Indeed, this city-state known for its tidiness is virtually free from crime, barring a few pickpocketing hotspots and a scam or two. The biggest danger a visitor is likely to face comes not from crooks, but from its officials. There are some simple things which we would normally take for granted which can cost you precious travel dollars in fines. And if you do get in a bind with the law, don't assume this is like the rest of Asia. Bribing an official to get you off the hook will land you even deeper into trouble.
First, the heavy stuff. The penalty for drug trafficking is death, as the customs declaration card you must fill out informs you. Trafficking is the possession of drugs above a certain amount. For cannabis, it's 500 grams. Murder, abduction and some weapons offences are also capital crimes.
Got some traces of pot in your blood from that bender in Laos? If they test you in the airport, it's jail time.
For minor drug offences, the punishment is corporal, usually with the rattan cane.
The maximum blood-alcohol level tolerated in Singapore is 0.08%. The punishment for drunk driving, in theory, is stiff: a fine of 1,000 to 5,000 SGD or six months in jail. Repeat offenders get heavier sentences. It's also an offense to consume alcohol in public spaces between the hours of 10:30pm and 7am.
Singapore has a range of penalties for those who overstay their visa ranging from financial, jail time, copping the cane and deportation. Just don't do it.
Want to vandalize some cars, as a misguided American boy once did? Brace for the cane. Graffiting in a public place? You'll cop the cane for that too.
Rape, rioting, extortion and vandalism are all disciplined with a good caning.
Shoplifting is considered a major offense and the country has sophisticated surveillance equipment to catch thieves. Although the penalties are harsh, the actual sentences received are usually well below the maximum.
You're more likely to get stung with a fine for things that might seem to be tolerated at home. Spitting, littering, and smoking in public places carry fines of up to 1,000 SGD.
Spit on the sidewalk? That's 500 SGD.
The country's famous ban on chewing gum is still alive, and the penalty for smuggling it is one year in jail, and a 10,000 SGD fine, although exceptions are made for nicotine gum and other medicinal gums, but they can only be dispensed by a dentist or pharmacist. So if you do use these, make sure you have a doctor's letter outlining what it's for.
Thinking about feeding the pigeons? Think again! It will cost you a 500 SGD fine if you do.
You're also not allowed to eat or drink on the metro. Fines can be up to 500 SGD.
Bought that smelly durian from the market? Don't take it on the metro or that will become a 500 SGD durian.
Importing pornography into Singapore can result in fines and jail time, so clean up that hard drive before coming in. Although consuming porn in the country is not an offence, the country has blocked several adult sites as a symbolic gesture. For more information on what you can and can't bring into Singapore, check out this article.
Homosexuality is, in theory, still illegal, but this is slowly changing as the country's gays engage in intensive activism. Still, it's better not to attract attention and avoid public displays of affection. This also goes for straight men, who can go to jail for behaving inappropriately towards women. Unwelcome touching and verbal harassment are considered offences against modesty.
Singapore has worked hard to create harmony among Indians, Chinese and Malays. Any activity that disrupts this, like racial slurs, can carry severe punishments. Anyone intending to speak publicly on sensitive issues like race or religion has to get approval from the Ministry of Manpower.
The government has banned Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unification Church, claiming they disrupt racial harmony. Any meeting of these religions is illegal, as is owning any of their publications.
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With the SARS contagion long behind it, Singapore has regained the honour of being one of the most healthful places in Asia.