Tourists Be Warned: 13 Things You Just Can’t Do in Singapore

Tourists Be Warned: 13 Things You Just Can’t Do in Singapore

You can’t afford to make mistakes in the “fine city”!

But first, a TRUE story…

There we were, my colleagues and I, enjoying a nightcap in Singapore’s Geylang district after a full workweek of filming. We were tired but happy — beer-filled glasses kept an arm’s length away, eyes glazed with a curious mix of fatigue and cheer. We were laughing about something stupid when the police approached our table.

Panic tumbled and twirled deep in my gut when I heard what they said. You know how it is in the movies… when at first, something seems so unbelievable that it sounds like distant mumbling but then it becomes loud and clear and very real?

“May we see some identification, please? Do you know that you’re not allowed to drink at this hour?” My. Heart. Stopped. (Read along if you want to know what happens next…)

Living in a “fine city”

Singapore is known as THE fine city for two very good (and witty) reasons. One: It is actually a fine city to settle in, assuming that you have the means to keep up with the high cost of living. Two, and more importantly for (ignorant) visiting folk (like me and my friends), it’s notorious for outrageous fines — assuming that you’ve been proven guilty of an offence.

things you can't do in singapore

Lest you find yourself in a similar situation as ours, let me help shed light on an important matter. Don’t visit Singapore clueless, unless you want to pay a hefty fine or spend some time at the police station. Here are things you just can’t do in Singapore.

Also read: 72 Hours in Singapore: The Ultimate Guide to Experiencing The Best of The Little Red Dot

1. You can’t sell/buy gum on Singapore soil

things you can't do in singapore

Doesn’t matter if it’s bubble gum or plain ol’ chewing gum. Just say goodbye to gum altogether while in Singapore. Importing and selling gum has been banned in the country since 1992, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon. Gum dealing is hardly something you’d classify as black market activity, but thank vandals who had the urge to “decorate” the country’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) trains with — you guessed it — gum. Talk about diversifying your art’s medium.

Fine: Up to S$100,000 if you’re caught selling gum. Or even prison time.

2. You can’t eat or drink inside MRT trains

Actually, you can’t eat or drink inside MRT stations either. They’ll allow you to bring in packed food and your tumbler, but you can’t consume their contents within the vicinity. You’ll have to wait until you settle down somewhere else.

Fine: Up to S$500.

3. You can’t smoke just anywhere

things you can't do in singapore

There are designated areas for smokers to do their business. If one is caught smoking in private or public areas that don’t allow it, you will get fined — or even summoned to court.

Fine: Up to S$200 if you’re caught smoking in a prohibited area; up to S$1,000 if you’re found guilty in court.

4. You absolutely can’t litter

Like any other city, Singapore gets dirty by the end of the day, too. But the most important thing you have to remember is that Singaporeans clean up pretty well. We stayed across a hawker centre during our stay and no matter how messy the place got at night, it was always spotless the next morning. As was the case with the rest of the city.

Fine: Up to S$300 for first-time offenders, regardless of what you carelessly toss out from your pocket or bag. Candy wrapper or random piece of paper, maybe?

5. You can’t make Grab and cab drivers wait

things you can't do in singapore

Okay, you actually can’t be fined for this. At the most, you’ll find yourself with an irritated cabbie the entire ride or a Grab driver who’s nowhere to be found because he or she already cancelled your booking. Point is: If you book a Grab anywhere, you better make sure you’re ready to board. That’s the proper thing to do.

6. You can’t be late

Back home in the Philippines, we have this thing called Filipino time. If you haven’t heard of it, look it up. I’m sure you’re bound to Google some website that will explain in detail Filipinos’ uncanny ability to find being 30 minutes (to an hour or hours — yikes!) late perfectly acceptable and rather common. Please know that most of us aren’t proud of this globally renowned trait. So yes, this too has no fine. But you should avoid it at all costs, especially in a country where mostly everything is done on-the-dot.

7. You can’t cross the street just anywhere

things you can't do in singapore

To be honest, we actually did this once… only because we were in a hurry and the pedestrian crossing was far, far away (this may or may not be an exaggeration). If you do get caught jaywalking in Singapore, know that your wallet will shed tears.

Fine: S$20 to S$1,000, but the price hikes up to S$5,000 for repeat offenders. In extreme cases, you could be jailed for three months.

8. You can’t stay on your right

You won’t be fined for this either and most people will know you’re a tourist if you constantly stay on your right. Singaporean etiquette suggests we stay on our left while walking the streets and taking the escalator. There’s no harm in complying.

9. You can’t drink outside permitted hours in Liquor Control Zones

things you can't do in singapore

So now we go back to story time. Where were we? Ah yes, so about five police officers had surrounded our table, asking me and my colleagues for IDs. Apparently, they were conducting some sort of raid in the neigbourhood. And apparently, we did not know that in certain areas called Liquor Control Zones, people are NOT ALLOWED TO CONSUME ALCOHOL IN PUBLIC PLACES from:

  • 10.30pm to 7am, Monday to Friday
  • 7am on Saturdays to 7am on Mondays
  • 7pm on the eve of public holidays to 7am on the day after the public holiday.

Two out of our group of four were drinking IN PUBLIC (the restaurant had seats on the sidewalk) at around 2am on a Saturday morning. Yes, we were tipsy, tired fools.

Thankfully, though, the police (bless you, kind sirs and madams) let us off with a warning. We were to finish our beers and go home. Or stay, but this time only to chat over food and non-alcoholic beverages.

Lesson learned: There are signages all over about the things you can’t do in Singapore

We stayed, of course. And later on, we saw other police officers emerging from the establishment across the street — conducting similar inspections, no doubt. So the next time you go out for drinks in Singapore (or any other country, for that matter!), make sure you know their basic liquor laws. It turns out there were a number of signs posted around the neighbourhood detailing the liquor ban hours. Had we paid more attention, we would have known. We just got lucky, but that might not be the case for others.

Fine: Up to S$1,000 for those caught drinking in Liquor Control Zones.

10. You can’t spit in public

This is an offence I strongly believe in. I despise people who think spitting in the streets is acceptable. Can’t you go to a restroom for that? Do it in Singapore and you’ll definitely pay.

Fine: Up to S$1,000.

11. You can’t “forget” to flush the toilet

toilet etiquette

Another offence I agree with… and one that just shows how disgusting humans can get. Did you know that if you’re caught leaving a public toilet without flushing after use in Singapore, you could be charged nearly ₱6,000?

Fine: Around S$150.

12. You can’t feed the pigeons

One thing you’ll notice in Singapore (especially in parks or where there’s an abundance of food) is that there are a lot of pigeons just eyeing what’s in your hand. Don’t be tempted to feed these feathered friends. You’ll regret it if you get caught.

Fine: Up to S$500.

13. You can’t be annoyingly loud

things you can't do in singapore

This covers anything from just making a racket to playing a musical instrument in an annoying manner. As long as you’re caught doing this in any public space, you can and will get fined. This is why busking requires a license in Singapore. To obtain one for yourself, you must first audition before the National Arts Council… just to make sure that you really can sing and play an instrument.

Fine: Up to S$1,000.

So keep in mind…

things you can't do in singapore

Just kidding. There are.

There are more offences you can research about in Singapore, but I stopped at 13 because a lot of people believe it’s an ominous number. May that serve as a warning, from one traveller to another. But hey, there’s nothing to be worried about if you just follow the rules. Now, how to implement these in the Philippines…

Also read: 10 World-Class Islands in the Philippines Travellers Rave About

About Author

Alyosha Robillos
Alyosha Robillos

In Russia, Alyosha is a boy's name popularized by literary greats Dostoevsky and Tolstoy—but this particular Alyosha is neither Russian nor a boy. She is a writer from the Philippines who loves exploring the world as much as she likes staying at home. Her life's mission is to pet every friendly critter there is. When she isn't busy doing that, she sniffs out stories and scribbles away on the backs of old receipts. She is an advocate of many things: culture and heritage, the environment, skincare and snacking, to name a few. She will work for lifetime supplies of french fries and coffee. Or yogurt. Or cheese, preferably Brie.

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