An Insider’s Guide to Budget Travel In Singapore
Tips to visiting Singapore without breaking your bank
· 12 min read
Singapore, the Lion City, is a popular destination for tourists from around the world. The city-state is known for its impressive skyline, stunning architecture, and mouth-watering food. However, many travelers are put off by the perceived high costs of visiting Singapore. But fear not, because it is possible to explore Singapore on a budget. Here are some of the dos and don’ts to saving money during your travels to Singapore:
Singapore is renowned for its delicious food, but you don't have to spend a fortune to enjoy it. Here are some tips to how you can enjoy the food in Singapore.
Head to hawker centres! But maybe try not to order these…
Hawker centres are central to Singapore’s culinary scene — and well, most guides on budget travelling probably have hawker centres listed. But even if you were not traveling on a budget, you should still check out Singapore’s hawker centres at least once. And while we are at it, be sure to check out our guide to hawker centres in Singapore to get the most out of your experience!
But although hawker centres are generally affordable, there are some things that you should avoid ordering, especially if you are on a budget.
For one, if you are ordering economical rice (or cai fan), avoid ordering the fish. Cai Fan is typically charged by the number of meat and vegetable dishes that you order, but fish is calculated differently, and would rack up the cost of your meal rather significantly.
You should also skip the Mala Xiang Guo, although it’s really, really tasty. Mala Xiang Guo is typically charged by weight of the ingredients, and it is very easy to go overboard with how much you order. An order of Mala Xiang Guo could easily rake up to anywhere between $12 to $20 — which isn’t that bad, but if you’re at a hawker centre, you should be looking at the range of below $8.
Nasi Padang is another food item that you might want to consider skipping. Don’t get us wrong - Nasi Padang is great and really flavourful, and we love it. But Nasi Padang tends to be more expensive than the other options out there, especially if you were to order meat.
Skip anything that states seasonal prices. If you must, check with the hawkers for the exact price before ordering to avoid a shock when the bill comes.
Skip your coffee and go for Kopi instead
If you need your caffeine fix, go for the local kopi (or Nanyang Coffee) instead of coffee. Coffee that you buy at cafes are easily $5 or more. But if all you need is a caffeine fix, head to the kopitiams (local coffeeshops) or hawker centres to get a cup of kopi, which is typically priced around $1. Even if you were to head to chain shops like Ya Kun or Toast Box, the kopi is about $2. The key difference between kopi and your regular coffee would be the beans that are used and how they’re brewed — kopi is usually made with Robusta beans, which by the way, tends to have higher caffeine than the regular coffee made with Arabica beans.
Here are some things you need to know to ordering kopi:
☕ If you order just ‘kopi’, it includes condensed milk and sugar.
☕ If you want to replace the condensed milk with evaporated milk, it is known as kopi-c
☕ If you want to skip the condensed milk but have sugar, it is known as kopi-o
☕ If you want to skip both the milk and sugar, it is known as kopi-o-kosong
☕ If you want to skip the sugar but have evaporated milk, it is known as kopi-c-kosong
☕ If you want your drink to be less sweet (i.e. less sugar or less condensed milk), just add siew dai behind your order
☕ And if you want your drink to be sweeter, just add gah dai behind your order
If you have to visit a restaurant, go for weekday lunches
Some restaurants will have set menus for weekday lunches to accommodate the office crowd. These set menus are typically at a more affordable price than the a-la-carte options or the dinner menus.
Return the appetisers and wet tissues provided at Chinese restaurants
If you are visiting a Chinese restaurant, they will typically serve you with appetisers like braised peanuts when you first sit down. These appetisers are usually charged. If you don’t want the appetisers, let the servers know and they’ll take it away and remove it from your bill.
Similarly, the wet tissues that are provided are usually charged — it’s not expensive at about $0.30 per piece, but that’s some money you could save. Simply return the unused wet tissues to the counter when making your payment, and they’ll waive it from your bill.
Go dry: skip the alcohol; but here are some tips anyway if you can’t
Unfortunately, alcohol is very, very expensive in Singapore. One of the best ways to saving money while dining in Singapore really is to just skip the booze. If you really do need your fix of alcohol, there are a few ways you could do so at a slightly more affordable price.
🍺 Instead of a bar / club, you can drink at the local coffeeshops (kopitiams). You don’t have cocktails or liquor there, but if you’re just looking for some beer, the prices at these places are usually slightly cheaper.
🍺 Look out for happy hour deals. Most bars have happy hour deals that have the drinks at a more affordable price. For one of the best deals in Singapore, check out Stickies Bar which have drinks priced by the time — meaning the earlier you start drinking, the cheaper the prices are.
🍺 Or if you are sure to be drinking a lot, consider checking out bars like Bottoms Up that offer liquid buffets.
Buy cooked food from supermarkets in the evening
Most supermarkets will put on a discount on their cooked food in the evenings to clear the items by the end of the day. Items typically range from sushi, bento sets, to roasted meat. The timings that these discounts start vary from supermarket to supermarket, but a good time to check out these food would be after 7pm. Don’t expect anything super fanciful, but the food is often decent and make a great dinner option if you are just looking to fill your stomach.
Buy buns from local bakeries for the following day’s breakfast
For breakfast options, you can purchase pieces of buns from small, local bakeries rather than chain shops that you find in malls. It is also advisable to buy them the evening before, as there are usually also discounts later into the evening (usually from 7pm or 8pm).
Free food at temples
Well, there is a way that you could get by with free food in Singapore. Some temples like the Singapore Buddhist Lodge and Central Sikh Temple provide free vegetarian meals (usually lunch). The food is typically meant for devotees and the poor, but if you were to walk in, they are not going to stop you. But be mindful that these places are religious grounds and you should be respectful and maintain the peace. Takeaways are not allowed, and you shouldn’t bring in meat products to consume within these premises.
If you are planning to do some shopping in Singapore, here are some places and tips for budget shopping in Singapore:
Go to the supermarkets and value shops instead of convenience stores
If you are buying some snacks or beverages, instead of getting them from convenience stores, head to supermarkets, local stores at housing estates, or value shops for a better deal.
Among the supermarkets, prices could also vary, with prices of items usually cheaper at Sheng Siong or Giant supermarkets, as compared to FairPrice and Cold Storage. But really, just head to the supermarket that’s nearest to you — the difference in price is usually not enough to justify the additional transportation cost.
But for the best deals, head to the Value$ shops located in shopping malls. These shops seem to always be having a clearance sale — we don’t know why or how, but the prices are really attractive.
Mustafa Centre is a shopping centre located at Little India that opens late into the night, and is one of the best places for budget shopping in Singapore. It sells a large variety of everyday goods at very affordable prices.
You can also head to Bugis Street, one of the largest places in Singapore for street shopping. At Bugis Street, you’ll mostly be able to find souvenirs or fashion items. You’ll have to spend some time combing through the shops at Bugis Street for the best deal though, as some shops sell similar items. There are also stalls selling street food that you can snack on as you shop.
For branded items, you can head to IMM or Changi City Point, the outlet malls located respectively in the West and East of Singapore. The shops in these malls usually have large discounts on off-season items, so you might be able to snag a deal or two at these malls.
There are flea markets that frequently pop up across the island, usually during the weekends. Flea markets are the best places to snag up good deals, with fashion items going for as low as $2 per piece. Of course, a lot of it is up to luck to find a piece that you like. Some of the most established flea market organisers that you could check out include Fleawhere and The Luggage Market.
Of course, if you are traveling to Singapore, you would want to visit some of its main attractions. While key attractions are ticketed, there are still ways you could sight-see on a budget.
Some of the key attractions include bundled tickets with other attractions to help you save costs. Check out the official website of the attractions that you would like to visit to find deals for bundled tickets. If you are visiting Sentosa, you might want to check out the Sentosa Fun Pass; if you are visiting the Singapore Zoo, River Wonders, or Night Safari, there are passes for multi-park admissions; and if you are planning to take the Duck Tours, they also offer bundled deals with the Singapore Flyer.
Apart from ticketed attractions, there are also a number of ways that you could enjoy the free attractions in Singapore. The Merlion Park is one of the city's most iconic attractions, and it offers stunning views of the city skyline. The Botanic Gardens is another must-visit attraction that is free of charge. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts a vast collection of tropical plants.
Gardens by the Bay is another free attraction that you should not miss. While you will have to pay to get into the exhibits, you can still explore the main areas of the gardens for free! The heritage areas of Kampong Glam, Little India, and Chinatown are also places that you can visit for free.
Getting around Singapore is easy and you will often have many options to choose from. Here are some ways that you could get around, ranked from the most cost-effective to the least cost-effective.
Many of Singapore's popular attractions are located close to each other, making it easy to explore on foot. Walking tours are also available and can be a cost-effective way to see the city. Take a stroll around the Marina Bay area to see the iconic Merlion statue and the impressive Marina Bay Sands complex. You can also take a walk around the historic Chinatown and Little India neighborhoods to experience the local culture.
Take the public transport
Singapore has an efficient and extensive public transport system that includes buses and trains. With Singapore’s public transport system, you really don’t need a car to get around. Purchase a Singapore Tourist Pass for unlimited travel on public transport during your stay. This pass allows you to save money on transport costs and is a convenient way to get around the city. The pass also comes with deals for some attractions.
If you wouldn’t be travelling on public transport enough to get the most out of the tourist pass, be sure to at least get an EZ-link card that will entitle you to rebates when transferring between buses and trains.
Even if you were out after the last trains, there are night rider buses that run across some parts of Singapore that you could leverage on.
P.S. You could save a little on transport if you started your day early if you tapped in to a MRT station before the peak hour rush at 7.45am.
You can also get around by cycling in Singapore. There are local bike sharing operators like Anywheel or SGBike that offer bicycle rentals to help you get around. Bicycle rentals could add up to be more expensive than public transport, especially if you are going long distances — but it’s a good way to explore the city. They are also still cheaper than using private hires, if you are travelling somewhere that is not easily accessible by public transport.
If you will be cycling a lot, some of these operators also provide multi-day passes that allows you to go on unlimited rides (each ride not exceeding a certain duration).
P.S. We think Anywheel bikes are generally easier to ride.
🚲 Take note that you will have to park your bicycle at designated areas after you are done with your ride. After you are done parking your bicycle, scan the QR code of the parking area to complete the ride. Otherwise, you will have to pay a fine, which really wouldn’t make sense if budget is what you are looking for.
🚲 Be sure to check the quality of the bicycles before your ride-off, especially the seats and brakes.
Tips to scoring the lowest prices for ride sharing and/or taxis (if you really must….)
Singapore has a number of ride sharing apps, including Grab, Gojek, Tada, and Ryde. We suggest that you download these apps, along with the CDG Zig app for regular taxis. And before hopping on to a taxi, check the prices across the apps for the best deals. As the different apps have different reaction times to a surge in demands, the prices could vary largely and there is no one app that is consistently cheaper than the rest. Also do look out for deals and vouchers that will occasionally be pushed into your inbox when booking the rides.
🚗 If there is a large surge in pricing due to demands, you could wait it out till demands return to normal levels. But you may have to wait for hours before it returns to those levels. Alternatively, we suggest that you walk to somewhere that is further from the crowds — the further you are from the main prices, the better the chance of scoring a lower price.
🚗 Try to get a Grab Hitch. Prices for Grab Hitch are usually much cheaper, but you are not guaranteed a driver. Grab Hitch would be suitable if you know in advance when and where you will be travelling to (a trip to the airport for example). We recommend that you make the booking in advance (a scheduled booking) to give more time to look for drivers and so you have sufficient time to make alternative plans.
🚗 If you are flagging down taxis, avoid the silver taxis or limousine taxis. Those are way more expensive than the regular taxis.
As with any other destination, the same tips for saving costs on accommodations apply.
Singapore has numerous luxurious hotels. But if you're on a tight budget, consider staying in a hostel or a budget hotel instead. These options offer basic amenities but are clean and comfortable.
Most of the hotels are in the Marina Bay and/or Orchard area, due to its accessibility to most of the attractions. But given the size of Singapore and the public transport system, you will be fine even if you were to stay slightly off-central. Some areas to consider would be at Lavender, Kallang, Chinatown, or Robertson Quay.
P.S. And of course, if you wanted to save on local data charges, check out our eSIM plans for Singapore.