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What You Should NOT Do in Singapore as Told by a Local

Singapore is known as a “fine city,” both literally and figuratively. We take cleanliness and order very seriously on the island, and we expect tourists to respect that part of our culture when they visit. 

Some customs and laws are pretty much common sense, but there are a few other things you may not know are actually prohibited or frowned upon in Singapore. Even as simple as importing or selling chewing gum can result in a hefty fine! 

So, to save yourself from paying fines and penalties, here’s a list of what you should NOT do in Singapore, as told by a local. Trust me, abiding by the “don’ts” on this list will make your trip worry-free and breezy!

Don’t litter ANYWHERE


Singapore has very strict laws regarding cleanliness in the streets, public facilities, and even inside attractions and malls. Don’t litter your trash anywhere you go on the island, as getting caught doing so will incur a $1,000 fine. 

With such a hefty fine, it’s unlikely anyone would dare litter in the city again. Yet, some might underestimate the consequences, only to realise they’re facing a steep penalty of over $2,000 for a repeat offence!

Don’t sit on a table that has a tissue pack or umbrella on it


If you’re looking for a free table at a hawker centre or food court in Singapore, make sure you spot one without a tissue packet or an umbrella. Likewise, don’t just throw away a tissue packet on an empty table when you see one! 

Singaporeans practise “chope-ing,” which is a way locals reserve tables in crowded hawker centres. They leave a tissue packet or an umbrella on a table to signify to other people that it’s “taken,” and removing it is considered really impolite. 

Don’t open a gift in front of the person who gave it to you


In Singapore, it’s considered impolite to immediately open a gift in front of the person who gave it to you. Unlike other customs where people want to see your reaction to their gift, it’s best you wait until you’re home to reveal your excitement about it. 

Simply accept the gift, say your thanks, and keep it unopened until the end of the day. The case may be different if you were given food items like chocolate or cake, but it’s still better to leave the unwrapping for later. 

Don’t assume every local establishment is cashless


While many stores and restaurants in Singapore accept cashless payments (including taxis!), it’s still best practice to keep some change with you at all times. Some older establishments like hawker centres may only accept cash! 

You can’t always depend on free Wi-Fi around you if you’re planning to pay for things using your digital wallet either, so save yourself the embarrassment and keep some cash. 

Don’t skip the queues


Singaporeans really value order, even if it means waiting for hours in a long queue just to get lunch. Don’t try to skip your place in the queue, as people frown upon that. 

You’ll quickly notice that bus and train stations also heavily discourage skipping queues due to the signages on the walls and even on the platforms signifying where to stand and wait for your turn to board or alight. 

Don’t try to haggle prices at a hawker centre


Some hawker centres in Singapore are located adjacent to or within a market, like Tiong Bahru Market, but even if you’re successful at haggling better prices while shopping, don’t try testing your luck at a hawker stall. 

Prices are fixed at hawker stalls and haggling for better prices might piss off the stall keepers. If you find a hawker stall’s prices a bit too steep for its worth, it’s best to move one and find another one instead. 

Don’t leave your used dishes and trays on tables at a hawker centre


Hawker centres don’t offer the same ambience and service as a Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant, but you’re still expected to clean up after yourself once you’re done eating.

Don’t just stand up and leave a table filled with used dishes, as doing so is highly frowned upon by the locals and even the hawker centre management. Unless you’re incapable of carrying trays, always remember to clean up as you go! 

Don’t point at someone with your index finger


In many Asian cultures, including Singapore, pointing at someone with your index finger is considered rude. In fact, Singaporean kids are taught not to gesture at someone with an index finger from a very young age. 

Some older Singaporeans might take offence by the gesture even if you mean no harm or offence by it. 

Don’t carry gum with you entering Singapore 


Singapore has rules when it comes to the importing and selling of chewing gum, owing to the island’s strict laws on cleanliness. You can only chew gum if it’s prescribed by a doctor or dentist and only for medication purposes.

You won’t find stores selling chewing gum either, and getting caught importing chewing gum into Singapore may result in a hefty $1,000 fine and, in the worst cases, some jail time. If you accidentally bring gum with you, dispose of it properly! 

Don’t sing or make loud noises in public


When you’re in a public place like an MRT coach or bus station, don’t belt out the latest hit song today. Even as simple as blasting music in your headphones so loudly that others can hear what you’re listening to is frowned upon in Singapore. 

Busking or singing in public isn’t always accepted in Singapore, especially when you’re not paid to perform live. When speaking to others, keep your noise levels down, so you don’t disturb others around you. 

Don’t stand on the left side of the escalator


At almost every escalator in Singapore, you’ll notice that the left side is reserved for people in a hurry and the right side is for those who wish to stand patiently. Just because one side is free of people, doesn’t mean you take up the space. 

Leave the left side of the escalator free for people to walk up or down if you’re not planning on doing the same. Not only will it cause disorder, but you might hold up an unnecessary queue behind you as well. 

Don’t try to access someone else’s Wi-Fi connection


It’s illegal in Singapore to connect to someone else’s Wi-Fi without their permission or consent. You can find many places in Singapore that offer free access to the internet, but make sure to only connect to a network that indicates it’s for public use. 

If you happen to connect to a private network without the consent of the owner, you may be fined up to $10,000, plus the possibility of jail time for up to 3 years. This is mentioned in the Computer Misuse Act of 1993

Don’t smoke in public


In line with Singapore’s strict laws on cleanliness, smoking is prohibited in most public areas unless they are designated for smoking. Smoking laws are even stricter in places like parks and beaches, so don’t try to sneak a smoke break there! 

If you get caught smoking in public, you may be fined up to $1,000. Usually, first-time offenders may be fined a minimum of $200, but repeat offenders may be fined higher. 

Don’t eat inside buses or MRT coaches


Before you think about grabbing a quick snack on the way somewhere in Singapore, think about the city’s strict laws about eating inside buses or MRT coaches. It’s illegal to eat or drink any wet or dry foods inside while commuting! 

Eating or drinking inside buses or trains not only causes unnecessary messes, but the smell may linger as well. You also can’t bring pungent fruit like durian inside any mode of public transport, and getting caught doing so will incur at least a $500 fine! 

Don’t always leave a tip


Tipping in Singapore is not customary because the Goods and Services Tax (GST), included in your restaurant or hotel bill, serves as a substitute for tips. In most cases, wait staff may even refuse tips if you offer them directly.

If you do, however, see a tip jar at a local cafe or establishment, feel free to leave something! They’re not super common, but you can show your gratitude this way if you stumble across one! 

Don’t forget to flush a public toilet after using it


Did you know that you could be fined a minimum of $150 if you forget to flush a public toilet in Singapore? This may probably be one of the oddest laws there is in Singapore (followed by the chewing gum one), but locals are pretty serious about it! 

At least you won’t really have to worry about doing your business in a dirty toilet because Singapore takes cleanliness seriously. Anyway, never forget to flush after using a public toilet, or you’ll be flushing extra cash down the drain!

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