Practical Things You Need to Know About Singapore
January 1, 1970
by Lee Kellie
There have been many articles written about what to see and what to do in Singapore, but what about the nitty-gritty seemingly minute day-to-day things that actually do make up a big part of your travel experience? Culture shocks are fine, you are visiting a place to learn more about their culture anyway, but not when they lead to a quarrel between you and a local. I compiled a (non-exhaustive) list of all the little practical tips you need to know when travelling to Singapore that people do not actually tell you.
Simply put, there are none. Singapore lies just 1°N of the equator and experiences a tropical climate, which means it is summer all year round. The coldest day of the year is around 20°C (when it rains) and the warmest day of the year is 30°C (when it is sunny outside.) If the winter cold in your country is too much to bear, you would probably like to consider a passing a warm winter in Singapore.
It rains a lot in Singapore, almost twice or thrice a week. Once, it did not rain for close to a month and the news declared it big draught. With rain so frequent, you may think that Singaporeans carry an umbrella around with them all the time, but they actually don’t. Most showers pass within an hour, so we usually just stay indoors to wait. Otherwise, there is a 70% chance that there is a sheltered route to the place you are getting to, although it may take slightly longer than walking outside (and you may get lost if you aren’t too familiar with all the underpasses and overhead bridges.)
Because of an agreement between the Singapore and Brunei governments, SGD $1 = BND $1. So if you happen to have any cash left over from your last trip to Brunei, you can spend it in Singapore. The stores cannot reject your Brunei ringgit.
Even if you do not have any Brunei ringgit when you arrive in Singapore, do not be surprised that you may have some in your wallet upon your departure, because you might just be getting your change in Brunei currency. Just as how the stores cannot reject your Brunei ringgit, you can’t reject theirs as well.
Barring any train faults, it will take about an hour to cross the country on the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT.) That’s our name of our subway / metro / tube system, whatever you may want to call it. The MRT may be efficient, but I highly recommend taking the bus, since most of the train lines run underground, and most of the views are above ground.
Contrary to most expectations, Uber is not the most cost-efficient way of getting around town. In fact, it is even more expensive than dialling for a taxi. The transportation that is cheaper than dialling for a taxi would then be flagging for a taxi so that there are no call charges (SGD $2.30.) For an even cheaper ride, try downloading local driver crowdsourcing app Grab.
If you speak English, congratulations! You will have no problems communicating with the locals. Because of its history as a British colony, the lingua franca of Singapore is English. It is also the first language of most Singaporeans (less those who were from elsewhere and have only just received their citizenship.)
Malay is the national language because Singapore was a part of Malaya until the Brits took over. And close to 60% of the population speaks some Chinese because of their ancestry.
In case you speak English, Malay or Chinese but realise you cannot seem to understand what the locals are saying close to 90% of the time, that is because they are speaking Singlish, a colloquial language which is some sort of a cross between English vocabulary x Malay grammar x Chinese pronunciation. Just let them know (nicely) that you only speak English, and they are most likely to start speaking understandable English with you.
The City and the Country
Singapore is a city-state, which means the entire city is a country in and of itself. Which also means that there is only one city in this country. Because of that Singaporeans tend to use the words city / country / state / nation / capital interchangeably. They all refer to the place Singapore City, Singapore.
Firstly, prices of cigarettes are prohibitively high.
Secondly, there is a very high chance that you are smoking illegally if you just decide to take a puff wherever and whenever you want to. You are not allowed to smoke in and around buildings, bus stops and most public areas. You will have to seek out a “smoking zone,” usually denoted by a little yellow box painted on to the ground and be inside of it to smoke a cigarette. Smoking even just next to it might land you a hefty fine.
Other “Fine” Things
Singapore is not known as a “fine city” for no reason. Many acts which the government considers to be uncivilised or which may potentially be a public nuisance have a price tag to them.
Looking at your phone while crossing the road
You are allowed to be holding your mobile device in your hands as you cross the road, but you should resist the urge to read incoming messages or finishing off the last piece of the puzzle to unlock the next level in your latest game while standing on the tarmac.
Eating in buses and trains
It is not illegal to carry food and beverages on board, but it should not be in your mouth. Do not even attempt to drink mineral water.
Even that tiny piece of paper that slipped out of your hand accidentally could set you back unnecessarily by a few hundred bucks. But there is no need to worry about having to carry your trash everywhere with you, because you can find a rubbish bin literally everywhere in Singapore. There should be a trash can at every bus stop; if you are in a mall or a public building, your best bets are the lift lobbies, escalator landings or the toilets.
Keywords: Singapore, Practicalities, FYI