15 Useful Things to Know Before Visiting Singapore

Pedestrian zone Pagoda street, Singapore
Pedestrian zone Pagoda street, Singapore | © Hans Blossey / Alamy Stock Photo
Sadali Mawi

Singapore has a reputation for rules and social conduct, so prepare yourself with this insider knowledge before visiting the country.

Travelling to Singapore can be both an exciting and unnerving experience, as there are a number of laws and customs to memorise. If you are visiting soon, here are 15 useful things to know before visiting Singapore. You’ll be blending in with the locals in no time.

Flip flops are the footwear of choice

Flip flops might not be high fashion – but with Singapore’s tropical (and unpredictable) climate, they have become an obvious choice for many. Like many other countries in Southeast Asia, Singapore doesn’t observe four seasons but experiences weather patterns that depend on the monsoon seasons (i.e dry weather for the beginning of the year and wet towards the end). That said, passing showers are common in Singapore, even if it is blistering hot (so carrying an umbrella wouldn’t hurt too).

The majority of Singaporeans speak perfect English

One of the biggest pet peeves of Singaporeans? Being stereotyped by tourists. The last thing you should do is walk up to a local and assume he or she can’t speak English. Despite the varying cultural makeup of Singaporeans, English has always been taught in schools as a primary language, followed by a student’s mother tongue, which is likely to be either Malay, Mandarin or Tamil. However, Culture Trip recommends brushing up on your Singlish if you want to really earn brownie points with locals.

Taxis in Singapore are metered and regulated

Taxi drivers in Asia have got quite a bad reputation for inflating fares for tourists. This practice is almost impossible in Singapore, where taxis are regulated and distances are fairly calculated through the meter. In fact, with the introduction of cheaper services like Grab and Uber in Singapore, hailing a taxi is no longer a painstaking process as locals generally avoid them due to the high price.

Blue & yellow taxis in Singapore

Singapore’s train network gets you virtually anywhere

Due to the small size of the city, getting from one point to another in Singapore is not time-consuming. Major landmarks are also well-connected through a comprehensive train network, which gets you from suburban parts of Singapore to the heart of the city under 30 minutes. Read up on how to navigate transport in Singapore.

Sentosa Island monorail train, Singapore

Wi-Fi hotspots are almost everywhere

If the thought of exploring a city without a data connection scares you, then this is good news. While the majority of cafes and restaurants provide a free Wi-Fi connection, public spaces like libraries and shopping malls are powered by “Wireless@SG” – a free connection for anyone, including tourists! All you have to do is input your mobile number for an OTP (one-time password) and you’re all set.

Using the Wifi at at the ION Orchard Shopping Mall, Singapore

Reserve your seat with packets of tissues

Should you decide to have a meal at one of the many hawker centers, look out for tables with packets of tissues scattered on them. In a local context, this indicates that the table has been “choped”, or reserved. Probably one of Singapore’s quirkiest habits, many locals are still doing it (though they may get creative and use umbrellas instead), so keep this in mind while you hunt for a spot!

Singapore’s “Chope-ing” Culture

You are not required to tip

Unlike many western countries, it is not compulsory for diners to tip service staff in Singapore. This is because most restaurants or cafes will impose a 10% service charge on top of your final bill. Does that count as an indirect tip? Maybe, but individual staff usually do not receive a cut from it. That said, the act of tipping itself isn’t illegal, and you can still make someone’s day with a tip should you feel like it!

Going up the escalator? Keep to the left

An unspoken rule that many abide, it is a common sight to see people forming a single line on the left side of the escalator. You might be scratching your head if you are seeing this for the first time, but this orderly behaviour is part of an old campaign in Singapore to help promote the act of courtesy. The rationale? Keeping the right side empty allows people who are rushing to quickly climb their way through without interruptions.

Escalators in Singapore

The only local coffee with more than 10 variations

Ordering a coffee in Singapore is an artform – the traditional local brew consists of black brewed coffee, condensed milk and evaporated milk. Over the years, locals have been customising their own morning cuppas, introducing new names like “Kopi-O” (black coffee), “Kopi-C” (black coffee with evaporated milk), “Kopi Gao” (thicker coffee) and “Kopi Siew-dai” (a less sweet variant of the regular coffee). While the list of names goes on, take comfort in the fact that a cup of aromatic and robust coffee is only a coffee shop away.

Watch out for priority seats on the bus and trains

All trains and buses in Singapore include reserved seating allocated for pregnant women, the elderly and physically handicapped. They are mostly located at the two corners in a row of seats (as it is closer to the exit) and the front of the bus. These seats aren’t only for specific groups of people – passengers are encouraged to give up their seat to anyone who needs it more.

KKB59X Inside the Singapore metro train. Focus on a handrail.

Never go hungry with 24 hour restaurants

It’s a known fact that Singaporeans are passionate about their food. Which is why you can find countless places in Singapore that stay open all day and night to feed the city that never sleeps! Whether you are in the mood for some comforting dim sum, hearty Indian curry or some chilli crab, your destination for some midnight grub is just around the corner.

Hawker food at the night market in Singapore

You can’t buy alcohol or drink in public after 10.30 pm

If you’ve ever romanticised about enjoying the enchanting views of Singapore’s skyline at night with a beer in hand, do it in a licensed bar or risk getting a fine! Since the infamous riot that took place on Race Course Road in 2013, local authorities have banned the purchase and consumption of alcohol in public between 10. 30 pm and seven am. This isn’t entirely bad news – you can still enjoy a tipple or two while overlooking Singapore’s skyline at the many rooftop bars like Ce La Vi or 1-Altitude.

Ce La Vi, 1 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore 018971

1-Altitude, 1 Raffles Place, Singapore 048616

Arab Quarter Singapore Kampong Glam terrace pavement restaurant bar cafe

Smoking is only allowed in designated areas

Smoking in Singapore isn’t illegal, but there are strict regulations in place. For example, you cannot smoke indoors, at public bus stops or even under sheltered walkways. There are designated smoking points in most areas, but if you are new to the area they might require some hunting. So what happens if you are caught? You can be fined as much as $1,000 if you are convicted in court!

Explore Singapore from new heights

If you are constantly on the lookout for outdoor experiences, try exploring the various nature trails in Singapore, which range from beginner to intermediate levels. From the deep mangroves of Sungei Buloh to the gorgeous view atop Mount Faber, spending a day on any of Singapore’s nature trails will expose you to its rich wildlife and provide a unique urban escape in one of Asia’s greenest cities.

Try out countless boutique gyms

The fitness craze in Singapore has boomed over the last few years, giving birth to a plethora of boutique gyms in the city that range from yoga, pilates, boxing, muay thai and even indoor cycling. With useful apps like GuavaPass and new start-up Broc and Bells, you can now discover countless boutique gyms in Singapore and meet like-minded people from all walks of life. Who says you can’t work out on a holiday?

Tai Chi in the Botanic Gardens in Singapore

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