Feb 21, 2017
The island city-state makes up for its diminutive size with preposterously large hotels, a thriving food culture, stunning public gardens, museums and those fabled temples to air conditioning, the malls. The steamy city is a melting pot – go from the hawker markets of Chinatown to the sari-shop-strewn streets of Little India to the temples of Arab Street in one short cab ride. Singapore is no longer just a short-term stopover, it’s a destination in its own right. Here’s what to know before you go.
Qantas flies directly to Singapore. The flight takes about eight hours from the east coast and about five hours from Perth.
Australian passport holders don’t need a visa to enter Singapore provided they have confirmed onward/return tickets. Australians are required to scan their thumbprints each time they arrive and depart Singapore.
Landing at Changi Airport
Changi, Singapore’s international airport, connects to more than 250 destinations worldwide and is also a hub for food, shopping and entertainment. It’s been rated the best airport in the world by Skytrax for four years running so expect organised chaos. Changi is located 20 kilometres east of the city centre. Taxis depart from outside each terminal: the ride to the city takes about 30 minutes. Alternatively, the 36 bus does loops from terminals 1, 2 and 3 into the city from early morning until about midnight and the trip takes about an hour. There are also trains at terminals 2 and 3 that connect with the MRT underground network. Change at Tanah Merah station to get to the city.
Singapore is a conservative country with strict laws pertaining to drugs, homosexuality, smoking and even chewing gum (yes, those urban legends about people being arrested for chewing gum in Singapore are true). Law-breakers are dealt with harshly and canings and the death penalty are among the punishments meted out.
Some important things to know include:
- There is a strict, zero-tolerance approach to illegal drugs. Some drugs that are sold over the counter or accessed by prescription in Australia are illegal in Singapore, including some painkillers and cold and flu medications. Check whether you need approval from Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority and carry prescriptions for accepted medications.
- Male homosexual sexual activity is illegal and it’s technically possible for a couple to be imprisoned for up to two years, but the law is, mercifully, rarely enforced. Oddly, nothing in the law prohibits sex between two women.
- Public nudity is banned, even if it’s accidental (i.e. through your hotel window).
- Chewing gum is banned and you could even be fined for bringing it into the country.
- It is not permitted to bring vaporisers such as e-cigarettes into the country – they are likely to be confiscated and could result in a fine or even imprisonment.
- Smoking is banned in many public outdoor areas such as bus shelters, markets, and car parks and within five metres of entries and exits.
- The legal drinking age is 18.
- It is illegal to consume alcohol in a public place between the hours of 10:30pm and 7am.
- Littering and spitting could result in heavy fines.
- Stealing wi-fi is considered hacking and attracts a fine of up to $10,000 or a three-year prison sentence.
- Not flushing a public toilet will (seriously) cost you $150 if you’re caught.
- Feeding pigeons is illegal and results in fines of up to $500.
- Jaywalking is illegal.
The language barrier
Singapore is a veritable melting pot of ex-pats. English is one of the official languages of the country, as well as Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. You won’t have any trouble communicating with locals.
- Make sure your basic vaccinations are up to date and consider shots for typhoid, hepatitis A and B and Japanese encephalitis.
- There is ongoing transmission of Zika virus in Singapore so be careful to protect yourself against mosquito bites. The Singapore Ministry of Health has up-to-date information on hotspots for the disease. The Australian Department of Health recommends pregnant women defer non-essential travel.
The Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) underground train system traverses much of the island. Tickets are available at all stations. The SBS Transit bus network is also extensive. It’s also a great way to do a bit of sightseeing en route. Make sure you have the correct fare. If you intend to get around by public transport it’s worth buying a Singapore Tourist Pass, which allows you unlimited travel for up to several days. Otherwise, taxis are inexpensive, safe, clean and plentiful.
- At the time of writing, the Australian dollar is buying 1.09 Singapore dollars (SGD). Check a reliable currency conversion service for up-to-date exchange rates.
- Make sure your bank won’t hit you with extra fees when you use your credit card in Singapore. Your Australian bank and Singapore ATMs will both charge you for withdrawing money from your debit card, too, so it might be worth organising a travel card (most banks have one) with low or no fees to use while you’re away. In any case, inform your bank of your travel plans, lest overseas purchases are misconstrued as fraud and your card is cancelled.
- Credit and debit cards are accepted almost everywhere but there is often a minimum spend and you’ll need cash to buy food in hawker centres.
- Tipping is not required in Singapore but it is appreciated at restaurants. Sometimes a service charge is added to the bill but this won’t be handed over to staff so it’s best to hand any additional tip directly to your waitperson. It is not customary to tip tour guides or taxi drivers.
- It’s considered rude to touch someone, even a child, on the head, to show someone the soles of your feet or to point at a person.
- Public displays of affection are considered inappropriate.
- Singaporean Malays and Indians use spoons and their hands to eat but don’t eat or pass food with your left hand – it’s considered unclean.
- If you’re using chopsticks, place them on a chopstick rest when you are finished eating – to leave them on your plate indicates you’re still eating.
Being so close to the equator, Singapore is warm year-round. There’s no summer or winter but there’s generally greater rainfall between November and January and February to June are the warmest. The average temperature in the warmest months is 27 degrees. In the coolest months? It’s 26 degrees.
Smog is an issue in Singapore, especially in the driest months between June and September. Check the National Environment Agency’s Haze for up-to-date information and if you have any respiratory issues, consult a doctor before travelling. Air filter masks are available to purchase in most chemists and supermarkets in Singapore.
When to go
The weather is much the same year-round, so it shouldn’t have too much influence on timing. Instead, check the Singapore cultural calendar – Chinese New Year is a busy time, and the Great Singapore Sale, an annual shopping extravaganza, is a big drawcard.
Crime is low in Singapore but Smart Traveller advises there is an ongoing threat of terrorism. Authorities have established enhanced security measures and several suspected terrorists have been arrested in the country.
Anything goes in Singapore, but with such humid weather it helps to have lightweight, loose-fitting garments to deal with the heat.
The tap water in Singapore is safe to drink.
Smart Traveller recommends all visitors take out comprehensive travel insurance to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation.
Where to stay
The downtown area to the south of the island provides options for daytime exploring and night-time eating and drinking. Try Chinatown for boutique hotels or Boat Quay, which is close to plenty of bars and restaurants and is home to the remarkable Fullerton Bay Hotel. Little India up to Lavender Street has plenty of cheaper accommodation and great people-watching. The Colonial District is where you’ll find Raffles hotel and the Orchard Road shopping precinct has a good mix of options. The cool expat community of Tiong Bahru is a bit farther out, but worth the distance for its 1930s low-rise buildings, bookstores and eateries.
Phone calls and mobile data
Before you land, disable data roaming on your phone and don’t answer incoming calls if you want to keep your monthly bill in check. If you need to keep in touch with people at home, invest in a prepaid travel SIM card or buy a prepaid Singaporean SIM card. Local mobile carriers Singtel, M1 and Starhub are all compatible with Australian phones, but remember, this will only work if your phone is not locked to your Australian carrier.
The police emergency number in Singapore is 999. For fire and ambulance dial 995.
To call Australia, dial +61 followed by the phone number (include the area code but minus the zero). So to call a Sydney landline, you would dial +61 2 then the phone number. To call a mobile phone, use the same country code (+61) and dial the mobile number minus the first zero.
Singapore has the same electricity frequency and voltage as Australia so all gadgets and chargers should work without a problem. You will need a power adapter because the sockets are different.
Wi-fi is readily available in malls, cafés and restaurants throughout the city, however you must ask permission before connecting – under Singaporean law it’s considered hacking to steal wi-fi.
Handy apps and websites
The Australian High Commission in Singapore for emergencies.
Visit Singapore for tourist information.
WhereTo – an app that uses your location to show you amenities such as ATMs and supermarkets.
Your Singapore for up-to-date information and events.
HungryGoWhere for restaurants and bookings
Changi Airport for flight and airport information.
Smart Traveller for up-to-date safety information.
Travel Doctor for pre-travel health advice.