International Relations Office
Incoming Exchange Students
While in Singapore
Welcome to Singapore! There are lots of things to learn and adjust to in a new place and this section will give you the knowledge and the resources to help you settle in quickly, as well as things to keep in mind before you head back home.
A Non-Graduating Students Registration Guide will be sent to accepted students in their letter of offer. This guide will have information on pre-registration, registration, language module placement tests, as well as on immigration matters, meet-n-greet services, financial matters and resources and facilities. You are expected to read this guide in full before making arrangements to come to NUS. Please especially note the dates for registration (split up by country of home university) and plan to arrive in time to attend, as this will be the day you are officially registered as a student at NUS and are able to process your paperwork for your Student Pass. If you miss these registration days you must make alternative arrangements as noted in your letter of offer.
Once you have been accepted at NUS as an Exchange student, you will already be registered for at least 12 MCs (Modular Credits) worth of courses. You must maintain at least this number of MCs in order to have a valid Student Pass. If you wish to add or drop courses you are welcome to do so up until the end of Instructional Week 2. Details on the procedures will be provided in the registration guide in your letter of offer.
Transfer of credit is entirely at the discretion of your home university. Please check with your home university as to whether you will receive credit for the proposed modules to be taken at NUS.
Please see the Registrar’s Office’s Current Non-Graduating Students page for complete information on:
A variety of orientation activities are conducted for incoming exchange students to assist you in settling into life at NUS.
Exchange students will need to register as a student at NUS and specific dates are assigned based on the country of your home university/institution. Dates, times and locations will be noted in the Non-Graduating Registration Guide included in your letter of offer. In addition to enrolling as a student, registration is also when exchange students will turn in their paperwork to convert their Social Visit Pass (Tourist Visa) into a Student Pass (Student Visa). It is very important that students attend registration. If you are unable to attend you must notify the Registrar’s Office as soon as possible to make alternative arrangements as explained in your letter of offer.
Orientation for International Non-graduating Students (exchange and non-exchange)
This is the main orientation for exchange students and it is typically held one morning the week before classes begin. It is organized by the Office of Student Affairs and covers topics like Add/Drop, Campus Resources, Health & IT issues. Information on the orientation’s time and location will be provided in your Non-Graduating Registration Guide included in your letter of offer.
International Relations Office Welcome Party
The NUS International Relations’ Office also throws a Welcome Party every semester for the new exchange students one evening during the week before courses begin. You can expect music, food, games and giveaways! This is a great opportunity for you to meet other exchange students and local NUS students. Information will be provided by email and at the Welcome & Farewell Parties link in our Events section of the site.
What is Singapore all about? We hope that you take the chance to find out yourself! But here is some initial information to get you started.
Facts & Figures
|Total Land Area||714.3 sq km|
|Location||Latitude 1°09'N and 1°29'N
Longitudes 103°36'E and 104°25'E
|Average Daily Temperature||26.8°C|
|Average Daily Maximum||31.0°C|
|Average Daily Minimum||24.0°C|
|Average Daily Relative Humidity||61-65%|
|Total Population||5.183 million (year 2011)|
(Citizens & Permanent Residents)
|3.789 million (year 2011)|
|Population density||7,257 persons per sq. km|
|Population profile by race||Chinese (74.1%), Malays (13.4%),
Indians (9.2%), Others (3.3%)
|Official languages||English (language of administration),
Chinese (Mandarin), Malay and Tamil
According to local legend, a Sumatran prince encountered a lion – then considered a good omen – on Temasek, which was what Singapore was known as back in the 13th century. This prompted him to found Singapura, or Lion City. Thus it became a minor trading post for the powerful Sumatran Srivijaya empire and as a subsequent vassal state of the Javanese Majapahit empire in the mid-13th century.
In 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles established a British trading station on this island. Singapore gained her independence on 9 August 1965. It was admitted to both the United Nations and the Commonwealth of Nations in the same year.
Most Singaporeans are descendants of immigrants from the Malay Peninsula, China & the Indian sub-continent. While they have gradually acquired a distinct identity as Singaporeans, many still retain their customs, practices and festivals in an interesting mix of the modern and traditional.
There are four official languages in Singapore: Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and English. English is the language of business and administration, and is widely spoken and understood. Most Singaporeans are bilingual, and speak their mother tongue as well as English. Malay is the national language.
Government & Politics
Singapore is a republic with a parliamentary system of government based on the Westminster model. This means that all cabinet members must be elected members of Parliament. (An analogy with the American model would mean that all of the US President's cabinet secretaries would be congressional representatives.) The Constitution provides for a President who is the Head of State. The Presidential position is more of a figurehead, similar to the Queen of England.
The Cabinet is led by the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President, as the Member of Parliament who commands the confidence of the majority of the Members of Parliament. On the advice of the Prime Minister, the President appoints other ministers from among the Members of Parliament to form the Cabinet.
Conservation is an important part of urban planning and development in Singapore. The restoration of historic areas adds variety to the modern landscape and preserves the important reminders of the past. Conservation had begun since the early 70s and to date, conservation status has been given to 54 conservation areas involving 5600 buildings throughout the island. The most well-known of such buildings is The Raffles Hotel. Built in 1887, it was named after the founder of Singapore. Declared a national monument in 1991, today it stands as a jewel in the crown of Singapore’s hospitality industry.
A powerful addition to the arts scene is the Esplanade: Theatres on the Bay, a modern arts performance centre, which bears a striking resemblance to a local fruit. It is built on 6 hectares of prime waterfront land, and has 5000 world class hotel rooms, 2 major convention centres, 7500 parking spaces, 1000 shops, 300 restaurants and 150 bars within its immediate vicinity.
A main highlight of the Esplanade is its Concert Hall, which can accommodate 1600 people, and has reverberation chambers and an acoustic canopy. Another noteworthy feature is a Klais pipe organ with 4740 pipes & 61 stops.
Milestones & Achievements
Although Singapore is one of the smallest nations in the world, it has some of the largest, tallest and busiest landmarks in the world. Singapore is home to one of the tallest hotels in the world, The Swissotel Singapore, which is 73 storeys high! The Changi International Airport is one of the best airports in the world, for several years running. The Port of Singapore is one of the busiest container ports in the world. It has more than 1000 ships in the port at any one time. There were 142,745 vessel calls with a shipping tonnage of 971.1million gross tons in 2002. Singapore is also the 3rd largest oil refining centre in the world, with a refining capacity of over 1 million barrels daily. All 4 major oil companies (Shell, BP, Caltex & ExxonMobil) have set up operations here.
Below are some examples of Singapore's milestones & achievements:
Myth or Reality?
1. A full 50% of NUS classes are taught in English and not Chinese.
2. You are not allowed to sell chewing gum in Singapore.
3. There isn't much to do in Singapore.
Answer: Myth, of course.
All students who venture abroad in search of adventure on student exchange will inevitably have to deal with the perils of culture shock. It is a completely normal and natural condition that everyone who finds themselves in a different culture experiences. By knowing a little bit about why it happens and how it progresses, hopefully you will be more prepared when it affects you.
Everyone experiences the symptoms of culture shock differently. Most people experience the real physical and psychological impacts of arriving in a new culture. You may be afflicted by ailments without apparent origin, such as headaches, loss of appetite and fatigue. All your senses are on full alert with new sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Your metabolism may take months to adapt to a new climate. Even as you sleep, the environment impacts on your senses, possibly influencing your dreams.
Your behavior towards other people may take a turn for the worse. You feel impatient when they don't speak your language and become angry when their systems of work are different. Although you don't consider yourself a racist, you find yourself using generalizations about the locals; "they" are rude, and "they" don't like me. This can be quite a shock to your self-image.
Moving overseas presents many challenges that take you out of your comfort zone. In order to feel comfortable again it is necessary to become familiar with the terrain and adapt to the new environment. When you feel uncomfortable or even completely miserable, it might be reassuring to know that something is happening to you, that you are growing into a stronger, more independent and worldlier person.
Stages of Culture Shock:
Stage 1 - Honeymoon Period:
Everything is new and exciting
You are excited about being in a new place where there are new sights and sounds, new smells and tastes
You are ready to take on new challenges
Stage 2 - Cultural Stress:
You may begin to feel aggressive and start to complain about the host culture/country
You may feel unsettled or like an outsider
You may begin to compare everything to back home
Self-doubt and depression may take place
Stage 3 - Initial Adaptation:
You begin feeling in control and positive again about being where you are
You begin to accept the food, drinks, habits and customs of the host country, and you may even find yourself preferring some things in the host country to things at home
Emotions become more stable
You have become comfortable in the new place
Stage 4 - Re-entry:
Cultural adaptation may occur upon return
All of the above stages may occur, or only some
The better the adaptation to the host country the greater the possibility of re-entry shock
No matter if you experience some or all of these effects, it is helpful to talk to others about what you’re going through. Seek out other students, the exchange coordinator or counselling centre at your host university or your home university for someone to talk to. If you’re at NUS, the Counselling and Psychological Services also provides counselling and crisis intervention services to all students.
You probably already know that there are four official languages in Singapore: Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and English. You probably also know that English is the language of business and administration, and is widely spoken and understood. But did you know that Singaporeans also speak a unique brand of English called “Singlish”?
This local concoction mixes English with common phrases in the Chinese dialects and some Malay. The use of Singlish continues to be a topic of public debate - some Singaporeans purport that Singlish reflects badly on the country and hurts Singaporeans in international business. Proponents of local culture say Singlish is one of the elements that gives Singaporeans their distinctive identity. They add that most Singaporeans can switch seamlessly between "regular" English when necessary, and Singlish. Either way, Singlish is thriving, especially with young Singaporeans.
When you arrive in Singapore, you will no doubt be confused by some locals' use of words and pronunciations. To help ease the transition, here are some examples of what you will hear. Who knows, maybe by the time you leave you’ll have mastered another ‘language’!
Singlish is influenced by both British and increasingly American English. It uses many words borrowed from Hokkien, the most important dialect of the Chinese Language in Singapore, and from Malay.
Examples of Singaporean words and Acronyms:
Ah Beng - uneducated Chinese man, butt of jokes
aiyah! (Hokkien) or ayoh! - (Malay oh, no!)
alamak! -- surprise/shock (Malay)
ang moh - white person, Caucasian (from ang moh kau meaning "red haired monkey", Hokkien)
boleh - can (Malay)
COE (Certificate of Entitlement) - (very expensive) permit for car ownership
CPF (Central Provident Fund) - government savings scheme
chop - rubber stamp (from Malay cap ) - "Immigration will chop your passport."
hawker centre - outdoor food court
kiah su - somebody who fears losing out (Hokkien)
makan - eat (from Malay)
HDB (Housing Development Board) - public housing estate
ISA - Internal Security Act
Mindef - Ministry of Defence
MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) Often pronounce as "M, MA, T" - metro system
NS - National Service
PAP - Peoples Action Party- governing party since 1959.
SAF - Singapore Armed Forces
shiok - cool! (Hokkien)
sotong -- lit. squid (Malay), fig. stupid (see also "blur")
ulu - rural, remote
wah! - wow! (Hokkien)
can ah: can you or can't you?
can leh: yes, of course
can lor: yes, I think so
can hah?: are you sure?
can hor: you are sure then?
can meh: are you certain?
die die: no matter what happens
don't play play: don't fool around
lah: no translation, Lah is added for emphasis
lose face: become very embarrassed, lose dignity
makan: food or as a verb to 'go makan' to go to eat
no nid: no need
no stock orready: not in stock
orso can: no problem
out station: overseas or away from home
over orready: none left or the event is finished
rojak: an Indonesian Malaysian dish but used as a common word for mixture
NUS has on-campus health services at its University Health Centres that are open Monday – Friday on both the Kent Ridge and Bukit Timah campuses. Most medical services are covered under the mandatory medical insurance all exchange students are required to have. Information about their services can be found on the UHC Health Service site.
For an on-campus health emergency you should call Campus Security:
Campus Security Hotline (Kent Ridge) – 6874 1616
Campus Security Hotline (Bukit Timah) – 6516 3636
For an off-campus health emergency you should call an ambulance:
Fire/Ambulance – 995
Non-Emergency Ambulance Services – 1777
For counselling and psychological health, NUS has an on-campus counselling centre that provides assessment, counselling and crisis intervention to students. Exchange students are welcome to use these services as well and most are covered under the mandatory medical insurance all exchange students are required to have. Information about their services can be found on the Counselling and Psychological Services site.
Students facing a life-threatening emergency are asked to call the 24-hour NUS Lifeline:
NUS Life line – 6516 7777
Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, but as the Singaporean Government reminds everyone – “low crime does not mean no crime”.
NUS’ Office of Student Affairs reminds students to keep in mind the following points when going out:
The Office of Campus Security provides 24-hour security service on campus at various university buildings and has 5 emergency call points installed around campus that enable staff or students to communicate with security officers through an intercom during an emergency. We also recommend you store their 24-hour direct lines in your mobile phone in case of emergency:
Campus Security Hotline (Kent Ridge) – 6874 1616
Campus Security Hotline (Bukit Timah) – 6516 3636
You should also memorize the local Singapore emergency numbers so if you are not on campus you can get immediate assistance:
Fire/Ambulance – 995
Non-Emergency Ambulance Services – 1777
Police – 999
Judging by the Cost of Living, you may wish to open a bank account or use banking services in Singapore. Many banks offer a wide range of services including checking and savings accounts, ATMs (Automated Teller Machines), fixed deposits, safe deposit boxes, loans, overdraft and transfers, travelers’ cheques and changing of foreign currencies.
The three major local banks in Singapore are the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS)/Post Office Savings Bank (POSB), United Overseas Bank (UOB) and Oversea‐Chinese Banking Corporation Limited (OCBC Bank). There are also several Citibank and HSBC branches.
Opening a Bank Account
Each bank has different requirements, as well as different types of savings and checking accounts. You may wish to bring enough cash or traveler’s cheques to cover your expenses while deciding on the bank you wish to open an account with.
To open an account, please bring along your passport and Student's Pass / NUS Letter of Offer for Admission and a minimum deposit amount of S$500 to S$1,000 (varies from bank to bank).
Networks for Electronic Transfer (NETS) Pte Ltd
This is a special Singapore cashless method of payment. Payment can be made with your NETS card at all participating vendors advertising the NETS sign. This option is not available with foreign banks such as Citibank or HSBC.
This is a stored value card, allowing cashless payment. Participating vendors will have CASHCARD signs on display.
Transfer of Funds
Students may transfer funds using bank drafts made out in Singapore dollars and drawn from a Singapore bank. These can be credited to your accounts and drawn out in one to two days. Cheques drawn on banks with no branches in Singapore may take about three to eight weeks to clear.
Telegraphic transfers may also be made indirectly through another bank to your own account.
For more information on Money Matters in Singapore including public transportation, goods & service tax and tipping, please read the International Student Guide for Non-Graduating (exchange) students.
Your time in Singapore has come to an end but we hope it’s not the end of your connection with NUS! There are many ways to stay connected and we hope you’ll take advantage of being a part of the NUS family through NUS’ Office of Alumni Relations .
There are also a few important things you need to do before you leave:
Request any additional copies of your transcript (2 copies will automatically be sent to your home university approximately 3 months after the completion of the semester) via an online request.
Below you will find a list of links that will be helpful to you as an exchange student at NUS.