When on business or pleasure in another country, it’s always a must to be aware of the local laws and customs. It will help you to be sensitive to the people around you, and more importantly, it will help you stay out of trouble.
If visiting Singapore is in your travel plans, be aware that laws there are strictly enforced. Failure to abide by some of the country’s rules could mean getting fined or being locked up in jail. Singapore’s laws may be quite harsh when compared to the laws of your country, but these laws make perfect sense to them. For instance, caning is a legally sanctioned form of punishment and is often employed for various offenses such as robbery, breaking and entering, assault, and vandalism. The country is infamous for its extreme punishments against seemingly minor infractions, like gum chewing and graffiti.
Singapore is also known as a “fine” city, due to the fact that you can pay a hefty fine if you’re caught doing something that is against the law, even if it might seem totally innocuous to you. To avoid getting fined or arrested, here are some of the rules to follow while you’re in Singapore.
1. Don’t smoke.
Smoking is banned at restaurants, cinemas and other indoor public places. Right now, Singapore is seriously considering to extend the same law to apply to outdoor public spaces, such as parks. The current fine for first time offenders can be as much as $1000. Dropping a cigarette butt in the street can also result to being fined.
2. You can chew gum, but you can’t import or sell it.
Many people think that chewing gum is illegal in Singapore; however, this is not accurate. You can chew gum, you just can’t sell or import it. If you bought some gum before your trip and chew it all throughout your stay, it’s not against the law to do that. Medical and dental gum may also be purchased from a pharmacy, but you will have to present a prescription.
The sale of gum was banned in 1992 after gum was used to shut down the SMRT, the country’s public transportation system. Vandals stuck it to the sensor doors, which brought the system to a halt. The punishment for smuggling gum into the country is a year in jail and a $5,500 fine.
3. Flush the toilet after you use
If you thought getting berated at home for not flushing the toilet was banned, that’s nothing compared to what would happen to you if you were caught doing the same thing in a public toilet in Singapore. The police make it a habit to check public rest rooms regularly, and failure to flush the toilet after you use it can result to a fine of about $200.
On a bizarre but somewhat related note, there have been instances where some people have urinated in elevators. Because of this, elevators are now programmed to permanently close if people urinate in them, effectively containing the person until the police arrive to make an arrest.
3. Do not litter.
A litter law dating all the way back to 1968 is the country’s way of keeping clean. If you disregard the law and drop trash on the ground, you will be fined a minimum of $1,000 for the first offense. On the third offense, you will be tasked to do community service on Sundays by cleaning the streets while wearing a bib that says “I am a litter bug”, aside from paying another fine. Do yourself a favor and don’t throw trash on the street, even if it’s just a small candy wrapper.
4. Do not vandalize.
Back in the early 90’s, an American teenager named Michael Fay was caught spray-painting several cars. He was sentenced to four months in jail and six strokes with a half-inch thick rattan cane. The sentence was later reduced to four strokes. And in 2010, Swiss national Oliver Fricker was sentenced to 5 months in jail and three strokes of the cane for spray-painting an MRT train.
Vandalism is an act that applies to writing, defacing or destroying private and public property. Fines can be up to $2000, and those who are caught will be sentenced to a few months to three years and jail, plus three to eight strokes of the cane. Women, men over 50 and those who have medical conditions are exempt from caning, but they still have to pay the fine and do some jail time.
5. Be drug-free.
In Singapore, some drug offenses will result to the death penalty.
Possession, consumption, manufacturing, import or export and trafficking of drugs and other controlled substances in any amount are illegal. Persons who are caught with less than the mandatory death penalty amount of drugs face penalties ranging from caning of up to 24 strokes and lifetime imprisonment.
Be aware that officials do not distinguish between drugs consumed before entering the country or those taken while in Singapore. The police may force both residents and non-residents to submit to random drug testing.
5. Watch what you do while you’re commuting.
It is not permitted to drink, eat or breastfeed on the trains. Even taking a small sip of plain water is not allowed. The SMRT authorities explained this, saying that the reason for this is because they want to avoid any spills which could soil belongings and may cause others to slip and fall. Eat before you go on the SMRT.
6. Leave your porn and pirated DVDs at home.
Bringing porn into the country can carry a fine of up to $1000 as well as imprisonment. In fact, the mere act of handing someone an obscene magazine is considered a violation of the law.
Also, you may not walk around naked, even if it is in the privacy of your home or hotel. If the cleaning lady or any of the hotel staff sees you, this will result to a fine. Walking around naked is a pornographic act in Singapore.
If you have to bring DVDs, make sure that they’re original copies. You can also be fined for bringing pirated DVDs.
7. Don’t get too amorous in public.
Unwanted touching, whether violent or sexual both fall under the Outrage of Modesty law. Violations of this law can bring up to two years in prison, caning, or a fine.
Under the outrage of modesty law, passionately kissing in public is punishable and you and your partner may be sentenced to up to a year in jail.
Same sex partners should note that homosexuality is technically illegal in the country. Be discreet and don’t show any outward signs of affection, even if it’s just hand holding.
These laws were put in place to keep Singapore clean and safe. Though some of them may not make any sense to the rest of the world, visitors are encouraged to follow them for a smooth stay. Although the laws may be different and strange to most foreigners, most of them are reasonable.
Singapore is one of the most prosperous, cleanest countries in the world, and perhaps having these laws in place is one of the reasons why the country has this reputation. Many foreigners who chose to live here have come to appreciate the law and the way that it has protected and improved lives. By using good judgment and being respectful of the laws and its citizens, anyone can have a good time in Singapore while staying safe and not getting into any trouble. Keep these rules in mind and everything will be fine.