Everyone has heard of the famous city, but where is Singapore? And more curiously, is it a city, island, or country?
The short answer: all three!
Singapore is a small-but-prosperous island nation, both a city and a country, 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 island-city-country in the world. Although Hong Kong is also a city-island, it is considered a Special Administrative Region that is part of China.
Actually, Singapore's territory consists of over 60 islands and islets. Discerning the difference gets a little fuzzy. An ongoing land reclamation effort creates desperately needed real estate each year. Many new artificial islands get created, really stressing out the geologists in charge of keeping count.
What to Know About Singapore
Singapore is a highly developed country in Southeast Asia with one of the world's strongest economies. Singapore is slightly smaller than the city of Lexington, Kentucky, in the United States. But unlike Lexington, 5.6 million residents are squeezed into the tiny country's 277 square miles of land mass.
Despite its size, Singapore boasts one of the highest per-capita GDPs in the world. But along with prosperity — and a noticeable wealth divide — the nation receives high-ranking marks for education, technology, health care, and quality of life. Taxes are high and crime is low. Singapore ranks third in the world for life expectancy, meanwhile the United States comes in at #31 (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 the freedom of expression. Technically, homosexuality is illegal. Drug offenses receive a mandatory death sentence.
The Location of Singapore
Singapore is located in Southeast Asia around 85 miles 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 neighbors, Sumatra and Borneo, are two of the world's wildest islands. Indigenous people still carve a life out of the rainforests. Just a short distance away, Singapore claims one of the highest percentages of millionaires per capita in the world. One of every six households has at least a million dollars in disposable wealth!
Flying to Singapore
Singapore's Changi Airport (airport code: SIN) is consistently wins awards for best in the world, as does Singapore Airlines. The two definitely make flying to Singapore an enjoyable experience — assuming you don't get busted for bringing in contraband items. You don't need to be a hardened smuggler to find out that Singapore is a "fine city" — electronic cigarettes, chewing gum, and pirated DVDs will 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 by bus takes between five and six hours, depending on traffic and waiting time at immigration. Unlike some of the cheap buses rattling through Asia, many buses to Singapore are luxuriously equipped with work desks, Wi-Fi, and interactive entertainment systems.
Tip: Singapore has stricter duty and import restrictions than surrounding nations in Southeast Asia. Although sometimes an opened pack of cigarettes is overlooked when flying in, regulations are often more stringently enforced along the land border than at the airport. Technically, Singapore does not have any duty-free allowance on tobacco products.
Is a Visa Necessary to Visit Singapore?
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 waved or can be easily satisfied if you don't look too much like a dirtbag.
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 F / 31 C) throughout the year, and rainfall is persistent. Good thing: the city's abundant greenspaces need constant 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.
Is Singapore Expensive?
Singapore is generally considered an expensive destination, especially when compared to other places in Southeast Asia such as Thailand. Backpackers are notorious for lamenting Singapore's relatively high accommodation costs. Drinking or smoking in Singapore will certainly wreck a budget.
But the good news is that food is cheap and delicious. As long as you can avoid the shopping and partying temptations, Singapore can be enjoyed on a budget. Because of the large number of foreign expats who call Singapore home, it's a good place to try out AirBnB or couch surfing.
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!
Budget Travel Tips for Singapore
- The tap water is safe to drink in Singapore. You can save money by refilling water bottles.
- A night out on the town can can really add up; a pint of beer in a basic pub can cost upwards of US $8! Add 50 percent to that price for nightclubs. 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 distance. 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; they aren't necessarily a tourist-only scene.
- 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!