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SINGAPORE – GENERAL INFORMATION

                 Fig.1 – Singapore Flag

GEOGRAPHY

The island of Singapore is situated off the southern extremity of the Malay Peninsula, separated from the mainland by the Johor Strait which is about 1km (0.8 miles) wide. Causeways run across the strait carrying roads, a railway and water pipes. The main island is mainly flat with only low hills, the highest being Bukit Timah at 166m (545ft). In the northeast of the island, and in the urban district, large areas have been reclaimed, and much of the original jungle and swamp covering the low-lying areas has been cleared. In addition to the main island, the Republic of Singapore includes more than 60 much smaller islands and islets.

HISTORY

Today considered one of South East Asia’s economic success stories, the island which is now known as Singapore has a long history of trade – certainly Chinese merchants were visiting many centuries before the arrival of the first European colonists. Details are sketchy, although we do know that at various times the island fell under the influence of competing kingdoms based in what are now Indonesia and Malaysia.

The Portuguese arrived in the region early in the 16th century, taking Melaka (on west coast of the peninsula) as their trading port. The Dutch followed, as did the British, and it was the latter nation which took an interest in Singapore following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1818.

Credit: Central Intelligence Agency

Under plans drawn up by Sir Stamford Raffles, Singapore was to be turned into a major port alongside Melaka and Penang (also on the Malaysian peninsula) – both of which were by then under British control. Although he spent little time in the city, his decisions – such as dividing the city along ethnic lines – were crucial to its development.

Under the British, Chinese and Indian immigrants flocked to Singapore. Living conditions were often dreadful, but there was money to be made and the city became known for a work ethic which is evident to this day. As in the other Straits Settlements, Melaka and Penang, a mixed-ancestry community (known as Peranakan) arose after Chinese men married with local women.

WWII saw disaster befall the city, which fell to the Japanese army much to the dismay of Singapore’s colonial rulers. Conditions under the occupation were harsh, for POWs and civilians alike; thousands of Chinese inhabitants were executed.

After the Japanese surrender, British rule was re-established but the colonial rulers had been shown to be vulnerable. Singapore achieved independence in 1963, initially as part of the Malay Federation but relations with Malaysia were poor and Singapore was expelled in 1965.

Under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew, who was prime minister from 1959 to 1990 and whose son currently holds the post, the country attracted foreign investment and its economy prospered. The cost of this, however, was the development of a single party political system and a clampdown on dissent; to this day the media suffers a high degree of state control and Singapore has a reputation as a prosperous but rather antiseptic and pettily repressive city-state. In the last few years there has been pressure to relax some of the laws in question, to which the Government has responded in part. Although statistics relating to capital punishment are not released, it is believed that the number of executions has fallen significantly from a high of around 50 per year in the mid-1990s.

In recent years Singapore has taken a more active role in regional affairs, mainly through the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN). This former anti-Communist bloc is now adopting a more wide-ranging role in diplomatic, economic and – since the Bali bomb attacks in 2002 – security affairs. There has been some improvement in relations between Singapore and Malaysia, between whom there are myriad disputes about matters such as access to air space, water resources and territorial boundaries. This thawing of relations has been reflected in the creation of Iskandar Malaysia, a joint project to develop the southern portion of the peninsular around Johor Bahru.

THE PEOPLE

Singapore’s population comprises 77.3% Chinese, 14.1% Malays, 7.3% Indians, and 1.3% people of other descent. Buddhist 33%, Christian 18%, Muslim 15%, Taoist 11% and Hindu 5%.

SOCIAL CONVENTIONS

Handshaking is the usual form of greeting, regardless of race; Muslims, and some Hindus, would not however normally shake hands with someone of the opposite sex. Social courtesies are often fairly formal. When invited to a private home or entering a temple or mosque, remove your shoes. For private visits, a gift is appreciated and, if on business, a company souvenir is appropriate.

Dress is informal. Most first-class restaurants and some hotel dining rooms expect men to wear a jacket and tie in the evenings; a smart appearance is expected for business meetings.

Laws relating to jaywalking, littering and chewing gum are strictly enforced in urban areas. Smoking is widely discouraged and illegal in enclosed public places (including restaurants). Dropping a cigarette end in the street or smoking illegally can lead to an immediate fine.

LANGUAGES

The official languages are Mandarin Chinese, English, Malay and Tamil. Most Singaporeans are bilingual and speak English, which is used as the main language of communication.

GOVERNMENT

The government of Singapore is the Executive branch of government, defined by the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, which is made up of the President and the Cabinet of Singapore. President’s role is largely ceremonial. It is the Cabinet, composed of the Prime Minister and other Ministers appointed on his advice by the President, which generally directs and controls the Government. The Cabinet is formed by the political party that gains a simple majority in each general election.

TIME ZONE

Singapore is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST).

ELECTRICITY

230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plug fittings of the 3-pin square type are in use.

CLIMATE

Located just north of the equator, Singapore has a tropical climate and stays hot and humid throughout the year. Temperatures average around 31º C (88º F) during the day, with little seasonal variation. It’s slightly cooler in December and January, and hottest in April and May. Temperatures are unlikely to dip below 23º C (74º F) at night; the lowest temperature ever recorded was just over 19º C (66º F).

Singapore receives a considerable amount of rainfall – approximately 2340mm annually. Although there are no distinct wet or dry seasons, the region is affected by two different monsoons. The Northeast Monsoon generally takes place from December to March and is accompanied by more frequent rain, particularly from November to January.

Conversely, the Southwest Monsoon produces a marginally dryer climate from May to September. Despite the slightly lower overall precipitation levels, particularly from June to August, the Southwest Monsoon is characterized by its early-morning rainstorms; these often persist for one or two hours then taper off for the afternoon. Even these drier months experience a fair amount of rain (around 150mm each month), so be prepared for unpredictably wet weather any time of the year.

The beginning and end of the two monsoon seasons are not well defined, but are separated by the shorter inter-monsoon periods of April/May and October/November. During these months, afternoon and evening rain showers are likely. These showers are typically sudden and heavy, but often only last for a short time.

The region is extremely humid, with humidity levels usually between 70% and 90%; often the air is muggiest in the early morning, abating somewhat in the afternoon. On rainy days it is not unreasonable to expect the humidity to reach 100%. When visiting, be sure to drink enough water and seek frequent refuge from the sticky heat indoors. March and September are particularly humid and often very uncomfortable.

Thunderstorms are also a very regular phenomenon, occurring on roughly 40% of all days year-round but particularly common during the Southeast Monsoon. In fact, this small city-state has one of the highest rates of lightning activity worldwide.

Despite the unpredictability of the weather, Singapore experiences as much brilliant sunshine as it does rain, and therefore makes for a delightful beach destination. If sunbathing happens to be interrupted by an unexpected shower, there is at least a plethora of indoor entertainment.

As Singapore’s weather does not vary drastically throughout the year, tourism in the area is relatively steady year-round. The weather can be erratic and unpredictable, so it may be best to plan a visit based on the festival season rather than the climate; some of the nation’s most notable are the grand celebrations of Chinese New Year, the Lantern Festival and the Art Festival. Accommodation prices rise significantly during the Formula One racing.

CLOTHES TO WEAR

Be sure to pack lightweight cottons and linens to avoid becoming overheated in the muggy Singapore climate. Also remember to carry an umbrella any time of year, but particularly during the rainy season.

LOGISTICAL

Entry & Exit Requirements:

To enter Singapore, you will need a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of your intended stay. If you plan on regional travel beyond Singapore, make sure that your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the date you plan to enter such areas. You do not need a visa for tourist or business visits of up to 90 days. For further information concerning visas and entry requirements for Singapore, you may contact the Embassy of Singapore at 3501 International Place NW, Washington, DC 20008, Tel: (202) 537-3100.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Singapore.

Embassy & High Commission Locations:

 

Embassy of the United States of America

27 Napier Road, Singapore 258508

Tel: +(65) 6476-9100

Emergency After-Hours Tel: +(65) 6476-9100

Fax: +(65) 6476-9232

http://singapore.usembassy.gov/

High Commission of Canada to Singapore

One George Street, #11-01
Singapore 049145

Tel: +(65)-6854-5900

Fax: +(65)-6854-5930

http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/singapore-singapour/contact-contactez.aspx?lang=eng

HEALTH

Good medical care is widely available in Singapore. Doctors and hospitals expect immediate payment for health services by credit card or cash and generally do not accept U.S. health insurance. Hospitals may require a substantial deposit before admitting you into the hospital for any major medical treatment. The U.S. Embassy cannot provide a letter of guarantee for payment. Recipients of health care should be aware that Ministry of Health auditors in certain circumstances may be granted access to patient medical records without the consent of the patient, and in certain circumstances physicians may be required to provide information relating to the diagnosis or treatment without the patient’s consent.

Despite vigorous mosquito eradication efforts, Singapore has had occasional outbreaks of mosquito-transmitted illnesses, such as dengue fever and the viral disease Chikungunya. For the most current health information regarding disease outbreaks in Singapore, visit the CDC’s website.

If you visit Singapore during a pandemic such as the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, you should expect that the Singapore government may order you to quarantine if you exhibit symptoms or have had contact with someone who has exhibited symptoms. Also, you should expect that you may be subject to quarantine if you were seated within several rows of a potentially infected person on a plane or public area or have recently traveled to countries more affected by the pandemic. You should also expect to encounter screening in public facilities such as the airport, hospitals, and museums. Please visit Singapore’s Ministry of Health website for the most up-to-date information on infectious diseases in Singapore.

During the summer months, Singapore frequently experiences haze and air pollution caused by forest fires and the burning of agricultural waste in neighboring countries. Air pollution during these periods can reach levels considered hazardous to health. Please visit the website of Singapore’s National Environment Agency for the latest information on air pollution level.

 Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

BANKS & CURRENCY

Singapore Dollar (SGD; symbol S$) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of S$10,000, 1,000, 500, 100, 50, 10, 5 and 2. Coins are in denominations of S$1, and 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 cents. The currency of Brunei is also legal tender, although coins may not be accepted; 1 Brunei Dollar = 1 Singapore Dollar. US Dollars, Australian Dollars, Yen and Pounds Sterling are also accepted at many major shopping centers in Singapore.

American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted, although cheaper eateries are likely to accept only cash.

ATMs are widespread and many will accept cards from overseas banks.

To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travelers from the UK are advised to take traveler’s cherubs in Pounds Sterling. A passport is required when cashing traveler’s cherubs.

Banking hours: Mon-Fri 0930-1500, Sat 0930-1230 (some are open later). Branches of certain major banks on Orchard Road open Sun 0930-1500.

COMMUNICATION

International Dialing Code: +65. Public telephone booths take phone cards, and sometimes credit cards, and can be used to make both local and international calls. For the latter it is usually cheaper to purchase a pre-paid international calling card; these are readily available due to the large number of migrant workers in Singapore.

Internet cafes throughout Singapore provide public access to internet and email services. Most hotels offer Internet access.

Cell Phone Usage:

Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.

ENTERTAINMENT

Food & Drink

Singapore is a gourmet’s paradise, with everything from humble street stalls to 5-star restaurants. There are over 30 different cooking styles, including various regional styles of Chinese cuisine, American, English, French, Indian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Russian and Swiss.

The most common, though are Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisines. Malay food is famed for its use of spices and coconut milk; no pork is used, as most Malays are Muslim. The Indian community mostly traces its roots back to South India and their food reflects this, meaning that spicy vegetarian dishes are predominant. To try many small dishes, order a thali (which may be served on a banana leaf). The most popular Chinese regional cuisine is Cantonese, which includes a lot of stir fry dishes as well as dim sum (small dishes, often steamed, which are intended for sharing at lunchtime).

 Specialties:

  • Beef rendang(coconut milk beef curry).
  • Char kway teow (thick rice noodles stir fried in soy sauce and chilli with prawns and clams, often with additional ingredients such as egg).
  • Chilli crab (fresh crab with a piquant tomato sauce).
  • Gado gado (a fruit and vegetable salad in peanut sauce).
  • Hainanese chicken rice (steamed chicken served with rice which has been cooked in chicken stock, along with ginger and chilli dips).
  • Ikan assam (fish in a sour tamarind sauce).
  • Laksa (a coconut-based spicy noodle soup, usually containing prawns or chicken as well as tofu, fishcake and beansprouts). 
  • Masala dosa (a rolled pancake filled with a vegetarian curry, popular as a snack or for breakfast).
  • Satay (skewers of marinated meat cooked over charcoal, served with spicy peanut sauce, cucumber, onion, rice and coconut).

 Note:

Although the Singaporean authorities have closed most of the individual food stalls which were once common, street food is still very much in evidence in dining areas known as hawker centers. These are often open-air, and always contain an array of stalls specializing in different dishes. Other eating options include kopitiam (literally coffee shops, although they also sell food). There are also food courts in malls, often with excellent food, as well as restaurants with waiter service. Bars/cocktail lounges often have table and counter service. There are no licensing hours.

 Regional drinks:

  • Bandung(milk mixed with rose syrup).
  • Bubble tea (sweet, milky tea with tapioca balls which can be sucked up through the extra-wide straw).
  • Kopi (coffee, served with condensed milk by default but available in a variety of forms including Kopi-O which is black with sugar).
  • Sarsi (root beer, which usually comes in cans; ice cream can be added to make a float).
  • Singapore Sling (cocktail containing gin, cherry liquor, Cointreau, benedictine, pineapple juice, lime juice, grenadine and Angostura bitters). It was invented in the early 20th century for the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.
  • Soya bean milk.
  • Sugar cane juice.
  • Teh tarik(tea which has been poured repeatedly from one cup to another, cooling it, mixing in the condensed milk used as a sweetener, and leaving it with a frothy top).
  • Tiger Beer (ubiquitous local lager brand, although recent years have seen the opening of a handful of microbreweries producing more interesting beers).

NIGHTLIFE

Singapore has a vibrant and exciting nightlife. Alcohol is expensive by the standards of South East Asia, but at least there’s a great array of bars, clubs, discos and karaoke pubs in which to enjoy it. Look out for happy hours and ladies’ nights (which are usually midweek). Non-alcoholic entertainment can be found in street opera, night markets, river cruises, multiplex cinemas, theatre productions and international stage shows. There are casinos within the two huge ‘integrated resort’ complexes at Marina Bay and in Sentosa.

Among the most popular all-in-one entertainment districts are Boat Quay and Clarke Quay, two riverside landmarks that offer a mix of restaurants, informal alfresco dining and lively bars. Moored Chinese junks have been refurbished into floating bars and restaurants. There are, however, several other parts of town which are lively at night; as in any big city, fashions change but it’s worth checking out Kampong Glam (particularly around Haji Lane, for shisha bars), Holland Village (popular with expats) and Club Street. If you’re around Orchard Road, try the bars in the restored Peranakan shop houses on Emerald Hill Road.

SHOPPING

The vast range of available goods and competitive prices has led to Singapore rightly being known as a shopper’s paradise. Special purchases include Balinese, Chinese, Filipino, Indian and Malay antiques; batiks; cameras; Chinese, Indian and Persian carpets; imported or tailored clothing; jeweler and shoes, briefcases, handbags and wallets. Silks, perfumes and silverware are other favorite buys. The herding of shop owners from Chinatown into multi-storey complexes lost some of the exciting shopping atmosphere, although these huge centers do at least provide an air-conditioned environment. Orchard Road is the main shopping street, although many of the large hotel complexes, such as Marina Square, have shopping centers attached.

For electrical goods try Funan Digitalife Mall or Sim Lim Square. Despite initial impressions shopping in Singapore need not, however, be all about malls. For a quirkier shopping experience try the boutiques on Haji Lane, which attract droves of young and fashionable shoppers. For bargains visit the flea market on Sungei Road, best on weekend afternoons, popularly known as the Thieves’ Market although it has long since been cleaned up. Although most outlets operate Western-style fixed pricing, bargains can still be made in some places but generally only after good research and shrewd negotiating. Haggling is essential at the Sungei Road flea market. For more information on shopping in Singapore, see the Singapore Shopping brochure published by the Singapore Tourism Board.

Shopping hours: Daily 1000-2100, Sat 1000-2200. The Mustafa Centre in Little India is open 24-hours.

 Note:

If you are a tourist and buy goods in Singapore from retailers who operate the Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS), you may claim a refund of the GST paid on your purchases. TRS is available if you are bringing your purchases out of Singapore via Changi International Airport, Seletar Airport or an international cruise (excluding cruise-to-nowhere, round-trip cruise and regional ferry) that departs from the Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore and the International Passenger Terminal at Harbourfront Centre within two months from the date of purchase, subject to your eligibility and conditions of the TRS.

IRAS has introduced the Electronic Tourist Refund Scheme (eTRS) to replace the paper refund form system. For more details on the conditions and refund procedures, please refer to http://www.iras.gov.sg/irashome/page04.aspx?id=10834.

BAGGAGE

Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.

TIPPING

Gratuities are not included as a part of our service. However, we would like to reiterate that tipping is NOT mandatory and is entirely at your discretion, based on your level of satisfaction for the services that you have received. Having said that, most service providers do expect gratuity. We are pleased to provide you with the suggested guideline, that you may use at your discretion.

LAUNDRY

Laundry service is available at most hotels in the main centers. Generally you should allow about 24-hours before the item is returned to you. However, some have an emergency service available at an extra charge.

PHOTOS & VIDEOS

In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.

USE OF DRONES 

The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.

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