Singapore: Laws To Know Before You Go

by Djulia Montana de Veyra

Singapore is known for its impeccable cleanliness and low crime rate. The country has such a strong reputation for being safe that the authorities had to put out a warning stating that “low crime does not mean no crime,” reminding people to stay vigilant. But, as with most good things, the high regard the country gets for its cleanliness and safety comes with a price. Singapore is sometimes called “The Fine City,” but this title has a double meaning that you don’t want to be on the wrong end of. The label refers to the immaculate, or fine, state that Singapore is in, but also for the many different fines the country imposes.

Singapore's Flyer and Sands SkyPark.
Singapore's Flyer and Sands SkyPark. Photo by Ian Delgado

Unfortunately, it takes a little more than common sense to know what is right and wrong while visiting or studying in Singapore. There are acts considered harmless in your home country that are illegal in Singapore. But there is no need to fear or be deterred from studying abroad in this unique and beautiful place. It is easy to become aware of these laws and customs.

Studying in Singapore is very rewarding, but you have to make sure you trek on the safe side.

The following list will help you know what NOT to do during your study abroad program in Singapore, how to be more aware of local customs, and possibly most importantly, how to save some money!

The Importance Of Discipline

Singaporeans place a lot of importance on discipline, and corporal punishment is widely accepted. Caning is not only used to punish criminals but also as a disciplinary measure in schools, the military, and in the domestic scene. Do not be surprised to find canes sold in grocery stores. They usually cost around 50 Singapore cents and are made of thin rattan with a plastic hook at the end to serve as the handle. They are made for the sole purpose of parental caning. Make sure you respect the local culture and adhere to their strict standards of proper behavior.

Chewing Gum

Chewing gum is banned in Singapore so leave it at home when packing your bags. Importation of chewing gums into the country, even if it is not for trading, is illegal. The current set of regulations does not have provisions for carrying gum for personal use. Improper disposal of gum and carrying large quantities of the banned product will cost a hefty fine of up to $1000 for first time offenders.

A proposal on the ban of chewing gums has long been in place, stemming from maintenance problems in high-rise housing flats (gum stuck inside keyholes, in mailboxes, and on elevator buttons). Chewed wads left on seats of public buses, pavement in public areas, stairways, and floors were also considered serious problems. Regarded as a drastic measure, the initial ban was not successful. The tide turned when the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) began its operations. The $5 billion project was the biggest public project implemented in the country, bringing high expectations with it. When vandals started sticking gum on the door sensors of the MRT trains it was the last straw, especially when it started causing malfunctions and disruption of services. The chewing gum ban earned its merit and was finally enacted.

The Marina Barrage in Singapore


Singapore is bent on maintaining its reputation of being impeccably clean, with an active campaign against littering and stringent enforcement in place. First time offenders who throw small items like cigarette butts or candy wrappers are fined $300. Those who throw out bigger items like drink cans or bottles are considered defiant and are required to appear before the court. The punishment usually involves a Corrective Work Order (CWO), where the offenders clean up a specified area while wearing a bright luminous green vest. The CWO was implemented in the hopes of making offenders realize the hardship cleaners have to go through to keep the surroundings clean, and to make them understand just how unsightly litter is. It is also admittedly aimed at publicly shaming the offenders to ensure that they don’t regress to being a litterbug again.


Smoking is prohibited in certain areas in Singapore. The smoking prohibition currently covers all indoor places where the public congregates. The ban was revised in 2009 to include indoor public places that are not air-conditioned, such as shopping centers, offices, and shops. Outdoor public facilities, like fitness areas, sports courts, and playgrounds, were also included in the extension. In 2013, the ban extended even further to include multi-purpose halls, pedestrian overhead bridges, covered walkways and link ways, hospital outdoor compounds, and a five-meter perimeter around bus shelters. The extension also includes common areas of residential buildings.

The so-called Smoking (prohibition in certain places) Act was put in place to ensure a safe, healthy, and clean environment for the public, safeguarding people from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. Thankfully for visitors, the law also requires signage and other such measures to ensure that the public is well informed.

Homosexual Relations

The legislation on “Outrages on Decency” criminalizes same sex relations. This law used to be under the umbrella of “unnatural sex” or sex “against the order of nature.” Violators of this law can cost the offender up to two years in prison.


Jaywalking is a term that was first coined in the U.S. and is now widely used in many countries. It refers to the reckless or illegal crossing of pedestrians on roads. In Singapore, jaywalking mainly refers to crossing the street in non-designated areas. Make sure you look for marked pedestrian lanes before crossing the street.

Urinating in Elevators & Not Flushing the Toilet

Not flushing the toilet is more than just a breach of propriety in Singapore, you will be breaking the law if you do so. Expect to pay a fine if you get caught. Don’t even think of urinating in elevators, as they are equipped with Urine Detection Devices (UDD), which detect the scent of urine, setting off an alarm and closing the doors until the police arrive to arrest the offender.

Garden by the bay Supertree Singapore


Vandalism is a serious offense in Singapore, with penalties that include not only fines, but also jail, and three to eight strokes of caning. The act constitutes damages done to both public and private properties. Damaging, destroying and stealing public property, as well as drawing, painting, writing, inscribing, and marking any private property without the owner’s consent are considered illegal. Affixing placards, posters, banners, and flags is also prohibited.  

One case was widely publicized. Michael P. Fay, an 18-year-old American citizen, received his share of caning. Fay vandalized cars by spray-painting them. He pleaded guilty to two charges of vandalism and was sentenced to two months of jail and six counts of caning (three strokes for each charge). The caning was reduced after an appeal for clemency from U.S. President Bill Clinton. The whole affair sparked a controversy, with a number of Americans expressing outrage over what was perceived to be a violent penalty. They were especially aghast because of the fact that the offense was non violent by nature. But there were Americans who supported the Singaporean government’s decision, citing the idea that Americans must learn to respect the regulations of the country they visit.


It is important to note that the Singaporean authority does not distinguish between drugs taken back home before you entered the country, and those taken within their borders. The Singapore police is authorized to run a random drug test on both locals and visiting foreigners. Make sure you are cleared of any substance before entering the country, or even better, never consume!

Now you are prepped and ready to avoid deportation or arrest (at least we hope so!), it is time to find the ideal study abroad program in Singapore for you!