What is there to say about the customs and culture of Singapore? I was lucky to visit during its 50th anniversary so everything was really bright and there was a lot going on, however I got the feeling that this was not something unusual but part of everyday life here.
Even though it is plopped at the bottom of Malaysia and the national language remains Malay (I also recognised a lot of Malaysian dishes there), it is very different to the rest of Southeast Asia, and many refer to it as planet Singapore because of this very reason!
Don’t get me wrong… It looks a bit like some of the larger and more modern cities of the area, and the food is distinctly Asian, but if you have never been to Asian before – consider this an introduction to Asia for beginners.
If you would like to dip your toes in to the Asian holiday market or want to warm up before a longer trip to places such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia etc. Add a transfer with a few days in Singapore. You will get a feel for the cuisine, the people and the climate whilst still being somewhere which feels very western, and where I met no one who couldn’t speak English!
Some things to point out:
Crime… Crime rates in Singapore are very low and you can usually feel pretty comfortable (especially in popular tourist areas) walking around in small groups and even alone during any time of day (or night). However remember that anywhere you have large numbers of tourists there are always people trying to scam you or pick your pockets. Use common sense and stay safe.
Dress… Singapore is a very modern place and has a modern view of life. Many people, especially locals dress very casual and it is not uncommon to see shorts & t-shirts. With any women wearing very short skirts and shorts – it is a very hot and humid place after all. As such you don’t need to worry too much about your appearance, however it’s not a beach resort so when you’re not on the beach remember to be respectful and cover up a bit – it’s not a place to wander around in a bikini! Also be mindful if you wish to visit any of the religious sites as they will have their own rules and expectations.
Drinking… There are plenty of bars and all of the restaurants, hotels and supermarkets sell plenty of alcoholic beverages so if you enjoy a drink you won’t miss out here – after all this is the birth place of one of the world’s most famous cocktails; the Singapore Sling, a gin based cocktail also containing cherry brandy, Cointreau, Benedictine, grenadine, pineapple juice, lime juice and bitters. However be respectful and drink responsibly – I didn’t see anyone walking around in public with a beer! The legal age for consuming and buying alcohol in Singapore is 18.
Drugs… No matter where you are you should avoid drug use, however I know that a lot of people enjoy recreational drugs… In Singapore in particular I would advise one thing – give it a miss, you can always get drunk! Drug use and carrying offences in Singapore are harsh and you certainly do not want to bring drugs in to the country as trafficking drugs (even smaller amounts) can carry the death penalty.
Money… They use the Singapore Dollar but cards are accepted everywhere and they seem to automatically assume that you will pay by card so I think if need be you can get by without any cash out here… Although I always like to carry a bit just in case!
Public signs of affection… As with their modern view on dress, this is a place where you can walk around holding hands and a quick peck on the cheek or lips is allowed, however anything more is frowned upon and should remain in your hotel room.
Sex… As with just about everywhere sex in public is illegal so keep this to your room, and close your curtains! Nudity in public (including being seen from outside your hotel room) is considered to be pornographic, and this is banned in Singapore. Prostitution however is legal in Singapore as long as it is done in private. Prostitutes need to carry a health card but this is poorly regulated and as with everywhere this profession exists, it is often run hand in hand with other illegal practices such as human trafficking. Also be mindful that the age of consent in Singapore is 18.
Smoking… It is illegal to smoke indoors in Singapore which includes restaurants and hotel rooms, with there often being a 300 Singapore Dollar fine attached to such offences. Even in public parks etc. there are specific smoking areas… I advise smokers to stick to these or face similar fines, even if just for littering which carries a fine (just as a side note spitting is also considered littering), as you will see hardly any rubbish in the streets (especially in the marina area). On your way home, as with many Asian airports Changi Airport (at least in terminal 3) has a smoking area. The legal smoking age in Singapore is 18.
Tipping… In many restaurants a service charge of 10% is already included in your bill, however other than this if it is not included or you are travelling by taxi / going on a tour / having your bags carried etc. tipping is not customary and completely at your discretion.