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The big downside to expat life in Singapore? School fees

Nicholas Prior | Getty Images

Singapore gets rave reviews as an expat destination but there's one big downside: School fees. And they're just going to get bigger.

Expatriate workers with children in Singapore international schools can expect to pay more than $409,000 in school fees over the course of their child's education, from primary school to the thirteenth and final year of compulsory education, according to a report commissioned by The Fry Group, a financial advisory firm.

The report, written by the Center for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), found that the average tuition fee in 2015 for Singapore-based international schools was $19,270 for pre-preparatory years, $21,380 for preparatory and $24,770 for senior school.

CEBR found that school fees in five nearby Asian nations were far lower, with Malaysia coming in the cheapest at $16,360 for average 2015 tuition fees, 33 percent less than Singapore. Thailand was next at $16,500, followed by Indonesia at $20,400.

Even Hong Kong, another popular expat destination that is famous for its pricey housing, has school fees that are 6.4 percent lower than Singapore's, according to data collected from the average 2015 tuition fees at top international schools.

And Singapore's school fees are only set to get heftier, as the report forecasts annual fees to cost 52.3 percent more in 2020 than they did in 2010.

"The increase in fees is partially explained by higher levels of spending on educational facilities and pursuit of academic excellence," said Nina Skero, economist at CEBR. "International schools in Singapore have some of the world's most modern facilities and consistently achieve outstanding academic results."

The high cost of school infrastructure improvements is just the begining, though, of the barrage of expenses for parents.

"On top of regular school fees, there are additional costs like books, mandatory school trips, school meals, extracurricular activities and fees for standardized exams," Skero told CNBC.

Pre-global financial crisis, expat workers may have shrugged off rocketing school fees because they were more commonly covered by salary packages that meant employers footed the bill. This is now relatively rare, according to The Fry Group.

"Schools fees are becoming a bigger issue for expats, particularly as traditional expat packages are being replaced with local contracts," said David Pugh, Southeast Asia director at The Fry Group.

A recent survey by eFinancialCareers, a recruitment website, found that more than 80 percent of expats in the island-state's financial industry were not on "expat contracts" and never had been.

Seven occupations were analyzed to determine international school affordability in the CEBR report. It was found that foreign medical practitioners in Singapore would be able to afford international school fees most easily, with fees accounting for an estimated 13.3 percent of average net wages.

Engineers and accountants, on the other hand, would have to pay more than half of their annual net earnings to give their children a private, international education.

"Planning for private school expenses should be tailored to one's own circumstances," the report cautions.