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12 Things to remember when traveling to Singapore for the first time

(Featured image by Jared Ng via unsplash.com)

Who would have thought that I was once afraid to go to Singapore, when I have already been to this very progressive Asian country several times now? I was in high school when news about a certain Filipino was hanged there and that gave me a bad impression about this nation. I remember the case of Flor Contemplacion being the topic not only in class discussions at school, but also at church sermons (I was still a Catholic then), and certain public places. At home, my parents and I would also discuss it, watch the news together to see the development of her case, and even include her and her family in our prayers. Hence, when my husband told me about a job opportunity in Singapore that he wanted to pursue several years ago, I was at a crossroads and had to pray so hard about it.

I believe I only began to see this country in a different light when a good number of my friends started going to Singapore to work, too. My husband has also convinced me that it was really a nice place to work in, even raise a family, since the country is peaceful, pollution-free, yet more advanced in various ways than our homeland. He would show our girls and me his surroundings via FaceTime or Skype and assure us that Singapore is a safe place to live in and the only time you should fear anything is when you break their laws. Moreover, he himself has started to make good friends with the locals and has earned the respect of both his co-workers and those working for their clients.

By the time I finally had the opportunity to travel to Singapore and visit my husband, all the negative thoughts and anxieties I used to have against this country and its denizens were gone. I must admit that I even felt peace and excitement from the moment I first glimpsed of this country from the plane. In addition, it seemed like all the people I encountered during my first visit to Singapore were rather friendly, and that must have made a huge impression on me. Every year, since 2013, I have looked forward to visiting my husband and seeing some of our friends (and relatives) who have come to work and stay in this country, too.

During my last travel to Singapore, I decided to stay a day longer than I normally would. Unfortunately, my husband couldn’t get a leave off work on the weekdays that I was scheduled to visit him, so I had willed myself to explore the country by myself and start learning their transportation system – the only thing that really bugged me before. As I prepared for my trip, I tried to recall the things that I already knew about Singapore to put my mind at ease, and these are the very things that I would like to share with you, especially if you’re a Filipino traveling to Singapore for the first time.

1. Safety. I’m sure you’ve already heard or read about Singapore being one of the safest cities on earth. Indeed, very young children could walk around the neighborhood and go to school by themselves, commuting, without the fear of being ran over by motorists or worse, kidnapped. You would also find CCTVs all over the country. Knowing this helps me feel much less apprehensive about roaming their streets alone.

Moreover, random interviews conducted by young police officers and college students in military training are a common sight at MRT stations and other crowded places, in the evening and on holidays. From what I’ve heard and seen, they tend to stop and question those who are rather noisy, look untidy or drunk, and seem to be wandering aimlessly. Of course, there may be occasions when they would just pick any foreigner at random, too.

Although there’s nothing wrong about being questioned, it could still be a frightening experience for a tourist, right? Remember to always bring your passport with you then, in case you get stopped and questioned by an officer, and do pay attention to your appearance, try to speak quietly when talking to someone, walk confidently, and make sure you’re not committing any infraction.

2. Language. Most people in Singapore are bilingual and can both understand and speak English, not to mention street signs are in English too. You might encounter some, however, who aren’t that well-versed in English, so you may want to speak in the simplest or shortest way possible. For example, if you must ask the bus driver to drop you off at Waterfront Park, simply say, “Waterfront, can?” If he replies, “Can” or “Can, can”, that means yes (whereas no means no).

Other languages that many locals can speak/understand aside from English are Chinese (Mandarin), Malay, and Bahasa, even French among the younger generation or students.

3. Dealing with the locals. Singaporeans have different descents–Chinese, Malay, and Indian–and their country seems to be filled with tourists and expats, making it easy for anybody to blend in the crowd and not feel out of place. I have met many locals, and they all seemed nice, if not indifferent. I have also heard, however, of the racist or haughty ones, but it wasn’t until my last visit that I encountered a few of them. Perhaps I simply never noticed them before, or maybe the case was just different the last time I was there. But then again, one is bound to find one in any country, right?

Anyway, just be gracious if you encounter one. Remember that you’re a guest in their country and show them what great manners you have. Smile, be courteous all the time, show confidence in yourself, but avoid confrontations as well as attracting unnecessary or unfavorable attention by dressing appropriately and being mindful of your speech and body language. Same rules apply when dealing with any immigration officer, who could easily give anyone a hard time, especially a female from a third-world country traveling internationally for the first time, I heard. If you happen to be one, consider booking a flight at a bigger or more expensive airline if you can afford it, instead of a small, budget airline.  Trust me. 😉

Further, avoid stopping anyone in the streets just to ask for directions or anything. Understand that everyone seems to be in a hurry in Singapore, so don’t take it personally when someone doesn’t seem happy to assist you. Do your research then, pay attention to street signs, and download useful apps on your phone before going out the streets. If you really must ask, then choose someone who doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere or busy working.

4. Currency. Singapore dollar (SGD) is the local currency of Singapore. There are ATMs at MRT stations and malls, so if you ever ran out of cash, just go to such places and withdraw money in SGD. You may also use your international credit/debit card to pay for almost anything, especially at restaurants and mall shops.

5. A place to stay. Singapore is generally known for not-so-affordable apartment rentals and real estate. You may find transient rooms and apartments for rent that are quite affordable though on filipinosg.com and Airbnb. Or, you may book a room at a hotel, hostel, or even capsule hotel online via TravelBook.ph at a discounted price, especially if you’re booking weeks before you arrive in Singapore. When booking a place for you to stay, take note that the farther it is from the airport or the closer it is to the red districts, the cheaper the rent, usually.

If you have friends or relatives living in Singapore, you might want to get their recommendations, too. They’re often likely to know someone who has a transient house, room or bed space for rent that you might be able to rent at a price cheaper than the published rates. Even better, your friend or relatives might even have an available room or bed at their place that they may offer you for free, especially that you would only be staying for a few days. (Talk about Filipino hospitality!)

6. What to wear. Expect the weather in Singapore to be warm most of the time, so bring clothes that are appropriate for their climate. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t wear trendy but not exactly warm weather-friendly outfits. After all, young Singaporean professionals are quite known to be fashion aficionados, often seen sporting whatever’s the current fashion trend in the US and Europe. Hence, don’t be surprised to see locals wearing boots, scarves, and trench coats even on a very hot sunny day. Besides, all the office buildings and houses have air conditioning anyway.

7. Where to eat. There are so many places to eat at in Singapore, including hawkers’ place. There are eateries by the MRT stations too that serve decent meals starting at SGD 4.00. And by decent, I mean something that is not only filling, but also rather appealing to both sight and taste. On the other hand, fast food restaurants are usually found at the malls, the airport, and near MRT stations, where meals normally start at around SGD 8.00.

When it comes to drinks, do take note that unless you are dining at a restaurant, drinks are ordered or bought separately. Note also that coffee and tea are served without sugar and milk/creamer unless you specify.

8. Discipline. Reports show that Singapore is among the cleanest (and safest) countries in the world, so be sure to help maintain cleanliness and orderliness when you’re visiting. Familiarize yourself with their rules and obey them because failure to do so has a price – you would have to pay a hefty fine (starting at SGD500.00), get jailed, or both. Observe carefully how the locals do things and pay attention to signages. If you pay close attention even to the ground that you walk on, you’d notice that in certain areas, there are instructions written on them too! The following are just some of their common rules that you must remember:

a. No chewing gum. In case you’re not aware, chewing gums are prohibited in Singapore. Make sure you have already disposed of your gums before your plane lands in Singapore, or better yet, even before you board the plane going to Singapore.

b. No littering. Remember to throw your trash only in the designated garbage bins, and avoid drinking and eating in public transportations or terminals, particularly the MRT and buses. Mind you, there are CCTVs all over the place, so don’t even think about it. Itching to spit on the ground? Forget about it too!

c. Know your place. Literally. Everyone seems to be in a hurry in Singapore and this is very evident at MRT stations. Try to stall anyone by not being in your proper place, and you’ll find yourself being bumped on all sides, even shoved unapologetically, especially during rush hour. For instance, if you’re taking the escalator, be sure to stand on the left side; the right side is for those in a hurry, who prefer to walk up or down the moving escalator. (Note that it’s always keep left in Singapore.) If you’re about to board or alight the MRT, be sure to follow the arrows that tell you where to stand or pass through, too.

d. Carefully observe traffic rules, and don’t ever cross the streets if you’re not on the pedestrian lane or when the traffic light tells you not to do so. It’s common to see motorists slow down a block away when someone’s crossing the pedestrian lane. However, if you cross the streets when the red light for the pedestrians is still on, or you just cross anywhere except on the pedestrian lane, you’re giving the motorists every reason to run you over. Mind you, they can sue you even if you’re the one who got hurt, not to mention you’d have to pay for your own medical bills in case you would need medical attention. And, hospitalization, even medical check up, is certainly not cheap in Singapore!

e. Don’t do anything just out of curiosity or for the fun of it, especially when there’s already a warning sign posted that tells you otherwise like, do not push the emergency button on the train (unless it’s a real emergency), etc. Again, cameras are everywhere, and you may expect someone to notify the authority if you commit any infraction.

9. Transportation. To be able to use their public transport, you must have your own EZ-Link card. You cannot share it with your companion(s), by the way, and you may buy one and reload it at any MRT station. You may use the EZ-Link card not only at the MRT, but also on buses and certain taxis.

Although you may pay in cash when taking the bus, note that fare starts at SGD 1.50 (as of this writing). Bus drivers also do not provide change, so you’d better prepare the exact fare when taking the bus. On the other hand, some cabs accept credit/debit card payment, too.

When taking a bus, remember to use the door near the driver when entering, but exit through any other door. Sometimes, when there are too many passengers trying to get in, the driver will announce that it’s okay to enter through the door near him as well. Just don’t forget to tap your EZ-Link card on the card reader as you enter and exit the bus or you might lose all the credits stored in your card.

Take note that buses only load and unload passengers at designated bus stops. When inside the bus, remember to push the red button to make it stop.  Aside from the red push buttons, you might also see blue ones, which are specifically for PWDs in need of the driver’s assistance to get off the bus. Avoid occupying the reserved seats for senior citizens, pregnant women, or parents with young children both on the MRT and buses, too.

Lastly, understand that different people of different cultures take the public transportation. This is where you might find yourself assaulted with strong body odors, but try to avoid offending the other person by making rude remarks. Again, you’re a guest in their country. If you really must, be discreet when covering your nose.

10. Touring Singapore. Singaporeans appear to be workaholics and have very rigid disciplines, but they sure know how to appreciate the beauty in nature and their country has a lot to offer despite its size. There are many touristy places to see in Singapore, including beautiful parks, museums, shopping malls with interesting architectural designs, etc. To find out more about these places, you may visit http://www.yoursingapore.com. You may also take the city tour, which would allow you to tour the whole country in 24 hours – just sign up for it at the airport. Or, you may also download certain apps that could help make your travel to Singapore hassle-free.

Must read: Top 10 Useful Apps When Traveling to Singapore

11. Places of worship. Whatever your religion is, you’re bound to find a place of worship in Singapore. There are churches for Christians and Catholics, temples for Buddhists and Hindus, and mosques for Muslims in various parts of Singapore. Many of these religious places, particularly the temples, are also open to tourists for sightseeing.

12. Use of WiFi and prepaid SIM. There aren’t many public places that offer free use of WiFi in Singapore. Their telecommunication companies provide fast, reliable, and affordable post-paid Internet service, and that’s probably the reason malls and other public places do not see the need to provide free WiFi access. I was even told that it’s rather questionable when you meet someone who has already been working or living in Singapore for years, but still uses a prepaid mobile number. Apparently, that often suggests that the person has a poor credit history or worse.

As a tourist, instead of using your mobile provider’s roaming service, which could really cost a lot, consider buying a local SIM card. Their carriers normally offer great deals at an affordable price and both the SIM card and prepaid load are available at the airport and some convenience stores. Take note that passports are required when buying prepaid SIM cards. (I suppose this is one reason text scams are rather unheard of in Singapore.)

I believe these are basically all the things a (first-time) tourist must remember and observe when traveling to Singapore. They may seem like a lot to remember at first glance, but if you think about it, most of them are applicable when traveling to any place you’d be visiting for the first time. And, now that you are aware of them, go ahead plan and enjoy your trip to Singapore. ❤


Got some helpful tips when traveling to other places too? Do share in the comments below. Thanks. 



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