Visiting Singapore? A Guide to the Customs and Etiquette

Customs that foreigners should observe while in Singapore


When travelling to Singapore, there are a few customs that you should be aware of to avoid getting into trouble – or being disrespectful to the people and culture. First and foremost, it is important to dress conservatively when out in public. This means avoiding clothing that is revealing, such as short skirts or shorts, tank tops, or anything else that might be considered provocative. In general, it is best to be on the side of caution when choosing what to wear.

It is also important to be mindful of your behaviour when out in public. This includes refraining from public displays of affection, as well as keeping your voice down in places like restaurants or cafes. In general, it is best to behave in a respectful and reserved manner.

Also, when visiting religious sites, you should make an effort to dress modestly and to be respectful of the customs and beliefs of those who worship there. This means, once again,  avoiding clothing that is revealing, as well as removing hats or sunglasses when inside. It is also important to refrain from taking photos without permission, as this can be seen as disrespectful.

When you go out in public, you should also avoid mentioning personal topics, such as religion or politics, where possible. This is because these topics can provoke quite sensitive conversations. By following these simple tips, you can help ensure that your time in Singapore is enjoyable and respectful of the local culture.

The difference between behaving politely in Singapore compared to other countries


In Singapore, it is especially important to be respectful and considerate of others, especially when it comes to queueing. It is considered polite to queue up in an orderly fashion, as Singaporeans may get upset if someone tries to cut in line. When greeting someone, it is customary to bow slightly or nod your head. Handshakes are also common, although they are not as formal as they would be in Western countries. It is important to avoid raising your voice when speaking to others, as this can be considered rude. Likewise, swearing and using offensive language are frowned upon.

You might want to keep some basic phrases in mind, as these may come in handy when travelling to Singapore. To get you started, ‘thank you’ in Singaporean is ‘Terima kasih’ (teh-REE-mah kah-SEE), ‘please’ is ‘silakan’ (see-LAH-kahn), and ‘sorry’ is ‘maaf’ (MAHF). In addition, ‘yes’ is ‘ya’ (yah) and ‘no’ is ‘tidak’ (tee-DAHK). You can find many other simple yet useful phrases in Singaporean through a quick Google search!

There are other instances where being polite in Singapore might differs from what is considered polite in Western countries. For example, in Singapore, it is regarded as polite to always use honorifics when addressing someone, even if you know them well. This can be seen as a way of showing respect to the person. In other countries, such as the United States, it is not always necessary to use honorifics when speaking to someone, as these cultures place more of an emphasis on equality.

Another way in which polite behaviours can differ between Singapore and other countries concerns gift giving. In Singapore, it is considered polite to give gifts that are useful or have a practical purpose. This is because it shows that you are thinking about the person and their needs. In other cultures, such as the United States, it is more common to give gifts that are considered to be fun or decorative. This is because there is less emphasis on practicality and more on the thoughtfulness of the gift.

Overall, the notion of politeness in Singapore can be quite different from that of other countries. However, the important thing to remember is that politeness is about showing respect to others. Whether you use honorifics or not, or give practical or fun gifts, as long as you show that you care about the other person, you will be considered polite in Singapore.

Cultural festivities in Singapore


Singapore has a rich tapestry of cultures, and this is reflected in the many festivals and celebrations that are held throughout the year. From the well-known Chinese New Year and Deepavali to lesser-known but equally colourful festivities like the Hungry Ghost Festival and Chap Goh Mei, there is something for everyone to enjoy. We have created a quick guide to some of the most popular cultural festivals in Singapore.

Held in late January or early February, Chinese New Year is the most important festival for Singapore’s Chinese community. It is a time for a family reunion, feasting and giving thanks. Homes are decorated with red lanterns and couplets, and special foods are prepared. The first day of the new year is marked by a reunion dinner, while the following days are spent visiting relatives and friends.

Also known as the Festival of Lights, Deepavali is celebrated by Singapore’s Hindu community in October or November. It signifies the victory of good over evil and is observed with prayer, fasting and feasting. Homes are decorated with lamps and rangolis (colourful floor designs), and special sweets and snacks are prepared.

Held on the 15th day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, Chap Goh Mei is also known as the Lantern Festival. It marks the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations and is traditionally a time for single women to find a husband. Young women would write their contact details on oranges and toss them into rivers or lakes, in the hope that an eligible bachelor would find and contact them. Nowadays, the festival is more low-key, but lanterns are still lit and displayed in homes and public places.

The Hungry Ghost Festival is a Chinese Buddhist tradition that is celebrated in August. It is believed that the gates of hell are opened during this month, releasing ghosts who roam the earth in search of food and entertainment. Offerings of food and drink are made to appease these ghosts, and operas and other performances are staged to keep them entertained.

As you can see, visiting Singapore can be an enriching experience. By following some simple customs and guidelines, you can have a trip that is enjoyable both for you and the locals!