10 Ways to Save Money When Visiting Singapore
Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world and having a holiday in it is often a wallet breaking experience. However, there are still many ways to save money when visiting this costly city-state, as long as you know where to go and what to look for.
10 Ways to Save Money When Traveling in Singapore
- Save Money by Skipping Taxis and Using the MRT
- Consider Tourist passes, Packages, and Online Promotions.
- Do Not Buy Bottled Water
- Save Money by Eating Most Meals at Food Courts, Kopi-Tiams, or Hawker Centres
- Minimize pub visits.
- Refrain From Smoking
- Do Not Tip
- Enjoy Free Attractions, and Attend Free Performances and Events.
- Save Money by Shopping at Supermarkets, Neighborhood Centers, and Daiso.
- Be Thoroughly Informed If You Intend to Buy Electronic or It Products.
1. Save Money by Skipping Taxis and Using the MRT
Taking taxis can easily bust your travel budget when visiting Singapore. Other than meter charges, there are all sorts of surcharges for rush-hours and usage of expressways. To put it simply, it’s impossible to experience Singapore on a budget if you expect to be ferried about by taxis every day.
Instead, save money by using the subway system, known as the MRT. While there have been several high profile breakdowns in recent years, the Singaporean MRT system remains one of the most efficient and affordable in Asia. With the exception of the zoological area, practically all major attractions are reachable by the MRT without the need for bus transfers. During evening peak hours it is also well known that it is much, much faster to transverse town by MRT, rather than go by taxi.
It’s rare, but there have been incidences of taxi drivers not going by the meter and offering lump-sum deals. This is illegal, with prices quoted always cutthroat. If this happens to you, get out of the taxi immediately.
2. Consider Tourist Passes, Packages, and Online Promotions
Like all cities geared toward tourism, there are many discount packages for tourists to save money with when visiting Singapore.
The Singapore Tourist Pass is a tap-and-go smart card* that offers unlimited travel on the country’s bus, MRT, and LRT systems for the duration that it is valid for. The single-day version is priced at 10 dollars while the three-day version is at 20 dollars. (2018 prices) Naturally, and like all such transportation passes, you do need to take a certain number of rides within a day for the pass to be worthwhile. Personally, I would put the minimum number of rides per day to achieve “break even” at four to five rides. Visitors looking for an even better deal could consider the Singapore Tourist Pass Plus. This enhanced version waives the need for a rental deposit and comes with several tourist perks.
The ParkHopper packages for the Singapore Zoo are great value too as they include not only the “day zoo,” but also the Bird Park, the Night Safari, and the River Safari. Individually, the day zoo alone cost near the half the price of the overall package. Getting a pass also, of course, removes the hassle of having to queue for tickets again and again. To put it in Singapore street parlance, the ParkHopper “covers” for the day.
Lastly, some attractions offer discounts for online purchases. As of this time of writing, the Singapore Zoo is offering a 25 percent discount for online bookings. Such discounts could add up to incredible savings.
* Locally, the transportation smart card used with public transportation systems is called the Ez-Link.
3. Do Not Buy Tap Water
This might sound strange as a budget tip, but know that bottled water in Singapore could cost anything from a dollar to well over 10 bucks for an artisanal bottle. With that in mind, why deplete your travel budget on those when tap water is perfectly safe for drinking? Unlike treated water in some other countries, Singaporean tap water is also completely colorless and odor free. With the weather constantly hot and humid, you might wish to carry a tumbler with you while exploring Singapore’s attractions. These could easily be topped up from the tap. Some restaurants would also be willing to fill up for you.
4. Save Money by Eating Most Meals at Food Courts, Kopi-Tiams, or Hawker Centres
Food prices could vary dramatically in Singapore. For example, you could enjoy a plate of fried Hokkien mee for four dollars at a casual eatery. At a swanky establishment, the same dish could cost forty dollars.
For this reason, save money by having most of your meals at food courts. These are air-conditioned, self-service places located all over the country, and all offer a huge variety of Asian and Western dishes at affordable prices. For even cheaper meals, venture out of the town area to the country’s famed hawker centers and kopi-tiams. For the unfamiliar, these are informal, open-air eateries mainly catering to locals. Not only is food extremely affordable at these places, they are also fabulous locations for enjoying the local ambiance.
Note: Some hawker centers stalls are extremely popular with locals. It is not uncommon for Singaporeans to queue for hours at these stores for a ten-minute meal. Do some online research in advance so that this budget tip doesn’t become a time horror.
One of the Best
A venerable hawker center is conveniently located in the heart of the Chinatown district. Right behind Singapore's famous Buddha Tooth Temple. Not only is food incredibly cheap here, some of the stalls are considered to be the best in the country.
5. Minimize Pub Visits
Alcohol is frighteningly expensive in Singapore. You could be charged over 10 bucks for a beer, far more for hard liquor. While I wouldn’t suggest completely avoiding alcohol during your holiday in Singapore, you’re not going to have much travel budget left for other things, if you insist on having a few swigs at a watering den every night,
Instead of pubs, save money by buying alcohol from supermarkets and convenience stores like 7-11. Drink your purchases at your hotel. If this sounds a tad too dreary, have your pints at hawker centers or kopi-tiamsinstead. These places charge far lesser than pubs, and you could use the opportunity to sample some local cuisine too. Do note, though, that Singapore introduced rather draconian liquor control law in 2015. Drinking is banned in all public places from 10.30 pm to 7 am. Retail shops are also not allowed to sell takeaway alcohol from 10.30 pm to 7 am. Don’t be caught drinking in public during these hours.
6. Refrain From Smoking
With the exception of Great Britain, I do not know of any country that charges as much for cigarettes as Singapore. Worse, anti-smoking measures make it illegal to bring cigarettes into the country. This means you can’t even buy from duty-free shops before entering Singapore. If caught, you would be made to pay local taxes for all purchases.
To put it in another way, there’s really no way around Singapore’s smoking laws other than to reduce your intake. Consider this perhaps as gentle encouragement for you to quit. Also, note that Singapore has banned smoking in many places. At open-air eateries, one can only smoke at designated areas. It is also illegal to smoke at bus stops or within a certain distance of a building entrance. If caught, you will be fined heftily, which is surely the fastest way to deplete your travel budget. You might be excused after much embarrassing pleading with the officer, but do you really want to do that during a holiday?
7. Do Not Tip
Food and beverage workers in Singapore would hate me for highlighting this, but the truth remains that tipping is not necessary in the city-state. Most restaurants and cafes automatically charge an additional 10 percent service fee with the final bill, in addition to an 8 percent tax. While you might occasionally receive dirty looks for not leaving an extra dime, trust me, nobody is going to fault you for not tipping, or for wanting to save money for other expenditures. The simple fact is that you have already “tipped” with the mandatory service fee.
Note that not all F&B outlets charge this service fee, though. Hawker centers, food courts, and kopi-tiams do not. Fast food restaurants and beverage outlets like Starbucks also don’t. For these, it remains the culture not to tip. If you still choose to do so, service personnel would be grateful. But it is out of surprise, not expectation.
8. Enjoy Free Attractions, and Attend Free Performances and Events.
The short of it, there are many, many free attractions in Singapore for visitors with tight travel budgets.
First and foremost is the Singapore Botanic Gardens. This 150-year-old green oasis fringes the town area and was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2015. On weekends, there are often free music performances too. These performances are very popular with locals and expatriates, and are great entertainment for picnics.
Other than the Botanic Gardens, there are many other well-maintained, free-to-enter parks in Singapore. Bishan Park and Punggol Waterway are two sprawling green belts equipped with eateries and recreational facilities. For visitors keen on the beach, East Coast Parkway is a good location to check out. Cycling, jogging, and seafood indulgence have been popular at this beachfront for decades.
Outside of parks, almost all Chinese and Hindu temples, and churches in Singapore, are free to enter. The huge Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery in the heart of the country is a magnificent gathering of Asian Chinese architectural styles. St. Andrew’s Cathedral in the civil district is a spectacular Neo-Gothic masterpiece, especially atmospheric during evening time. Should your tastes gear towards the macabre, take the MRT to the 80-year-old Haw Par Villa. This statue park is easily the weirdest of its kind in Asia. It is also completely free.
Finally, the iconic Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay regularly offers free indoor and outdoor performances. Relax at one of these performances, then stroll over to Marina Bay Sands for the nightly light and water show. Called Spectra, this show is set against the Singaporean skyline and is free for all. Spectra would also likely be the most impressive free performance you’d enjoy when visiting Singapore.
Spectra: The New Light and Water Show at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.
9. Save Money by Shopping at Supermarkets, Neighborhood Centers, and Daiso
The main supermarket chains in Singapore are NTUC Fairprice, Sheng Siong, and Cold Storage. In the town area, Cold Storage dominates the market. In the residential areas, NTUC Fairprice and Sheng Siong compete intensely for local business.
All three chains offer an astonishing variety of goods. They also have daily special offers and are always located near MRT stations. In other words, should you need toiletries, tidbits, beer, or even things like travel adapters, don’t get them from the hotel shop. Save money by visiting one of these supermarkets during the day.
At the same time, many supermarkets outside of the town area are located in “neighborhood centers.” These are the lively hearts of residential districts and are full of malls and street shops and the above-mentioned kopi-tiams and hawker centers. While prices for goods wouldn’t be dramatically lower than those in the town area, you might still find some bargains for clothes, watches, etc. Most personalized services, such as hairdressing, are also much cheaper at such neighborhood centers.
Last but not least, don’t forget to check out Daiso, which has outlets all over Singapore. This Japanese budget retail chain sells everything for two dollars and is stocked full of foodstuffs, daily products, oddities, and even clothes. Visiting a Daiso store could itself be an adventure if only to be dazzled by its many colorful and outrageous products. You might find yourself lingering in a store and sorely tempted to buy basket after basket of those fanciful products. This is a temptation many Singaporean Daiso fans are familiar with.
What About Chinatown and Bugis Street?
Tourist haunts like Chinatown and Bugis Street do offer many bargains. However, their goods tend to be souvenirs and clothes. For other products and personalized services, head to the neighborhood centers.
Additional Budget Tip on Shopping
Sales happen throughout the year in Singapore, with the Great Singapore Sale being the grandest. This usually takes place in the middle of the year from June to August.
Also, as like many other countries, post festive periods are full of clearance sales. Outrageous bargains are often available during these. I once bought a jacket at a quarter of the price it was originally retailed for after the holiday.
10. Be Thoroughly Informed If You Intend to Buy Electronic or It Products.
This is more of a warning rather than a budget tip. As a Singaporean, it shames me to say this. Over the last few years, we had several high-profile scams involving electronic and telco products. All cases involved tourists and the bulk of them took place within the unholy trinity of People’s Park Complex, Lucky Plaza, and Sim Lim Square. A common scam involves tourists being forced to buy costly, “compulsory” warranties with their purchases.
There are new and aggressive measures to counter these unscrupulous merchants. For example, at People’s Park Complex, there are self-service kiosks to report scams. Still, crime always finds a way, doesn’t it? If you must buy such products during your Singapore visit, be well-informed of general prices before entering a store. Also, never succumb to bullying tactics. Do not permit the merchant to lower the shutters and lock you within the store too. If threatened, leave immediately or call 999. Singapore greatly cherishes its clean image. Both the government and Singaporeans despise such behavior towards visitors. We will be on your side if you are threatened by such scams.
Consumer Electronics Exhibitions
Consumer electronics exhibitions are hugely popular in Singapore, with the most popular ones being IT Show, PC Show, SITEX, and COMEX. Search online for specific dates and venues. A word of advice, if you intend to go, be ready for crowds.
Questions & Answers
© 2016 Kuan Leong Yong