Top money-saving Singapore tips you should know
A Singapore escape can give you plenty of bang for your buck if you know the tricks—here are our best tips for getting the best out of this bustling city on the cheap.
- February 2018
The worst way to exchange currency is to do it at home before you go—the rates you’ll get in Singapore will be better. Avoid exchanging money at the airport or at hotels; shop around and use a currency conversion website or app such as XE to find out the mid-market rates.
Currency exchange is competitive in Singapore and you should be able to find rates rivalling, or bettering, what you’ll get at an ATM. Try The Arcade at Raffles Place, where more than 15 exchange kiosks battle it out to offer the best rates. There are similar kiosks at the People’s Park Complex in Chinatown, Lucky Plaza on Orchard Road and Parkway Parade in Marine Parade.
Using ATMs and credit (or debit) card transactions is convenient and the rates are competitive. Check your bank’s international transaction fees, taking into account both the withdrawal fee (likely to be a flat fee) and the currency conversion fee (usually a percentage of the total withdrawal).
When you pay by credit card you may be offered the choice of paying in your home currency or the local currency. Always choose local—your credit card company will give you a better rate.
How to get around
Public transport is easy and economical—grab an ez-link card at an MRT station, TransitLink office or 7-Eleven and load up some credit to automatically pay per distance travelled. Children under seven travel free of charge.
If you’re planning to take multiple trips, you can save money by buying the Singapore Tourist Pass, which gives you unlimited trips on trains and buses for one, two or three days. It also unlocks discounts at selected tourist attractions. Buy one at the Changi Airport MRT station so you can take the train straight to your accommodation.
Taxis are metered and rates are reasonable, and journeys are rarely longer than 10 minutes in this compact city. It’s best to hail one from the street to avoid a booking fee. Just don’t take a taxi to Sentosa Island—there’s a toll for cars entering the island and it will be added to your fare. Instead, take the monorail from Harbourfront and use the free shuttle service between attractions.
Where to eat
Save some dollars and fill your belly at one of Singapore’s famous hawker centres, mini heavens for travelling foodies. Hawker fare is what Singapore is famous for, featuring the world’s favourite Malaysian and Chinese dishes: chicken rice, curry laksa, chilli crab, char kway teow and many other regional delights. Prices are so low that many locals never bother firing up their own kitchens. But don’t assume the prices are an indication of quality—a Chinatown chicken rice stall was recently awarded a Michelin star!
Popular hawker centres include Lau Pa Sat, Satay by the Bay, Newton, Maxwell Road and Chomp Chomp. Make a beeline for the stalls with the longest queues. Stalls are graded on cleanliness by a letter system, and the hot tip is to hit the B-grade stalls for the best food—locals say staff at the A-grade stalls spend too much time cleaning.
The Tiong Bahru Food Centre is a local favourite for hawker stalls, and the wet market is a great place to stock up on fruit, vegetables and snacks. The neighbourhood is home to Singapore’s best bakeries, perfect for picking up bread for a picnic at one of the city’s parks, and there are plenty of hipster cafes nearby.
On that subject, if you’re an adventurous coffee addict you can save some dollars by getting your morning brew from a kopitiam. These simple stalls serve freshly made kopi (Malay for coffee) in plastic bags with a straw. You’ll need to know what to order before you approach the counter—better brush up on your kopi lingo.
Where to shop
Chinatown’s street markets are the place to go for bargains on clothes, accessories, homewares and interesting souvenirs. Look out for silky wraps, slippers, lucky cats and vintage-style toys made of tin. It’s particularly atmospheric at night, and the dinner choices are endless. Head to Little India and the Arab Quarter for textiles, baskets, rugs, antiques and an array of knick-knacks.
Haji Lane is the place to go for local designers and alternative culture—prices are keener at the lower rent second-floor stores. Orchard Road, Singapore’s mainstream shopping hub, will have similar brands—and prices—to what you find at home, although there are some bargains to be found. Daiso at Plaza Singapura, with all products at SGD $2, is unmissable if you want a bargain shopping spree.
Singapore has some excellent flea markets—don’t miss *SCAPE Marketplace, held Friday to Sunday, where you can unearth vintage threads and crafty handmade gifts, while listening to live music and soaking up the cool atmosphere.
Haggling is expected at market stalls and small shops. Ask for the price and offer half. There’ll be a bit of back-and-forth before a price is agreed. A good tactic is to ask for extra items to be thrown in for free, and remember to smile.
Drinking in Singapore
It’s all about happy hour here—except it’s rarely just an hour. It will often start in the late afternoon and continue until the sun goes down; Sunday and Monday are the most popular days. Your best bet is to head down to Clarke Quay and Boat Quay and check out the blackboard specials—usually lots of ‘2 for 1’ drink deals and good prices for a bottle of wine or bucket of beers.
If you’re out and about on Orchard Road, keep an eye out for specials at shopping centre bars. They may not have a party atmosphere, but you can pick up a refreshing G&T for a good price. Also, it’s legal to drink in public spaces in Singapore (except between 10.30pm and 7am), so you can enjoy a BYO pre-dinner drink anywhere that takes your fancy.