Singapore Cultural Etiquettes For Tourists

Are you going to Singapore soon? Get familiar with Singapore cultural etiquette to respect the country as a guest and enhance your travel experience (and also, to avoid embarrassing yourself and your country!)

1. Laws and Regulations

Photo Credit: Money Digest
  • Don’t litter
  • Don’t do drugs
  • Don’t jaywalk
  • Don’t busk without a permit
  • Don’t be naked in public view
  • Don’t forget to flush the toilet
  • Don’t vandalize public properties
  • Don’t smoke in public (except in designated areas)

Singapore is known to be one of the safest countries in the world, but this does not come without strict enforcement of its laws and regulations. Government officers are even known to be patrolling the streets in civilian clothing. If you are caught breaking these rules, the punishments include jail, caning and even death penalty (for drug-related offences).

2. Communication

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Shaking hands are common. A slight bow may also be added to show respect. With Muslim women, slightly bow and smile (without skin contact). Greetings (and other things such as eating and passing things) are performed with right hands because left hands are associated with toilet purposes.

Saving Face
‘Saving face’ in Singapore society is one way to retain harmonious relationships with everyone. This means one should not behave in a way that embarrasses other people which include being assertive, forceful, and aggressive. Even when rejecting someone asking for a favour, Singaporeans prefer not to reject directly.

Heads are considered sacred, so do not touch anyone’s head, including a child’s.

Soles of the feet should be pointed down and not pointed at anyone because feet are considered dirty.

Age Hierarchy
Older people are respected and given priority in all face of life.

3. Clothing

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In terms of style, Singaporeans are stylish and up-to-date with the latest international trends. However, since the weather is hot all-year-round, the cloths are usually light-coloured and breezy.

4. In Public

Photo Credit: Singapore Actually

On the escalator, remember to stay on the left side so people in a hurry can move pass on the right side. Meanwhile, reserved priority seats in public transports for pregnant women, the elderly and physically handicapped.

On the other hand, do not criticize, joke or give unsolicited negative comments about Singapore publicly. Respect the country as you are a guest.

5. Visiting

Photo Credit: Flisol Home

When visiting Singaporeans homes and religious places of worship, shoes should be taken off for cleanliness reasons as it has touched ‘public grounds’.

Singaporeans rarely display affection publicly (including kissing and touching the opposite sexes) because it might offend some communities.

6. Dining

Photo Credit: Marina Bay Sands

As Singapore is home to various cultures, you need to find out the hostess’ dining etiquette according to their heritage. Here are some general rules. The Chinese use chopsticks for dining. When using chopsticks, do not stick the chopstick upright in a bowl of rice. Rest it on the chopstick stand instead.

Alcohol is not prohibited, but you should not order until other guests begin to drink. Meanwhile, many Indians practice Hinduism or Sikhism, which means no beef on the menu. On the other hand, Malays are a practising Muslim, which means the food should be Halal without pork nor alcohol. You can find many Halal eateries with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) certificate on display.

When eating out at restaurants, tips are not required (although not illegal) because most places impose a 10% service charge on top of the final bill.

In eateries, do not be surprised if you see tissue packets (or umbrella!) on the table or seat, it’s a sign that someone has reserved or ‘chopped’ it.

7. Gift-Giving

Photo Credit: Giftsmart

When giving gifts, use both hands or the right hand. Singaporeans tend to refuse a few times before receiving gifts — as to not show greed. If you are on the receiving ends, do not open it in front of the giver. For the Chinese community, white is a symbol of mourning, so do not wrap gifts in white.


Featured Image Credit: Rebecca Toh | Singapore Tourism Board

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