List of Things Banned in Singapore
It is a well-known fact to the global traveling community that Singapore is a strict country. Those who grew up there would logically be familiar with and accustomed to the laws which govern the city. So this list was written especially with visitors to the country in mind. Indeed not only are some of the Lion City’s laws really tight, but also the penalties associated with them can be quite severe. So you don’t want to get caught doing something illegal that you may not even know was against the law in the first place. Thus the purpose of this list is to give insight to some of the more unconventional, relatively speaking, products and acts which are totally not cool to possess or do in the Lion City.
Generally speaking, Singapore is an anti-fireworks’ nation. This is to prevent accidents related to them which cause serious harm or even death. And whereas the laws against fireworks have become more lax throughout the decades, even to this very day they cannot be used without the government’s consent. This includes the buying and selling of fireworks, which can land the offender a prison sentence and even a caning.
2. Chewing Gum
Chewing gum is also an activity which cannot be undertaken without consent from the proper authorities. Or stated otherwise, it would have to be gum that was medically prescribed by a dentist or pharmacist. And like fireworks, commerce in chewing gum is also illegal. In fact a visitor is not even allowed bring any into the country unless, as stated earlier, he or she has an applicable medical condition. This is in fact one of Singapore’s most infamous laws in the eyes of the global community. And it is so to prevent individuals from sticking chewed gum to random or inconvenient places.
As a rule of thumb it can be said that Singapore has banned smoking in most public places. This is of course due to health concerns associated with secondhand smoke. But interesting to note is that they have also banned the use of e-cigarettes, which don’t have any tobacco, outright. This is because it is said to imitate a tobacco product. That is to say that this law, in actuality, extends to anything “that resembles a smoking device”. However, it has been noted that e-cigarettes have still become increasingly popular in the Lion City. So now there is a sizeable e-cigarette black market in the country. That means that as it stands now, if you’re in Singapore you shouldn’t expect to enjoy any type of vaping experience unless you have some type of hookup.
4. Unlicensed Cigarettes
With tobacco products and basically anything that looks like a smoking device being banned, one would logically presume cigarettes are also illegal. However, such is not case even though as mentioned earlier, smoking in many public areas is thoroughly banned. Rather the way the system is setup is that legal cigarettes are marked by Singaporean Customs. Literally, individual sticks must not only have their mark, which is the initials SDPC (Singapore Duty-Paid Cigarette). But also said marking must meet within certain specifications, apparently to prevent unauthorized entities from replicating it. And yes, the Lion City takes this law quite seriously. As stated more bluntly, you definitely wouldn’t want to be caught with “contraband cigarettes”.
5. Pornography & Nudity
It is has been noted that pornography is not illegal in Singapore per se. However, the government has banned certain websites which display such material from being accessed in their country. Also it is in fact illegal to import porn into the Lion City. As such it has been advised that if a visitor is carrying a storage device for instance, he or she could clear it of such content before reaching Customs. And along those same lines public nudity is banned in Singapore, potentially resulting in a three-month jail sentence in addition to a sizable fine. Or rather let’s say that it is very illegal, as a person cannot even be nude at home if someone else can see him or her, i.e. if a window curtain is open for instance.
6. Disruption of “Racial Harmony”
Anyone familiar with Singapore knows that it has a sizable foreign population. Moreover anyone who is knowledgeable of the country’s history would also know that the country had its issues with racial violence, particularly during the days leading up to its independence. As such, the government does not tolerate race-based ‘hate crimes’, as they would be called in other countries. This includes the uttering of racial slurs. And in regards to overall freedom of speech, if a person is slated to speak publicly concerning matters dealing with religion or race he or she must get government approval first.
7. Jehovah’s Witnesses & Unification Church
Similarly it is also illegal to persecute someone based on their religious leanings. And apparently Singapore doesn’t really have any issues in that regard. However, there are some religious institutions which have come under fire from the government itself. Most prominent amongst them are the ubiquitous Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have been formally going at it with Singapore’s government since the early 1970s, when they refused to perform some actions required by the state such as oaths of allegiance and mandatory military service. And even as recently as 2019 a few members of the organization were incarcerated concerning that latter issue. So whereas the JWs have not actually been banned, a lot of their literature has, and as stated earlier they face recurrent issues with the powers that be. But in terms of a religious organization that has actually been banned, that would be the Seoul-based Unification Church.
8. Commerce in Exotic Animals
This ban extends not only to the likes of tigers of course but also lizards that are considered exotic. In terms of the latter, an individual must first be licensed before owning one. Laws like this are pretty common in other developed countries also. In Singapore’s particular case, it is in the name of deterring exploitation of its natural environments.
9. Durian on Public Transport
The durian is a type of fruit which is native to Southeast Asia. In addition to being noticeably spiky, it has a very-strong smell which attracts some people but for many others cause considerable discomfort. As such it has been banned throughout the MRT. And even some taxis will refuse to carry it.
10. Spitting in Public
Like chewing gum, this is another item on the list which relates to the Lion City’s commitment to a clean environment. And if an individual does spit in a public place and is caught by the authorities, he or she can end up paying a fine as pricey as $1,000. Indeed spitting in the wrong place can really have some monumental, unforeseen consequences. For example, when a Singaporean student did so in a malicious way during July of 2020, the news actually made international headlines.
11. Firearms & Weapons
It is very illegal to own a firearm without a license in Singapore. For as we have pointed out before, the authorities do not play around with laws related to violence at all. And by extension, they do not welcome the possession of any type of ‘offensive weapons’, whether in public or at home. Or another way of looking at it is that any item which is designed to cause harm to another person is banned in Singapore. This includes products which are generally deemed defensive, such as pepper spray. And law enforcement is so strict about these rules that fake guns (i.e. toys and gun-shaped lighters) are not allowed into the country. Indeed in terms of traveling to Singapore, generally you wouldn’t want to be carrying any blades whatsoever.
If you’re out in public in Singapore and have something to dispose of, it would behoove you to hold onto it until you reach the nearest trash receptacle. For dropping something on the ground, even by accident it has been noted, can earn you sizable fine. In fact the Lion City is so serious about these types of laws that it doesn’t even allow the feeding of pigeons, though doing so is officially classified as more of a wildlife than littering offence.
13. Eating & Drinking on the MRT
Relatedly an individual cannot eat or drink on Singapore’s public transportation system, which is known as Mass Rapid Transit (MRT). And yes, this includes the consumption of water.
14. Pirated Software & Movies
Some places in Southeast Asia may seem as if they are havens for pirated material, but such is not the case in Singapore. In fact you could be fined up to $1,000 for possessing such an item. And the Lion City’s ban on such content of course extends to ‘illicit streaming devices’, i.e. hardware which is configured to allow users to stream movies from paid services without paying. Such devices are more or less illegal in every country. So it would really be the pirated DVDs one has to look out for, especially in terms of not carrying any with you when entering the country.
Anyone who remembers the Michael Fay case of the 1990s knows that Singapore can be strict, even under international pressure, when it comes to vandalism. What they may not know is just how encompassing the Lion City’s vandalisms laws are. For instance, hanging advertising posters without permission is illegal. And the Singaporean government totally does not perceive graffiti as art. Moreover, this is another one of those cases where it can be argued the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. In other words, if you are actually caught vandalizing in Singapore, you may end up not only with a prison sentence but also being caned.
16. National Flags & Emblems
It is illegal in Singapore to display another country’s national flag or national emblem in public. Of course officials and the like from other parts of the world are exempted. But in terms of laymen, if you’re a foreigner and have a lot of pride for your homeland, you may want to keep such emotions in check when out in the Lion City. And even in terms of displaying the Singaporean flag, certain notable stipulations apply.
17. Unlawful Assembly
According to Singaporean law, an unlawful assembly would be the gathering of three or more individuals in a public area at 10:00pm. This is one of those types of statutes that can really catch you off-guard if you are a first-time visitor to the Lion City.
18. Late Night Alcohol Purchase & Consumption
After reading some of the items on this list, you may be surprised to find out that alcohol is not illegal in Singapore. However, it cannot be consumed in public after 10:30 at night, and this ban is not lifted ’til 7:00 in the morning. Moreover restaurants, bars or what have you are not allowed to serve you alcohol after 10:30pm unless they are licensed to do so.
19. Illegal Use of Wi-Fi
Or stated differently, you cannot use another person’s Wi-Fi unless you have permission to do so. And yes, this includes open, unsecured signals. And this is a law that the Lion City takes very seriously, as offenders face imprisonment and also the potential to be fined a whopping $10,000.
20. No Cats in the HDB Flats
As we have pointed out before, many of Singapore’s residents live in flats (i.e. apartments) which are under the general ownership of the Housing Development Board (HDB). These are known as HDB Flats, and individuals living in those facilities cannot have cats as pets. This is due to hygienical concerns involving felines. However, dog lovers in the HDB Flats would be pleased to know that they can own canines, though they would first have to obtain licensing in order to do so.
21. Drugs (Including Cannabis)
The fact that illicit drugs are banned in Singapore is needless to say at this point. But the Lion City is infamous for being especially tough on offenders. This has particularly been noted by world travelers who enjoy weed. For as other nations are easing cannabis restrictions, just possessing a joint in Singapore can still earn you a lengthy prison sentence.
It would be easy for an outside to read this kind of article and come to the conclusion that Singapore is some type of dictatorship. However, such is not the case. For instance, it has been noted that when someone does bring contraband into the country, the person isn’t really facing any jail time unless of course it is drugs. But that being said, Singapore Customs is also known for being quite rigid concerning the importation of cigarettes, chewing gum and pornography.
If you are a visitor to Singapore who isn’t really sure of the laws of the land, perhaps the best thing to do would be to someone around you who is. For dictatorship or not, the Lion City is still relatively-strict, especially for a First World nation. But that being said, the country is also exceptionally-clean and notably crime free. And perhaps it wouldn’t be so without such stringent rules.