This is my first month in Singapore to start working here. I have heard that this country is very strict with their citizens and even tourists to keep the country clean and proud. Are there any behaviors which we need to avoid while staying in Singapore?

  • 2
    This seems rather vague and open-ended to me. Is there anything specific you are concerned about?
    – drat
    Jul 19 '17 at 6:46
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    yeah, for example, a colleague of mine said that I must NOT chew a gum in the public areas. This kind of simple act which is common outside of Singapore, but is considered a law breaking in Singapore.
    – Zan
    Jul 19 '17 at 6:48
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    I fear this might be on the too broad side of the spectrum since you are asking to list all behaviours to be avoided. Maybe narrow it down to something more specific?
    – JoErNanO
    Jul 19 '17 at 7:11
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    I was going to say that clearly your colleague must be joking with you, but then I found that there's a Wikipedia article on the chewing gum ban: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chewing_gum_ban_in_Singapore . +1 for an interesting question. Jul 19 '17 at 7:12
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    This is answerable. A google search for "Singapore etiquette" or similar is a great starting point. The question isn't asking for an enumeration of all possible things you shouldn't do, but rather some common ones of interest to travelers to reflect Singapore's laws and culture. Jul 19 '17 at 7:16

I lived in Singapore for ~7 years, so I suppose I'm pretty well placed to answer this question.

TL;DR, don't worry about it: if you behave respectfully/normally by Western standards in Singapore, you'll be totally fine. If anything, Singaporean culture tends towards the brusque, people tends to be pretty straightforward in their interactions compared to (say) Japan. You want beer or not? Cannot lah, drink three bottle already!

You should, however, be aware that law enforcement in Singapore operates on the Chinese principle of "Kill the chicken to scare the monkey" (杀鸡儆猴), meaning enforcement is loose (compared to most SE Asian countries, cops are a rare sight) but punishments are draconian. In particular:

  • Drugs are treated extremely seriously, punishments even for simple possession range from years in jail to death.
  • Vandalism, including graffiti, is punished with caning. Mostly famously, an American kid who keyed cars got a jail sentence and 4 strokes of the cane despite a plea of clemency from Bill Clinton.
  • Offensive behavior while being drunk in public can lead to fines of up to $1000 or 6 months in jail, simply from somebody being annoyed with you. Public urination or getting into fights etc is even worse.
  • Littering carries heavy fines; repeat offenders are sentenced to Corrective Work Orders, meaning sweeping the streets!
  • Politics, religion and race relations are a complicated minefield that tourists are best off not entering. Of course, this is true anywhere in the world, but in Singapore there are potential legal consequences if somebody is offended by what you say or write.

As for the famous chewing gum ban, it's not absolute (medical/dental gums are permitted) and it's not the act of chewing that's banned, but littering with used gums.

  • Thanks for the response. It's describing very well of what I am expecting to know, and also, that's one interesting article about the American kid.
    – Zan
    Jul 20 '17 at 1:10
  • +1. Is caning so painful? Don't suggest to try it, just asking out of curiosity, cause I simply can't understand all the hustle around it :D
    – gdrt
    Jul 20 '17 at 1:11
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    @gdrt Not seen the page in Wikipedia?. Essentially you won't be disappointed if you seek pain ("excruciating","unbearable") which is no wonder if you know that the cane is over 1m long and swinged with full force by a strong and trained professional who is instructed to inflict as much pain as possible. Jul 20 '17 at 1:38

This question is indeed very broad. But I can understand where it comes from. I have lived in Singapore for the last couple years and often do I get this kind of questions, given the reputation that the country has in the West. Just to get something out of the way: You won't get into any problems for eating chewing gum. It is not commonly sold in Singapore, but bringing it in in small quantities and eating it in public is not a problem.

You seem to be mostly concerned about things which are illegal and not things which are disrespectful. I would say, that as long as you act normally, without trying to do funny or obviously illegal acts, you will be fine most of the times. If there is something which you are not supposed to do, you'll very likely find a big sign indicating this:

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For a good overview, you might want to refer to this wikivoyage page. Some general (besides the very obvious) things which you should not do are:

  • Drugs. This leads to very heavy prison terms and can lead to the death penalty. This also includes cannabis.
  • Bribe. While this is very common in neighbouring countries, there is usually zero tolerance on this. Just trying to offer a bribe to any official will most likely get you arrested on the spot.
  • Racial or religious remarks. There are quite strict laws against offending racial or religious feelings, so do be careful there. It is mostly not an issue when talking to friends or colleagues, but sometimes foreigners get called out for posting insensitive things on Facebook or blogs.

If you smoke, you might want to consult the very long list of places where you are not allowed to smoke. In general, you are not allowed to smoke indoors (including open-air corridors), at covered areas (including bus stops, walkways and overhead bridges) and within 5 metres of any entrance or exit.

This is mostly about laws. When it comes to etiquette and respect, there are of course a lot of other rules and conventions. Again, there's a summary of that on wikivoyage. In general, as a foreigner, you will get some leeway there though and it is okay if you don't know all of those at first.

  • Hi, thanks for the response, it's another good information, especially for the last 2 of the 3 points you put there. Good job pointing it out, as per my experiences, bribing and racial statement (even in public) are very common in the South East Asian countries.
    – Zan
    Jul 20 '17 at 1:24

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