Buy in Singapore
The Singaporean currency is the Singapore dollar, abbreviated SGD, S$ or just $ (as used throughout this guide), divided into 100 cents. There are coins of $0.01 (bronze), $0.05 (gold), $0.10 (silver), $0.20 (silver), $0.50 (silver) and $1 (gold), plus notes of $2 (purple), $5 (green), $10 (red), $50 (blue), $100 (orange), $1000 (purple) and $10000 (gold). The Brunei dollar is pegged at par with the Singapore dollar and the two currencies can be used interchangeably in both countries, so don’t be too surprised if you get a Brunei note as change. You can safely assume that the ‘$’ sign used in the island-nation refers to SGD unless it includes other initials (e.g. US$ to stand for US Dollar).
Restaurants often display prices like $19.99++, which means that service charge (10%) and sales tax (7%) are not included and will be added to your bill. When you see NETT, it means it includes all taxes and service charges. Tipping is generally not practised in Singapore, and is officially frowned upon by the government, although bellhops still expect $2 or so per bag. Taxis will usually return your change to the last cent, or round in your favor if they can’t be bothered to dig for change.
ATMs are ubiquitous in Singapore and credit cards are widely accepted (although some shops may levy a 3% surcharge, and taxis a whopping 15%). Travellers cheques are generally not accepted by retailers, but can be cashed at most exchange booths. eZ-Link and Nets Flash Pay cards are accepted in some convenience stores and fast food chains.
Currency exchange booths can be found in every shopping mall and usually offer better rates, better opening hours and much faster service than banks. The huge 24 hr operation at Mustafa in Little India accepts almost any currency at very good rates, as do the fiercely competitive small shops at the aptly named Change Alley next to Raffles Place MRT. For large amounts, ask for a quote, as it will often get you a better rate than displayed on the board. Rates at the airport are not as good as in the city, and while many department stores accept major foreign currencies, their rates are often terrible.
Singapore is expensive by Asian standards but affordable compared with some industrialised countries: $50 is a perfectly serviceable daily backpacker budget if you are willing to cut some corners, though you would probably wish to double that for comfort. Food in particular is a steal, with excellent hawker food available for under $5 for a generous serving. Accommodation is a little pricier, but a bed in a hostel can cost less than $20, an average 3-4 star hotel in the city centre would typically cost anywhere from $100-$300 per night for a basic room, and the most luxurious hotels on the island (except maybe the Raffles) can be yours for $300 with the right discounts during the off-peak season.
Budget travellers should note that Singapore is much more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia and should budget accordingly if planning to spend time in Singapore. In general, prices in Singapore are about twice as high as in Malaysia and Thailand and 3-5 times as high as in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Sim Lim Square, Singapore’s computing and electronics meccaShopping is second only to eating as a national pastime, which means that Singapore has an abundance of shopping malls, and low taxes and tariffs on imports coupled with huge volume mean that prices are usually very competitive. While you won’t find any bazaars with dirt-cheap local handicrafts (in fact, virtually everything sold in Singapore is made elsewhere), goods are generally of reasonably good quality and shopkeepers are generally quite honest due to strong consumer protection laws. Most shops are open 7 days a week from 10AM-10PM, although smaller operations (particularly those outside shopping malls) close earlier — 7PM is common — and perhaps on Sundays as well. Mustafa in Little India is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Keep an eye out for the Great Singapore Sale , usually held in June-July, when shopping centres pull out all stops to attract punters. Many shops along Orchard Road and Scotts Road now offer late night shopping on the last Friday of every month with over 250 retailers staying open till midnight.
Antiques: The second floor of the Tanglin Shopping Centre on Orchard and the shops on South Bridge Rd in Chinatown are good options if looking for the real thing (or high-quality reproductions).
Books: Borders at Wheelock Place has since closed down. However, Kinokuniya is at Ngee Ann City, on Orchard, and Page One at Vivocity are amongst the largest bookshops in Singapore. Many second-hand bookshops are located in Far East Plaza and Bras Basah Complex, where you may attempt to bargain if you are buying a lot. For university textbooks, the bookshops at the National University of Singapore has the best prices on the island, up to 80% off compared to prices in the West.
Cameras: Peninsula Plaza near City Hall has Singapore’s best selection of camera shops. However, there are no great bargains to be had, and many camera shops in Singapore (particularly those in Lucky Plaza and Sim Lim Square) have a reputation for fleecing unwary tourists. The best way is to know what you are looking for and then when you arrive, drop by the shops at the airport’s transit area and take a look at the price and check with them whether they have any promotions. Then go to the city centre shops and compare prices/packages to see which shop will give you value for money. To be safe, always check prices and packages for everything you’re interested in at large retailers like Courts, Harvey Norman and Best Denki first. Be very careful when shop staff attempt to promote brands or models other than the one you have in mind; a few shops at Sim Lim Square and elsewhere are known to use this tactic and sell products at 2-4x their actual list prices.
Clothes, high-street: Ion, Ngee Ann City (Takashimaya) and Paragon on Orchard have the heaviest concentration of branded boutiques. There are another malls such as Raffles City located at City Hall MRT that also hosts a variety of brands for instance, Kate Spade, Timberland.
Clothes, tailored: Virtually all hotels have a tailor shop attached, and touting tailors are a bit of a nuisance in Chinatown. As elsewhere, you’ll get what you pay for and will get poor quality if you don’t have the time for multiple fittings or the skill to check what you’re getting. Prices vary widely: a local shop using cheap fabrics can do a shirt for $40, while Singapore’s best-known tailor, Brazil Tailor  at the Upper Bukit Timah, will charge at affordable price.
Clothes, youth: Most of Bugis is dedicated to the young, hip and cost-conscious. Currently Bugis street(Opposite Bugis MRT) is the most popular in the Bugis area, consisting of 3 levels of shops. Some spots of Orchard, notably Far East Plaza not to be confused with Far East Shopping Centre and the top floor of the Heeren, also target the same market but prices are generally higher.
Contemporary Designs: The red dot design museum near Chinatown a great place if you are into design, contemporary products and want to catch the latest trends. Nearby places worth exploring include Ann Siang Hill, Duxton Hill, Club Street and even along Keong Saik Rd
Computers: Sim Lim Square (near Little India) is great for the hardcore geek who really knows what he’s after – parts pricelists are available on HardwareZone.com and are given out in Sim Lim itself, making price comparison easy. Lesser mortals (namely, who have failed to do their price-checking homework) stand a risk of getting ripped off when purchasing, but this is generally not a problem with the price lists offered by most shops. Some Singaporeans purchase their electronic gadgets during the quarterly “IT shows” usually held at Suntec City Convention Centre or at the Expo, at which prices on gadgets are sometimes slashed (but often only to Sim Lim levels). Another possibility is to shop at Funan IT Mall, the shops of which may be more honest on average (according to some). Do not be attracted by side gifts/sweeteners of thumbdrives, mice and so on; these only tend to hide inflated prices.
Consumer electronics: Quite competitively priced in Singapore. Funan IT Mall (Riverside#Buy|Riverside), Sim Lim Square and Mustafa (Little India) are good choices. Avoid the tourist-oriented shops on Orchard Road, particularly the notorious Lucky Plaza, or risk getting ripped off. Also be wary of shops on the 1st and 2nd levels of Sim Lim Square, some of which tend to rip off tourists, so please do your research before heading down; multi-shop price comparisons and bargaining are absolutely essential. Mustafa has fixed, low prices and is a good option. For any purchases, remember that Singapore uses 230V voltage with a British-style three-pin plug.
Electronic components: For do-it-yourself people and engineers, a wide variety of electronic components and associated tools can be found at Sim Lim Tower (opposite Sim Lim Square), near Little India. You can find most common electronic components (such as breadboards, transistors, various IC’s, etc.) and bargain for larger quantities as well.
Ethnic knick-knacks: Chinatown has Singapore’s heaviest concentration of glow-in-the-dark Merlion soap dispensers and ethnic knick-knack, mostly but not entirely Chinese and nearly all imported from somewhere else. For Malay and Indian stuff, the best places to shop are Geylang Serai and Little India respectively.
Fabrics: Arab Street and Little India have a good selection of imported and local fabrics like batik. Chinatown does sell rather reasonable and cheap fabrics, bargaining is allowed so do know your stuff on what fabric to buy. Do note that fabrics in Singapore may not be as cheap as overseas for most fabrics are imported to Singapore, due to the freight charges and many middlemen, the fabric cost may be more costly than overseas.
Fakes: Unlike most South-East Asian countries, pirated goods are not openly on sale and importing them to the city-state carries heavy fines. Fake goods are nevertheless not difficult to find in Little India, Bugis, or even in the underpasses of Orchard Road.
Food: Local supermarkets Cold Storage, Prime Mart, Shop ‘n’ Save and NTUC Fairprice are ubiquitous, but for specialties, Jason’s Marketplace in the basement of Raffles City and Tanglin Market Place at Tanglin Mall (both on Orchard) are some of Singapore’s best-stocked gourmet supermarkets, with a vast array of imported products. Takashimaya’s basement (Orchard) has lots of small quirky shops and makes for a more interesting browse. For a more Singaporean (and much cheaper) shopping experience, seek out any neighbourhood wet market, like Little India’s Tekka Market. For eating out, most shopping centres offer a range of small snack stands and eateries in their basements, as well as a food court or two.
Games: Video and PC games are widely available in Singapore, and prices are usually cheaper than in the West. Games sold for the local market are generally in English, and though some games imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan would be in Chinese. Do note, however, that Singapore’s official region code is NTSC-J (together with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong etc.), which means that games sold may not be compatible with consoles in mainland China, North America, Europe or Australia. During the four times in a year IT Shows, PC, XBox, Wii, Playstation games prices may drop at such IT shows, if not the games will be bundled with others (Example: Buy 2 at $49.90)
Hi-fi stereos: The Adelphi (Riverside) has Singapore’s best selection of audiophile shops.
Marine sports: Many of the shophouses opposite The Concourse on Beach Rd in Bugis sell fishing and scuba diving gear.
Mobile phones: Very competitively priced in Singapore due to high consumer volume, available throughout the country both used and new. Phones are never SIM locked, so they can be used anywhere, and many shops will allow you to “trade in” an older phone to offset the cost of a new one.
Music: The HMV at Somerset 313 (Orchard) is Singapore’s largest music shop, with a second, smaller outlet in the CityLink mall linking Raffles City and Suntec City Mall. Gramophone, however, provides much better prices on CDs and has an interesting selection. Numerous branches are scattered across the CBD and Orchard Road. One of the better Gramophone locations is at Ngee Ann City in B2.
Pretty in pink: Peranakan tea set with dragon-phoenix motifPeranakan goods: The Peranakan, or Malay-Chinese, may be fading but their colourful clothing and artwork, especially the distinctive pastel-coloured ceramics, are still widely available. Antiques are expensive, but modern replicas are quite affordable. The largest selection and best prices can be found in Katong on the East Coast.
Sports goods: Queensway Shopping Centre, off Alexandra Rd and rather off the beaten track (take a taxi), seems to consist of nothing but sports goods shops. You can also find foreigner-sized sporty clothing and shoes here. Do bargain! Expect to get 40-50% off the price from the shops in Orchard for the same items. Velocity in Novena is also devoted to sports goods, but is rather more upmarket. Martial arts equipment is surprisingly hard to find, although most of the clothing shops around Pagoda Street in Chinatown sell basic silk taiji/wushu uniforms. Note that if you plan to buy weapons such as swords, you have to apply for a permit from the local police (around $10) to get your weaponry out of the country.
Tea: Chinatown’s Yue Hwa (2nd floor) is unbeatable for both price and variety, but Time for Tea in Lucky Plaza (Orchard) is also a good option. English tea is also widely available around Orchard Road, most notably at Marks and Spencer in Centrepoint.
Watches: High-end watches are very competitively priced. Ngee Ann City (Orchard) has dedicated shops such as Piaget and Cartier, while Millenia Walk (Marina Bay) features the Cortina Watch Espace selling 30 brands including Audemars Piguet & Patek Philippe, as well as several other standalone shops.
For purchases of over $100 per day per participating shop, you may be able to get a 6% refund of your 7% GST at Changi Airport or Seletar Airport, but the process is a bit of a bureaucratic hassle. At the shop you need to ask for a tax refund cheque. Before checking in at the airport, present this cheque together with the items purchased and your passport at the GST customs counter. Get the receipt stamped there. Then proceed with check-in and go through security. On the air side, bring the stamped cheque to the refund counter to cash it in or get the GST back on your credit card. See Singapore Customs  for the full scoop.