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Singapore Travel

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Singapore Travel

Singapore travel is about more than just concrete and skylines!

Photo by Greg Rodgers

General Information:

  • Official Name: Republic of Singapore
  • Time: GMT + 8 (13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time)
  • Country Phone Code: +65
  • Capital City: Singapore (Singapore is a city/country)
  • Population: 5.1 million
  • Primary Religions: Buddhism: 33%; Christianity: 18%; Islam: 15%

What to Expect from Singapore Travel:

Singapore is an anomaly. Southeast Asia's tiny city-country is notoriously spotless compared to other cities in Asia. Hardly all shopping malls and concrete as one would expect, Singapore has numerous green spaces, is bike friendly, and a matrix of skywalks connect various parks to help you forget that you're in a bustling city.

Like Malaysia, you'll encounter a very diverse population including Chinese, Indian, Malay, and scores of foreign workers who have made Singapore their new home. English is present everywhere and wealth abounds. Unlike other chaotic cities in Asia, order and efficiency are highly valued in Singapore. You can drink the tap water.

Getting lost is easy in the sprawling shopping malls that are interconnected both above and below ground. A pleasant waterfront becomes the epicenter at night for eating and socializing. At first glance, it may appear that Singaporeans only live to eat and shop! Unfortunately, most travelers leave before taking advantage of the many cultural and creative highlights in Singapore found away from the malls.

Residents sarcastically refer to Singapore as a 'fine city' because of the heavy local fines for seemingly small infractions. You can be fined on the spot for chewing gum, riding bikes on the sidewalks, taking a drink onto a train, smoking in the wrong places, and jaywalking outside of street crossings.

Singapore is often skipped over or only given a few days by budget travelers because of it's reputation as an expensive destination -- particularly for nightlife and socializing. While you can enjoy incredible meals for cheap at food courts such as the famous Lau Pa Sat, accommodation, shopping, and nightlife are very expensive compared to other countries in Southeast Asia. Heavy taxation inflates prices on nearly everything.

Singapore Entry Requirements:

Most nationalities do not need to arrange a travel visa before visiting Singapore; US and EU passport holders are permitted a 90-day stay for free.

Singapore is famous for strict laws and heavy fines for bringing in undeclared or prohibited items through immigration. Although sometimes an opened pack will be overlooked, bringing any number of cigarettes into Singapore requires that an expensive duty tax be paid. Chewing gum, electronic cigarettes, pirated DVDs, and chewing tobacco are also prohibited.

If carrying prescription drugs, bring copies of the prescription and your medical passport if you have one. Singapore has a mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking.

See the official Singapore Customs website for specifics on alcohol and other items.

The People:

  • Population: 5.1 million (2011 census)
  • Ethnic Groups: 74.2% Chinese; 13.4% Malay; 9.2% Indian
  • Life Expectancy: 83.7 years (fourth-longest life expectancy in the world)

Although a majority of the population is Chinese, Singapore is one massive stewpot of people and culture. An estimated 40% of the country's residents are from somewhere else, many of which are foreign workers and expats.

Interestingly, women in Singapore have the lowest fertility rate in the world, however, the high number of immigrants and foreign residents keep the country's population steady.

If you've ever wanted to give couchsurfing a try, Singapore is the place to do so. Plenty of expats offer opportunities to stay with them safely for free, and knowing a local in the city is a huge help for saving money.

Money in Singapore:

  • Currency: SGD -- Singapore dollar. The typical dollar sign ( $ ) or (S$) are placed before the amount.
  • Per-Capita GDP: US $60,500 (fifth in the world)

Singapore uses a coin for their $1 unit of currency. Otherwise, you'll encounter colorful notes in the following denominations: $2, $5, $10, $50, and $100. Although $20 and $25 notes are in circulation, you rarely see them. The Singapore dollar is divided into 100 cents.

Credit cards, particularly Visa and Mastercard, are widely accepted at Singapore's hotels, restaurants, and shopping malls. Western-connected ATMs are literally everywhere around the city -- a good thing, you're going to need them!

Tipping is not common practice in Singapore, however, you should round up to the nearest dollar when tipping drivers or others who provide a service. Read more about tipping in Asia.

Although as a traveler you probably won't be lucky enough to encounter any, Singapore's $10,000 bill is one of the world's highest valued currency notes!

Language:

  • Official Languages: Chinese, English, Bahasa Malay, Tamil (South Indian)

You'll certainly almost never encounter a language barrier during Singapore travel. With so many different ethnic groups needing to conduct business, English is spoken everywhere despite it being only a small portion of the population's native language. Even the Singaporean constitution is written in English.

Although bahasa Malay is the official national language of Singapore, only an estimated 17% of the residents understand it.

Singapore's unofficial, slang-heavy version of English is humorously referred to as 'Singlish' and steals words from Chinese, Tamil, and Malay. Despite being based on English, tourists can hardly understand the unique dialect punctuated with abbreviations from all languages. The government has been unsuccessfully running campaigns to stop the use and spread of Singlish.

Singapore Holidays and Festivals:

All the big Chinese holidays are celebrated with gusto in Singapore, particularly Chinese New Year, the Chinese Mooncake Festival, and the Hungry Ghosts Festival. Accommodation prices will skyrocket during these public holidays.

Ramadan is observed by Singapore's Islamic population, although it rarely affects transportation. Read more about traveling during Ramadan.

Singapore National Day is on August 9th and is celebrated annually with a large parade.

Getting There and Around:

With such a high population density on the island, private ownership of cars in Singapore is a luxury. Car owners must apply for the right to drive and then pay a tax that is one and a half times the book value of their car!

Public transportation is the way to go in Singapore. The excellent MRT and LRT systems run efficiently and trains are clean. The bus system is easy to navigate and your EZ-Link transportation card will save you money on them as well.

Singapore's Changi airport (airport code: SIN) is a work of art. Forget about the traditional, utilitarian airports with drab lights and delayed flights; Changi has the ambiance of a large shopping mall. You'll find six open-air gardens, a butterfly garden, children's playgrounds, a gym, showers, a movie theater, and even a swimming pool to kill time during long layovers!

If coming overland from Malaysia, try the comfortable bus from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore rather than flying.

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