10 Ways to Save Money When Holidaying in Singapore
1. Save Money by Skipping Taxis and Using the MRT
Taking taxis can easily bust your travel budget during your holiday in Singapore. Other than meter charges, there are all sorts of surcharges for rush hours and usage of expressways.
Save money instead by using the subway system, known as the MRT. While there have been high-profile incidences of 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 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 it happens to you, get out of the taxi immediately.
2. Check out the Passes, Packages, and Online Promotions
Like all cities keen on tourism, there are various discount packages for tourists to save money in Singapore.
The Singapore Tourist Pass is a tap-and-go card good to use with the country’s bus and MRT system. It’s quite affordable at 10 dollars for the one-day version (2016 prices). However, like all such transportation passes, you do need to take a minimum number of rides within the day for the pass to be worthwhile. Personally, I estimate a tourist would need to take at least five rides a day to benefit reasonably.
The ParkHopper packages for the Singapore Zoo is great value 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.
Lastly, some attractions offer discounts for online purchases. As of this time of writing, the Singapore Zoo is offering 25 per cent discount for online bookings. Such discounts could add up to incredible savings.
3. Tap Water Is as Good as Bottled Water
Bottled water in Singapore could cost anything from a dollar, to well over 10 dollars for an artisanal bottle. Why deplete your travel budget on these when tap water is perfectly safe for drinking? Unlike treated water in some other countries, Singaporean tap water is also completely colourless and odour 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.
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 giving your order.
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 variety of Asian and Western dishes at affordable prices. For even cheaper meals, consider venturing out of the town area to residential districts such as Tiong Bahru, Toa Payoh, Bedok. Check out the hawker centres or kopi-tiams there, these being informal, open-air eateries. Not only is food very affordable at these places, they are also great for enjoying the local ambience.
A word of warning. Some hawker stalls are extremely popular with locals. It is not uncommon for Singaporeans to queue for hours at these stores for a ten minute meal.
One of the Best
A venerable hawker centre is conveniently located in the heart of Chinatown. Right behind the Buddha Tooth Temple. Not only is food incredibly cheap here, some of the stalls are considered the best in the country.
5. Minimise Pub Visits
Alcohol is frighteningly expensive in Singapore. You could be charged over 10 bucks for a beer. Far more for stronger drinks. While I wouldn’t suggest you completely avoid alcohol during your holiday in Singapore, if you must have a few swigs at a watering den every night, you’re not going to have much travel budget left for other things.
Instead of pubs, save money by buying alcohol from supermarkets and convenience stores like 7-11, then drink at your hotel. If this sounds too dreary, you could consider having your pint at hawker centres or kopi-tiams. These places charge far lesser than pubs, and you could use the opportunity to sample some local dishes 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. It Is Extremely Costly to Light up in Singapore
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 the duty-free shop before entering Singapore. If caught, you would be made to pay local taxes for such purchases.
To put it in another way, there’s really no way around this other than to reduce your intake. Consider this perhaps as gentle encouragement for you to quit. Also, take note that Singapore has banned smoking from 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 are going to 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. You Don’t Need to Tip
Some food and beverage workers would hate me for saying this. But the truth remains that tipping is not a culture in Singapore. Most restaurants and cafes automatically charge an additional 10 per cent service fee with your final bill, in addition to an 8 per cent tax. While you might receive dirty looks occasionally for not leaving an extra dime, nobody is going to fault you for not tipping. The simple fact is you already did so with the service fee.
Note that not all F&B outlets charge this service fee, though. Hawker centres, 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. There Are Many Free Attractions, Performances, and Events
There is a plethora of free attractions in Singapore for those with limited travel budget.
First of all 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 musical performances. These are very popular with locals and expatriates, and are also great for picnics.
Other than the Botanic Gardens, there are many other well-maintained 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 downtown is a wonderful Neo-Gothic masterpiece. Should your tastes for mythology and the religious gear towards the macabre, take the MRT to 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 indoor and outdoor free performances. Relax at one of these performances, then stroll over to Marina Bay Sands for the nightly light and water show. Revamped and renamed as Spectra in 2017, the current performance is a spectacular 4-act show celebrating the multicultural heritage of Singapore. This dazzling display is one of the best ways to end an evening in Singapore.
Spectra: The New Light and Water Show at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.
9. Save Money by Shopping at Supermarkets, Neighbourhood Centres, 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, titbits, beer, or even things like travel adaptors, 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 “neighbourhood centres.” These are the lively hearts of residential districts, and are full of malls and street 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 personalised services, such as hairdressing, are also cheaper at such neighbourhood centres.
Lastly, don’t forget to check out Daiso, which has outlets all over Singapore. This Japanese 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 colourful and outrageous products. You might find yourself lingering in a store and sorely tempted to buy a full basket of all 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 personalised services, head to the neighbourhood centres.
Additional 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 Careful If You Intend to Buy Electronic or IT Products
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 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 holiday in Singapore, 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. If threatened, leave immediately or call 999. Singapore cherishes its clean image greatly. Take heart that both government and people here will not tolerate such behaviour towards tourists, and will be on your side when such scams happen.
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