I remember being in New York, talking to a tour guide, and when I mentioned I was from Singapore, and her reply was: “Oh, it’s a beautiful city”.
And she wasn’t the only one, I’ve come across many foreign friends who have sung the praises of Singapore – from the food to the cleanliness, and even the government – it seems that travellers are rather enamoured by our country. But wait till they hear about things tourists should never do in Singapore.
What makes Singapore such a well-ordered society, admired by many around the world is in no small part due to the rather firm hand of the government. The running joke is the layered meanings in calling Singapore a “fine city”.
On the one hand, Singapore is beautifully clean, with a nice integration of nature in and amongst the concrete skyscrapers. On the other, well, you can get fined even for the smallest of things, some of which many foreigners deem as silly.
So heads up, here are 5 things tourists should never do in Singapore, if you want a stress-free visit.
1. Don’t Buy or Sell any Form of Gum
This is one law that puzzles even the most law-abiding citizen, and it goes way back. Chewing gum has been banned in Singapore since 1992, and the ban was birthed because of quite a number of used and spent gum being left on the seats of public buses, letterboxes, keyholes, and many more public areas.
Cleaning the stubborn lumps off our shiny streets became quite a headache for the government, who decided to institute a ban as a last-ditch solution. You can’t import, buy, or sell it. So, no, you won’t be finding a gum wall like the one in Seattle (pictured above) anywhere in Singapore.
Interestingly, the law doesn’t exactly cover the consumption of it, so if you still can find people chewing gum if they somehow managed to sneak them into the country, but you won’t find them gum littering because…
2. Don’t Litter, Anywhere
Next on our list of things tourists should never do in Singapore is also known as the other famous cardinal sin – littering. I mean, we have to live up to our moniker of “Clean and Green City” don’t we?
Part of Singapore’s strategy for combating these social ills (if you may consider them so) is implementing a substantial monetary penalty should you be caught. In Singapore, if you’re a first-time offender for littering, you can be fined up to $300 SGD just for a piece of tissue paper that didn’t find its way into a bin.
Yes, yes, I can hear you gasping in disbelief, but it is what it is, and you can’t deny that it has been effective in curbing litter on the streets of Singapore. So be wary, and frankly, be nice to throw your thrash away in the proper bins.
3. Don’t Stand on the Right Side of the Escalator
This is less of a law and more along the lines of Singaporean social etiquette. And by not standing on the right side we mean to stand on the left side which is the right (correct) side.
Okay, confusion aside, this is something that needs a little bit of context. Singapore is a heavily economic driven society and in today’s results-based world, we move at a quick pace, so quick that Singaporeans have been known to be the world’s fastest walkers.
While places like Tokyo are starting to advocate for its people to stand on both sides for safety reasons, it’s not something you’ll find happening any time soon here. We’d suggest standing patiently on the left side of the escalator, lest you incur the wrath of a visibly annoyed, yet all too polite Singaporean to tell you off, glaring down at you from behind.
You can feel the vibes, trust us.
4. Don’t Drink in Public Outside Permitted Hours
This is one law that is relatively new, instated only about five years ago. The law came into effect in 2015, two years after the 2013 Little India Riots that occurred as a result of mobs that were under the influence of alcohol. The disruption and damage were so severe that some 300 police officers were dispatched to deal with approximately 300 migrant labourers. (It’s less awesome than it sounds.)
The events of 2013 hence led to the Liquor Control Act in 2015 which regulates the supply as well as the consumption of alcohol in public places. Convenience stores like 7-Eleven and Cheers aren’t allowed to sell you alcohol past 10.30PM as well.
I’d get it, to many foreigners, it seems crazy that you’re not able to purchase alcohol after a certain timing, so we’d suggest to purchase them early and bring them to your hotel for a safer night of drinking.
This, of course, does not extend to bars, restaurants, and clubs, assuming you are consuming within the premises of the establishment.
5. Don’t Eat & Drink on Public Trains
While public transport systems overseas permit you to eat and drink whilst commuting, that unfortunately isn’t allowed in Singapore. As with most laws in Singapore, the punishment is rather severe, with fines amounting up to $500SGD, even for drinking from a bottle of water.
To be clear, it’s absolutely prohibited on public trains, but discouraged on public buses. So, if you feel like snacking, there’s technically no penalty to do so on buses, although we’d still recommend for you not to, just to avoid leaving an unnecessary mess that the bus drivers will have to inevitably clean up.
While everything seems to be extremely strict, it has no doubt led to a safe and clean society, leaving you with only one thing to worry about during your travels in Singapore – where to go for the best food.
And be sure not to consume them on the trains!