Singapore for beginners
The country in a nutshell
Singapore's currency is the Singapore dollar (SGD). Roughly, $1 US = $1.50 SGD, 1 Euro = $2 SGD, and $1 AUD = $1.10 SGD. International access ATMs can be found in just about every nook and cranny of this island country and commission-free currency exchange booths are abundant on Orchard Road and in Little India. You will be expected to use Singapore dollars for cash purchases. Credit cards are widely accepted by restaurants, supermarkets, and shopping centres, but a minimum purchase of $20 often applies. Taxis charge a 10% administration fee for payment by credit card.
Tipping is not common in Singapore. At most restaurants and bars a 10% service charge is automatically added to the bill. On a menu, a price followed by "++" (plus plus) means that the 10% service charge and 7% GST are not included. There is no service charge in food courts or hawker centres. Taxi drivers don't expect tips and don't even round up the bill. If your fare is $9.80 and you pay with a $10 note, you will be given your 20 cents change! Of course, if you receive excellent service and want to tip, it will be appreciated.
Singapore is a very, very safe country to travel in. It is highly unlikely that you will be assaulted, robbed, ripped off, or even touted. But, to quote a recent Singapore safety campaign, "Low Crime Doesn't Mean No Crime". Pick-pocketing is a minor concern in crowded places, particularly shopping centres.
Infamous for its strict laws and fines, many tourists are surprised at how few police officers they see in Singapore. Don't be fooled -- they're there, just in plainclothes. If you do require their assistance the emergency number is 999 and you'll find that they're friendly, speak English, and generally very helpful.
Visitors should be aware of Singapore's fineable offences -- the police won't necessarily let you off the hook just because you're a tourist. Eating on public transportation, littering, and jay-walking all carry a fine of up to $1000 SGD! Drug offences are severely punished -- possession gets a lengthy jail sentence plus a caning while trafficking is punishable by death.
Alcohol and cigarettes are highly taxed in Singapore and you are allowed to import 1 lire of spirits, 1 litre of wine, and 1 litre of beer duty-free. Duty-free cigarettes are not allowed in Singapore and this is strictly enforced. Don't be surprised if your luggage is x-rayed on arrival in Singapore!
Singapore and Thailand boast the best medical care in the region -- it is truly world class. It's not cheap though, so we hope you have travel insurance. Most hospitals have 24 hour walk-in clinics to go with full-scale ER services, and Raffles Hospital even makes house calls. If you need a vaccination or are wondering what's up with the freaky rash you picked up in Komodo National Park, the following travel health clinics may be of interest.
Singapore General Hospital Travel Clinic
T: 6326 6723
As part of the city-state's largest medical facility, Singapore General offers country-specific travel health advice, vaccinations and anti-malarial medication. You can see a nurse practitioner to get advice or an injection during drop in hours from 08:30 to 17:30 Monday to Friday, but you’ll need an appointment to see a doctor. The hospital is conveniently located within walking distance of Outram Park MRT.
Tan Tock Seng Hospital Travellers’ Health Clinic
T: 6357 2222
Tan Tock Seng's first-floor travel clinic offers vaccinations against typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, hepatitis and yellow fever as well as anti-malaria prophylaxis. You can call or email the clinic to make an appointment or visit during walk-in hours: 08:00-12:30 and 14:00-16:30 weekdays and 08:00-11:30 on Saturdays.
Changi General Hospital Medical Centre for International Travellers
T: 6850 3333
Located in eastern Singapore, Changi General has a travel clinic that offers pre-travel advice, vaccinations, anti-malarial medication and a handy ‘travel medical kit’ with medication for common ailments like motion sickness and diarrhoea. You can simply drop by to purchase the kit or get advice, but an appointment is needed for vaccinations.
Raffles Medical Group Travel Health Services
T: 6311 1111
Travel medical kits and vaccinations against influenza and hepatitis A and B are available at all of Raffles' 72 locations — including Changi International Airport — while Japanese encephalitis and yellow fever vaccinations are offered at selected locations. All services are available on a walk-in basis, but expect to pay considerably more for the excellent private care that Raffles is known for.
Singapore has a fabulous public transportation system and cabs on every corner. The MRT is the quickest way to get across the island, but can be very crowded during peak travel times. There are three main subway lines (a fourth is presently under construction) -- see the MRT website for a detailed route map -- also a system map is posted at every station or you can get a free pocket map at ticket offices. The MRT runs from 6:00-24:00.
The city bus system is equally efficient and even more affordable than the MRT, but tends to be under-utilised by foreign visitors. The bus system is especially useful for short trips.Use the SBS Journey Planner to help you with bus routes. Buses run from 6:00-24:00 and there's a limited "Nite Owl" service from 24:00-02:00.
Taxis are abundant and always use the meter. They're relatively affordable, but surcharges can add up quickly. Flag fall is about $3 (including the first km) and then $0.20 for every 385 meters or 45 seconds of waiting time. A peak time surcharge of 35% applies for travel from 7:00-9:30 or 17:00-20:00. The late night surcharge from 24:00-6:00 is 50%. Trips starting in the city centre incur an extra $3 fee from 17:00-24:00 plus there are road tolls (called "ERP") during peak travel times that are payable by the passenger. See our Getting Around Singapore section for more details.
Most nationalities get 30-days on arrival visa free. See our Singapore visa page for details.
Singapore has four national languages -- English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. Most people speak English quite well and the majority of the signs you encounter will be in English. "Singlish" is the unique mashup of English with expressions and slang from the other local languages. Most obvious is the Singaporean habit of tacking on an extra word at the end of sentences. Got it, lah?
Singapore is one degree north of the equator so the weather is predictable -- it's hot and humid year-round. There are two monsoon seasons, December to March and then June to September, but heavy rain can occur anytime. It tends to rain in the afternoon, so head to the Singapore Zoo, Botanic Garden, or Sentosa earlier in the day. December to March tends to be the cooler months, but chances are if you're from outside the tropics you'll always find Singapore a sweaty place.
Singapore is the first world
Unlike its neighbours, Singapore is a developed nation with first world prices. Don't show up expecting a slice of budget Asia -- Singapore is expensive. While you can eat for cheap in hawker centres, most budget travellers find accommodation and boozing major budget busters, so plan accordingly.
Singapore is unique
While it is true that all countries are unique in their own way, Singapore's history makes it uniquely modern and multi-cultural. Socially, geographically, and economically there is nowhere quite like this tropical island city-state. Explore and enjoy!