Money & costs
Tipping is not usual in Singapore. The most expensive hotels and restaurants have a 10% service charge, in which case tipping is discouraged. Don't tip at hawker stalls or coffee shops, or in taxis (though drivers won't discourage you!).
It's a tiny island with few natural resources - not even its own water supply - so how come Singapore is so well off?
The answer is a smart government, which took maximum advantage of the country's position as a trading crossroads to establish Singapore as the world's largest port (though now second behind Rotterdam) and a major manufacturing centre. Its status as a hub (you'll hear that word a lot) also made it an ideal location for petroleum and petrochemical refining, drilling rig manufacture, and ship building and repair. Stand on one of Sentosa's beaches, look west and you'll see just how huge this industry is. Singapore has 11 refineries and in terms of capacity is the world's third-largest petroleum refiner after Rotterdam and Houston.
Its reputation for low corruption, stable currency, low inflation and low interest rates also helped Singapore become a key Asian financial centre.
As a result of this dynamic success, Singapore has one of the highest living standards and home ownership levels in the world. It guarantees its citizens decent housing, health care, high standards of education and superannuation. While there are no unemployment payments or programmes, unemployment is negligible and Singapore still imports thousands of workers in both skilled and unskilled jobs.
With the exception of a few major troughs in the '80s, Singapore recorded a phenomenal growth rate averaging around 9% in its first 30 years as an independent state, but a series of setbacks in the last decade or so has given the country a nasty jolt. The Asian financial crisis in the mid to late 1990s and a recession from 2001 to 2003 put the brakes on, then the outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) gave the country a huge scare, as tourist arrivals and consumer spending plummeted.
Manufacturing, for so long the engine room of Singapore's success, is in decline, due in large part to the rapid growth of China and India. Tourism numbers are also lagging behind other major Asian destinations. The government is now trying to remodel the economy and build up sectors like biomedical engineering and multimedia to ensure the country's future. Massive investments in tourism are also in the pipeline.
For the visitor, Singapore is probably Southeast Asia's most expensive destination, but compared with the West, things like food, accommodation and clothes are still cheap. It's no longer the electronics paradise it once was, but prices are also generally lower than in Western countries.
For a stay in a three-star hotel, with three modest meals, perhaps a restaurant splurge, a bit of sightseeing and a few drinks, count on spending $250 a day, though obviously this can go both a lot lower and a lot higher. It is possible to live very cheaply in Singapore and visitors with families might want to take note of the free museum entry periods.
The unit of currency is the Singapore dollar, locally referred to as the 'singdollar', which is made up of 100 cents. Singapore uses 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢ and $1 coins, while notes come in denominations of $2, $5, $10, $50, $100, $500 and $1000. Singapore also has a $10, 000 note - not that you'll see many. The Singapore dollar is, not surprisingly, a highly stable and freely convertible currency.
Most ATMs will accept Visa, MasterCard and cards with Plus or Cirrus. ATMs can be found in most large shopping centres and MRT stations.
Banks can be found all over the city. Exchange rates tend to vary from bank to bank and some even have a service charge on each exchange transaction - this is usually $2 to $3, but can be more, so ask first. Most banks are open from 9.30am to 3pm Monday to Friday, and to 11.30am Saturday.
Moneychangers do not charge fees, so you will often get a better overall exchange rate for cash and travellers cheques with them than at the banks. You'll find moneychangers in just about every shopping centre in Singapore. Most shops accept foreign cash and travellers cheques at a slightly lower rate than you'd get from a moneychanger.
Apart from changing other currencies to Singapore dollars, moneychangers also sell a wide variety of other currencies and will do amazing multiple-currency transactions in the blink of an eye.
Major credit cards are widely accepted. The tourism authorities suggest that if shops insist on adding a credit card surcharge (which they should not do), you should contact the relevant credit company in Singapore. Most hotels and car-hire companies will insist on a credit card and may demand full payment upfront without one. Credit card companies in Singapore include the following:
American Express (6299 8133)
Diners Club (6294 4222)
JCB (6734 0096)
MasterCard & Visa (1800 345 1345)