A Fine City… of No-Nos

The Republic of Singapore, a city-state with a current population of nearly 6 million residents, is known by many nicknames; among them, The Lion City and the Red Dot. But also: A Fine City. Sure, it’s hailed as a Garden City; green and clean and oh-so-pretty. But in this case, ‘fine’ refers to the penalties you could face – and not only if you’re caught littering, jaywalking, spitting, smoking in a no-smoking area, or eating and drinking on the MRT. More serious infractions like robbery, vandalism or drug trafficking, can result in jail sentences, or corporal punishment like caning or execution by hanging.

The ‘Keep Singapore Clean‘ movement, founded in 1968, has led to Singapore’s reputation for some of the cleanest streets in the world (thanks to a 50,000-strong cleaning workforce).

While a first fine for jaywalking will set you back S$50, get caught littering too many times and you could be subject to a S$10,000 penalty. You could also face a little-known punishment called Corrective Work Order, where offenders are required to pick up litter in public wearing a bright vest. What a souvenir-selfie that would be!

Before you take these warnings lightly, take heed: If you’re charged with theft or vandalism, as American Michael Fay was in 1994, better prepare (and pad) your backside – for six strokes of the cane.

As for Singapore’s legendary prohibition on chewing gum: While you can carry in (up to 2 packs of) gum for your own consumption, it’s a banned substance across Singapore – except in pharmacies, where you must produce a doctor’s prescription for nicotine or dental gum. And if you’re caught selling chewing gum, you could face a penalty as high as S$100,000.

Beyond gum, e-cigarettes too are verboten: according to the health authorities, it could be a gateway for non-smokers to get addicted to tobacco. So is ownership of cats, by residents living in subsidized housing. (Something about unchained felines prancing about and peeing in shared spaces.)

Public spaces are full of parks and spaces where, the Singaporean authorities fear civility and stability could be easily disrupted. Ergo: after 10 pm, groups of 4+ people are prohibited from assembling; and, after 10:30 pm, the sale and consumption of alcohol is banned. Lighting firecrackers – with narrow exceptions for specific festivals – is taboo. And if you dare make “any noise by any instrument or other means in such a manner as to cause or be likely to cause annoyance or inconvenience,” watch out.

If you connect to another person’s wi-fi network without their express consent: ding.

If you “parade around your hotel room in the nude – or “clad in such a manner as to offend against public decency:” ding.

Next time you’re in Singapore and think of peeing in an elevator (seriously?!) or leaving a toilet without flushing, watch out: you might be reported, then fined or jailed. If you’re wondering how anyone would know that you’ve dared on either front, check this: Singaporean elevators and public toilets are often equipped with Urine Detection Devices which, upon detecting the scent of urine, will set off an alarm and keep the doors closed until a police officer arrives.

You’ve been warned. Now get thee to the Red Dot, cross at the light, and have a swell time in the spotless (nanny) state!


    1. No, nothing spoils my time in the Red Dot. It’s a wonderful city, full of funky neighborhoods, delicious food choices and plenty of green spaces (and lots more!). But there are the downsides too – which would be the case in any modern city, wouldn’t it? 😉

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