It’s no secret that Singapore is a pricey place to go. In fact, in March this year, the city knocked Tokyo off the top spot in the EIU survey, officially making it the world’s most expensive place to live.

Despite the hefty costs, the city is an incredibly popular place to visit, and with good reason. With a pleasing year-round climate, some of the world’s best shopping, and a skyline that would not be out of place in a sci-fi film, there’s a lot to love about this place.

In many ways though, the city is preceded by its reputation, and there’s a string of stereotypes it comes up against – that it is sterile and clinical, that it has been over-commercialised and has lost its Asian identity, that it has become cold and elitist. While I can see some truth in these assumptions, I think that to see the city in only these lights would be to gloss over its diversity. Singapore caters largely for a Western market, but it is also home to a large Chinese and Indian population, and offers some of the best markets and street food I have experienced throughout my travels. It also has a growing nightlife, and is becoming increasingly popular for backpackers looking to broaden their experiences in South East Asia.

But how does one survive as a backpacker in a city so expensive? In 2013, I decided to put this question to the test. I’ll be honest, it was a challenge; in five days, we spent nearly as much as we did in five weeks in Thailand!

While the obvious conclusion would be that it’s impossible to visit Singapore without spending some serious moolah, there are ways in which you can make your money last longer. While it might sound as though we spent a fortune, I should probably point out that most of our money was spent on accommodation. A night in one of Singapore’s hotels costs the equivalent of a week in a Thai B&B, so it’s not exactly a fair competition…

While I wouldn’t say that it’s easy to visit Singapore on a budget, it’s not impossible if you’re careful and plan ahead. Here’s a few tips we picked up along the way:

Accommodation

Let’s not beat about the bush. Singapore’s hotels are expensive. At the cheapest, you’ll be looking at spending around £70 a night for a double room, and that may very well be of shoebox proportions and located somewhere within the city’s red light district (believe me, I’m speaking from personal experience here).

If you’re willing to bunk up with other people, then staying in a hostel might be the best option, where prices start at about £20 for a bed in a dorm. Hostels aren’t for everybody, but if it’s any reassurance, then Singapore’s hostels are known to be amongst the cleanest and best equipped in South East Asia.

There’s also a thriving Couch Surfing community in Singapore, populated by both local and expat Singaporeans. This can be a really great option as it gives you the chance to get to know more about life in the city, yet the idea of staying in a stranger’s home won’t appeal to all. If you’re considering Couch Surfing, then make sure you do your research and read plenty of reviews of your host before consenting. Follow the advice offered by the company’s website here.

 

Transportation

Singapore’s taxis have to follow strict policies regarding what they charge their passengers (heavy fees apply if they try to con you out of money – they must be using the meter!), but still, they’re very expensive. If you do get a taxi through the centre of the city, be aware that even if you’re travelling a short distance, it is the passengers that are responsible for paying all Electronic Road Pricing charges. You will also be charged a 10% administrative fee if you choose to pay by card.

Singapore has an excellent public transport system, and you can save yourself money by purchasing an EZ-Link Card for 15 dollars (they come preloaded with 10 dollars of credit). These cards can be used on the LRT, MRT and buses, and are brilliant because you only get charged for the distance travelled rather than a standard set-price ticket, which can fairly add up over time.

There is also a Tourist Pass which you can buy for the busses and trains, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you know for a fact that you will use it avidly – at 18 dollars for the cheapest pass, you’d have to use the metro more than five times in a day for it to be worthwhile.

 

Food

Eating out in Singapore is, again, extortionate, which can be really difficult if you’re backpacking as there are surprisingly little facilities for buying and preparing your own food in the city centre. You’ll find the occasional 7/11, but unless you fancy a reheated toastie, you’ll struggle to find anything of any substance to buy.

For restaurants around the city’s marina or shopping districts, you could easily spend 20 dollars and upwards on a main course, which is fine for a treat, but not exactly practical if you’re trying to make your money last. A much better option is to eat in the city’s Hawker Centres, which are large, cafeteria-like establishments used largely by local residents. Despite the extremely low costs, the quality of the food here is great – to this day, I still rave about the handmade Garlic Naan bread I had in Little India…

Another tip worth bearing in mind is that you don’t have to spend a fortune on bottled water in Singapore – the water here is as clean and trustworthy as you’d expect in any Westernised city. Just buy yourself (or better still, bring your own!) bottle and refill to your heart’s content!

Shopping

Obviously, Singapore is a designer junkie’s paradise. Even if you don’t have the cash to spend, it’s worth checking out the malls on Orchard Road just for the experience and wonderful, wonderful air conditioning. There are also great supermarkets beneath the malls, the best of which has to be Vivomart, where you can pick up food and toiletries without breaking the bank.

For souveneirs, don’t go looking in the overpriced and generic stores at the airport. Head down to Little India and Chinatown, where the markets and gadget stores are just incredible.   You’ll find all sorts of hand crafted and technological goodies there at a fraction of the cost.

Nightlife

While Singapore’s nightlife is becoming increasingly popular, it’s still very expensive to drink here due to the strict alcohol tax laws. It’s also probably not a good to be caught intoxicated – Singaporeans take their conduct laws seriously!

If you do fancy a drink, avoid doing so anywhere in the general marina area. We paid 37 dollars for two pints of lager and just about cried when the bill came. To avoid this, try coming along a bit earlier and you might manage to wrangle some Early Bird offers. Or, alternatively, you could join in with the local young folk and grab a few drinks from the 7/11 at the end of Clarke Quay.

 

 

Attractions

If you want to gain entry to Singapore’s attractions, such as the Flyer, the Zoo, or Sentosa Island, then you’re going to have to part with some serious cash. It’s worth asking if your accommodation offer any discounts – sometimes you can get as much as 20% off the entry price. Similarly, you will find the occasional online promotional deal, but keep in mind that these are often only available to permanent residents. If there’s an attraction you particularly want to go to, follow them in advance on social media for deals and competitions.

Out of all the attractions in Singapore, we opted for the zoo and night safari; it was very expensive but absolutely amazing. You can read more about Singapore’s zoo by reading my other post here.

The great thing about Singapore is there’s plenty to see without having to pay a penny. The marina is a great area for people watching, particularly around the Merlion statue and outside the art gallery. The Gardens by the Bay, the city’s largest outdoor event space, is a piece of art in itself, with bizarre, futuristic sculptures dominating the skyline as dragonflies zip through the air. And of course, there are the Botanic Gardens, which are ever-expanding, very beautiful and better still, completely free!

And, most importantly…stick to the laws!

However unnecessary you might find Singapore’s laws to be (not flushing the loo, littering and chewing gum on public transport are all considered to be offenses!), it’s important to be respectful and do your research before you visit. Chance it and you could end up with an on-the-spot fine, and that’s one expense you’ll seriously regret…

So there you have it, your guide to saving money in Singapore. I’d be lying if I said it was easy to visit the city on a budget, but don’t let that put you off. Plan ahead, be sensible, and who knows, maybe you’ll even have enough left over for a Singapore Sling in the Raffles Hotel?

About The Author

A twenty-something-year-old with a penchant for travel and a never-ending supply of terrible puns.

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