Singapore, the most expensive city in the world to live in, and one of only three city-states left on earth, is a magnificent place to visit. From the majestic Merlion Statue and honorable Kranji War Memorial, to the orchid-enchanting Singapore Botanic Gardens and rainforest-themed Singapore Zoo, there’s something on this island city for everyone. The Singapore Tourism Board reported more than 2.4 million international visitor arrivals in only the first two months of 2015.
Known to be progressive in many ways, Singapore is a world leader in education, technology and industry. On top of these achievements, the nation is a world leader in crime deterrence, ranking as the nation with the 8th lowest national crime index in 2014.
What is the strategy for keeping criminality at bay? Many point to very strict laws that may seem either archaic or outright strange to westerners. The laws are so foreign to many they’re easy to break without knowing it. In 2013, out of the total 32,196 criminal cases reported to police, 3.3% alone were related to foreigners committing immigration offences. The U.S. Department of State’s Singapore 2013 Human Rights Report reveals that in 2012, the courts sentenced 2,500 people to caning and 2,203 of the sentences were carried out.
So, before you head to Singapore, check the list, there are some acts with unlikely consequences that may surprise you.
In October 2014, the Supreme Court of Singapore upheld the government’s ban on homosexuality, effectively ruling that gay men must stay ‘in-the-closet’ or face a two year prison term. These laws were designed to defend what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described as traditional Singaporean family values.
However, same sex relationships between women have never been penalized and, were actually specifically mentioned in another statute which offered more sexual freedom to heterosexuals and lesbians.
Attention all graffiti artists! Popping open a bottle of spray paint to express your creativity in Singapore is a big no-no and will not be tolerated – in fact, if caught, you will be caned. Caning is a form of corporal punishment where the convicted person is whipped on the bare skin with a cane comprised of rattan.
In March of this year, Reuters reported two German men were sentenced to nine months in prison and three cane strokes each for breaking into a train station and decorating train cars. Caning isn’t an uncommon punishment in Singapore and South East Asia where sentences are doled out for about 30 crimes including illegal activity related to vandalism, drugs, immigration offenses, robbery, and many forms of abuse.
Drinking & Driving
Driving is a privilege in Singapore, something most can’t afford, with only 1.56 cars per every ten people. The government wants to discourage drivers, so along with expensive import duties and tariffs, a car comes with a mandatory 50% down payment and a 10 year license which starts at $45,000 USD.
With such high costs to drive, the penalties for committing a drinking and driving offence in Singapore, is equally extremely high and offers zero tollerence. The Automobile Association of Singapore reports that drunk drivers’ cars will be towed if they are found guilty of being over the legal limit and the owners will also have to pay for the vehicle towing costs. And while first time offenders are fined between $1,000 and $5,000 and can lose their driver’s licenses for one to three years, repeat offenders face fines up to $10,000 and jail time.
Jaywalking & Littering
According to Singapore Criminal Lawyer, jaywalking and littering are among the most common offenses committed on the island. In 2012 nearly 8,000 people were fined for jaywalking and in 2011, nearly 9,000 people were charged for littering. In Singapore, fines can reach $1,000 for first time offenders and littering fines range from $300 to $1,000 for first time offenders. Both fines rise up to $5,000 for third-time offenders with the possibility of facing jail time.
In comparison, in New York City in 2012, a city with 1.5 times the population, the NYPD reported a total 7,886 littering and 1,979 jaywalking offenses. The fine is far lighter as well, ranging from $50-250 and a maximum of 10 days in jail for littering and a $250 fine for jaywalking.
Flushing Public Toilets
There’s no need to follow the adage – “If it’s yellow let it mellow” – in Singapore. In fact, what many see as a noble act of water conservation in other nations is one that will hit you with a major fine here.
Singapore Statutes Online states “any person who has urinated or defecated in any sanitary convenience with a flushing system to which the public has access shall flush the sanitary convenience immediately after using it.” Penalties for first time offenders can range up to $1,000 while third-time offenders face up to $5,000 penalties.
Sneezing and Spitting
Need a Kleenex? Make sure to bring them with you on your vacation to this Asian nation. In an effort to stop the amount of spit ending up on sidewalks in the densely populated nation, it's illegal to hock a loogie in Singapore.
Spitting from the mouth or expelling mucous from the nose in a public place is illegal and penalties for such unsanitary acts are the same as the repercussions for not flushing public toilets, above.
The World Health Organization reports that smoking cigarettes is the number one preventable cause of death in the world. Singapore takes smoking very seriously, and fines for this offence can be astronomical. Smoking in a public place is illegal, and littering cigarette butts is even worse.
The National Environment Agency reported the highest fine ever imposed for littering cigarette butts went to a man who littered more than 30 cigarette butts out his apartment window, onto the street. The man was fined nearly $20,000 and sentenced to 5 hours of corrective work order. The moral of this story is not to litter cigarette butts, and better yet, quit smoking altogether.
North American and European locales are seeing increasing tolerance toward marijuana, with decriminalization and medicinal permits becoming part of the norm, and recreational use permitted in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon. Singapore’s government, however, has a zero tolerance policy for cannabis or drugs of any kind.
According to the Central Narcotics Bureau, cannabis is a class A drug listed in the Misuse of Drugs Act. Possession or consumption of cannabis penalties can sentence criminals to prison for up to 10 years or fined of $20,000 and in some cases, both. The bureau also reports that the import, export or illegal trafficking of cannabis in Singapore in excess of 200 grams of resin, 500 grams of cannabis or more than 1,000 grams of both, can result with the death penalty.
Beyond marijuana, chemical drugs face even more severe penalties, including a possible death sentence. Best to indulge elsewhere.
Around the world, nudity in public is illegal, but in many countries – it is not only accepted but promoted, with beaches, colonies, and camps designed to allow like minded and free spirited people to meet and greet "au naturel".
The Singapore Government’s regulations for nudity are surprising. “Any person who appears nude in a public place; or in a private place and is exposed to public view, shall be guilty of an offence.” These “nudists” are even fined if a neighbour catches a glimpse of slight nudity and makes a complaint. So if you feel like roaming around in your hotel room in the nude, keep in mind fines run up to $2,000 and prison sentences for up to three months, or both.
Clearly, with laws so strict, apparel and textile industries are booming there.
One of the most highly talked about laws in Singapore, is the “Chewing Gum Law”. In 1992, after years of vandalism in elevators, mailboxes, and on sidewalks, the government of Singapore decreed all gum illegal to stem the amount of sticky stuff on elevator buttons and on stair railings.
Only in 2004, after pressure from the US and other governments, the law was revised to allow chewing gum for therapeutic, medicinal, or dental reasons, however it is illegal to sell and import gum on the island. Tourists in-transit, West Malaysians, and gum for research purposes are exceptions of gum chewing allowed in Singapore, however this is still contingent on approval from the government.
Singapore Statutes Online states chewing gum penalty fines for first-time convictions may range up to $100,000, a prison sentence of up to two years, or both. Plus, penalties rise with each subsequent conviction.
Word to the wise, leave your gum at home!