What Not to Do When Traveling in Singapore

Before traveling to any new destination I always do some research on its culture. I like to know before hand what is the proper etiquette of the place and just as important, what not to do. Blending in as much as possible is a smart safety strategy for the solo traveler. Also, this allows one to more readily sync in with the environment of your target destination.

Singapore is one of the world’s premiere cities. It is praised for its low crime, cleanliness, efficiency, friendly people and overall modern beauty. Peaceful multiculturalism makes this place a wonderful city to visit. The high quality of life is coveted here. The foundation for this most civilized city-state is rooted in its laws and customs that are routinely followed by the disciplined Singaporean citizens.

Knowing what to do and what not to do prior to visiting Singapore is a must lest you find yourself in an awkward situation that could result in a monetary fine or God forbid, land you in jail. Hence, I have put together an extensive list for the solo traveler interested in visiting Singapore. Some of the practices are common sense and some of the taboos might shock you.

This blog will share what not to do because these are the most problematic and potentially onerous. My next blog will be what to do when in Singapore. Here’s the list!

1. Don’t Bring Gum into Singapore

Possessing gum can result in a $500 fine or an arrest. “Gum control” is serious here. You may possess gum for medicinal reasons only with a doctor’s prescription.

2. Don’t Spit in Public Places

If you have a cold or must clear your throat of phlegm do it in your room or in a bathroom stall. Spitting is considered unsanitary and rude.

3. Don’t Litter

Littering is a major taboo. Singapore has plain-clothed NEA, National Environment Agency, officers throughout the city patrolling the streets, sidewalks and public places looking for culprits. A first litter offense will result in a $120 fine. Repeated offenders will be forced to pay $1,000-$2,000 per offense and will have to participate a “Corrective Work Order” which entails a work session of cleaning a park, a public place or doing some type of garbage detail.

4. Don’t Access an Unsecured Wi-Fi

Tapping into an unsecured Wi-Fi is considered hacking and is a crime under the Computer Misuse Act. Accessing the Internet through a secure network with a password is must to stay out of trouble. Travel Tip: turn off your Wi-Fi roaming function on all of your tech devices before landing at the airport.

5. Don’t Smoke in Public

Unlike many international metropolitan cities, outside smoking laws in Singapore are stringent. You can only smoke outdoors in designated areas. Look for the yellow rectangular boxes or the large smoking cans on the sidewalks. Smoking is allowed here. Likewise, some establishments such as hotels have designated outdoor smoking areas. Indoor smoking is strictly prohibited. Fines range from $200-$1,000 for smoking violations.

6. Don’t Do Drugs

Penalties for drug use, possession and trafficking are very harsh. Random drug testing occurs if the authorities suspect usage or possession. There is a mandatory death penalty for selling drugs. In addition, you are in violation of Singaporean drug laws if you have drugs in your system when entering this city-state. Likewise, bring a copy of all of your meds’ prescriptions signed by your physician to avoid any suspicion. Bottom line: steer clear of anything that is associated with illegal drug use.

7. Don’t Vandalize Property

Graffiti, marking on or carving on anything that is not yours is considered to be vandalism. If caught, you could be jailed or face a public “caning,” a punitive practice which is still routinely used here.

8. Don’t Walk Around Nude or Partake in Pornography

Nudity is not tolerated in Singapore, even in the privacy of your hotel room or wherever you are staying. If this is your common practice, close the curtains! A $2,000 fine or a three-month jail sentence is the standard punishment for a nudity violation. Also, pornography of any kind, as well as, viewing pornography is a serious crime here. Don’t do it!

9. Don’t Eat on the MRT

Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit system is second to none. It is against the law to eat or drink while on the MRT. Similarly, you cannot bring the delicious but highly smelling durian fruit on the system. Fines of $500 are common if you are caught violating these laws.

10. Don’t Jaywalk

Silly as it sounds, jaywalking is against the law. Cross the streets only at designated crosswalks. Singaporeans know this law and thus, discipline themselves not to violate it. Solo travelers might not realize this is illegal. 

11. Don’t Forget to Flush the Toilet

As outlandish as this seems, it is violation not to flush the toilet after use in a public restroom. Random checks are conducted and if you forget and get caught, you will be fined $150. Another travel tip: always carry a pack of tissues in your purse. Toilet paper is not always available in public restrooms.

This next list reflects what is culturally unacceptable and frowned upon by Singaporeans. Because there are several large population groups with different religious beliefs and ethnic customs, it’s better to know what you shouldn’t do and refrain from these things in whatever crowd you find yourself in. Here are some of the top cultural don’t when in Singapore.

1. Don’t Discuss Religion

Engaging in religious discussion is considered rude. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Taoism are routinely practiced here. The native Singaporeans are closely tied to their religions and the customs of their particular religion. These major religious sects have peacefully co-existed since Singapore’s inception. Live and let live is the religious perspective here, respect this practice.

2. Don’t Show the Bottoms of Your Feet

Feet are considered dirty and lowly. Showing the soles of your feet whether crossing your legs or putting them on a surface where other can see them is not acceptable.

3.  Don’t Touch People on the Head

I don’t know what would cause someone to do this but a person’s head is considered to be sacred and thus, should not be touched.

4. Don’t Tip

In Singapore it is not customary to tip and is actually frowned upon. Typically, a 10% service charge will be applied to your bill for food, drink or other services. Even the taxi drivers don’t accept tips.

5. Don’t Eat or Shake Someone’s Hand with Your Left Hand

This is primarily a Muslim taboo. Using the left hand is considered to have bad or evil intentions. Lefties be forewarned.

6. Don’t Lose Your Temper

“Saving face” is a common cultural norm in Asian countries. To raise your voice, get angry or want to physically fight someone is stupid when traveling to this part of the world. They pride themselves in solving all misunderstandings or disputes in a civilized manner where everyone comes out OK. Keep your cool while in Singapore.

7. Don’t Point at Someone with Your Index Finger

As a child I learned some people take offense when you point at them. Some people interpret this as being a gesture that connotes servitude. Singaporeans consider finger pointing to be rude and will not respond to someone pointing a finger at them.

8. Don’t Rest Your Chopsticks in a Bowl or On a Plate

Place them on a chopstick rest or on a separate plate. Also, never reach across a person’s chopsticks when sampling different dishes at the table.

Stay tuned for my tips about what you should be doing while in Singapore! If you've even been, please share your experience in the comments section.

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