The Singaporean government and its strong arm of the law, the Singapore Police Force, run a tight ship in terms of keeping the city and its residents safe and sound. The results are clearly visible: crime in Singapore is very low, and the country has a reputation as being one of the safest places around the globe.
As an expat, it’s not likely you will witness a lot of criminal activity, much less become a victim of crime. This is not to say that crime in Singapore is nonexistent, but it is definitely less of a problem than in other cities of its size and international renown.
“Street” crime in Singapore is low with the predominant forms being theft, pickpocketing, and purse snatching. Most often, these crimes occur when the opportunity arises and someone leaves their possessions unattended, or in crowded areas such as the MRT, marketplaces, night clubs, and similar venues.
Acts of violent and confrontational crime in Singapore are few and far between, and criminal activity involving firearms rarely occurs. Guns and other firearms are strictly controlled by the government and police, and the penalties for brandishing, let alone using, a firearm are severe. There is also a very noticeable lack of drug-related crime in Singapore. As with firearms, recreational drugs and other illicit substances are banned, and the use or distribution of drugs is met with harsh punishment.
Breaking and entering, burglary, and other property crimes are getting increasingly rare: Singapore experienced a 20.3% drop in these forms of crime between 2014 and 2015. The overall crime rate in Singapore rose by 4% between 2014 and 2015 all due to cybercrime. While rates for all other types of crime dropped significantly, cybercrime is the most common and steadily growing form of crime in Singapore, with e-commerce cheating and online scams being the most prevalent.
From traffic violations to more serious acts, there is a tendency in Singapore to hand out severe punishments. Many things expats from other areas of the globe would not think twice about, such as littering, jaywalking, eating in public transportation, or smoking at an outdoor bus stop, may incur astonishingly high fines — in the latter case, you might have to pay between 200 SGD and 1000 SGD.
There are, of course, many other examples. Singapore’s chewing gum ban, which has caught international attention, is such a case of a seemingly negligible act having heavy financial consequences. Driving under the influence, to name a more serious example, is not only punishable by a very hefty fine, but also by imprisonment (as well as the demerit point system we explain in our article on driving). Generally, the threshold for handing out prison sentences is fairly low in Singapore.
Singapore is infamous around the world for its use of both corporal and capital punishment. Singapore has one of the most strictly enforced penal codes with some of the most severe penalties; so it’s not surprising that corporal and capital punishment are frequently used — and not only for the most serious crimes.
Cases of vandalism (e.g. graffiti) have been met with caning, the usual form of corporal punishment in Singapore reserved for male delinquents under the age of 50. A flexible cane of 1.2 meters in length and 1.2 cm in diameter is used to administer a maximum of 24 strokes on the bare buttocks of the offender.
There are over 30 different forms of crime in Singapore which can incur caning, including drug abuse, possession of weapons, kidnapping, robbery, sexual abuse, rioting, overstaying a visa by more than 90 days, and the aforementioned vandalism. Though the number of canings administered reached its zenith in 2007 with more than 6400 sentences, it remains high at around 2000 sentences each year.
The number of capital punishments carried out in Singapore was also very high in the 1990s, a time in which the country was among the nations with the highest per capita death sentences. These days, capital punishment is handed out much less frequently, and even though Singapore is still far from abolishing the death penalty, only one execution was reported in 2015.
Murder, drug-trafficking, discharge of firearms, mutiny, and treason are some of the forms of crime in Singapore punishable by death. There are also several foreign nationals on death row, most of which were convicted on drug-related offenses.
The Singapore Police Force is known for its swift and professional response to emergency calls and crime reports. The emergency number of the Singaporean police is 999. If you have been a victim of crime in Singapore, for example pickpocketing, you can also file a report at your local neighborhood police center and even online.
If you have a medical emergency and require assistance, the number for an ambulance is 995. This is also the number to dial if you need to reach the fire department. While response times can vary depending on your location on the island, you can count on fairly quick medical assistance.
If you need an ambulance but are not in an emergency case, dial 1777, the joint hotline for Singapore’s 18 private non-emergency ambulance services. A full list of ambulance service providers and their charges can be found on the website of the Singapore Civil Defence Force. Keep in mind that all ambulance services have a fee: expect to pay between 35 and600 SGD per call.
The government-led Emergency 101 initiative offers a printable overview of all important emergency numbers to make sure you always have the right number handy for any emergency situation.
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