Believe it or not, you can experience Singapore on a budget! There's no need to sacrifice meals or sell plasma to explore Southeast Asia's interesting little city-island-country.
Singapore has always been the bane of backpackers and budget travelers. With a nefarious reputation of being expensive, made even worse by the numerous opportunities to be fined, many travelers in Southeast Asia give Singapore only a few days or opt to skip it altogether.
Despite having lots to offer (including the best airport in the world), Singapore's reputation on the Banana Pancake Trail is more or less all about shopping and as a great layover destination.
You don't have to become Singa-poor to enjoy a few days or longer in this exciting multinational city! Follow these tips for saving money while in Singapore.
Many travelers make the mistake of not purchasing Singapore's excellent transportation card when they first arrive. Instead, they pay for each bus and train journey which quickly adds up.
At train stations, an EZ-Link card costs S$12 and includes S$7 worth of credit. You can also purchase and add credit to cards at 7-Eleven minimarts for S$10 (includes S$5 in credit). Having an EZ-Link card will also save you a lot of time waiting in queues at ticket machines in MRT stations.
The EZ-Link card can be used on the LRT and MRT trains, along with the excellent public bus system. By using an EZ-Link card, you pay only for the distance traveled, rather than a flat fare like everyone else (drivers don't give change).
Tip: Don't forget to tap your card on the reader as you exit the bus or you'll pay more than you should have!
Don't Buy the Singapore Tourist Pass
The Singapore Tourist Pass is similar to the EZ-Link card, however, it allows for unlimited rides during a one, two, or three-day stay. The Tourist Passes aren't cheap: A one-day pass costs S$10 plus an additional S$10 that is refunded after returning the card. You would need to take four or five rides on the MRT per day just to break even!
Unless you really get a thrill out of riding trains around the city (they are nice), chances are that you'll spend most of your time walking around the sights, inside massive shopping malls, exploring world-class museums, and less on the train.
Drink the Water
Unlike other countries in Southeast Asia, the tap water in Singapore is safe to drink. This is good news, as a bottle of water can cost around S$2 at minimarts!
If you don't carry a water bottle, buy a small bottle of water then refill it for free at hotels or from the tap.
Eat in Food Halls
Singapore is blessed with some of the best food courts, food halls, and hawker street stalls found anywhere in Asia. Yes, it is safe to eat street food! In fact, enjoying the street food is a quintessential part of experiencing Singapore.
Quality is often even a notch above the street food typically found in places such as Thailand. A delicious meal can be enjoyed for between S$4–6 in food halls. You can eat for under S$3 if you're in the mood for noodles soup.
The food courts found in posh malls and at the bottoms of nearly every skyscraper are priced slightly higher than standalone food centers. Check out the sprawling food center in Chinatown, or the cheap-yet-delightful Lau Pa Sat food center near the Raffles MRT stop.
Don't Drink or Smoke
Thanks to excessive taxation, either of these two vices will simply destroy your budget in Singapore.
A pack of Marlboro cigarettes costs over S$13, and drinking is terribly expensive even by U.S. or European standards. Entry into nightclubs can be up to S$30 which includes one watery drink. A rambunctious night out could cost you as much as the average night out in Ibiza.
Budget travelers craving a social atmosphere outside of hostels often opt to buy drinks from the 7-Eleven located at the end of Clarke Quay, then hang out around the waterfront. Just look for the pedestrian bridge covered with people lounging around.
Note: Electronic cigarettes are actually illegal in Singapore. Don't cross the border with one!
Enjoy the Parks
Although Singapore has a reputation for concrete, the city is blessed with an excellent park matrix with green spaces that spider through the city. Elevated bike trails and skywalks provide excellent views.
The parks and skyline views can be enjoyed for free. Take advantage of the complex, interconnecting network that links parks and different neighborhoods to each other.
Take Advantage of Freebies
Savvy travelers can find art displays, public performances, and street performers along the riverfront, esplanade, and city center. There are almost always options for free entertainment—particularly on weekends.
Entrance to museums in Singapore is expensive, however, several days or evenings a month the entrance fee is waived for special exhibitions. Check at the counter and inside of the many free attractions magazines for promotion dates.
A number of tourist passes are available that provide discounted entrance fees at numerous museums and attractions. Most of these passes are only a bargain if you intend to do a lot of indoor sightseeing.
Only Shop in the Right Places
Singapore has more shopping malls than you could explore in months. Even ultra-modern Changi Airport is practically one big mall which happens to have the occasional airplane land or take off.
Many of these malls are ridiculously expensive. Instead, do your souvenir and incidental shopping in cheap shops and tourist markets around Chinatown and Little India. Don't forget to negotiate!
Purchase your snacks, drinks, and toiletries from the big supermarkets located under many of the big malls rather than in mini-marts. VivoMart, beneath VivoCity—the largest mall in Singapore—regularly has food and drink specials.
Finally Give Couchsurfing a Try
Accommodation in Singapore is expensive. A bunk bed in a crowded hostel dorm costs S$20 or more. A night in a modest hotel may require you to give blood. Many travelers have to opt for hostels over hotels in Singapore just to cut costs.
Couch surfing with one of the many expats living in Singapore is a great way to sleep for free, and also gives you a local's insight into how to enjoy Singapore on a budget.
Tip: If you're squeamish about staying with a stranger, search for accommodation around Little India where hostels and hotels tend to be slightly cheaper.
Don't Get Busted
Locals joke that Singapore is a "fine" city—which obviously has two meanings. Although you rarely see police officers around the city, rest assured that many people do get fined here for seemingly innocuous activities; the fine-payment kiosks dotted around for convenience are a sure indication.
Although you would have to be unlucky to get caught, be aware of the following:
- The number one reason to get fined in Singapore is for not using marked crosswalks.
- Seatbelts are required when in a car; the driver cannot use a mobile phone while moving.
- Riding a bike on pedestrian-only paths, especially near the river, is forbidden.
- Chewing gum, snacks, and drinks are not permitted on the MRT trains or public transportation.
- Electronic cigarettes and "vaping" are illegal.
- Technically, failing to flush a public toilet is illegal.
- Spitting will get you a big fine in Singapore.
- Feeding pigeons in the park is an S$500 fine!