Singapore Etiquette: 8 Dos and Don'ts to Keep in Mind

Singapore Etiquette: 8 Dos and Don’ts to Keep in Mind

Respect goes a long way.

Cultural diversity is one of Singapore’s main draws, evident from its wide food selections found at hawker centres and aesthetic heritage districts. On the other hand, the influence of various cultures and ethnicities gives rise to norms and taboos relatively unknown among foreigners. With the country now fully reopened to vaccinated travellers, here is a handy guide to Singapore etiquette for tourists who are visiting our sunny shores.

Also read: 10 Popular Neighbourhoods in Singapore First-Timers Should Visit

General Singapore etiquette that tourists should follow

1. DO queue up in an orderly fashion

singapore queue

Image credit: Jnzl’s Photos

Among the important Singapore etiquette for tourists, this takes the cake for being the most familiar. Singaporeans love to queue since many believe in the saying “Good things are worth the wait”. As such, they are hardwired to patiently wait for their turn, with hopes that there’ll be a good deal in return for their time spent. Hence, the act of jumping queues is frowned upon, as this may upset these antsiest people who have been lining up for hours. 

Should you decide to join in to see what the hype is all about, remember to head to the back of the line and queue orderly.

2. DON’T eat or drink on public transport

mrt train

Image credit: shawnanggg

Unlike countries like Japan and South Korea, Singapore prohibits the consumption of food and drinks on public transport. This is implemented to keep trains and buses sparkling clean, ensuring that every commuter can enjoy a pleasant ride on a world-class public transportation system.

A S$500 fine will be imposed if you get caught by any of the cameras or personnel. As insignificant as this amount may sound to some, surely you will be better off spending this money elsewhere.

Also read: Top 5 Most Interesting MRT Stations in Singapore

3. DO stay on the left side when riding escalators

Image credit: Eric Pesik

Just like how Singapore’s cars abide by left-hand traffic, locals also keep to the left while on escalators. This allows other people (who are probably rushing) to “overtake” on the right side. If you don’t keep left, expect that you will probably hear some disgruntled sighs or huffs coming from the impatient person behind you. After all, Singaporeans have a reputation for being among the planet’s fastest walkers! 

If you’re ever unsure about which side to stand on, just follow the locals’ lead: They will naturally steer towards the left when boarding the escalators.

4. DON’T sit at tables with “free” tissue packets

hawker centre

Image credit: Aapo Haapanen

Imagine walking past tables at a hawker centre and noticing an inconspicuous tissue packet on an empty table. Thinking nothing of it, you take a seat at the table — only to be scolded by the “owner” who has now returned with their meal.

Unfortunately, just like how there’s no free lunch in this world, there are also no free tissues at Singapore’s hawker centres. This act of “reserving” a table using one’s personal belongings is known as the chope culture. These personal items are usually portable and inexpensive ones, such as tissue packets, lanyards, and name cards. It’s especially common to see these happening during peak hours at any food establishment, leaving you high and dry as you struggle to find a table of your own.

Also read: 10 Best Hawker Centres in Singapore That Locals & Travelling Foodies Swear By

5. DO clean up after yourselves at public dining places

Speaking of hawker centres, did you know that it is now mandatory for all diners to return their dirty crockery and trays, as well as to clean table litter up after their meal? 

Launched by the National Environmental Agency in May 2021, the new ruling was implemented to raise public hygiene standards amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Enforceable as an offence, first-time offenders will be handed a warning, while recalcitrant offenders must pay a S$300 fine.

6. DON’T discuss religious and political topics

singapore etiquette

Image credit: filadendron via CanvaPro

As Singapore is a multi-religious and multicultural society, it is important to maintain peace and amicability, especially with people whom you are meeting for the first time. By avoiding sensitive topics such as religion and politics, we can minimise the possibility of creating a negative impression, and instead, focus more on establishing connections that could later develop into meaningful friendships.

7. DO learn the Singapore lingo


Image credit: The Digital Movement

Singlish is Singapore’s very own variant of the English language, and locals are pretty proud of it! A unique fusion of various languages and dialects, Singlish helps to shorten long sentences into succinct words. 

That said, you might want to take some time to familiarise yourself with its extensive vocabulary. Once you do master it, however, you can blend in with the locals and you won’t “catch no ball” anymore.

Also read: 34 Singlish Phrases to Know Before Visiting Singapore

8. DON’T vandalise or deface any property

vandalism sign

Image credit: Jnzl’s Photos

Singapore takes pride in protecting and conserving its landmarks. These are encompassed in the Vandalism Act, which seeks to prosecute any acts pertaining to stealing from, destroying, or damaging public and private property. Those convicted will face a fine… or even a jail term with possible corporal punishment. So, it’s definitely not worth taking the risk to do such rash actions!

Also read: 8 Things That Only Culturally Insensitive Travellers Do 

With these do’s and don’ts now made known to all, make sure to follow Singapore etiquette and customs for an enjoyable time while visiting!

Featured image credit: Karl Baron | Flickr

About Author

Jerald Ang

Jerald is always looking at aviation news and his favourite pastime is plane spotting. When he is taking a break, you'll find him either indulging in his Pokémon games or searching for his escape.