Singapore is a fascinating cultural explosion and a visual feast. You might have heard about Marina Bay Sands, or chewing gum being banned (the rumors are true!), or the landmarks where Crazy Rich Asians was filmed, but there are so many layers to Singapore that make this nation even more complex and worthwhile to experience firsthand.
Here are all the tips you need to know for your first trip to Singapore!
10 Tips To Know Before Visiting Singapore
Singapore’s official languages are Malay, Tamil, English, and Mandarin. Malay is the national language, and Bahasa Melayu is the most predominant dialect used by the Malay community that lives in Singapore. You’ll find street signs throughout the city-state commonly written in more than one language to reflect its multicultural population. As a result of this melting pot of languages and cultures, most Singaporeans are some form of bi- or trilingual.
Although English-speaking ethnicities are not a majority of the population in Singapore, the language was adopted to help unify the various communities and languages that coexist here. Because of this, English has become the most common language in both school and work environments. You should be able to get by pretty well with English most everywhere!
Singapore uses the Singaporean Dollar, also known as the SGD or ‘sing-dollar.’ S$1 = $0.71 USD, roughly. Some major shopping centers throughout Singapore might also accept other forms of currency, including US Dollars, Australian Dollars, Yen, and Pounds Sterling.
Singapore is extremely close to the equator (just 70 miles away!). Singapore has two main seasons – wet and dry. Wet season lasts from September to February, and the dry season lasts from March to August. Regardless of the time of year, the weather is pretty hot, tropical, and humid year-round, averaging between 70 – 90º F (21 – 33º C). Thunderstorms are also relatively common, so it’s best to be armed with both beachy, vacation attire and waterproof outerwear when traveling to Singapore!
The cultural makeup of Singapore, as you might expect based on all of its national languages, is palpably diverse. Predominant ethnicities include Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, and Peranakan communities that each coexist in a cosmopolitan city while managing to maintain both tradition and ethnic identity. In case you have never heard of Peranakans, they are locally born Chinese-Singaporeans, and the term has come to distinguish this population and their customs from those of people born in mainland China.
One thing so endearing about Singapore is its ability to foster a forward-thinking, international city that places equal importance on remembering, and celebrating, its roots. Singapore enforces an Ethnic Integration Policy to help promote racial integration and cohesion in housing throughout the island. To spotlight each culture’s unique contributions, the central business district of Singapore is surrounded by ethnic enclaves and neighborhoods, with each one celebrating that population’s heritage, religions, goods, and cuisines for both locals and travelers to enjoy. If you want to explore Singapore’s cultural diversity up close, head to one of these neighborhoods (such as Kampong Glam, the Arab Street, Little India, or Chinatown) or visit a hawker centre for a crash-course in each culture’s regional cuisine.
In addition to these local populations, Singapore has been ranked as one of the best places in the world for expats to live, based on quality of life and the economy. Many expats refer to Singapore as an easy place to call home, thanks to its public transportation, work opportunities, weather, language, and food culture. As a result, between 25 – 40% of the population (about 1 – 2MM individuals) is estimated to be made up of people from all over the world.
Singapore is a tiny island, but you will still need to take some form of transportation to get around as not every place is walkable. Plus, it’s a hot island, so sometimes a little air-conditioning is welcome! Fortunately, you have several options.
Call a Taxi or order a Grab (you’ll need to download the Grab app – drivers accept payments on the app or via cash at the end of the drive)
Take Public Transportation
Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) subway system (you can buy a Singapore Tourist Pass upon arrival)
The SBS Transit and SMRT Bus systems
River cruises or taxis also allow you to hitch a water ride along the Singapore River from Esplanade to Robertson Quay or vice-versa. It looks like Singapore River Cruises are more of a tourist draw than a local method of transportation, but that didn’t make it any less fun to try at least once!
Ferries can be taken to visit neighboring islands and countries, like Indonesia and Malaysia.
If you are spending a week or more in Singapore, you’ll want to download a couple of apps to make your transportation experience as seamless as possible –
Download the EZ-Link Mobile App or purchase an EZ-Link card for contactless, cashless transactions for use on the MRT, LRT, and buses.
Download Grab to request taxis easily from your phone (you can pay on the app or with cash at the end of your ride). Singapore does not have Uber or Lyft, so Grab will be your only method of ride-share on the island. However, like Uber, you can use Grab to get food delivery if you need a break from the restaurant scene!
If you’re only spending 3 days or less in Singapore, you can grab a Singapore Tourist Pass or SG Tourist Pass for unlimited rides on public transportation for up to 3 days.
Singapore’s culinary scene is extensive. You can find everything from world-class, 5-star dining experiences to affordable, fresh street food. For some of the most authentic and regional eats, head to a hawker centre – an open-air food court with hawker stands set up side-to-side serving up everything from Chinese and Indian food to Malay and fusion meals in an unassuming setting. Another tip? You might see packages of tissues on tables when you visit a hawker centre or food court in Singapore. This is how locals ‘reserve’ tables for themselves while they scout out their meals. Don’t steal one of these tables! But you can carry your own pack of tissues around and try out this trick for yourself.
Singapore is known as one of the safest and cleanest places in Southeast Asia. As a woman, I felt very safe walking around the city, even at night. But of course, you should always be careful and stay alert, anywhere you go!
Singapore has surveillance everywhere, which means that the crime rate is very low. But this also means that visitors need to be extra mindful of breaking any laws, even when you think no one is watching. Which brings me to my next point…
8. Singaporean Laws All Travelers Should Know
Singapore has some pretty strict – and famous – laws. It’s how the city-state has become one of the cleanest and most safe in all of Southeast Asia. Here are some rules you should definitely keep in mind when visiting:
Keep away from protests and don’t film any you see happening
Avoid bringing chewing gum or cigarettes. I believe you’re able to bring 1 or 2 packs with you legally as a tourist, but I say best to just avoid it altogether.
Don’t eat or drink on public transportation
Bring PDA down to a minimum
For more information on Singaporean laws travelers should be aware of, this is a handy list.
Unlike the USA, tipping is not an expectation. However, Singaporeans are generally very appreciative of the gesture. At restaurants, 5-10% for good service, or leaving the change, seems appropriate. For taxi or Grab drivers, as well as bellhops and hotel staff, a 5% tip or an extra S$1-2 will likely be well-received, too. Just know that, sometimes, your tip will be returned to you as change. It’s really a case-by-case basis that you can play by ear depending on the service you receive and their willingness to accept your gesture.
10. Travel Insurance
Even though Singapore is a safe destination to visit, it never hurts to prepare accordingly by getting travel insurance. From losing your wallet or suitcase at the airport, to getting sick or injured abroad, having travel insurance can not only give you peace of mind but save you money in the long-term as well. I have heard good things about the following travel insurance companies:
I hope these tips help make your first trip to Singapore the best experience ever! If you have any questions about Singapore, let me know below.