Physical geography

Singapore is made up of a main island with over 50 surrounding islets. The main island has a total land area of 646 square kilometres.


Singapore's climate is essentially tropical, with an unusually moderate and steady temperature averaging 27 degrees celsius. Hot and humid throughout the year, there is the possibility of short, heavy downpours between November and February.

Economic geography

In the years since achieving independence in 1965, the Republic has undergone astonishingly rapid growth and change. The island has the world's busiest port, and its airport is consistently voted the world's best. Singapore is now one of the world's major oil refining and distribution centres, a major supplier of electronic components, and a leader in shipbuilding and repairing. It is also an important communications and financial centre for Asia, with more than 140 banks. Some seven million visitors a year come to Singapore, making it one of the few countries in the world to receive more tourists than its resident population.


Singapore has 2,986,500 inhabitants with a unique combination of Chinese (78 per cent), Malay (14 per cent), Indian (seven per cent), Eurasian and European (one per cent).

A brief history

When Sir Stamford Raffles claimed Singapore for the British East India Company in 1819, it was nothing but a swampy, thickly jungled island populated by a handful of fishermen and sea gypsies.

Today it is a vibrant, modern city-state - one of Asia's economic 'dragons', and the regional centre for trade, transport, banking, tourism and communications.

Singapore's success is due mainly to its ideal location on the busy sea routes between East and West. For centuries before Raffles' arrival, the island had witnessed the passage of Chinese junks, Buginese prahus, Arab dhows and Indian vessels of every shape and size.

History records that in the 14th century the Island was known as Temasek or 'Sea Town'. As legend has it, the place was renamed Singa Pura, or 'Lion City', after a visiting Sumatran Prince encountered a strange-looking animal he mistook for a lion.

Raffles' arrival merely formalised Singapore's status as a port of international renown as merchants of every race, colour and creed were quickly drawn to the island. By 1911, Singapore had a population of 250,000 people from 48 races, mainly from China's southern provinces, Indonesia, Malaya and India, speaking a total of 54 languages.

For many years, Singapore was considered Britain's key defence base in the Far East. However, the myth of the island's impregnability was shattered when it fell to the Japanese in 1942.

When the Japanese occupation ended in 1945, Singapore became a British Crown Colony. The impetus for independence led to self-government in 1959 as part of the Malayan Federation. Singapore left the Federation in 1965 to become an independent Republic.


The major religions of Singapore are Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and Taoism.

Languages spoken by nationals

English is widely spoken. Other languages include Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. Malay is the national language, while English is the language of administration.


Eight hours ahead of GMT.


The Singapore dollar (S$ or SGD) has 100 cents.

Official holidays

Labour Day, May 1st; Vesak Day, May 21st; National Day, August 9th; Deepavali, October 30th; Christmas Day, December 25th

What one should not fail to see

There are a number of nature reserves, theme parks, museums, and architectural curiosities in Singapore, among which are the following:

  • The Jurong Bird Park is Asia's largest aviary, and is home to more than 600 species of birds.
  • The Changi Prison Chapel is a replica of the original built by Allied prisoners of war in World War II, and has a museum recording the daily life of the prisoners through a display of photographs, paintings and sketches.
  • The Temple of 1,000 Lights contains a 15-metre high statue of Buddha surrounded by a seemingly endless chain of lights.
  • The Tang Dynasty City is Asia's largest cultural and historical theme park. It is a recreation of Chang-An, the capital of 7th century China during the Tang dynasty, and contains a life-size replica of China's famous Tomb of the Valiant Terracotta Warriors in the Underground Palace.

Most favourable seasons for sojourns and touring

With its tropical climate ensuring continuous good weather, Singapore is an all-year-round destination. Various annual events and festivals may be of particular appeal to travellers as follows: Chinese New Year in February; the Singapore Food Festival and the Great Singapore Sale in July; the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts in August; Singapore's National Day on August 9th; Deepavali (Festival of Lights) in November, when the district of Little India festoons its temples and streets with lights and garlands.

How to dress

Lightweight cottons and linens are recommended as the best fabrics to wear, and it is a good idea to carry an umbrella. For business, a shirt and tie is the norm. A high standard of dress is always expected in expensive restaurants.

Main holiday resorts

Singapore has over 170 hotels on the main island, ranging from budget class to five star deluxe. The island of Sentosa, twenty minutes away from the mainland by cable car, contains Asia's largest water theme park, Fantasy Island and Underwater World. The island of Bintan, 45km south-east of the main island is another popular tourist destination, with its unexplored natural beauty, white pristine beaches, rich marine life and densely forested hilly terrain.

Main holiday sports

Football, golf, tennis and watersports (including canoeing, windsurfing, scuba diving, water skiing and sailing) are the most popular local sports in Singapore, but there is also a wide range of facilities for other sports such as bowling, cycling, flying, horse racing, horse riding, and snooker.

What to eat and drink

Singapore's migrants have imported their favourite dishes from regions of China, India, Malaysia, and the Middle East as well as other parts of Asia and Western countries. A distinctively Singaporean cuisine has evolved as a result, which combines different parts of each of these cuisines to form something entirely unique. Singapore has been described as a United Nations of Food, and for the gourmet or food lover who is particularly interested in Singapore's rich culinary heritage, the Raffles Culinary Academy is the place to go to find out more.

What to buy

Singapore is a duty-free port, so most goods tend to be less expensive than in their country of origin. Good buys include gems and exquisite tapestries from India and Arabia, cameras and walkmans from Japan, antiques and trinkets from all over Asia, computers and compact discs from Taiwan and the US, and haute couture from all the fashion capitals of the globe.

Visitors to Singapore can apply for a refund of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) on their purchases, if these purchases total S$500 or more from any one outlet or chain. There are GST refund inspection counters at Changi airport terminals one and two. GST is currently charged at three per cent.



Most hotels and restaurants add a ten per cent service charge to the bill, so tipping is discouraged. It is not necessary to tip taxi drivers. Tipping at the airport is prohibited.


Singapore's clean and green image is the result of more than two decades of public education campaigns and strict laws against littering. Littering of any kind is subject up to S$1,000 fine for first offenders, and up to S$2,000 fine and a stint of corrective work order cleaning a public place for repeat offenders. As an extension of the law against littering, the import, sale and possession of chewing gum is prohibited in Singapore.


Smoking in public buses, taxis, lifts, theatres, cinemas, government offices and air-conditioned restaurants and shopping centres is against the law. First offenders may be fined up to a maximum of S$1,000. While it is an offence to smoke in air-conditioned eating places, smoking is not prohibited in air-conditioned pubs, discos, karaoke bars and nightspots.

Frontier formalities

Passports and visas

Nationalities Visa Requirement
1. Members of British Commonwealth (except India) and citizens of the Republic of Ireland, the Philippines (diplomatic, special or official passport holders), Liechtenstein, Monaco, the Netherlands, San Marino, Switzerland, Thailand (diplomatic or service passport holders), India (diplomatic or official passport holders) No visas required
2. United Nations laisser-passer No visas required. This applies also to the holder's wife and children if the names of his wife and children are included in his UN laisser-passer.
3. United States of America No visas required for social visits.
4. Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Norway, Republic of Korea (South Korea), Spain, Sweden, Italy, Iceland, Luxemburg, Japan No visas required if visit is for social purposes for a stay not exceeding 3 months.
5. Afghanistan, India (except diplomatic and official passports), Cambodia, Laos, People's Republic of China, Commonwealth of Independent States, Vietnam, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Jordan, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen. Persons holding Refugee Travel Documents issued by the Middle East countries to Palestinian refugees and Hong Kong Documents of Identity issued in Hong Kong Visas are required for entry into Singapore. Applications for visas are to be made to the nearest Singapore overseas mission.
6. Holders of valid Russian Federation or People's Republic of China passports as well as passports issued by the Governments of Afghanistan, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. May transit Singapore for a maximum of 36 hours (48 hours for Chinese nationals holding PRC diplomatic/service passports or those holding passports issued to PRC government officials by the PRC Public Affairs Department) without a visa, provided they hold valid travel documents, firm booking, entry facilities to their next destination and continue the journey within 36 hours (48 hours for Chinese nationals holding PRC diplomatic/service passports or those holding passports issued to PRC government officials by the PRC Public Affairs Department) of arrival to any destination outside Singapore.
7. All other nationalities not included in categories 1 to 6. No visas required for social visits up to one month.
8. Holders of stateless travel documents with valid re-entry permits to the country for permanent residence (excluding those on restricted stay) provided they are not residents of countries listed in category 5 above. No visas required for social visits up to one month.

Note: 1. Generally, foreigners who do not require visas for entry and are visiting Singapore as tourists may be given up to 30 day social visit passes upon their arrival in Singapore. Tourists, however, should have valid passports, onward/return tickets, onward facilities (eg visas, entry permit etc) to their next destination and sufficient funds for their stay in Singapore. If they require a longer stay, they may apply to the Immigration Department after their arrival. 2. Women in advanced state of pregnancy (ie six months or more) intending to visit Singapore should make prior applications to the nearest Singapore overseas mission or the Singapore Immigration Department.


The following duty-free concessions apply to those 18 years old or over arriving from a country other than Malaysia:

One litre each of spirits, wine, and beer.

There are no concessions on cigarettes or other tobacco products.

Dutiable items include garments and clothing accessories, leather bags, wallets, imitation jewellery, chocolate and sugar confectionery, pastries, biscuits and cakes. Restricted amounts of these items may be brought in duty-free, provided they are meant for personal consumption.

It is prohibited to bring any of the following items into Singapore:

chewing gum;

chewing tobacco or imitation tobacco products;

cigarette lighters of pistol/revolver shape;

controlled drugs and psychotropic substances;

endangered species of wildlife and their by-products;


obscene articles, publications, video tapes and software;

reproduction of copyright publications, video tapes or disks, records or cassettes;

seditious and treasonable materials;

toy coins and toy currency notes.

The entry of the following items into Singapore is subject to controls and restrictions:

animals, birds and their by-products;

plants with soil;

arms and explosives, bullet-proof clothing, toy guns, pistols and revolvers, weapons, kris, spears and swords;

cartridges, pre-recorded cassettes, newspapers, books and magazines;

films, video tapes and disks;

medicines, pharmaceuticals and poisons;

telecommunication and radio equipment;

toy walkie-talkies.

Entry for the items listed will only be allowed on production of the import permit or authorisation from the relevant authorities.

The above lists of dutiable, non-dutiable, prohibited, controlled and restricted goods are not exhaustive. If you need clarification or further information contact the Customs Duty Officer at Singapore Changi Airport.

There is no export duty in Singapore. However, export permits are required for firearms, ammunition, explosives, animals, gold in form, platinum, precious stones and jewellery (except reasonable personal effects), poisons and drugs. Any goods in excess of reasonable personal effects should be declared at exit points and an Outward Declaration form prepared if need be.

Currency regulations

There is no limit to the amount of currency you may bring into Singapore.

Main travel routes

By air

Over 70 airlines fly to Singapore's Changi airport.

By land or sea

There are frequent ferry, train and bus services from Singapore to Malaysia, Indonesia, and other surrounding countries. In addition, a wide range of international cruise operators offer Singapore as part of a world itinerary or as a base for their Far East tours.

Within Singapore, there are frequent bus services and an island-wide Mass Rapid Transit passenger train service.

Representatives abroad

UK: Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, 1st Floor, Carrington House, 126-130, Regent Street, London W1R 5FE, United Kingdom, Tel +44-(0)-171-437-0033, Fax +44-(0)-171-734-2191