Oct 31 2011

What not to pack when visiting Singapore

Published by at 1:27 pm under Practicalities


There’s good reason for Singapore’s nickname “The Fine City”: minor misdoings, from eating on the subway to not flushing a public toilet, are punishable by a monetary fine.  It’s even possible to earn a fine before you’re fully in the country if you attempt to bring a banned item into Singapore. Certain items you wouldn’t think twice about bringing into other Southeast Asian countries are serious no-nos in Singapore.

Declare all cigarettes when entering Singapore or, better yet, quit

Declare all cigarettes when entering Singapore or, better yet, quit.

It’s not just an urban legend – chewing gum really is forbidden in Singapore. Importing a retail quantity of chewing gum (i.e. you’re going to sell it) is punishable by a fine up to S$10,000. However, a pack or two for personal use is very unlikely to get you in any kind of trouble, though I’ve gotten dirty looks when chewing gum from my personal stash in public. The anti-gum laws have actually relaxed in recent years and it’s now possible to buy nicotine and teeth-whitening gum from a pharmacist.

Far more of an issue than chewing gum is cigarettes. Regardless what country you are coming from, duty-free cigarettes cannot be brought into Singapore. This is enforced so strongly that you may have your luggage X-rayed on arrival at Changi Airport or the land crossings. All cigarettes, even a half-full pack, should be declared. Why all the fuss?  Taxes on cigarettes are a huge source of income for the Singapore government and smuggled cigarettes from neighbouring countries are often 1/5 of the price. It’s got to the point that each individual cigarette in Singapore is stamped with “SDPC”, for Singapore Duty Paid Cigarettes. If you’re caught smoking a cigarette without this stamp, the fine for a first offence is S$500 a pack.

Is a DVD with out-of-synch speech worth the potential trouble?

Is a DVD with out-of-synch speech worth the potential trouble?

Pirated DVDs can also result in a surprising amount of trouble. Singapore enforces international copyrights and may question the authenticity of DVDs in your luggage. Though pirated DVDs are openly sold in Malaysia and Thailand, they are illegal in Singapore. The only place I have ever seen pirated DVDs for sale in Singapore is at the aptly-named Thieves Market, and even then they were not new releases.  It is also worth noting that pornography of any kind (DVDs, magazines) is illegal in Singapore. If you are caught trying to bring these banned items into Singapore they will definitely be confiscated, and perhaps worse.

Similarly, if you’ll be spending any time in Singapore, do not buy those brass knuckles, throwing stars, or Samurai swords for sale in other Asian countries. Though you may think they’re a novelty, the Singapore government considers them weapons. These items will definitely show up on the immigration X-rays and can get you in serious trouble. Even toy guns and gun-shaped cigarette lighters are banned in Singapore.

It should go without saying, but there are stiff penalties for bringing illegal drugs into Singapore. Possession of any amount will land you a serious jail sentence that you cannot buy your way out of for any amount of money. Even more extreme, the penalty for trafficking is death and Singapore’s hangman makes good on this threat.

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