Must-know travel tips before going to Singapore

Known for all its cultural landmarks, good food, and cleanliness, Singapore is one of our favorite holiday destinations. It’s just a 4-hour flight away, but it has a completely different mix of cultures that still makes it a new experience for Filipino tourists. 

It’s always good to have some local knowledge under your belt before traveling, to save you money, hassle, and time while navigating a new country, so here’s 12 Singapore travel tips you need to know before traveling to the Lion City.

1. You might have to pay for tissues at restaurants

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While in the Philippines, most restaurants let you grab as many table napkins as you need, in Singapore there are times that you need to pay a little extra for your wet or dry tissues

Beware, because some restos – especially Chinese banquet-style ones – are sneaky and put the tissues on the table by default – next thing you know, there’ll be an extra 50 cents to SGD1 (~P18.09-P36.19) charged to your bill.

It’s arguable that the few cents are worth it, given that they’re a pack of good quality tissues instead of the flimsy and tiny table napkins we usually get in our own restaurants. But feel free to leave them behind on the table or return them to the cashier if you prefer to use your own.

2. The driver’s seat is on the right

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When you get into your friend’s car or a taxi in the Philippines, it’s only understandable that you open the right front door first – after all, that’s what we’re used to.

But if you do that in Singapore, you’ll be met with the driver sitting in your supposed passenger seat, and lots of confusion. Just like in the UK, Singapore drivers sit at the right side of the car – important to keep in mind to avoid awkward car situations. 

Or to be safe, just get in the back seat instead.

3. Your Grab or Uber car’s doors might be automatic

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Compared to our sedans’ humble, manually opening doors, some cars’ doors in Singapore are self-opening and closing, including the larger 6-8 seater Grab cars and vans. Forcing such doors to close or open might damage the car, which is why it’s best to be attentive before boarding.  

Some cars have stickers above or by the door handle that indicates they’re automatic, so look out for those. 

You can also wait a few seconds before opening the door. You might look a little funny waiting for a door to open or close automatically, especially when it won’t, but it’s a small price to pay for not getting scolded by a strict Grab or Uber driver.

4. Follow pedestrian rules. Seriously.

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For those used to looking to your left and right before stealthily crossing the highway, fair warning: you won’t get away with jaywalking in Singapore. Unless you’re willing to pay a SGD50 (~P1,809.41) fine, don’t even try it.

Besides, if your primary reason for jaywalking in the Philippines is defective or nonexistent pedestrian lights, that’s not the case in Singapore. Their pedestrian lights are up and running, and with its fast, moving traffic unlike the standstill traffic jams of Metro Manila, it’s best to follow road rules to avoid accidents.

5. Hawker centers should be on your itinerary

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The must-visit Maxwell Food Centre near Singapore’s Chinatown

Image credit: @iamship

Whether you’re teeming with money or on a tight budget during your trip to Singapore, hawker center food is something you don’t want to miss out on. Not only are the meals cheap, costing anything from just SGD1 to SGD5 (~P36.19-P180.94) per meal, but the servings are sure to fill you up too. 

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Chicken rice comes in light (top) and dark (bottom) versions.
Image credit: @theuniform

Not to mention the food quality – chicken and rice might sound too simple to be on a bucket list, but you haven’t lived until you’ve tried hawker center chicken rice. As basic as the dish sounds, the steamed chicken and rice in chicken broth boasts of consistently great flavor, even though it’s usually found in a humble hawker center.

You won’t run out of options here either, with stalls serving dishes from pasta to curry to claypot rice, and even local drinks such as teh tarik (sweet milk tea), kopi (Singapore-style coffee), and grass jelly.

6. They have ukay-ukays too

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Despite how expensive Singapore expenses are compared to the Philippines, you can still go thrift shopping if you know the right places. These places include Lucky Plaza that Filipinos love to frequent, Mustafa Centre which is open 24 hours, and thrift stores that you can find here.

You’ll be able to find anything from clothes, shoes, toys, electronics, and souvenirs you might want to bring home to your family and friends for affordable prices.

7. Don’t expect winter; their weather is the same as ours

tropical weather
Image credit: @thesmartlocalsg

Living in a tropical country where it’s hot and humid most days, we often think it couldn’t get any hotter. Which leads us to believe that traveling to other countries means enjoying a colder climate, even if it’s just within Asia.

Lower your expectations, because Singapore’s weather is just about as sweat-inducing as ours. We’re in the same region, after all. On the bright side, it means packing fewer or lighter clothes and having more space for pasalubong and shopping hauls in your maleta.

8. You probably won’t land where Jewel Changi Airport is

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The magnificent and colorful water display that is Jewel Changi Airport is familiar to us, being the first attraction our friends post an Instagram story of on their trips to Singapore. However, just to avoid disappointment, note that it’s not the first thing that’ll greet you when you land.

Flights from the Philippines to Singapore usually land in Changi Airport Terminals 3 and 4 (temporarily closed), while Changi Jewel is in Terminal 1. But similar to our own NAIA terminals, you can get a free shuttle ride or walk through the covered, air-conditioned walkways from your terminal to Jewel Changi Airport that’ll take around 15-20 minutes, and the trip is worth it to get a glimpse of the famous landmark.

9. Don’t be surprised when people think 20-30 minute journeys are a hassle

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20 minutes won’t get you very far in the Philippines, with the usual traffic jam and faraway destinations training us for hour-long car rides. However, in Singapore, that’s too much time on the road.

To put things into perspective, the whole country, at 721.5 km², is almost the same size as Metro Manila’s 619.6 km², and roughly 7 times smaller than the province of Cebu, which is 4,933 km². End to end, Singapore is around 50 km wide, about the same distance from Pasay to Bulacan. In short, it’s tiny!

Despite its size, there’re plenty of things to do in Singapore, and if anything, its size means you can visit all those touristy places along with some local faves without chasing after time.

10. No-littering policy

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A well-known fact about Singapore is how clean it is, and that’s because of their strict anti-littering policy. The fine if you get caught littering can reach up to SGD1,000 (~P36,188.10), which puts an end to the mystery of why the country is so clean.

So if you’re traveling there, it’s better to leave behind the bad habit of throwing your trash just anywhere. Not only is it heavy on the wallet because of the fines you have to pay, but it’s bad for the environment too.

11. Even faucet water is drinkable

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In contrast to having to pay for your tissue, you can get water for free just about anywhere. Singapore is regarded as one of the countries with the cleanest water – you can drink straight from the tap, something you can rarely do here in the Philippines.

Just bring a water jug around during your trip, and you’re sure to save a few bucks that you would have spent on bottled water by filling it up in water coolers.

12. Selling chewing gum is banned

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If you’re the type to go through several sticks of gum a day, you’re going to have to find an alternative when you travel to Singapore. Bringing over gum is prohibited, along with selling it unless you are a doctor, dentist, or pharmacist, so you’ll barely find it in stores here. This is because locals used to stick chewed-up gum just anywhere, including in elevators and trains, leading to mechanical malfunctions.

If you get caught chewing gum, you’ll have to pay up to SGD2,000 (~P72,376.21), while “gum smuggling” can cost you up to SGD5,000 (~P180,940.51). However, for those who need dental gum for medicinal purposes, you can still purchase them at local pharmacies.

Singapore travel tips for Filipinos

These Singapore travel tips, hacks, and facts are handy to keep in the back of your mind during your future trips to Singapore, be it to help you save a little money, to know the perfect places to shop, or to avoid paying fines to actions you’d never think were prohibited.

But we hope you’ll enjoy all the island has to offer – from its rural, nature-themed attractions to lesser-known hangout spots to cafes and restaurants – that’ll make it an ideal locale for a future post-pandemic escape.

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Cover image adapted from: @theuniform, @alphseabusiness 

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