Ced earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, and mythology.
Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world, with the cost of a holiday in the city-state often a wallet-breaking experience.
However, there are still many ways to save money when visiting the city-state. The important things to know are where to go, what to look for, and what not to do.
10 Ways to Save Money When Visiting Singapore as a Tourist
- 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 during your Singapore Holiday
- 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 enjoy 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. One of the most comfortable too.
With the notable exception of the zoological area *, practically all major Singaporean attractions can also be directly reached using the MRT i.e. without the need for bus transfers.
Lastly, during evening peak hours, it is well known locally that it is much, much faster to transverse town by MRT. In comparison, a taxi ride might take you more than an hour.
* As of 2020, the Singapore Zoo offers a shuttle service from five MRT stations. Namely, Chua Chu Kang, Marsiling, Woodlands, Khatib, and Ang Mo Kio.
It’s rare but there are still incidences of Singaporean 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 during their stay.
The Singapore Tourist Pass is a tap-and-go smart card* that offers unlimited rides 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. (2021 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 also consider the Singapore Tourist Pass Plus. This enhanced version at SGD 38/- waives the need for a rental deposit and lasts three days.
The ParkHopper bundle 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 half the price of the overall package. Getting a pass, of course, also removes the hassle of having to queue for tickets again and again. To put it in Singapore street parlance, the ParkHopper package “covers” for the day.
Finally, many Singaporean attractions offer discounts for online purchases. Such discounts could add up to incredible savings.
* Locally, the transportation smart card used with public transportation systems is called the Ez-Link. The Singapore Tourist Pass also excludes premium services such as midnight buses.
3. Do Not Buy Bottled Water
This might sound strange as a budget hack, 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 bottled water when Singaporean tap water is perfectly safe for drinking?
Unlike treated water in some other countries, Singaporean tap water is completely colorless and odor free. With the weather constantly hot and humid, you might thus wish to carry a tumbler with you while exploring Singapore’s attractions. These could then easily be topped up from the tap. Some restaurants would also be willing to fill up for you.
Note: In the past, most Singaporean restaurants do not charge for iced or warm water. Sadly, some establishments no longer do so. If you’re concerned about this, ask the waiter when placing your order.
4. Save Money by Eating Most Meals at Food Courts, Kopi-Tiams, or Hawker Centres
Food prices vary dramatically in Singapore. For example, you could enjoy a plate of fried Hokkien prawn noodles for four dollars at a casual eatery. At a swanky establishment, the same dish could cost forty dollars.
For this reason, save money as a tourist by having more meals at food courts. These are air-conditioned, self-service eateries located all over the country, and all offer a bewildering 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.
Some hawker centers stalls are extremely popular with locals, with it 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 travel tip doesn’t become a time-burning horror.
Mandatory Tray Return and Table Clear-Up at Singaporean Hawker Centers
Do note that from June 1, 2021 onwards, tray return and table clear-up are mandatory at all Singaporean Hawker Centers. Failing to do so will incur a fine of SGD 300/- or more.
Table clear-up also doesn’t mean you need to wipe clean the table at which you dined at, though the gesture would be appreciated. Instead, it refers to properly disposing used plastic cutlery, tissue papers, sauce packets, and so on.
One of the Best
A venerable hawker centre 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. At a pub, 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 Singapore trip, the cost of your holiday is going to sky rocket if you insist on having a few swigs at a watering den every night. You could even end up spending more on alcohol than on food and accommodation combined.
The suggestion is thus to save money by buying alcohol from supermarkets and convenience stores like 7-11, and drinking your purchases at your hotel. If this sounds a tad too dreary, have your pints at hawker centers or kopi-tiams.
These places charge far lesser than pubs, and you could use the opportunity to sample some local cuisine. Do note, though, that Singapore introduced rather draconian liquor control laws 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 heftily fined, which is surely the fastest way to deplete your travel budget as a tourist. 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 a Singaporean culture.
Many restaurants and cafes automatically charge an additional 10 percent service fee with the final bill, in addition to consumption 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 the 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 tip during your Singapore holiday, service personnel will be grateful. But it is out of surprise, not expectation.
8. Enjoy Free Singaporean Attractions and Performances
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 opportunities 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 during your Singapore holiday.
(As of March 2021, Spectra is suspended because of COVID-19 social distancing laws. However, the nightly performances will undoubtedly resume after the situation improves)
Spectra: The Free 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 affordable 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 travel necessities like power 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, budget shops, and the above-mentioned kopi-tiams and hawker centres. 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 centres.
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 the many colorful and outrageous products. You might find yourself lingering in a Daiso store, sorely tempted to buy basket after basket of those fanciful products.
What About Chinatown and Bugis Street?
Tourist haunts like Chinatown and Bugis Street do cater to visitors on a budget. However, their goods tend to be souvenirs and clothes. For other products and attractively-priced personalized services, head to the neighborhood centres.
Additional Budget Shopping Tip
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, and as like many other countries, post festive periods are full of clearance sales. I once bought a jacket at a quarter of the price it was originally retailed for right after Christmas.
10. Be Thoroughly Informed If You Intend to Buy Electronic or It Products.
This is more of a warning rather than a budget travel tip or hack. As a Singaporean, it also shames me to say this.
In recent 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 is that of tourists being forced to buy costly, “compulsory” warranties with their purchases. These warranties usually cost more than the product itself. Often, several times more.
At the moment, there are 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 holiday, 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 Singaporeans and our government despise such behavior towards visitors too. 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, though, if you intend to go. Be ready for crowds. Huge crowds.
© 2016 Ced Yong
Ced Yong (author) from Asia on January 30, 2019:
Hey Darren, glad to be of help. Just remember the big three travel budget killers here. Ciggies, alcohol, and excessive taxi taking.
Darren Rowse from Singapore on January 28, 2019:
This is Amazing! Been planning to go to SG and I think this would help me big time. Will surely save this. Looking forward to more helpful posts.
Ced Yong (author) from Asia on November 26, 2018:
I hope you do come some day!
Incidentally, I just got back from Tokyo three days ago. A soft pack of ciggies in SG costs near twice of a Mevius pack in Tokyo. A can of beer here, sold at the supermarket, is roughly the same as that in Tokyo. However, pubs and bars would charge at least SGD 10/- (Around 800 yen) for a glass.
Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on November 25, 2018:
There was a lot I didn't know about Singapore written here. Some things are similar to Tokyo, where I live, such as taking the subway, but I had no idea alcohol and cigarettes were expensive. That being said, I'm from the UK, so I'm used to tobacco being extortionate.
I heard Singapore is extremely clean. I'd like to visit one day, and I'll keep these tips in mind, especially the one about alcohol being expensive.
Ced Yong (author) from Asia on December 16, 2017:
Hope you enjoy your time here, Gajraj.
Gajraj on December 15, 2017:
Thanks a ton. Will be in Singapore in 5 days.
Ced Yong (author) from Asia on June 06, 2017:
You're welcome, vermashraddha. Hope you enjoy your time in SG.
vermashraddha on June 06, 2017:
Thanks!!! The information shared is very useful for my upcoming trip to singapore... :) Thanks a lot
Ced Yong (author) from Asia on November 30, 2016:
Glad to be of help, Naveen.