Everything You Want To Know About Singapore
Located in the heart of South East Asia and just above the equator, surrounded by much bigger countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam. As Singapore is the transport hub in the region, it is very convenient to visit these countries from anywhere in the world with good connectivity. Some of tourists spots popular with visitors to this region are Bangkok, Phuket, Bali, Penang, Siam Reap just to name a few. Flying time to these destinations ranging from 1-3 hours and many flights available throughout the day. The flights are cheap due to the availability of many budget airlines operating here. The loal budget airlines are Tigerair and Jetstar.
All year round the temperature hovers around 28 to 32 degree Celsius (82°F~89°F). Frequent showers may be experienced from end November to January but this is also probably the coolest period to visit Singapore. The month of May is the hottest month of the year with temperature hitting a high of around 35°C which appears to be hotter than it actually is due to the humidity. Humidity is high all year round. Light clothing is recommended, it is a common sight to see local wearing shorts and bermudas for shopping
Showers are common all year round but they rarely last more than 1-2 hours. It is advisable to carry umbrella with you when touring Singapore.
Singapore’s total population grew 1.8 per cent to 5.08 million as at end June 2010 [ 5.31 million as at end June 2012] according to the Department of Statistics in its first release from the 2010 Population Census. Of the 5.08m, 3.23m are citizens, 541,000 are premanent residents and 1.31m non-residents. The Chinese formed 74 per cent of the population, while the Malays and Indians took up 13 per cent and 9.2 per cent. The total fertility rate as of 2010 is 1.15.
The population growth over the years can be obtained here.
Currency and Credit Cards
The more common Singapore dollar (SGD or S$) notes are $100, $50, $10, $5 and $2 denomination. Coins variants include $1, 50cents, 20cents, 10cents and 5cents. One Singapore dollar, S$1, is approximately equal to US$0.8 (as of May 2010). Foreign Exchange booths are commonly sighted in shopping areas with very competitive rate. The best rate can be obtained in Change Alley.
Most restaurants, tourist attractions, shops and departmental stores accept credit cards. Most merchants accept VISA, Mastercard, American Express and Diners (VISA being the most popular). Some merchants may levy 2% more on their mechandises in some small shops compared to cash payment.
English is the main spoken language used though some may speak with a local variant of English known as “Singlish” which could be incomprehensible to foreigners visiting here. Most street signs and other signboards are typically labelled in English but occasionally come with other languages. The best place to experience this is on the MRT, you will see the inconsistencies which is quite typical in Singapore. It is fairly safe to say that you will be able to go around Singapore with some basic English.
As more than 70% of the locals are of Chinese decedent or immigrants (population of Singapore is 5 million as of Jun 2009), mandarin is the next most spoken language used here. Some older Singaporeans born before the year 1980 are also quite conversant with dialects such as Teochew, Hokkien, Cantonese and Hainanese. There is also a fairly large amount of Chinese Singaporeans unable to speak mandarin due to the overly successful government promotion of English language. It is very common to see many Chinese, Indian and, to a lesser extend, Malay families converse in English amongst themselves, so don’t be surprised.
Singapore is a relatively safe country. Thefts and robberies are rare occurrence, the streets are mostly lit up and generally safe even at night. Having said that, exercise caution as you would in any other big cities. Avoid night spots after 2am when most fights occurs sometimes and fatalities do happen from time to time.
In fact the biggest threat to tourists to Singapore, surprisingly, is death on the road caused by the high vehicle speed and reckless drivers. There have been quite a few cases of foreigners killed in road accidents over the years notably the Chinese nationals. A few high profile cases reported in the media of such fatalities involved expatriates stationing in Singapore. So be warned!
Prepaid Cards and Mobile phones
Singapore uses the GSM/UMTS system originated from the Europe. The prepaid SIM cards in Singapore come in various denominations ranging from S$10 to S$50. There are 3 mobile phone service providers that offer prepaid phone service in Singapore – SingTel, MobileOne (M1) and Starhub.
Prepaid SIM cards in Singapore for any of the three phone companies can be purchased at the following locations:
Prepaid SIM registration a mandatory requirement. All prepaid cards must be registered under the name of the person who will be using it, you will be required to produce your passport or Singapore ID at the time of buying the prepaid mobile card. Once registered, the card is ready for use immediately. Read more here.
Visa and Entry Information
Visit the official website here.
Probably the most recognised icon of Singapore. The half lion and half fish creature was first designed as a logo and an emblem by Mr Fraser Brunner,a curator of the now defunct Van Kleef Aquarium, for the then Singapore Tourist Promotion Board in 1964. The 8.6m tall concrete sculpture was then created by late craftsman Lim Nang Seng and unveiled at the moth of the Singapore River in 1972 (read more here).The fish body of the Merlion represents Singapore’s origin as a fishing village when it was called Temasek (sea town) and the lion head represents Singapore’s original name “Singapura” (Lion City).
In Sep 2002, the sculpture was moved from the mouth of the Singapore River to its present location. Official reason given was Esplanade Bridge had blocked the view of it from the Marina Bay front but the rumour had it that the FengShui was bad for Singapore since the bridge was constructed and the republic’s economy was dealt with double blow of 1997 Asian Crisis and 2003 SARS outbreak. Though the timings do not seems exactly right, miraculously the economy began to recover shortly after the Merlion was relocated to its present location and the republic fortune has been prosperous ever since.
Singapore follows the UK system which is 230VAC 3-pin plug (picture right).
+8 Hrs Standard GMT Time.
Tipping is not common in Singapore (except high end restaurants) as almost all restaurants typically include a 10% service charge in their bills, whether you like their services or not. Some restaurants may even include miscellaneous items such as towers and peanuts to boost their earnings, this is quite common especially in Chinese restaurants. You can politely ask to exclude these items though most locals typically just bear with them although they may grumble about it privately. Typically, no tipping is required for taxi drivers, front line staff and most service staff.
Cost of Living
For a first world country, it may be surprising to visitors from other developed countries that the cost of living is relatively low. A full meal can be had for as cheap as S$3 and rarely exceed S$5 in most foodcourts. Fastfood such as MacDonald, KFC and Burger King are aplenty and the cost are typically ranging from S$5-7.
Goods and Services Tax (GST) is 7% currently. Tourist can claim the GST refund when shopping at participating retailers. The price displayed must include GST by law for GST-registered companies though some retailers still flout the rule. More info at Tourist Refund Scheme.
For locals, GST is exempt only for certain values. If you travel out of Singapore for less than 48 hours, then you will not have to pay GST for goods valued up to $150. If you are away for more than 48 hours, you are exempt from GST for goods valued up to $600.
Travelers will have to pay GST only on the value of the goods that exceeds the GST relief. You will have to produce invoices or receipts of these purchases to help calculate the tax payable. You can pay taxes at the Singapore Customs’ Tax Payment Office or at the self-service Tax Payment Kiosk at the checkpoints.
Toilets, restrooms, gents/ladies, lavatories are used interchangeably in Singapore. Toilets are commonly available and free for use in shopping malls and MRT stations. Be warned! unlike other first world countries, sadly our dirty toilets are one of the worst, if not the worst amongst all the first world countries. Most toilet seats (esp. man’s toilet) are not useable as they are urinated by the lack of social consciousness amongst the citizens and the high number of foreign talents, workers and immigrants. The toilet situation is typically clean in hotels, airport and high end shopping malls.
Singapore is probably the nightmare for many die-hard smokers. Almost all public access areas including airports, shopping malls, hotels,restaurants, bars, offices, buses, taxis are smoke free. Suffice to say that all air-conditioned places are out of bounding to smokers. Starting from 2009 (or 2008?), even in non air-conditioned places such as coffee shops and bus stops, smokers are only allowed in designated areas defined by a red box. Have I mentioned that Singapore has the highest tax in Singapore for cigarettes? The cheapest pack of cigarettes will set you back at S$10.
you can bring in an open pack of cigarettes through the customs without having to pay the customs but you cannot bring in a carton without being tax. More discussion on this topic can be found here.
The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of trafficking, manufacturing, importing or exporting more than 15g of heroin, 30g of morphine, 30g of cocaine, 500g of cannabis, 200g of cannabis resin and 1.2kg of opium. Possessing these quantities is deemed as trafficking in the eyes of the law.
A “Fine” City
Singapore had and still has a notorious reputation as a “fine” city due to the overzealous government propaganda in the early years. The country has progressed quite a long way since and it is quite common to see many anti-social behaviours such as speeding, littering, jay walking, spitting and occasionally smoking in prohibited areas. While the rules are there and fines stipulated, the enforcement is relatively lapsed in general.
This is probably the most unusual anti-social sighting that amaze foreigners alike. It all began probably around 10 years ago where people put a pack of tissues on the dinning tables in foodcourts and hawker centres to “reserve” their seats for fear that they will not be able to find a seat after they purchase their food. To fight this unusual phenomenon, some local expats have also joined in this very unusual Singaporean’s phenomenon. As the saying goes: if you can’t beat them, join them!
While chewing gums are banned for sale. It is ok to bring in chewing gums into Singapore for personal consumption. Just don’t stick it around or you will find yourself slapped with a fine for littering.
Busking by visitors from overseas are disallowed by law. Click here for more info.
Updated May 2014