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It is no secret that Singapore is expensive, and not just by South East Asian standards, either. You could easily blow through a huge budget while in this city-state, but there is actually no need to break the bank. Skipping Singapore would be such a shame. We fell for its mix of Western ambitions and Asian roots, and the eclectic intermingling of cultures and can not imagine missing out on this vibrant and buzzing global city.

kampong glam street with sultan mosqueRead on for our tips for traveling to Singapore on a shoestring:

1. Buy the SMRT (metro system) day passes

Taxis are incredibly expensive in Singapore. Luckily there is no need to take them, with Singapore’s excellent MRT public transportation network. Even for people uncomfortable with public transport, Singapore’s buses and subway are immaculate, easy to navigate and best of all, very affordable.

Single tickets are not cheap, but there are two ways around that: one is the Singapore Tourist Pass, which is available at the airport or at any Tourist Information, and for a deposit of S$10, you get a card which you can top up with the Singapore Tourist Pass. With this pass, you pay S$10 / US$7.90 per day (or S$16 / US$12.60 for two days / S$20 / US$15.75 for three days) and get unlimited rides on all of Singapore’s public transportation. We found Singapore to be surprisingly walkable, though, so depending on what you plan to see, some days you might not use the system enough for the price. It could be easier to pick up the ezLink card (S$12 / US$9.45 – S$5 / US$3.40 for the card, plus S$7 / US$5.50 top-up value), which is what the locals tend to use. You top us this card, which offers great discounts on a pay-as-you-go basis. Remember to swipe the card both as you enter AND exit the bus or metro, though, as fares are calculated by the distance traveled.

singapore subway2. Eat at hawker food stalls

Singapore has some of the finest dining in the world, and if you find it worth it, why not splurge? However, for daily meals, don’t waste money (sometimes $40 or more for two) at mediocre restaurants. Instead, visit Singapore’s famous hawker centers, which bring together dozens of food stalls in one place. You can find authentic, ethnic Indonesian, Malay, Thai and Chinese food for a few dollars per dish. There are plenty of these food centers around town, but among the best are the well-known Maxwell Food Center, the Amoy Hawker Center in Tanjong Pagar, Lau Pa Sat  in the Centre District and the Chinatown Food Center in Chinatown, plus Tekka Food Market in Little India. In these hawker centers, food usually starts at S$2 /  US$1.55, and is not more expensive than S$5 / US$3.40. If you find yourself in or near one of Singapore’s malls, consider eating at the food court. These are not quite as cheap as hawker food stalls, but you can easily fill up for under $5.

chinatown food prices singapore3. Take advantage of the free attractions

You can pay for many sights, but there is plenty to do for free in Singapore. The city itself is an attraction, so stroll through the ethnic neighborhoods such as the primarily Arab Kampong Glam area, Chinatown and Little India. Then head out to walk the around the entire Marina Bay along the promenade. Here you will see so many of the highlights, such as Marina Bay Sands, which is free to wander through, unless you want to go up to the top for the view. The fascinating Haw Par Villa is strange, but definitely free of charge as are the beautifully manicured Botanical Gardens. A visit to the beaches of Sentosa Island is almost free – you will have to pay for your metro ticket to get there, but it allows you to spend a relaxed day at the beach.

sentosa island palm trees and oceanIf you are in Singapore on a weekend, the Singapore Art Museum and the National Museum of Singapore are both free from 6 – 9pm on Fridays. You can even see a free outdoor concert at Singapore’s Esplanade every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.

4.  Stay for free – Couchsurf

Accommodation is probably the most expensive aspect of a visit to Singapore. The cheapest option is to stay for free by couchsurfing. Partially due to the large expat community in addition to the high cost of hotels, the couchsurfing community in Singapore is huge. While some hosts may offer you a couch, many will have a spare bed or even, as in our case, a very comfortable second bedroom. The added benefit of couchsurfing in Singapore is that your host might have time to show you around or at least give plenty of tips for fun things to see and do that you may have otherwise never known.

singapore apartment complex
The swimming pool in the apartment complex where we couchsurfed in Singapore – we were encouraged by our host to use it.

If you are not comfortable sleeping in a stranger’s house, there are plenty of brand new hostels in Singapore in fantastic locations like Chinatown and Little India. Some of the hostels we thought looked good were: A beary good hostel, with two hostels in Chinatown rates for a dorm bed start around S$15 / US$11.80 for a dorm bed, free wi-fi and breakfast; and Sleepy Sam’sS$25 / US$19.70 for a dorm bed, anytime breakfast and wi-fi.

Singapore also has one budget hotel chain, Hotel 81, which has been around forever. Rooms start around S$50 / US$40 for a double if booked through online sites like Agoda or Booking.com in advance. There are several branches around town, some look very dated and others have shady reputations, so check the specific hotel out on Tripadvisor before you book.

5. Find discount tours

We mentioned free attractions in #3, but of course Singapore also has a number of sights that are not free but well worth a visit. For those, check out Singapore Tours, where you will find the guaranteed lowest prices for major attractions such as the Universal Studios Singapore, the popular Singapore night safari, hop on – hop off tours, city passes and more, offered by local tour operators.

6. Drink in Chinatown

Alcohol is far more expensive in Singapore than anywhere else in South East Asia, and we found that in most places beer started at around S$8 / US$6.45, and wine at around S$12 / US$9.30. This is why you will spot most budget travelers drinking Singha or other beers in Chinatown,where many restaurants there compete with each other to lure you in with deals like 3 beers for  ‘3 beers for S$15’ (US$11.80).

chinatown singapore at nightMany bars in popular night spots have Happy Hour prices. Clarke Quay is buzzing at night, so make sure to head there for 50% Happy Hour drinks before forking out for full price later on in the evening.

7. Use coupons

There are actually some great websites out there for cheap deals in Singapore. For example, Groupon is just as popular in Singapore as in North America, and Groupon Singapore offers half-off many of the city’s most popular attractions in addition to restaurants, bars, and if you want, workouts, yoga, and all the other great Groupon deals. There is also a website called Singapore Dine which is specifically meant for restaurant deals in Singapore. If you want to eat at some of the nicer places in town, this is a great way to save some cash. If you subscribe to the Groupon deal emails before you visit Singapore (or follow them on Facebook / Twitter), you can get some great deals that otherwise only the locals would get.

singapore groupon deal

8. Getting to Singapore on the cheap

If you are already in South East Asia, getting to Singapore can also be done inexpensively. We flew from Cambodia for $100, but we could have paid one-fifth of that price had we gone by bus from Kuala Lumpur. Buses run several times a day between the Malaysian capital and central Singapore, and take five hours including the border crossing. If you are going to fly, we found that AirAsia consistently had great rates throughout all of South East Asia.

Have you been to Singapore? Feel free to share your money-saving tips for Singapore in the comments below!

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22 Comments

  1. On thing I’d like to add about the hawker centers: they are perfect for people who want to try street food but have always been too afraid. I’ve met a lot of people who won’t eat street food for fear of becoming sick and while I always recommend eating it anyway and not worrying about a few contaminants, in Singapore food borne illness is not an issue, due to the strict health codes. So pig out.

    I’d also like to add another free thing to do in Singapore if you don’t mind getting some exercise in the stifling, life-sapping heat and humidity: the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. I wrote about it a while back on my blog (CommentLuv link below), but if you’d like some useful and practical information, I’d recommend checking out the wikitravel pages for Singapore and for the reserve itself.
    Daniel McBane recently posted..Singapore Jungle–Exploring the Heart of Darkness

    1. Daniel – you are right, we should have said that. I totally agree that Singapore is the perfect place to try street food in, I can not imagine anyone getting sick from a hawker food stall. I am heading over to your site now to read about the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve – we actually wanted to go there while we were in town but we ran out of time. Next time, I guess 🙂

  2. Great post! I’m a Singaporean myself and what you guys wrote are spot-on and so helpful! Everything from the transport to the food to the accommodations. It also provide some useful tips for myself too. In fact, I don’t even know about the free outdoor concert at Singapore’s Esplanade, guess it’s time for me to visit myself =D

    1. Thanks so much, Ling! Yes, you should totally go to the Esplanade concerts 🙂 They have some really good bands ranging from pop to rock to jazz 🙂

    1. Oh you housesat in Singapore? How awesome! Housesitting there for a month or so would be perfect. We didn’t stay in Bukit Batok, but not far from there, in Clementi, near the West Coast Highway. I saw several ads for apartments though while we were there and they all looked pretty similar 🙂

  3. Thanks for these fantastic tips for seeing Singapore on the cheap! I love that you two are always highlighting ways that people can travel to destinations that are known to be spendy without breaking the bank. And as far as I am concerned, the fact that eating at hawker stalls just happens to be cheaper is an added bonus: street food for the win! 🙂
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Choosing the Right Travel Camera Part 2: Major Components

  4. This is so cool! I’m Singaporean and so pleased that you enjoyed your time there.

    Singapore often gets a bad rep for being a boring place but there are actually many nooks and crannies which give it character.

    Love the blog. I will be coming back to check the updates.

    1. Thanks so much! How can anyone say that Singapore is boring?? There’s so much to see and do in the city! We even ran out of time and didn’t get around to do all of the things we had planned! Which is a great excuse to return soon 🙂

    1. It really would be a shame – we were surprised how much we liked Singapore in the end but it is just a really great city! Hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did 🙂

    1. Did you break the bank when you were there, Kent? 😉 Well next time you go you can do it on a shoestring – the city is always changing, I think it’s definitely worth going back – we’re already looking forward to our next visit to Singapore!

    1. Hi Rachelynne, thanks glad you find the tips useful. Singapore is a great place to couchsurf for the first time – the apartment where we stayed was with a foreigner, which meant she was there for a short time with a high paycheck from her company back home, and it was a gorgeous place, pool, gym, etc. Have so much fun in Singapore!

  5. Good post! I had bookmarked this, would be very useful for our next on-the-budget trip to Singapore. Thanks, Dani and Jess!

    Regards.

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