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Singapore Driving Guide 2020

Driving in Singapore is not so different to driving in the USA, as long as you have an International Driving Permit and an understanding of the basic rules.

Lisa Brown

January 30, 2020

INTRODUCTION

Singapore is a city-state island at the southernmost tip of Malaysia. Although it is only about 282 square miles in area, it is also the largest and busiest port in the Southeast Asia region. As part of the Commonwealth, Singapore has been an independent nation since August 9, 1965. With 5.7 million people living in such a small area, the government has focused on keeping driving a luxury. Often thought of as too small to bother for a road trip, there are many surprising sites to see that are out-of-the-way from city life.

This small island has several hills forming rugged terrain in the center of the island, to its’ highest point on Timah Hill at only 531 feet. The remainder of the island is less than 50 feet, with plateaus and hills in the east, and steep cliffs to the west and south. The northern side of the island has a bridge near the west-side, and one near the east-side which connects to Malaysia, Tuas, and Woodlands.

The weather is quite wet and temperate all year, from high temperatures of 77° in January to a high of 81° in June and lows from 64° in January and 68° in July. Each year the island receives about 95 inches of rain, and it is always raining somewhere on the island. April and October are further characterized by humid and stagnant air, which makes it sticky and damp for visitors. It is completely acceptable to wear t-shirts, casual shorts, and flip-flops while walking around, driving, or shopping.

Singapore has a rich cultural background – full of diversity with many set cultural norms. One thing that is important to understand before traveling there includes being super clean. Singapore is known for having clean streets and employs strict laws around littering, spitting, and vandalism. Also known as the Garden City, you will find many green lush areas maintained and preened to perfection. There are public parks surrounded by skyscrapers, the government made concerted efforts to include green spaces and trees along dividers to bring some nature into the concrete jungles of the city.

You have likely read or heard rumors that chewing gum is banned in Singapore. Those rumors are true. In fact, since 1992 there are heavy fines if you are caught putting your chewing gum on a wall or other inappropriate disposal spots. While you can bring gum for your own use, it is highly unlikely that you’ll find a pack of gum anywhere except a pharmacy. And then, you will have to have a medical prescription for dental gum or nicotine gum. Regular chewing gum simply is not available.

The ethnic diversity inherent to the area has driven Singapore to adopt at least four official languages, particularly, English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. Since most schools, administration, commerce, and industry are completed in English which comes in handy for tourists from America.
There are a variety of activities to choose from and a public transportation system that makes traveling easy. However, if you prefer to drive and be on your own time schedule just be sure to understand the technicalities and rules Singapore’s roads that all can be read here.

Renting a car will allow you to explore not just the big cities but also those all-important towns, villages and landmarks in between, whether you are driving in Northern Italy or down in the south.

TRAVELING IN SINGAPORE

When traveling in Singapore and driving in Singapore as a tourist, it is critical to understand how rules and laws are taken seriously by the people, authorities, and government. As a visitor, if you are found without a passport you may be taken in for questioning. If you are found with drugs, including cannabis, you will have serious repercussions. The following penalties are common for certain crimes in Singapore:

  • Possible arrest for jaywalking, littering, or spitting
  • Certain vandalism offenses may result in mandatory caning (a form of corporal punishment)
  • Potential imprisonment, caning, or fines for immigration violations
  • Sex crimes or sexually inappropriate behavior may result in possible imprisonment, caning or fines
  • Lewd, unwanted behavior, including inappropriate comments, messages, or photography toward women who find it offensive may result in fines and imprisonment
  • Unwanted physical contact of any kind held by laws that are gender-neutral and punishments usually more severe
  • Drug-related charges are severe including the death penalty or caning
  • Strict penalties for those who illegally possess, carry or commit a crime with firearms
  • Authorities in Singapore have the ability to make unannounced drug tests and property searches. This could include a urine or blood sample with short notice.
  • Faith-Based travelers should be aware that all written materials published by the International Bible Students Association and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, publishing arms of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, remained banned by the government.
  • LGBTQ+ travelers, please note that Singapore does not recognize same-sex unions. In fact, The Penal Code criminalizes any “act of gross indecency” between two men and prescribes a sentence not exceeding two years and although the Singaporean government has stated that it will not enforce this section of the Penal Code it still remains on the statute books.

If you forget or make a last minute decision that you want to rent a car while you are in Italy, it is possible to get an IDP through a premium fast track service, and it will be sent to you electronically in just a few hours.

SHOULD I GET AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVING PERMIT IF I INTEND TO DRIVE IN SINGAPORE?

To drive legally in Singapore with US license, you will also need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP). An IDP is easy to obtain if you are 18 or above (the legal age to learn driving in Singapore) and have held your US driver’s license for a period of six months or more. It is an easy online application and is $20. An IDP is valid for 12 months from the day it is issued. One can also go through a walk-in process for applying for an international driving license. If you frequently travel overseas you may want to look into an IDP with a two or three-year validity. If you plan on renting a car in Singapore keep in mind that drivers under the age of 23 may not be allowed to rent a car, and drivers are under 25 or over 75 might face additional costs or restrictions.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

WHICH SIDE OF THE ROAD DO THEY DRIVE ON IN SINGAPORE?

Driving in Singapore is from the left side of the road and the driver’s side of the car is usually on the right. If you have not done this before, it is best to get a few lessons to help with the transition. You can take specialized driving lessons in most large cities in the US or take some once you get to Singapore. Private driving instructors in Singapore are about $45 dollars per hour and up if you prefer to wait until you are on vacation.

One reason to wait until your vacation is to learn how to drive a car from the right-hand side. It can be very difficult to find a driving school in the US with a right-hand drive option. The driving lessons in Singapore start at the cheapest driving range at $45 per hour and private driving lessons can top out at $240 per hour. It takes about 1-4 hours of lessons to learn driving right-sided on the left-hand side of the road. The total cost of driving lessons in Singapore could easily be $180. It may be best to find a driving coach stateside, or do some reading and watch videos online, then practice in an empty parking lot. If you’re still not comfortable, then an hour of driving lessons should be sufficient.

IS IT EASY TO RENT A CAR IN SINGAPORE?

Driving is a privilege in Singapore that most people cannot afford. In fact, there are only 1.56 cars for every ten people! The costs associated with driving include a mandatory down payment of 50% and a 10-year license, which starts at 45 thousand US dollars. The reason for these fees centers around the amount of traffic on such a small area of land, which is often met with traffic congestion and slowdowns beyond the regular morning and evening commute times.

With that being said, there is a wide variety of rental options in Singapore including major companies such as Avis, Hertz, and Budget. Costs vary from 45 US dollars and up, depending on the type of car and how long you will be renting it. If renting during peak tourist times or last-minute travel, you may see starting rates upwards of 66 US dollars per day. The best practice here is to also book your rental early to obtain the best prices.

As with most rental agencies around the world, it is common that you must be at least 23 to rent or drive a rental vehicle. Since the minimum driving age in Singapore is 18, please note that younger drivers are not able to drive, regardless of their license, even if they have the additional IDP. Drivers over the age of 65 may have additional insurance fees on a rental.

As with any rental situation ensure the following steps are taken for your best interest:

  • Reserve your needs early for the best prices.
  • Ensure plenty of time for pick-up and drop-off so you are not rushed to complete paperwork.
  • Obtain receipts and a contract before driving the vehicle.
  • Inspect the car for any damage and note them on paper before you leave and when you return the car (taking photos of the vehicle is a good idea too).
  • If you see any damages, discuss them with the rental office personnel.
  • Fill the tank before dropping off the vehicle. Rental companies often charge 2 to 3 times the cost of fuel as a refueling surcharge.
  • If you return the car in person, ask for a return receipt statement.

When you pick up your rental be sure to ask the rental agent about local tips for the best routes to your destination(s), and any road signs or construction that you should be aware of.

The Need for Speed

If you really want to step up your driving game while in Singapore, consider renting a luxury car from Ultimate Drive or another exotic car rental agency. Their 14 exotic styles to choose from include the Lamborghini Gallardo, Ferrari, McLaren, Rolls Royce, and Bentley. After all, you are on vacation and it’s time for a new experience. If you’re not up to a full rental package, consider trying a ‘joy ride’ package which includes time in a fast, hot car with an instructor to guide your drive on a circuit or tour.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

Important Things to Know When You are Driving in Singapore

The obvious difference is that you will be driving on the opposite side of the road. Be ready to pay fines or potentially some jail time, depending on your offense. You will be expected to abide by the law and even a simple mistake of being over a lane line can be cause for the police to pull you over.

Tollways

Depending on where you live, you must be familiar with tollways. There are many roads that have tolls, some of which can be upwards of 40 U.S. dollars. Beginning in 2020, Singapore is revamping its’ current toll system over 18 months so that satellites are used to track traffic congestion and calculate how much toll drivers should pay. The new system will be based on how far they travel during busy times, and when fully functional, will allow any road in Singapore to be a toll road.

Additionally, this satellite system will give drivers real-time traffic information that notifies them of upcoming toll roads. This way, drivers can plan to use another route to avoid the toll. All cars will be required to replace the existing toll receivers with new ones. These new devices can also be used to pay for parking as well.

Parking

There are both paid and free parking in Singapore. It’s best to use an app, which can help you locate free parking, or can pay for the paid parking. Be sure to pay attention to the time limits, since your car is likely to be towed away or booted once the time is up. Keep in mind that parking in the center of the city is the most expensive but very convenient and easy to locate.

Roundabouts

If you are not familiar with roundabouts, be sure you have a good understanding of the ins and outs before traveling. While they are meant to increase traffic safety and improve visibility, they can lead to confusion and near misses if used wrong. Traffic is meant to flow clockwise in a circular dance of vehicles. If there is another car in the roundabout, they have the right-of-way.

A trickier concept is the multi-lane roundabout, especially in a left-lane direction. It is common on larger roadways to run into a two-lane roundabout. To navigate these, simply remember the left-hand lane is for the next immediate exit turning out of the roundabout. The inner lane should be used until you are past the exit just before the turn you wish to take. If there are no roundabouts in your area, be sure to view a video or two online to get a better idea of how the multi-lane roundabout works.

WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT DRIVING LAWS IN SINGAPORE?

In our modern world, most people are already familiar with the most important driving rules in Singapore; the difference is how seriously any offense is treated with such high costs to drive, the penalties for committing offenses are equally high. As a zero-tolerance country on drinking and driving, this offense may result in paying towing costs, fines, and potential loss of your license for one to three years. Those who repeat a drink driving offense in Singapore face jail time and fines up to $10,000. Obviously, the best practice here is to simply forego any drinking if you will be driving.

In fact, since 2015, no alcohol can be drunk in a public place from 10:30 at night to 7:00 in the morning. Furthermore, in Gelling and Little India drinking in public is prohibited on public holidays, all weekends, and the evening of public holidays.

Cell Phone Use

As known in most countries, statistics continue to suggest that nearly 50 percent of road accidents are caused by distracted driving. Most countries have implemented some form of cell phone restrictions simply because cell phones are one of the biggest distractions drivers regularly use. Singapore has also implemented a law about cell phone use while driving, which is simply keeping it in your purse or bag, away from view and easy reach. Your first offense could result in a $1000-fine and up to 6 months in jail, or both!

Seat belt Requirements

If you are driving in Singapore, seat belts are required for drivers and passengers. Proper child seats are required for children under 1.35 m in height (about 4 ft. 3 in) as well. Vehicles must have the appropriate number of working seat belts for front and rear passengers.

Additional Driving Laws

Considering driving a motorcycle or moped in Singapore? Be sure to have the appropriate safety helmet, as they are required for all drivers and passengers. Also, be aware of fellow motorcyclists who tend to drive as if lines do not exist.

In addition to typical fees and potential jail time for driving offenses, Singapore works on a demerit system in which accumulating 24 points or more in 24 consecutive months will result in a 3-month suspension. A second suspension occurs after another 12 points are accumulated within 12 months of the last offense. Suspensions can then be up to 3 years long. In contrast, when a driver does not make any offenses for 12 full months after the last offense, demerit points will be erased. Lastly, when driving from 7 o’clock at night until 7 in the morning it is required to use headlights at all times.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

Safety and Emergencies

The Automobile Association (AA) of Singapore is the provider of roadside assistance, and the Land Transport Authority is the one who rescues vehicles around roadways at all hours. All major roads are monitored by closed-circuit cameras. Police know English and are likely to converse with Americans easily.

The real secret is to hold confidence in your driving ability and use defensive driving techniques such as:

  • Control your speed, keeping it appropriate for the road and traffic conditions.
  • Expecting the unexpected while driving, including other drivers and pedestrians.
  • Staying alert and remaining distraction-free.
  • Act respectfully towards other drivers.
  • Maintain a safe distance between you and other vehicles.

If you have an emergency while driving, it is expected you call the local police at 999 and contact the US Embassy at 6476-9100. Only the local authorities are allowed to investigate and prosecute crimes committed in Singapore. The U.S. embassy cannot investigate or prosecute crimes in Singapore because they do not have the authority to do so.
The reasons to contact the US Embassy include the things they can assist you with, including:

  • help you find appropriate medical care
  • assist you in reporting a crime to the police
  • contact relatives or friends with your written consent
  • explain the local criminal justice process in general terms
  • give a list of local attorneys
  • information on victim’s compensation programs in the U.S.
  • provide an emergency loan for repatriation to the United States and/or limited medical support in cases of destitution
  • help you find accommodation and arrange flights home
  • replace a stolen or lost passport

ARE ROAD SIGNS IN SINGAPORE EASY TO UNDERSTAND FOR FOREIGN DRIVERS?

Singaporean road signs are easy to understand as they are similar to those in the United Kingdom. Always look before you go with a green light. Don’t take any chances with a red light, remember to begin stopping when the light turns yellow.

Additional safety precautions, as listed on the Singapore Police Force website at police.gov.sg are as follows:

  • Do not speed – going faster means it will take a longer braking distance.
  • Never drive while using your mobile device.
  • Follow traffic rules and regulations at all times.
  • Never drive when under the influence of alcohol, or when you have taken medication that causes drowsiness – Don’t Drive to Drink, and You Will Never Drink and Drive.
  • Give way to emergency vehicles such as ambulances and police cars.
  • Keep a lookout for smaller, vulnerable road users: cyclists or power-assisted bicycle users, and pedestrians like children and the elderly, who may dash across the road.
  • Observe lane discipline and keep watch for traffic hazards ahead such as traffic congestion due to road works and accidents.
  • Signal in advance when turning or changing lanes; alert other road users of your intention early to prevent traffic accidents.
  • Do not overtake unless the road is clear, and never do so at bends and corners.
  • Do not tailgate and keep a safe following distance – it is a dangerous act and gives you little time to react if the vehicle in front slows down or brakes suddenly.
  • Get familiar with the controls and maneuverability of your vehicle.
  • Do not drive when you are very tired and sleepy.

Rush Hour

Singapore roadways are always busy. However, the heaviest traffic times add at least 20 minutes to travel time and traffic jams last about 45 minutes. On average, Singaporean drivers have an average of an extra 34 minutes in their driving commute because of road traffic. The worst driving times are 7 A.M. to 10 A.M. and 6 P.M. to 8:30 P.M. During this time range the following roads are best avoided when possible: TPE Expressway, PIE Expressway, CTE Expressway, Braddell Road, Lornie Road, Upper Serangoon Road, Bukit Timah Road, and Clementi Road.

Additional tips, to help cut down the commute time while driving in Singapore include using an app for locating best routes, listening to the radio, and not relying on auto-GPS systems. The best way to keep up to date with travel times is to check local traffic networks or services such as google maps before traveling.

WHAT ARE THE SPEED LIMITS IN SINGAPORE?

Be aware of motorcyclists, who often ignore lane markings. Speed limits throughout Singapore are standard around the country are 50 km/hr (about 31 mph). In school and silver zones the speed limit is slightly lower at 40 km/hr. Expressways are either 80 km/h or 90 km/hr. It is important to follow the speed limits as police regularly patrol all areas.

Be aware that there are red light and speed cameras throughout Singapore. In fact, Singapore has 5 different types of cameras, which include fixed speed cameras, mobile speed cameras, police speed laser cameras, red-light cameras, and average speed cameras. Many of these cameras do not have signs or warnings, they are simply there. If you are driving a rental expect to see added fees to process that fine as well. If you like to be in the know, there are a few sites out there that list the locations of these cameras. In addition to a hefty fine of at least $200, violators will receive 12 demerit points on their license. Just recently, the fee for running a red light doubled to $400.

While the overall number of accidents has fallen over recent years, the Singapore government is still concerned about poor driving. Other such fines and demerit increases include:

  • Driving on the expressway shoulder, S$200 and 6 demerit points
  • Driving without care or reasonable consideration, S$300 and 8 or 9 demerits
  • Failing to wear a seat belt, S$200 and 3 demerit points

Besides drivers feeling a heavier weight of offenses, it will also be seen for pedestrians and cyclists.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO DURING A POLICE STOP IN SINGAPORE

Police cars are clearly marked and have a light bar on the top of the car, much like standard police cars in the United States. The most common type of police vehicle is a Fast Response Car (FRC) which includes the Toyota Corolla and Subaru Impreza. You will also see motorbike police on occasion.

As you should anywhere in the world, follow the officer’s orders. From the time you see the flashing lights start to slow down and look for a good place to pull over with enough room for the police to park behind you. Switch off your engine, put your window down, and keep your hands resting on the steering wheel. Once an officer approaches you, be sure to express that you are a visitor from America.

Keep in mind if a police officer asks to see your phone, it is best to provide them the ability. If you don’t and you are suspected of a crime, you may then be arrested or asked to go down to the station.

TRAVELING FROM SINGAPORE TO MALAYSIA

A drive to Malaysia is only a few hours, and many on extended vacations want to take a day or two to visit this neighboring country. Keep the following points in mind if you are considering an extended adventure:
  • If you are renting a car in Singapore, be sure you understand if the car can be driven over the border. This is very important because some rental agencies may charge extra for additional insurance if you plan on visiting another country or have specific cars that are not licensed for international travel including a road tax validity document.
  • Before you leave Singapore, the fuel tank must be ¾ full, and a stored-value card with sufficient value to pay toll charges. When crossing the border into Malaysia and back into Singapore, there will be a border fee, check with the officers at checkpoints to ensure you have enough to pay the border fees.
  • Be sure you have a blank page in your passport, as well as blank pages for re-entry into Singapore.
  • Malaysia has many of the same road laws as Singapore, be sure to pay attention to road signage.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

EXPERIENCE SINGAPORE’S MELTING POT AND VARIETY OF SITES

There are many lists and suggestions regarding itinerary for things to see and do, many adventures await you, including:

  • Street food is among the best in the world, meets health codes, and is affordable. Traveler hot tip: agree to a cost before ordering your food as vendors tend to kick up the price if not agreed upon.
  • Orchard Road for stores and shopping – actually there is a 2.2km stretch of luxury shops for perusing and window-shopping.
  • Little India for shopping the stalls and immersing yourself into the city’s fast pace.
  • Gardens by the Bay and Singapore Botanic Gardens for a serene time among amazing plants native to the country.
  • Universal Studios Singapore, on the island of Sentosa which also houses golf courses, beaches, and luxury resorts.
  • National Museum of Singapore has several themed galleries and living galleries of the country’s history, or you can visit one of the smaller gardens, such as:  

               * The National Orchid Garden. For the best experience arrive early                      for fewer crowds and comfortable temperatures. There are over                       1,000 species to view and double that amount in hybrids.
               *The Ginger Garden with over 250 species from the plant family                         Zingiberaceae. The garden is arranged in zones, organized by                               region of origin.
               *The Learning Forest with its boardwalks and walkways allowing                        you to explore a variety of habitats from freshwater wetlands to                          rainforests. Your free admission includes a fruit tree arboretum                          and separate bamboo arboretum of more than 30 species of                              bamboo.
               *Healing Garden with over 400 types of medicinal plants arranged                     according to the part of the body it is used for.
               *If you have time at night, walk the wonderfully lit boardwalk at                            the Fragrant Garden to experience the scents from native and                            other species of plants.

  • Singapore Flyer, which is 100 feet larger than its cousin, the London Eye Ferris Wheel.
  • Merlion Park on Marina Bay to some of the best ways to see the bay, and be sure to walk through the Supertree Grove of man-made ‘trees’ that provide shade during the day and provide light and sound show at night.
  • Singapore Zoo taking 28 hectares on a peninsula, have breakfast with Orangutans, or simply view from afar.
  • Haji Lane, another shopping adventure only in historic houses with quirky shops and boutiques.
  • Night Safari near the Singapore Zoo this wildlife park is open at night.
  • S.E.A. Aquarium has 49 marine habitats including a shark tunnel.
  • River Safari next to the Zoo recreates seven river habitats from around the world.
  • Fort Canning Park with a historic museum and lots of green space.
  • Each major district of Singapore has a shopping mall, each one slightly different, be sure to do some research or visit each one.

Beyond the normal tourist sites and culturally diverse shopping and food to eat, there are many scenic places that will take you outside of the city center in your driving adventures, such as:

  • The Kranji Countryside located in the northwest area of Singapore –  there are a variety of farms including farms specific to goats, fish, and another of organic vegetables.
  • Nearby is the Kranji War Memorial is a peaceful place where World War II allied troops are buried.
  • Located in the north along Admiralty Road West, the Woodlands Waterfront coastal park can be lively in the evenings for a nice walk, or dinner near the jetty to enjoy the breeze.
  • Buangkok Kampong in northeast Singapore is the last kampong left, old housing and chickens wandering the gravel paths will take you back in time.
  • Punggol Waterway Park has four themed areas that offer a serene and beautiful way to spend the day strolling or relaxing.
  • South Buona Vista Road will take you through 5 hairpin curves going up a road that leads to Kent Ridge Park, which is home to an old military tank and amazing views of Pasir Panjang Port.
  • In Southern Singapore be sure to drive out to see Hendersons Waves, a pedestrian bridge 274 meters long, connecting Mount Faber Park to Telok Blangah Park. At night this architectural wonder is illuminated and is noted as a romantic place for a date.
  • Southwest Singapore offers Hort Park, known as the first one-stop gardening hub in Asia, you can learn about horticulture, visit a butterfly garden, or spend some time relaxing in this serene environment.
  • Jurong Hill Observation Tower provides a bird’s eye view of the Jurong industrial area and often smells like burnt coffee.
  • Then there is Little Guilin in west Singapore. After admiring this grand and majestic rock sitting in a lake, which is named after the granite rock formations in Guilin, China, be sure to enjoy a stroll through the park that was once a granite quarry.
  • Another option is to drive round trip viewing scenic areas such as Lim Chu Kang Road, Yishun Dam, and Changi Village, among many others. A round trip is about 163 km and takes 4 hours to drive, so considering the stops you may make for scenic viewing and food stops; it could be a full day!

If you’re a US Citizen driving in Singapore, keep alert, stay calm, and enjoy the amazing landscape! Just remember, leave the alcohol when you’re at your destination for the night and mind traffic signs and speed limits. Otherwise, make a list, set your sites, and make it an adventure to remember.

Don’t believe everything you see in the movies. Singaporean drivers might have a few bad habits, but aggression is definitely not one of them, so drive with a smile on your face and enjoy the open road.