Singapore is one of the world’s most centrally organized nations whose legal system imposes fines in the thousands of dollars, jail time, plus canings in an effort to keep streets clean of trash and crime. There are at least 5 laws travelers to Singapore should be aware of that might have you thinking the city-state has achieved sanitized harmony.
Cracks In Perfection
Singapore has certainly attained what many countries around the world can only dream about – the third lowest homicide rate in the world. To put serious crimes rates in perspective, Sweden, Scandinavia’s safest country, has 56 times the number of assaults per capita. Many locals attribute the absence of killings to Singapore’s liberal use of the death penalty. There may be something to that (Saudi Arabia has a low number of murders per capita as well) but the correlation doesn’t extend much beyond serious crime.
Charts for low population density combined with economic development tend to line up closely with those for violent crime. In other words, rich countries like Singapore who have low relative populations (around 5.1 million) usually don’t have high rates of serious crime – irrespective of how liberal their governments are.
It’s Only Fined If You Get Caught
People in Singapore, where the average annual household income is about $100,000, are willing to take bigger chances with their wallets. The country has had some struggle with curbing litter, despite imposing fines starting at $300. Particularly around outdoor markets like Newton Food Centre you’ll notice litter around trash cans. Closer to Newton metro stop the green lawns (you shouldn’t be walking on either) occasionally have wrappers and napkins gentle floating along warm breezes, lazily noticed by people snacking in the park, another no-no.
Locals seem to know when they can get away with rule-breaking, such as tossing cigarette butts out highrise windows and why you’ll never see anyone eating on a subway train – there are cameras everywhere. Given the effectiveness of video surveillance, Singapore is looking to extend closed-circuit television (CCTV) coverage to all public spaces.
Death Or Drugs
Using a number of recreational drugs has severe penalties in Singapore and being caught with amounts above certain limits automatically subjects you to the death penalty as a trafficker. Not surprisingly, Singapore officially has some of the lowest levels of drug use in the world. (Although it’s legal, they don’t booze much either. That award goes to Moldova.)
Before one is walked to the gallows (literally) the country has made several attempts of prevention, beginning with public awareness campaign in Singapore’s school system, the third best in the world. Two chances for rehabilitation are also given, although it’s recorded by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) – a permanent mark on one’s background.
Despite all of this, there are alleys near industrial centers where one can find discarded needles used for heroin. Considering the penalties and island geography of Singapore, one is shocked at the amount of drugs there, let alone that they’re being used. If you’re not in jail though, according to government statistics, you’re not a drug user. Rates are low for sure, but it’s a regional phenomena – on the whole southeast Asians don’t roll joints, pop pills, or shoot up.
The Invisible Trade
Comparatively, Japan has similarly low crime rates but with much less severe punishments for serious offenses. Drug rates are higher across Europe than Singapore, but there aren’t many people getting high on drugs not called weed overall. Singapore does pensively rank high in another category – it’s one of the least happy countries in the world.
Singapore is a clean country, but Luxembourg and Australia rank higher with lower fines for littering. You can chew gum in Switzerland yet the trains still run on time. The laws in all of these countries outline similar rules – with vastly differing punishments. Stability, safety, and sanitation doesn’t have to come at the expense of liberty and when it doesn’t, the citizens of those nations top out global lists for happiness.
A number of studies from the University of Connecticut and Oxford on criminal behavior show that the threat of getting caught is a bigger deterrent than the severity of punishment. Once the decision has been made to break a rule – you’re not worried about the consequences while in the act – but not having to face them at all. So, the next time you see someone jaywalk in Singapore or discard a plastic fork it’s not because they don’t fear being fined, it’s because they don’t think they will.
A virtual private network (VPN) is a technology you should never travel without but until recently most applications focused on desk-laptop use and mobile versions were clunky at best. A VPN’s security benefits are invaluable to all of us who’ve connected to public wireless networks in airports and recent updates to a personal favorite, TunnelBear, bring all the advantages seamlessly to your phone or tablet.
Ease Out Of Settings
One of the biggest problems with many VPN apps is that they don’t let you connect to the actual VPN within the appropriate app itself but rather through Android or iOS setting menus. TunnelBear’s latest mobile versions are free up to 500MB for Android, iOS (they’ll throw in an extra gigabyte if you tweet about them) or $5 a month/$50 a year for unlimited use; a very good investment I recommend for most travelers.
TunnelBear’s mobile apps have very useful “Always On” mode which keeps VPN connections after your device wakes up from sleep or you lock the screen. Those extra saved clicks can help you from forgetting to protect your online privacy in countries that might not respect it.
Choose Your Digital Location
For many of you though more importantly is that TunnelBear will let you keep up with Orange Is The New Black on Netflix or any other site that’s restricted by location. Tell TunnelBear where you want to be digitally (e.g. United States) so you can watch your favorite TV shows from anywhere.
- TunnelBear also has servers in Canada, Germany, Japan and a few other countries which increases the odds you can use this trick to score cheaper airfare using a VPN.
Aside from entertainment though, a VPN can get you around local Internet censorship when traveling, keeping you connected to the Internet in places that like to shut off free speech when they don’t agree with the message. Canada-based TunnelBear also doesn’t log any of your browsing or identifiable information which means they don’t have anything to share with governments if asked.
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Singapore is a city-state that’s known for its low crime rates as well as strong penalties for what are usually considered minor offenses in other developed nations. Sure, vandalism carries the possibility of caning as a punishment but if you have any sense, you won’t be spray painting cars in foreign countries anyway.
Putting aside things you know not to do no matter the penalties, the following offenses in Singapore have punishments you might not be expecting. It’s best to brush up first, as fines are hefty at best and jail is, well, jail.
1. Don’t Bring More Than Two Packets Of Gum
Until 2004, gum was completely outlawed in Singapore – a law that came into effect after an incident where some was stuck on a door sensor, disrupting commuter train service. After some intense lobbying by Wrigley, the ban was eased allowing the sale of gum for ‘medical purposes'; essentially whitening or nicotine-gums. To save yourself the hassle of getting a prescription to buy a packet, simply bring two with you. Two packets of gum is the legal limit, although it’s up to customs officials if they want to confiscate any amount.
And please, don’t chew where you’re not supposed to. On public transportation fines begin at $500 USD.
2. Use The Waste Bin
The only place you should spit out your gum is directly into the garbage. (Speaking of spitting, don’t do that either unless your saliva is worth $200.) Littering of any kind (smokers: cigarette butts are trash) carries a $1,000 USD fine, in additional to potential community service. So, if you don’t want to be picking up trash publicly during your visit, discard your junk properly.
3. Get Low After You Get High
Having any amount of a controlled substance (pretty much any recreational drug not alcohol) on you is serious business in Singapore. At the lowest amounts, you can be caned plus fined for drug possession while being in the presence of larger amounts has mandatory death sentences. Not traveling with drugs is pretty generic common sense, even if you have dreads, but be aware that showing up high at the airport is considered possession in Singapore. Yo, like dude, how would they find out you’re wondering? Random drug screenings at Changi Airport. Like, for real man.
4. Flush Your Crap
Literally. Although it’s probably one of Singapore’s least enforceable laws, public toilets must be flushed. The $500 fine might also help relieve you of your bathroom OCD, or you can simply learn to kick flush.
5. Cross Where You’re Supposed To
Jaywalking laws are however well enforced in Singapore. Police often (covertly) monitor random crossings and hand out $15 fines for first time offenders. Once you see a ‘no jaywalking sign’ and repeat penalties listed in the thousands staring back at you from across the street, you’ll be convinced to walk a few extra steps to cross in designated places.
There are a number of other laws (or to be fair, their punishments) many tourists have found unusual or absurd in Singapore. Remember, you’re subject to a country’s laws when you’re there, whether or not you know or agree with them. Besides, you shouldn’t be littering anyway, most of us have little sympathy for people who can’t clean up their own mess.
Hopping on to open airport wireless networks or checking your email from hotel computers are great conveniences but can expose your online accounts to password theft. One way to reduce the risk is to manage your passwords digitally but passwords can be stolen in a number of ways and places, such as Internet cafes.
You can significantly improve the security for most things your log in to daily – even from password breaches the like 5 million Gmail accounts exposed recently – by using two factor authentication. Most tutorials however emphasize working with an active phone number, which you might not always have if you’re traveling frequently. In a process that should take you about 2-4 minutes per account, here’s how to set up and use two factor authentication even when you’re dialing long distance.
Hey, Quickly, What’s Two Factor?
When you log in to, say, Facebook with a password, that’s one factor: something you know. So all someone needs to do to access your account is know the same thing – in this example, your password. The more complicated a password, the more difficult it is to guess, but passwords can simply be lifted from keyboards or swiped from databases you have no control over.
Two factor is adding something you have along with something you know. Like when you withdraw money from an ATM, the card is something you have and PIN something you know; both are needed to get cash. Imagine if someone could take money from your account just by guessing your PIN (from anywhere in the world); that’s what solely relying on a password is similar to.
Most two factor authentication setups online use a mobile phone (something you have) to text you a code that’s needed to log in to Gmail, for example, along with your password. You can see where this might cause some apprehension on a frequent traveler’s part – what if you’re traveling and can’t receive that text?
First Step: One-Time Phone Number For Non-Android Users
Android users can set up 2-step verification using the free Google Authenticator app for Android without needing an active phone number. (Any wireless Internet connection will do.) On iPhone and other devices, initial set up does require you to have a phone number. (Sorry a SkypeIn or Google Voice number won’t cut it.) Your best bet is to unlock your phone, grab a local SIM card [call mom] then get started by downloading Google Authenticator for iOS.
Next, you’re going to want to enable two factor authentication on all of the sites that Google Authenticator works with. I’ve listed how-to links to some popular sites below but basically the process is enable, wait for message with code, input code into site, done.
- Dropbox – Code required for every sign in; doesn’t require a phone number for setup with Google Authenticator.
- Gmail And Other Google Accounts – Devices can be set to remember you for a configurable number of days.
- Facebook – Codes only needed once per device, ever.
- tumblr – Same as Facebook, codes are only needed once per device.
- WordPress.com Blogs – Bloggers who use WordPress on standalone sites can download the free Google Authenticator plugin.
Additionally, there are a few other sites compatible with the Authenticator app Google’s Matt Cutts lists here. Not to mention this very long list of sites (like Amazon) that don’t work with Authenticator per say but have two factor as an option. Authy, a very inexpensive but not free, service extends two factor authentication to a number of those sites, whether you’ve got a phone or not.
Second Step: Link With Authenticator (Where Needed)
Some of the sites above let you set up with Google Authenticator right from the beginning so if you followed the steps above for Dropbox or Google on an Android device you don’t need to read further. Everyone else, you won’t need a phone number at this point, only to follow a few more steps linked below.
- How To Set Up Google Authenticator For Gmail And Other Google Accounts
- How To Set Up Facebook With Google Authenticator
- How To Use tumblr With Google Authenticator
- Using WordPress.com Sites With Google Authenticator
For convenience (and in case you forget your phone) it’s also a good idea to configure the Google Authenticator on other devices if you travel with a tablet instead of laptop, for example.
Digital Security Isn’t Jenga
Remember that no security is absolute so although you’ve got the major benefits of two factor authentication, still don’t use the same password for all of your accounts and just as you would to sext securely when traveling, be ready to remote wipe your phone in case it’s stolen or lost. Speaking of, you should probably enable two factor for iCloud, but beware it won’t protect any photos you upload to the service.