527*)
United Kingdom£79,840£49,104£128,944 (SGD $242,414*)

*The conversion rates are based on market rates on 31 May 2021. $1 USD= $1.33 SGD, $1 AUD=1.02SGD, £1= 1.88 SGD

Read on further for fees of other courses.


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3 Benefits of Studying Overseas

Apart from the fact that an overseas university education would give students access to one of the best schools for their degree of choice, there are other amazing benefits of studying overseas that can help set your child up for life.

For one, your child will have the opportunity to develop essential life skills as they are thrust into a life of true independence. They will need to learn how to manage their finances, do their household chores, cook, clean their laundry, etc. If you are a parent who has been trying your hardest to get them involved in these tasks but can’t seem to get them to move, studying overseas will give them the magical cure and formula for picking up these essential life skills on their own.

Next, exposure to other cultures, ways of living, and schools of thought will help them to grow valuable perspectives on life. Often, those with an overseas education experience are more open-minded, willing to consider multiple perspectives, and can think of creative solutions for common issues faced in our society. Many of our Singaporean Ministers, including the late Lee Kuan Yew, and the 4G leaders studied overseas.

Last but not least, studying overseas will force your child to be financially savvy. They will need to learn how to organise and stick to their budget, and perform tasks like going to the bank, paying for their university education bills, etc. This is a skill that few Singaporean children have as the parents often manage all financial aspects, sometimes even until they are married adults. Allowing the child to learn how to manage their finances completely at such a juncture will help them succeed in life as they learn how to prioritise different spending needs, and appreciate the value of money. 

So if your child requests to study overseas, don’t immediately reject their requests. Some of the skills and benefits listed above cannot be “bought” or learned fully if they only stay in Singapore.

What Do Parents Think of an Overseas Education for Their Children?

According to a study done by HSBC in 2017, 47% of Singaporean parents have considered sending their children overseas for their university education.

Among all the countries that they consider, the USA, Australia, and the UK are among the top 3 choices. The countries are often a consideration as parents believe that they provide the best job prospects and high quality of education.

Even with the global pandemic, Singaporean parents and students are still considering and choosing an overseas education. This is unlikely to change in the future.

How Much Does It Cost to Study Abroad?

So how much does it truly cost to study abroad?

The table we provided above gave you the statistics for pursuing a law degree in the University of Pennslyvania, University of Sydney, and the University of Warwick.

What if your child wants to read another course?

In the sections below, we provide a range of tuition fees for the most popular courses pursued in the USA, Australia, and the UK. 

United States

The United States is often a popular destination for tertiary education. Apart from being known for the prestigious Ivy League Schools, the USA is often lauded for providing opportunities for networking and good job prospects. The most popular undergraduate degrees (apart from Law) pursued by Singaporeans in the USA are Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and Business. 

Tuition fees

As noted in the first table, pursuing a law degree in the USA is the most expensive, compared to the UK or Australia. What about the other courses?

In the table below, we explore 3 popular universities in the USA and their 2020/2021 course fees (for 4 years). Note that the number provided is the minimum expected expenditure for tuition fees alone. The cost is likely to be higher as most universities increase their tuition fees every year. The prices quoted are in USD.

Philosophy Degree, Politics and Economics, and Business
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)$73,160 x 4 = $292,640
Harvard University$49,653 x 4 = $198,162
Columbia University in New York$58,920 x 4 = $235,680

Living expenses

Living expenses will vary depending on your child’s lifestyle. However, living expenses are also affected by where the university is located. As the three universities listed above are located in expensive towns, the cost of living is thus higher. Each university provides an estimate for the cost of living per annum and we have extracted the data for you below. This only includes boarding at university campuses, meal catering, expenses for books, and student insurance. It does not include possible expenses spent on transport or travel.

University, CityLiving Expenses
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge$21,510
Harvard University, Cambridge$21,875
Columbia University in New York$21,419

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Most Singaporeans who choose to study in Australia often read Medicine, Physiotherapy, and Psychology. This is because Australia’s health sciences are world-renowned, and it may be easier to get into Medicine courses there compared to Singapore. 

Tuition fees

Tuition fees for the health sciences can be expected to be higher, just like in Singapore. In the table below, we explore 3 popular universities and their tuition fees per annum. All prices are quoted in AUD.

University of Sydney$50,000 (Bachelor of Science)
University of Melbourne$95,648$43,584*$46,240
University of Queensland$43,504**$37,760$46,752

*There is no Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. The price quoted is for a Bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences with some modules in psychology.

**There is no Bachelor’s Degree in Medicine, but for biomedical sciences. 

Living expenses

The three universities provide a huge variation in the living expenses per annum. This is because of the varying costs of apartment rentals in the different cities. From the table below, Melbourne presents to be one of the most expensive cities to live in, and the huge difference in amount is due to estimated housing costs.

University, CityLiving Expenses
University of Sydney$21,041
University of Melbourne$24,525 – $69,578
University of Queensland$17,400 – $25,920

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is a popular choice for university education for those wanting to read Economics, Arts and Social Sciences as well as Law. The most popular universities in the UK include the London School of Economics, the University of Cambridge and Oxford, as well as the University of Edinburgh. Recently, the University of Warwick has been a popular choice for Singaporean students to pursue Law. In 2021, the exchange rate between the British pound and Singapore dollar is at a high of £1 to SGD $1.88. The fees quoted below are in pounds.

Tuition fees

In the table below, you will find the 2020/2021 fees for the different universities quoted per annum.

UniversityAnnual Fees
London School of Economics£22,430
University of Cambridge£22,227
Oxford UniversityBetween £26,770 and £37,510
University of Edinburgh£20,950
University of Warwick£19,960

Living expenses

Among all the universities listed above, those who choose to pursue their degrees in London will have to expect a higher cost of living as accommodation fees will be much higher. Those living in London can expect to fork out around £1100 – £1300 per month. In contrast, if you live in Cambridge, Warwick and Edinburgh, you can expect about 20-30% decrease in the cost of living. However, do note that because these are small towns in the UK, it is likely that you will travel out more to the main cities. If so, you will need to cater more money towards transport fees and entertainment.   

CityEstimated Cost of Living Anually 
London£13,200 – £15,600
Other towns£8,500£11,000

In a nutshell, you would have to budget between $242,414 – $506,613 if you would like to send your child for an overseas university education (to study law):

 Tuition Fees (for 4 years)Living Expenses (of a student; for 4 years)Total (tuition + cost of living)
United StatesUSD $261,568USD $119,344USD $380,912 (SGD $506,613*)
AustraliaAUD $184,000AUD $81,164AUD $268,164 (SGD $273,527*)
United Kingdom£79,840£49,104£128,944 (SGD $242,414*)

In Comparison: The Costs of Studying in a Local University

average university degree tuition fees singapore 2023

If we compare the tuition fees for a Singapore university to that listed in the USA, Australia and United Kingdom, you can see a vast difference.

In the same vein, living expenses will be much lower as your child can save more by staying at home, dining at home etc.

Even if he/she chooses to live in the university residence, the cost will not be as massive as living overseas. You can also save on that yearly flight ticket home.

How to Fund the Rising Costs of Education 

Planning to save up for your children’s education isn’t a walk in the park.

As the cost listed are for 2020/2021 academic year, you can expect that in a few years time when your child is due to go to university, the costs will be much higher due to inflation. In a survey we recently conducted, 2 in 3 respondents think that getting a degree is expensive. However, a good proportion of people say that it’s still worth it.

How much higher should you expect the cost to be for both tuition fees and living expenses? 

We have created a calculator to project the rate of inflation and the estimated costs of funding a local or an overseas university education when your child is ready to enroll for university. Visit this page to find out more, so that you can project the total amount you have to save. 

With that, you might be wondering, how can I fund such a hefty sum of money?

There are four main ways to do so: Taking a loan, saving in the bank, investments and endowment plans. In this article, we go in depth to explore the pros and cons of funding university education in the methods listed above.

One popular way is an child education endowment plan as it is usually capital guaranteed upon maturity and provides higher potential returns compared to saving purely in the bank.

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Disclaimer: The statements or opinions expressed on this site are of my own. The information is meant purely for informational purposes and should not be relied upon as financial advice.
Abram Lim

Abram Lim is the founder of SmartWealth and a licensed financial consultant with over 8 years in the industry. He ensures all published content is supported by data, well-researched, and includes both sides of the story. His work has been referenced by SingSaver, Business Insider, and Fortune.