Singapore is a bustling, modern city, with tons of things to do (which I’ll get to in part 2 of this guide!) But before you can start sightseeing, you’ll need to figure out the practical day-to-day stuff. Here is everything you need to do just that:
- how to get from the airport to your hotel or vacation rental
- where to get a local SIM card for your cell phone
- where to get cash
- sites we use to find our accommodations in Singapore
- how to get around Singapore (public transport and taxis are easy to use and convenient)
When You Arrive at the Airport
As you’re leaving the airport, grab one of the free maps that are around – it will come in handy later! I was really impressed with the way most of these maps were tailor made for people like us who were new to the city. The maps showed locations of hotels, popular attractions, and subway stations.
At the airport, you can buy a local sim card for your cell phone – it’s pricey compared to other countries in SE Asia, but we thought it was worth it for the convenience. (I think we paid about SG$38 for ours, which included some calling minutes, texts, and data.)
I also recommend you use one of the bank machines here to withdraw some cash in the local currency – it’ll come in handy to pay for your transportation, and also if you run into a place that won’t accept your credit card (and there were several places whose credit card readers couldn’t take our North American credit cards). Worst case, if you forget to withdraw cash at the airport, it won’t be too hard to find a bank machine in the city.
Throughout the airport and the rest of Singapore, there was signage in English pretty much everywhere you’d want to go, and most of the locals we ran into spoke English quite well – this is yet another factor that makes Singapore an easy place to visit for English speakers.
To get to our hotel, we took the easy way: a taxi. There is a taxi stand at the airport, which makes it really easy to find a ride. If you want to save money, you could also take public transit, but this won’t work if you have too much luggage.
How to Hail a Taxi in Singapore
Do you see those lit-up signs on the roofs of the taxis? I thought they were genius! Rather than trying to hail a taxi and having no idea if it was already booked and on it’s way to pick up someone else, all you have to do it read the sign – it’ll tell you if the taxi is off duty, already booked, or available. If you do want to hail a taxi, stick your arm out at hip or thigh level, palm down – you can motion up and down a bit – do not put your palm facing out or up as this is considered rude/aggressive in Singapore.
But, if you’re in the city center, the taxis aren’t allowed to pick you up at some random location on the street – they are only allowed to pick up a passenger at a designated taxi stand. If in doubt, head for a hotel – there are good odds you’ll find a taxi there.
If you want to call a taxi ahead of time, the Singapore government has a list of telephone numbers for approved taxi companies, plus a couple of mobile apps to make summoning a taxi even easier, here. You’ll also find links there to a list of locations for the taxi stands.
Where to Stay
If you don’t want to rent a vehicle, or pay for expensive taxi rides, then choose a place that’s within walking distance of a subway station.
Our favourite sites to use for finding accommodations here are Agoda and Airbnb. Some of the popular locations for tourist accommodations are anywhere near: Orchard Road, Marina Bay, and Sentosa Island.
We stayed at the Citadine Apartments, and it was perfectly suited for us.
We were a short walk away from lots of dining options with a wide range of prices. We had easy access to budget friendly choices such as cheap plate of chicken rice for SG$3.80, fresh fruit smoothies for SG$4.00, or basic sandwiches for around SG$3 (all within a 1 minute walk); mid-range fast food like McDonalds, Subway, and KFC (if craving western food); and nicer restaurants with higher prices to match.
We could walk to the nearest subway station in 10-15 minutes.
Our room was larger than the average hotel room, had a small kitchenette, included free housekeeping services, plus included a nice breakfast on weekday mornings.
Getting Around Singapore
We used a taxi to get to and from the airport, and the subway system for everything else except our trip to Sentosa Island.
If you did not rent a car or take a taxi, and want to go to Sentosa Island, then take the subway to Harbourfront Station (it’s pretty much right underneath VivoCity mall), then take the escalators up into the mall where you can choose from a cable car ride (SG$29 per adult, SG$18 per child age 3-12, free for under 3 years old), monorail (SG$4 per person round trip), or walk across the bridge for SG$1 per person.
Singapore Subway System
We used the subway system a lot during our 1-week stay. It’s inexpensive, fast, efficient, and super easy to use (and that’s really saying something since this was the first time either Paul or I had ever used a subway system).
If you’ll be using it every day, then odds are it’ll end up cheaper for you to buy a subway pass. It looks like a credit card, and will cost you SG$12 per person. When you get down into the subway station, look for an information desk – you can buy the passes there, and also get a free pocket-sized map of the subway routes – this map is a nice supplement to the larger map of Singapore that you picked up at the airport.
SG$5 of that is a non-refundable fee for the card itself, the remaining SG$7 is credit that you can use to ride the subway. The card ends up saving you money because the fare you pay with the card is much cheaper than buying tickets one-by-one. For example, a fare that would cost SG$1.40 as a single ticket only costs about SG$0.82 with the subway pass. If your kids are short enough, they ride for free. (You can check at the help desk when you arrive at the station to see if your child is short enough to ride free.)
The subway pass is good for 5 years, so might be worth hanging on to if you think you might return to Singapore again before it expires.
Have you been to Singapore? Do you have any other practical tips to share? Leave a comment!