Five things you may not know about travelling in Singapore

13 Feb 2019 by Jackie Chen

Many business travellers regard Singapore as an easy place to get around. However, rules and regulations can change quickly in this paternalistic city state, such that even the most seasoned business travellers can find themselves unaware of the city’s most recent changes.

Here are five travel tips for those visiting Singapore on business. The first two have come into effect within the past year, while the latter three have been in place for longer, but are still useful to know.

1. Orchard Road smoking ban

Singapore, not known for its tolerance of vice, has gradually been cracking down further on drinking and smoking. The city is famous for its high tax on alcohol, meaning the price of drinking out can be eye-wateringly expensive, while boozing in public places and retail sales of alcohol between 10:30pm and 7:00am are not allowed.

Now, the government has turned its eye to ridding its main shopping district of smoke. With effect from 1 January 2019, public areas within Orchard Road Precinct are designated as a No Smoking Zone. The zone encompasses not only Orchard Road, but also covers smaller roads and streets nearby. It is bordered by Scotts Road in the north, the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station in the east, Devonshire Road in the south, and Grange Road in the west.

Smoking is now only permitted at around 40 Designated Smoking Areas marked by yellow lines, or other indoor smoking areas in certain premises within the Orchard Road Non Smoking Zone. During the first three months following the ban’s implementation, those caught smoking outside of the designated smoking areas will get verbal warnings, while those who are repeatedly caught smoking despite multiple warnings may be fined up to SG$1,000 (US$741.59). From 1 April 2019 onwards, all offenders will be fined.

2. The rise of ride-hailing apps

In March 2018, Singapore-based ride-hailing service provider Grab announced its acquisition of Uber’s operations in Southeast Asia, and has become the major ride-hailing player in the region since then. Nowadays, Grab is available in 336 cities in eight Southeast Asian countries: Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. As of 20 January 2019, the number of total rides with Grab across the region reached three billion.

Despite its popularity in Singapore, Grab has also caused controversies there, primarily on safety issues. In a January 2019 feature in Bloomberg Businessweek, the author recalls her serious car accident with Grab, pointing out problems such as inexperienced and inadequately trained drivers, and what she sees as lack of effort by the company to protect passengers. Since late 2018, Grab has rolled out more safety measures, including more vigorous driver background checks, ride details sharing, emergency buttons for riders, as well as driver fatigue and driving pattern monitoring.

Grab also has a new rival in Singapore. Indonesia-based GOJEK was established in 2010 as a motorcycle ride-hailing service and entered Singapore in November 2018, providing similar car ride-hailing services to Grab.

3. Taxi surcharges

If you do decide to opt for a regular taxi, bear in mind that in Singapore, taxi fares are charged by the meter, and are based on a flag-down fare that ranges from S$3 (US$2.23) to S$5 (US$3.71), depending on the type of taxi and the distance travelled. While taxis’ base fares are pretty cheap, there are some applicable surcharges, depending on when, where and which company’s taxi you take. These can add considerable cost to your journey.

For example, from 12am to 5:59am, there is a midnight surcharge of 50 per cent of the metered fare, so bear this in mind if you’re planning on taking a taxi to the airport to catch a very early morning flight. During peak hours (6am to 9:30am from Monday to Friday, and 6pm to 12am any day including public holidays), the surcharge is 25 per cent of the meter fare. During public holidays, there’s a surcharge of 25 per cent of the metered fare all day.

There are also some location-based surcharges. Passengers will be charged an additional S$3 (US$2.23) for trips starting from the city area from 5pm to midnight, and this is payable on top of the peak hour surcharge. Besides, there’s an additional charge of S$2 (US$1.48) to S$5 (US$3.71) for trips starting from designated popular locations, including Changi Airport, Seletar Airport, Marina Bay Sands, Resorts World Sentosa, Gardens by the Bay and Singapore Expo Centre.

If you telephone to book a taxi, there’s an additional booking fee of between S$2.3 (US$1.71) to S$10 (US$7.42) depending on the type of taxi, while those who make an advanced booking at least half an hour before departure are charged a higher fee from S$8 (US$5.94) to S$20 (US$14.85).

4. Reusable public transport tickets

If you’re trying to save on cost and prefer to use public transport, taking the MRT and LRT, Singapore’s metro and light rail systems, is one of the most convenient ways to travel around the city. Usually, short-stay foreign travellers are better off buying a single-journey ticket, called a “Standard Ticket” in Singapore.

Unlike in many other countries’ metro systems where a single-journey ticket can only be used once and is collected upon exit, a Standard Ticket in Singapore can be used up to six times within 30 days from the date of purchase. Therefore, if travellers buy a Standard Ticket for a single trip, they only need to top up the fare amount needed for each of the following five journeys, without the need to buy a new ticket each time. They can also choose to buy a “Return Trip” if they plan to travel back to the same station.

Standard Tickets can be bought at any General Ticket Machine in all MRT or LRT stations. The purchase price includes a ticket deposit of 10 cents, which will be refunded on the travel fare of the third trip. Then on the sixth trip, the ticket holder enjoys a 10-cent discount.

However, trips bought on the Standard Ticket are only valid on the same day of purchase. If the trip you’ve paid is not used on that day, you can request a refund within three days of the day of purchase at the Passenger Service Centre in any MRT station.

5. EZ-Link Card: S$3 minimum balance

If you’re staying a little longer in Singapore, it’s probably worth investing in an EZ-Link card, the smart card used to pay for public transportation fares in Singapore. The EZ-Link card usually offers cheaper fares than Standard Tickets

However, remember that the EZ-Link card system requires that you have a minimum balance of S$3 (US$2.23) in order to board the MRT, LRT and buses. You cannot go into a negative balance as is possible with some cities’ travel cards (London’s Oyster card and Hong Kong’s Octopus card, for example). The minimum top-up value is S$10 (US$7.42).

Photos: Michael Allen and Flickr

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