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First time traveling to Singapore? This city-state has all the modern trappings, is small, and easy to navigate. However, to help make your holiday as smooth as possible, here is our survival guide to Singapore, with all the tips you need to plan your trip and fully enjoy your vacation.
Singapore‘s tropical climate means it’s like summer all year round, with temperatures ranging from 26–34 degrees Celsius (about 78–93 degrees Fahrenheit) on average. The high humidity also means a lot of perspiration when outdoors, so pick the right clothing to wear or risk looking like a sweaty, frazzled mess throughout your trip. Plan your outdoor activities for cooler mornings, and urban walks at night when the lights come on. An umbrella is also essential, as this tropical climate swings from blistering sunshine to torrential downpours in a matter of minutes.
Singapore is ranked as one of the more expensive cities globally and traveling here can tax your budget more than exploring its Southeast Asian neighbors. However, the extra fees may be worth it because it’s small enough to explore adequately in a short amount of time, and has modern conveniences and infrastructure right at your fingertips. There are plenty of free and cheap things to do for budget-conscious travelers, but ultimately, the cost of living here can be a bit shocking, especially if you arrive after spending time in the surrounding region.
An easy way to save money is to skip the hipster cafes and fancy restaurants and head to the local hawker centres for a meal, where you can find Singapore’s most authentic cuisine—when in doubt, just join the stall that has the longest queue. Hawker food is usually cheaper than the food in air-conditioned food courts and the centres are typically further from tourist areas, so sweating outside may be worth it. Those concerned about hygiene standards should look out for the colored placards, from A (the best) to D (a risk), displayed at each stall.
The cheapest and easiest way to get around Singapore is via their extensive public transport system that is modern and well-maintained. Pick up a stored value EZ-Link card to use on the buses and subways; tap the reader at the start and end of your journey to automatically deduct your fare, and use apps to tell you exactly how to get to a specific location. Taxis are all metered, but you can also use ride-sharing apps like Grab if you’d rather not worry about local currency. Bike-sharing is also growing in popularity and a cheap way to get around.
Consistently ranked as one of the top airports in the world, Singapore’s Changi Airport is where you want to be if you have to suffer through a long layover. With the downtown area just half an hour away from the airport by public transport, it’s easy for you to see the main sights quickly on your own, or if you have at least a six-hour layover, you can even join a free city tour. If you’d rather relax, know that the airport is so well-loved that locals enjoy spending their weekends here; check out their many gardens, free movie screenings, and even a swimming pool.
Singapore is well known for its many laws and regulations. Actions like spitting in the street, tossing your cigarette butt into a drain, or sticking your chewing gum on public property may result in a fine if you get caught. Most of the laws are common sense rules, but know that you may face harsh punishments that include incarceration and caning when it comes to infractions like vandalism. You may even face the death penalty for drug-related offences. Despite this hard stance on crime, Singapore is often rated as one of the safest countries in the world.
Singapore places a very high tax on alcohol, so getting a drink or buying a bottle in any nightlife establishment or restaurant is an expensive affair. Save money by scoping out the best happy hour deals, or get your own booze for a house party from the supermarkets for cheaper; make sure to do so before 10:30 p.m. when shops stop selling liquor. Cigarettes are also expensive in Singapore, and it’s harder to smoke in public, as smoking has been banned in restaurants, clubs, and a fixed perimeter around most public transport areas; look out for the yellow smokers’ box to see where you can take a legal puff.
If you’re trying to get around the expensive alcohol and tobacco taxes, study the duty-free concessions, as Singapore is strict about what you can bring in, and you may face stiff fines if you’re caught not following the rules. For alcohol, you can buy one liter each of spirits, wine and beer, or two liters of wine, plus one liter of beer, and vice versa. There is no concession on tobacco products; you can bring in one already-opened packet, but everything else is taxable, while e-tobacco products are banned.
In general, Singapore enjoys high safety standards. Crime is generally low, it’s safe to be out on your own late at night, and bribery and corruption are not a problem. Still, you should use common sense when traveling in a cosmopolitan city, just as you would at home. For example, don’t leave your items unattended.
Tipping culture is not customary in Singapore and service staff generally don’t expect tips, though it’s welcome if you want to reward excellent service. Smaller shops and hawker centres usually charge an all-inclusive “net” fee, while there is a 7% goods and services tax for most services in shops. When it comes to dining, cafes, restaurants, and bars, you’ll often be charged an additional 10% service charge on top of your bill; look for a “plus-plus” or “++” symbol on your menu.