Singapore for beginners
The country in a nutshell
How to save money in Singapore
It’s no secret that Singapore is an expensive city to be a tourist — especially by Southeast Asia standards. Here are some tips to get the most bang for your Sing-dollar during your time here.
Accommodation will be your biggest expense in Singapore and a private room with en-suite bathroom will probably set you back close to S$100 a night, and even then it’ll be the size of a shoebox. That said, even if you’re “not really a hostel person”, Singapore might be the place to reconsider. Singapore hostels are excellent value and average about S$22 per night for a bunk, light breakfast and internet access. I’ve previously written about Singapore’s cheapest hostels, but my all-around recommendations would be The Inn Crowd. Alternatively, Singapore has an active Couchsurfing.org community so you could try to crash with a local for free.
Thanks to Singapore’s abundant hawker centres, eating is as tasty as it is affordable. At a price of S$3-5 you’ll have dozens of delicious options including chicken rice, char kway teow and laksa soup. Eating at hawker centres is just as affordable as self-catering, and I recently showed it’s possible to eat three meals a day in Singapore on a budget of S$10.
Singapore does have some excellent restaurants, so if there is one you’re dying to try go at lunchtime when most offer a multi-course set lunch that’s significantly better value than dinner.
Singapore’s high tax on alcohol means that drinking is an expensive activity – you may want to give your liver a break while you’re here. If you just can’t resist a cold beer on a hot day (we don’t blame you), the cheapest place to get one is at a hawker centre where locally-brewed Tiger Beer will set you back about S$5.20 for a large bottle.
Bars and nightclubs charge significantly more, so try to hit the popular watering holes at Clarke Quay from 18:00–20:00 to take advantage of happy hour promotions. You’ll still be paying upwards of S$15 for a drink, but at least the next one will be free. Female visitors can take advantage of ladies night’ every Wednesday when most bars offer free entry and free drinks until midnight.
Unlike other Southeast Asian cities, Singapore doesn't have cheap tuk tuks or motorcycle taxis. Thankfully the city’s public transit system is extremely efficient, with buses and subways running roughly from 06:00 till midnight every day. After midnight you can take advantage of the NightRider and NiteOwl bus services. If you’re going to be in Singapore for more than three days we highly recommend getting an EZ-Link card (sold at MRT stations) so you can take advantage of lower fares and transfer discounts.
Singapore’s big attractions all have similarly big price tags – S$22 for the Singapore Zoo, S$30 for the Singapore Flyer – so it’s worth asking if your hotel or hostel offers discounted tickets as most can pre-sell you tickets for 10-20% less than full price. You can also try websites for discounted admission to local attractions (be sure to read the fine print – some offers are only valid for Singapore residents). Alternatively, there are plenty of fun free things to do in Singapore ranging from cultural sites like the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple to parks and nature reserves like the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Shopping in Singapore doesn’t have to leave you penniless either. If you’re in the market for cheap souvenirs, the place to go is the Chinatown Street Market where you can buy fridge magnets, “Singapore is a Fine City” T-shirts and miniature Merlions for just a few dollars apiece. If you’re heading to the malls of Orchard Road there’s good reason to bring your passport: present it to the customer service desk to collect your “tourist privilege card” for discounts at most stores and restaurants. Finally, remember that if you spend more than S$100 at a single store to get a receipt so you can claim the tourist tax refund – it’s equal to about 7% of the total price.
For keeping in touch with family and friends back home, hopefully your accommodation includes internet access (have we mentioned how much we hate it when hotels charge extra for WiFi?), but if they don’t you can take advantage of Singapore’s free public WiFi service. It’s called Wireless@SG and is available in most shopping malls, libraries and McDonalds. It’s not fast enough to Skype, but is sufficient for sending a few emails or updating your Facebook status.
If you need to make some phone calls don’t roam – get a Singapore SIM card instead. They’re available at convenience stores like 7-eleven for as little as S$8 including credit. International calls start from S$0.16 cents per minute, which is certainly a lot lower than using the phone in your hotel room.