Are you visiting Singapore for the first time, anytime soon? Singapore is famous for its efficient work culture, spic and span hygiene and its plethora of world-class man-made attractions. Before you jet off to the Lion City, here are some important travel tips that will prevent you from any untoward attention and even unwelcomed penalties! Read on as we unravel 18 Singapore Travel Tips: The Do’s and Don’ts.
These handy etiquette tips will guide you to explore the city just like a local.
#1: Use Public Transport
Forget about driving around in Singapore. With one of the best and most affordable public transport systems in the world, take advantage of it by riding on the mass rapid transit (MRT) and buss in Singapore. The public transport system here is well-planned. Moreover, last-mile connectivity from the train station to your destination is just a few steps away. And if your legs start to feel heavy or the weather gets to you, simply rent an e-scooter to shorten your commute.
Most importantly, public transport here is punctual, reliable and clean. So take the time to learn the network routes and get on that train!
#2: Download the Grab App
Grab is god-send, especially if you are in a hurry. Or if you just want to travel sheltered from your pick up to the drop-off point. If Grab sounds unfamiliar, Grab is a regional private car-hailing service that allows you to book a driver under the Grab fleet. By downloading the GrabApp to your mobile phone, you can choose to travel economy (albeit a Camry) or luxury. Just like Uber, you will be presented with the fee before confirming your service. What’s great about Grab is that the cohort of drivers is available 24/7. Unlike taxi drivers who are out of sight on rainy days in Singapore, you can hail a Grab in the comfort of a Coffee Bean, and alight from the Grab car without getting wet!
#3: Buy travel insurance
Singapore is renowned for its world-class healthcare facilities and strong governance of the medical fraternity by the government. In the same vein, the cost of medical treatments in Singapore is expensive!
So if karma yields its tempestuous side during your trip to Singapore, purchasing a travel health insurance plan before you travel will give you the needed peace of mind. Make sure your travel insurance covers medical and dental emergencies abroad, along with coverage for trip cancellation, lost, and damaged baggage.
#4: Walk on the grass (It’s okay!)
Ever wondered if it is acceptable to walk on grass in Singapore? If you think doing so is forbidden, then good news awaits as this is fake news. Rumor has it that all forms of grass are off-court for people. The reality is that you can walk on nicely lawn grass at the park, or sidewalk, without being arrested or fined. To maintain its impeccable cleanliness, Singapore may be strict but in a logical way.
#5: Stand or Walk on the Left Side
Ever noticed that Singaporeans move quickly and purposely at the MRTs or public transport areas? Everyone seems to be in a hurry to get to their destination. Because of this, keeping on the left side of the escalator is essential to avoid getting the unnecessary “excuse me” calls when riding on the escalator.
While the rest of the world including the US stand on the right, only a few other countries practice standing on the left. This includes England, Malaysia, and Japan. As such, when it comes to escalator etiquette in Singapore, stand on the left (i.e. the stationary land), and speed up on the right side. This is an unspoken rule only the locals know and an important Singapore Travel Tip.
#6: Tip Only for Outstanding Service
Tipping is not mandatory, neither is it expected off by service providers in Singapore. Their mindset has been accustomed to accept that tipping is not customary. Therefore, Singapore does not have a tipping culture. At restaurants, bars and hotels, a 10% service charge is automatically billed to patrons. This service charge is sufficient to cover the service rendered by the waiter, concierge, bell boy and anyone who made your stay more comfortable.
On the contrary, the staff of Changi Airport are strictly not allowed to receive tips. Apart from here, if the service rendered was excellent, nothing stopping you from tipping the staff.
#7: Pack Airy, Cotton Clothes
Trust me – the humidity and heat in Singapore can get uncomfortable, and this is easily one fact that hits most first-time travelers by surprise.
Located near the equator and surrounded by the sea, Singapore’s weather can be described in two words: hot and humid. Comparing Singapore’s humidity index of 85% against America’s index of 50% be prepared to perspire quite a bit after a short walk outdoors. In Singapore, the temperature averages between 26–34 degrees Celsius (or 78–93 degrees Fahrenheit). So dress for the weather and pack airy clothes for Singapore. Leave clothes made out of synthetic material back home, unless you want to feel like a damp sponge all the time. Do pack clothes made of cotton and throw in some sleeveless tops. You will be so thankful for the AC (air conditioner) once you get back to your hotel.
#8: Carry Cash (And Coins…)
Don’t get us wrong – credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Singapore. But cash and coins are still kings in Singapore. Many times, only cash is accepted. This applies when riding buses, buying snacks at 7/11 stores and haggling for best bargains at street markets. Therefore have a lot of coins, along with notes in smaller denominations of S$2, S$5 and S$10 in your pocket. You can go cashless with ease while shopping in Singapore. But if you need to ride the bus, your cash and coins are your lifelines. Once you’ve dropped the payment into the money box, only will you receive your bus ticket from the bus driver. And if you deposit S$2 in the money box for a ticket worth S$1.50, don’t expect to get your balance back. Here in Singapore, your coin purse or coin pouch will come in handy.
#9: Line Up, and Don’t Cut Line
Singaporeans are known to be super-competitive or “Kiasu”. And this is a by-product of an efficient country. Singaporeans have no qualms about joining that snaking queue to get their lunch fix, the latest iPhone model, the newest McDonald collectible or even a cup of bubble tea. Most of us would avoid outlets with long queues and find other alternatives. But Singaporeans are willing to spend time queuing for something deemed good. In fact, businesses with queues that extend beyond its premise are much sought after. So severe are the wait-periods, it sparked a new business opportunity for a startup called i_Queue. This company specializes in queuing for their working-clients to purchase the coveted concert tickets, gadgets and almost anything desired, for a price.
So every purchase of service in Singapore will require you to queue, especially during lunch and after work.
#10: No Porn!
This is for you pervs. Did you know that the laws in Singapore forbid making, keeping, selling and distributing pornographic material? To set the record straight, the Media Development Authorities of Singapore has put in place stringent laws to prevent any form of possession, producing and broadcasting obscene content. However, this does not mean that watching or streaming porn in private is illegal.
And the latest statistics prove this point. Based on the online analysis completed in September 2018, pornography streaming sites were ranked as the 5th most visited site, ahead of social media platforms like Instagram and WhatsApp.
So we’ve cleared the air if watching porn is illegal in Singapore. It is not an offense to do so, but just remember not to bring in, or have in possession any form of pornographic material, digitally or physically. Otherwise, you may be fined S40,000 and/or imprisoned for 6 months as a first-time offender.
#11: Expect Winter-time Bad Air
If you intend to travel to Singapore from August to October, just be prepared to put up with the haze. The industrial slash-and-burn technique used by farmers in Sumatra fan the flames and worsen the haze. Coupled with a drier climate and change in wind direction, the haze during this period is exacerbated. As a preventive measure, bring along your inhaler or child’s handheld-nebulizer to stay healthy, if the air pollutant index (API) air deteriorate.
#12: Make Meal Reservations
Have you ever seen an umbrella, water bottles, reading materials or even a tissue packet lying across an unoccupied table? This is a common sight at food courts in Singapore, and this culture is known as “Chup”. Yes – no dictionary in the world recognizes this word for its Singlish meaning. And no – this culture is very much unique to Singapore.
When a table has been reserved by placing such items, the unspoken rule is that the table and its seats are taken. Therefore, it is considered rude to remove these items or attempt to seat at these spots that have been unofficially reserved. Packed food courts and wanting to secure a spot over a short lunch break are just some of the reasons that paved the way for this unique culture in Singapore.
#13: Address people by their Titles
If you are meeting someone for the first time, or if you just got to know them, do address the person by their titles. Refrain from greeting the person by their name i.e. Peter or Helen. Instead, greet them by their title (Mr. / Mrs. / Ms. / Sir) then follow with their surname as introduced. This practice is common among Asian cultures and viewed as a form of respect. Only use a person’s first name once you’re invited too.
#14: DON’T Smoke In Public
Feeling like lighting up a cigarette? Hold that thought because you can end up with a hefty fine, or be summoned to court! Smoking and vaping in Singapore are banned in most indoor and outdoor buildings. The law prohibits smoking near buildings and within a 5-meter radius from the building. To exemplify, smoking is not allowed at shopping malls, offices, bus stops, swimming pools, and sports stadiums. And if you’re caught smoking at any of these forbidden places, you will be fined up to S$200. In such cases, settlement can rise to S$1,000 if the case is brought to court.
So if you must take a puff, light up your ciggie at following “smoke-zones”.
- Designated smoking areas at entertainment places, Changi airport or offices,
- Sidewalks (only as indicated where ok)
- Rooftop car parks
- Public open spaces
- Private houses
- Open space refreshment area at food courts
#15: DON’T Litter (Not even slightly)
Have you ever seen any form of rubbish on the grounds of Singapore? Litter is indeed a rare sight here. This is because Singapore has strict enforcement of laws that upkeep its pristine cleanliness. If you litter the street with small items, you will be slapped with an S$300 fine as a first-time offender. Hold the thought of throwing bigger items like cans or bottles, because this will land you in court! Found guilty, offenders will be issued a Corrective Work Order (CWO), which requires them to clean up designated areas donning a bright green vest.
So stay out of trouble. Hang on to that piece of small trash and toss it in the nearest available rubbish bin.
#16: DON’T chew gum in public
Since 1992, Singapore has banned the sales of chewing gum. Subsequently, in 2004, the government granted an exception to allow the sale of therapeutic, dental or nicotine chewing gum by doctors or registered pharmacies.
It is a misconception that chewing gum cannot be consumed in Singapore. You can, with some limitations. Firstly, avoid chewing gum at public places (e.t MRT stations) and government buildings. And secondly, you can bring in a maximum of 2 packs of chewing gum into Singapore, which approximates to 5 – 10 sticks per pack.
So we’ve cleared the air that it is legal to chew gum in Singapore and that you will never be able to buy gum here. But the liberty is yours to enjoy gum at non-public areas.
#17: DON’T jaywalk
If crossing the road at random crossing points comes naturally to you, then ditch that habit while in Singapore. You can be fined S$50 for crossing the road with oncoming traffic or jaywalking in the first offense in Singapore. Repeat offenders could be slapped with S$1,000 fine and jailed for 3 months.
So always cross at specified areas and assigned pedestrian lanes to avoid any fines or accidents.
#18: DON’T Hail Taxis on the Main Road
In most other countries, hailing a taxi is simple and can be done conveniently from any street side. While this may be possible in Singapore on side streets, if a railing or barrier is present, or you’re on the main road of any kind, you’ll need to enter a taxi on a side street. The taxis simply WILL NOT pick you up by stopping traffic, and you’ll draw lots of attention for attempting to hail a taxi in this way.
Enter a side street and make attempts to hail a taxi, or look for designated taxi stands.
The numerous laws and strict enforcement are in place to ensure that Singapore remains safe, clean and populated by civic society. And herein lay its appeal as Singapore is a fabulous travel destination brimming with beautiful parks, breathtaking architecture and gastronomic delights. Abide by these travel tips while in Singapore and we are sure you will stay trouble-free for a memorable holiday.