Everyone has heard of it, but exactly where is Singapore? And more curiously, is it a city, island, or country?
The short answer: All three! Singapore is a city and island nation.
The Republic of Singapore is a sovereign island nation located just off the southern tip of Peninsular Malaysia in Southeast Asia.
Singapore is an anomaly, and they're quite proud of it. The country is currently the only city-island-nation in the world. Although Hong Kong is also considered a city-island, it is still considered a Special Administrative Region that is part of China.
Actually, Singapore's territory consists of one primary island and at least 62 smaller islets. Discerning the difference gets a little fuzzy. Dry land suitable for development is precious in the island nation. An ongoing land-reclamation effort creates desperately needed real estate each year. Many new artificial islands get created, probably really exciting the geologists in charge of keeping count.
Interesting Things to Know About Singapore
Singapore is a highly developed nation in Southeast Asia with one of the world's strongest economies. Along with Hong Kong, Singapore ranks at the top of the Wall Street Journal's Index of Economic Freedom which scores free economies. An estimated one of every six households in Singapore has at least a million dollars in disposable wealth, excluding property! Real estate in Singapore is considered the most expensive in the world.
Despite its size, Singapore boasts one of the highest per-capita GDPs in the world. The nation receives high-ranking marks for education, technology, health care, and quality of life. But along with a wealth of prosperity, a noticeable wealth divide exists. Singapore doesn't have a minimum wage.
Taxes are relatively high and crime is low. Transparency International ranks Singapore as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Other countries in the region rank much lower.
Singapore ranks third in the world for life expectancy. The United States comes in at 31st (per the World Health Organization).
Although Singapore's epic population density and reputation for cleanliness conjure images of some futuristic metropolis made only of concrete and steel, think again. The National Parks Board is achieving their lofty goal of turning Singapore into a "city in a garden"—tropical greenery abounds!
But Singapore isn't a dreamy utopia for everyone. Some laws are considered draconian by human rights organizations. The government is frequently called out for censorship and limiting freedom of speech. Technically, homosexuality is illegal in Singapore. With a mandatory death sentence, the drug laws are considered the toughest in the world.
The Location of Singapore
Singapore is located in Southeast Asia around 85 miles (137 kilometers) north of the equator, south of Peninsular Malaysia, and east of West Sumatra (Indonesia)—just across the Strait of Malacca. The big island of Borneo lies to the east of Singapore.
Ironically, Singapore's nearest island neighbors, Sumatra and Borneo, are two of the world's wildest islands. They are the only places on earth to find wild orangutans. Indigenous people still carve a life out in the rainforests. Just a short distance away, exotic sports cars fight traffic. Singapore claims the highest percentages of millionaires per capita in the world.
The Size of Singapore
With a land area of around 280 square miles, Singapore is slightly smaller than the city of Lexington, Kentucky, the 28th largest city in the United States. But unlike Lexington, over 5.6 million residents are squeezed into the tiny nation!
Flying to Singapore
Singapore's Changi Airport (airport code: SIN) consistently wins awards for best airport in the world. To match, Singapore Airlines consistently wins best airline in the world. The two definitely make flying to Singapore an enjoyable experience, just don't get busted for bringing in contraband items. You don't need to be a hardened smuggler to find out why local expats joke about Singapore being a "fine city"—electronic cigarettes, chewing gum, and pirated movies/music can all land you in trouble.
The swimming pool, nature trail, butterfly garden, and shopping mall at Changi Airport help take the sting out of an unexpected layover. Singapore Airlines isn't the only choice for getting in: Numerous other carriers connect Singapore with more than 200 major hubs all over the world.
Going Overland to Singapore
Singapore can also be reached overland by bus from Malaysia. Two man-made causeways connect Singapore to the Malaysian state of Johor. Numerous companies offer comfortable buses to and from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The journey from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore by bus takes between five and six hours, depending on traffic and any delays at immigration. Unlike some of the cheap buses rattling along roads in Asia, many of the buses to Singapore are equipped with work desks, Wi-Fi, and interactive entertainment systems. You can enjoy even more luxury than flying without the airport hassle.
Tip: Singapore has strict duty and import restrictions, more so than surrounding nations in Southeast Asia. Although sometimes an opened pack of cigarettes is overlooked when flying in, regulations are more stringently enforced along the land border than at the airport. Unlike many countries, Singapore does not have any duty-free allowance on tobacco products. If you smoke, you'll need to throw away any cigarettes purchased in Malaysia.
Singapore's Visa Laws
Most nationalities receive a free 90-day stay in Singapore upon entry and do not require a tourist visa. A few nationalities are only granted a 30-day visa exemption.
Technically, you are required to show an onward ticket when entering Singapore and may be asked to provide proof of funds. These requirements are often waived (based on your appearance) or can be easily satisfied.
The Weather in Singapore
Singapore is 85 miles north of the equator and enjoys a tropical rainforest climate. Temperatures stay consistently hot (close to 90 degrees F / 31 degrees C) throughout the year. Rainfall is persistent, but November and December are usually the wettest months. The city's abundant greenspaces receive abundant watering. Afternoon showers are frequent, but there are plenty of impressive museums for waiting out thunderstorms.
The rainiest months in Singapore are typically November, December, and January.
Take big events and festivals into consideration when deciding on the best time to visit Singapore. Holidays such as Chinese New Year are fun but busy; the already pricey accommodation skyrockets in price.
Travel Expenses in Singapore
Singapore is considered an expensive destination, especially when compared to other places in Southeast Asia such as Thailand. Backpackers and budget travelers are notorious for lamenting Singapore's relatively high accommodation costs. Drinking alcohol while socializing in Singapore will certainly wreck a budget.
Fortunately, there is some good news: Food is cheap and delicious! As long as you can avoid the temptations of shopping and partying, Singapore can be enjoyed on a budget. If you haven't yet, Singapore is a good place to try out Airbnb or couch surfing because of the large number of foreign expats who call Singapore home. Many are happy to host travelers in their homes.
Singapore maintains their clean city and excellent infrastructure through liberal taxation, and to some extent, by collecting fines for small infractions. If caught, you can receive a fine for jaywalking, not flushing a public toilet, mindlessly feeding pigeons, or consuming food and drinks on public transportation. Fines are paid at kiosks located around the city much like ATMs.
Budget Travel Tips for Singapore
- The tap water is safe to drink in Singapore. You can save money and cut down on plastic by refilling a water bottle.
- A night out on the town can be costly. A pint of beer in an inexpensive pub can cost upwards of $8. Increase those prices by at least 50 percent for nightclubs and places with live entertainment. Locals often opt to enjoy cheaper drinks in food courts.
- Singapore's efficient MRT train system is a great way to see parts of the city that are just beyond walking range. If you intend to move around frequently for several days, consider purchasing an EZ-Link card that can be tapped on readers at train stations and on buses.
- Food courts such as the famous Lau Pa Sat are great for sampling lots of local fare without spending a lot in sit-down restaurants. Locals fill food courts for cheap eats; follow their lead!
- Don't spend all of your time in the malls! Numerous nature trails and elevated bike paths connect parks and green spaces throughout the city. Take advantage of these pleasantly designed spaces, they're free!