Singapore is a ‘fine’ city. This old pun is often printed on souvenir t-shirts in Singapore as a nod to the country’s global reputation for strict laws and the many signs dictating exactly what happens if you flout the rules. But do you know what exactly will get you arrested in Singapore? Here’s the lowdown on some things to look out for.
Importing non-health related chewing gum
The chewing gum ban is one of those quirky things virtually everyone has heard about Singapore – but in recent years, laws have been loosened slightly to allow for the sale of chewing gum for health-related or dental purposes. However, importing chewing gum for any other purpose is still considered illegal and you could face a fine of $100,000 or two years in jail if you tried to start a chewing gum black market in Singapore.
A note for the general gum chewer – you are unlikely to face any issues if you are carrying a pack or two through immigration as enforcement is not usually very strict for personal consumption, though you might get pulled aside if it looks like you are carrying enough to sell.
Being seen naked by a member of the public
If you like wandering around in the buff at home, make sure you do so with the windows shut because you could still get arrested for public nudity if someone spotted you, even in the privacy of your own home. Appearing nude is considered an offence to public decency and you could face a fine of up to $2,000 or a jail term of up to three months – and the police have the right to invade your house without permission to arrest you if necessary.
Inciting religious or racial hate
Religious and racial harmony is taken very seriously in Singapore, and anything seen as racist or racially insensitive in a public forum can land you with a hefty fine and/or thrown in jail for up to three years. There have been many cases of both individuals and media personalities in Singapore being fined or arrested, especially with the viral nature of social media. Other offences in this category include defiling a place of worship or burial ground, drunken and disorderly behaviour near a place of religious worship, or disrupting a religious assembly.
Busking without a licence
Travelling artists and performers often like to busk along the streets to make a quick buck, but know that busking is illegal in Singapore without a licence granted by the National Arts Council, and could result in a fine of up to $20,000 if you are caught. Busking is highly regulated in Singapore – the licence has to be renewed on an annual basis and busking can only be done in specifically designated locations.
Imagining the death of the President
Countries like Thailand are renowned for the high regard in which they hold their King. But in Singapore, it’s an actual offence to even begin thinking about harming the Singaporean President in any way – an act punishable at its harshest by death. It’s a little less harsh if you were thinking about other members of the government where you face life imprisonment at most.
The Singapore statutes define Obscenity as an act with a tendency to ‘deprave and corrupt persons’, which is a pretty broad and vague term, and any sort of public act with obscenity could land you in trouble. Saying, singing or performing something determined as obscene could land you a fine or a jail term of up to three months.
Vaping or possessing e-cigarettes
In a move contrary to what many other countries are doing, Singapore has outlawed all e-cigarettes and vaporisers, and it is now illegal to possess, import or sell these products as of February 2018. The Health Ministry’s position is that these imitation tobacco products make it easier for people to start and get addicted to smoking, as compared to other countries where e-cigarettes are considered a less harmful alternative. Getting caught smoking can result in a fine of up to $2,000, and any trading or importing can result in an additional jail term.
Smoking normal cigarettes is still allowed in Singapore, though there are a rapidly decreasing number of public spots where you can do so freely.
Carrying durian in public transport
Durian is a bit of an acquired taste and very polarising, but one thing we can all agree on is that smell isn’t just very pungent, it also tends to linger and does not go away easily. This is why there are actual rules in place disallowing durians from being carried in public transport, or you will face a fine of $500. The best way to get the durian smell off your fingers is to first pour the water into the empty shell, and then pour that water over your hands.
Anything to do with trafficking or consuming drugs
You know Singapore takes drugs seriously when it is one of the first warnings you hear as your plane is coming in to land. Drug offences are punished very severely, a sentence typically encompasses several years in jail, a heavy fine and a few strokes of the cane. At its most extreme, getting caught manufacturing drugs or carrying a large amount can result in life imprisonment or even a death sentence.
Leaving your mark on public property without permission
With cleanliness being such a big issue in Singapore, vandalism is severely frowned upon. There have been several high-profile cases of vandalism that made news beyond Singapore’s shores because of the severe punishments they received – a fine of up to S$2,000 per act, a jail term of up to three years, and even caning from three to eight strokes. Despite the stifling conditions for budding street artists and graffiti lovers, a small street art scene in Singapore exists, mostly driven by the popularity of large-scale public murals.
To maintain its image as a clean and green city, Singapore imposed heavy fines from $2,000-$10,000 for anyone caught littering. One of the more creative and unusual punishments is that offenders may receive a Corrective Work Order on top of the fine, where they are sent to clean the public streets in a bright identifying vest.
Firecrackers were traditionally lit during Chinese holidays such as Chinese New Year as the loud pops are thought to scare away evil spirits. In Singapore, firecrackers became so popular that they were lit up for just about any festival including the non-Chinese ones, and irresponsible use caused many fires to break out and injuries as well. The lighting of firecrackers was completely banned in Singapore in the early 1970s, and flouting the rules can result in a fine of up to $10,000, jail time or even caning, so we suggest leaving fireworks to the professionals. National Day in August is the best time to catch a fireworks display in Singapore.
Throwing some spare bread to the flock of pigeons in the main square seems like such a cliched thing to do in a city, but here in the city-state of Singapore, the feeding of pigeons has been banned since 1973 because of the fears of spreading diseases, and those caught flouting the rules are fined up to $500. Strangely enough, pigeon-feeding is on the rise and an increasing number of people have been fined in recent years.