1. Get a CEPAS/EZ-LINK Card
Many travellers make the mistake of not purchasing Singapore’s excellent transportation card when they first arrive. Instead, they pay for each bus and train journey which quickly adds up.
An EZ-Link card costs S$15 and includes S$10 worth of credit. You can purchase and add credit to cards at MRT train stations and minimarts. Having an EZ-Link card will also save you a lot of time waiting in queues at ticket machines in MRT stations.
The EZ-Link card can be used on the LRT, MRT (trains), and excellent public buses. By using an EZ-Link card, you pay only for the distance travelled, rather than a flat fare like everyone else — just don’t forget to tap your card on the reader as you exit the bus!
2. Don’t Buy the Singapore Tourist Pass
The Singapore Tourist Pass is similar to the EZ-Link card, however, it allows for unlimited rides during a one, two, or three-day stay. The Tourist Passes aren’t cheap: A one-day pass costs around S$18 which includes a refund for returning the card. You would need to take four or five rides on the MRT per day to just break even!
Unless you really get a thrill out of riding trains around the city, chances are that you’ll spend a lot of your pass time walking around the sights and less on the train.
3. Drink the Water
Unlike other countries in Southeast Asia, the tap water in Singapore is safe to drink. This is good news, as a bottle of water can cost around S$2 at minimarts! Buy a small bottle of water, and then refill it for free.
4. Eat in Food Halls
Singapore is blessed with some of the best food courts, food halls, and hawker stalls found anywhere in Asia. A notch above the street food typically found in places such as Thailand, a delicious meal can be enjoyed for between S$4 — S$6 in food halls. You can eat for under S$3 if you don’t mind Chinese noodles and noodle soups.
The food courts found in posh malls and at the bottoms of nearly every skyscraper are priced slightly higher than standalone food centres. Check out the sprawling food centre in Chinatown, or the cheap-yet-delightful Lau Pa Sat food centre near the Raffles MRT stop.
5. Don’t Drink or Smoke
Thanks to excessive taxation, vices come with a heavy price in Singapore. A pack of Marlboro cigarettes runs around S$12, and drinking is terribly expensive even by US or European standards. Entry into nightclubs can be up to S$30 which includes one watery drink.
If you still crave a socializing atmosphere, opt to buy drinks from the 7-11 located at the end of Clarke Quay, then hang out around the water. Just look for the pedestrian bridge covered with people lounging around.
6. Enjoy the Parks
Although Singapore appears to be mostly concrete, the city is blessed with an excellent park matrix which spiders through the city. The parks and skyline views can be enjoyed for free, and a complex interconnecting system links parks to each other via a skywalk.
7. Take Advantage of Freebies
Savvy travellers can find art displays, public performances, and street performers along the riverfront, esplanade, and city centre — particularly on weekends.
Entrance to museums in Singapore is expensive, however, several days or evenings a month the entrance fee is waved for special exhibitions. Check at the counter and inside of free attractions magazines for promotion dates.
If you cannot time your visit for open museum days, consider purchasing the three-day pass which allows you unlimited museum visits for S$20.
8. Only Shop in the Right Places
Singapore has more shopping malls than you could explore in months. Even ultra-modern Changi Airport is practically one big mall which happens to have the occasional airplane land or take off.
Many of these malls are ridiculously expensive. Instead, do your souvenir and incidental shopping in cheap shops around Chinatown and Little India.
Purchase your snacks, drinks, and toiletries from the big supermarkets located under many of the big malls rather than in minimarts. VivoMart beneath VivoCity — the largest mall in Singapore — regularly has food and drink specials.
9. Make a New Friend
Accommodation in Singapore is expensive. A bunk bed in a crowded hostel dorm costs around S$20; a night in a modest hotel may require you to give blood. Couch surfing with one of the many expats living in Singapore is a great way to sleep for free, and also gives you a local’s insight into how to enjoy Singapore on a budget.
10. Don’t Get Busted
Locals joke that Singapore is a “fine” city — which obviously comes with two meanings. Although you rarely see police officers around the city, rest assured that many people do get fined here for seemingly innocuous activities; the fine-payment kiosks dotted around are a sure indication.
Although you would have to get very unlucky, avoid paying fines by being aware of the following:
• The number one reason to get fined in Singapore is for not using marked crosswalks.
• Seatbelts are required when in a car; the driver cannot use a mobile phone while moving.
• Riding a bike on pedestrian-only paths such as around the river is forbidden.
• Chewing gum, snacks, and drinks are not permitted on the MRT trains or public transportation.