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Living in Singapore

Local Customs and Culture in Singapore

Despite its small size, the local customs and culture in Singapore are unique and a mixture of various ethnic influences. All this has its roots in the country’s history as a trading hub. Learn more about Singapore’s history, the fining culture in Singapore, and its religions here on InterNations GO!

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At a glance:

  • The various cultural influences that have come together to form Singapore make its culture one of the most diverse in the world.
  • Singapore have a number of unusual laws, including chewing gum and spitting, so make sure to look these up before you move.
  • In Singapore, more than ten different religions are practiced, however, discrimination is still a prominent issue.

The culture in Singapore is defined by the different ethnic groups in the city-state. Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Western influences are all palpable there, making for a mix of traditions and local customs. This diversity of the culture in Singapore is also reflected in the many languages spoken there, including English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil.

Asia’s Multicultural Hub: A Historical Perspective

Singapore is an island, located at the southern tip of Malaysia. From 1819, it served as a trading port for British ships on their way to India. As a major trading hub and because of its close proximity to its neighbor Malaysia, Singapore was prone to many foreign influences, both from Britain and from other Asian countries. Chinese and Indian workers moved to Singapore to work at the harbor. The country remained a British colony until 1942.

Although it took several decades to turn Singapore into the industrialized nation and expat hot spot that it is today, the foreign influence on culture in Singapore remained. Today, it is estimated that just over half of the total workforce in Singapore is foreign. A mix of various languages, traditions, and religions is prevalent all over the state.

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Singapore: A “Fine” City

Culture in Singapore is largely defined by peace, justice, and social and religious harmony. The saying that Singapore is a “fine” city, not only refers to its cleanliness or its quality of life. In fact, to ensure safety and order in the state, the government has prohibited various things. If you don’t want to pay a heavy fine or even spend time in jail, you should avoid the following:

  • chewing gum
  • spitting
  • littering
  • jay walking
  • dancing on counters or tables at a bar
  • smoking indoors
  • drinking and driving
  • public drunkenness
  • taking drugs

Keep in mind that the last point is particularly serious. It is enough to carry even a small amount of specific drugs to face the death penalty. You can learn more on limitation of civil freedoms in Singapore from our guide.

A Country of Many Beliefs

The religious culture in Singapore is just as diverse as the population. Singaporeans learn about the religious customs and traditions of other population groups early on. On the list of public holidays in Singapore are Christian, Muslim, and Indian holidays, among others. The state is home to ten major religions, including Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. Some people even accept more than one faith. However, discrimination in Singapore is still a problem at times.

While exploring the culture in Singapore, you will soon find, that many of the most beautiful and fascinating buildings in the state are religious. While some of them are open to the public, it is important that you abide by certain rules before entering a place of worship:

  • Take off your shoes before you enter a mosque or a temple.
  • Wash your feet and hands before entering a Hindu temple.
  • Dress appropriately! Women are expected to cover their hair or parts of their body before entering a mosque or a temple.
  • Make sure that taking pictures is allowed before getting out your camera.
  • A religious building is no place for a picnic! Don’t eat or drink there.
  • Bring along food or flowers to Hindu and Buddhist temples as an offering for the gods.
Updated on: December 11, 2019
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