Singapore has an excellent public transport system, which is fortunate because owning and driving a car is incredibly expensive here. You get hit with a double whammy: paying for a Certificate of Entitlement (COE) when you buy the car, and paying again for Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges as you drive.
Thankfully, there are more reasonable options for getting around – buses and MRT trains, and taxis. If you’re still determined to get that sleek, shiny car, check out the Driving in Singapore section below, and read what one expat has to say about his experience with driving in Singapore.
Buses and MRT trains
- First, you’ll need to buy an EZLink card. This transit card is used for buses and the MRT. Interestingly, you can also use EZLink to pay for meals at McDonald’s and for library fines. You can add value to your EZLink card (“top up”) in MRT stations at add value machines or customer service counters.
- You can also reload your EZLink card through your credit card, or reload from your bank account via GIRO, to avoid the hassle of having to regularly add credit. However, these auto-linked EZLinks can only be used for transport and generally can’t be used at retail stores (or to pay library fines).
- Temporary visitors can pay cash on buses or buy single-use MRT tickets at the station, but if you’re in Singapore for a few days, it’s more convenient to buy an EZLink card.
- The SMRT web site has information on fares, travel times, and the MRT system map.
- StreetDirectory.com has a handy online bus and MRT guide that can help you figure out which services to take. Their bus guide only uses SBS buses, though, so if you’re looking for SMRT buses you’ll need to use the much less convenient SMRT bus guide.
- Wondering if you’ve just missed the last bus? SBS Transit’s IRIS service tells you the next estimated arrival time for a particular bus service at a specific bus stop. Great for deciding whether to wait for that bus or hail a taxi cab instead. You can check bus arrival via the IRIS web page, and there are pages optimized for mobile phones and for PDAs.
- Already at the bus stop? Major bus stops, such as those in the Orchard area, have electronic bus timetables. At other bus stops, you can get IRIS next bus arrival info via SMS, by sending <Bus Stop Number> space <Service Number> to 74744. The SMS service costs $0.05 per query and is only available to SingTel subscribers.
Taxis are plentiful in Singapore and easy to hail – well, except during rush hour, shift change, and when it rains. Taxi fares have been increasing but are still cheap compared to the US, Europe and Japan… although fares in Singapore are expensive compared to Malaysia or the Philippines.
You can get taxis at taxi stands, by hailing them on the street, or by making a current or advanced booking.
- Singapore has all sorts of variable rates and surcharges for taxi fares. Peak period surcharge, airport surcharge, city area surcharge… the list goes on and on. There is some variation on charges between taxi companies, but not much – you can see a sample list of fares and charges at Comfort’s web site.
- The biggest surcharge is the midnight surcharge, which increases taxi fares by 50% from midnight to 5:59 AM. A close second is the peak period surcharge, a premium of 35% from 7 AM to 9:30 AM from Monday to Friday, as well as from 5 PM to 8 PM from Monday to Saturday.
- Comfort is one of the most popular taxi companies and provides several options for booking a taxi. The simplest way is to call 6552 1111. The system remembers the last three places you’ve asked for a pickup – very convenient. If you’re making an advanced booking or need to be picked up from a new location, you’ll need to wait on hold for an operator.
- You can now book Comfort taxis through SMS, too. Just send BOOK <space> Postal Code <space> # Pick-up Point to 71222. You can also book using the building address – visit the Comfort web site for detailed SMS booking instructions. You’ll get a text message back with the cab number, waiting time, and booking fee.
- Based on the last rate adjustment in December 2007, current booking fees for normal Comfort cabs are $3.50 during prime time (Monday to Friday, 7 to 9:30 AM and 5 PM to 11 PM) and $2.50 at other times.
- If you call more than 30 minutes ahead of time, you can make an advanced booking to request a cab at a specified time. The fee for advanced booking is a little over $5.
- In some areas, it’s almost impossible to get a cab during rush hour. In particular, around Suntec and Orchard, taxi queues are long and it can sometimes be faster to take public transport even if you make a booking. Once you add in the time you spend waiting on hold, the time it takes to find a cab that accepts your request, and then the time it takes for the cab to arrive, this can easily add up to 30 minutes or more before you can even get in the cab. Will this change now that taxi fares have increased? It seems likely, but time will tell.
You’ll also see Mercedes limousine cabs plying the streets. If you make a phone booking, these limo cabs will cost you $8 for a current booking and $16 for advanced booking. Hailed on the street or taken from a taxi stand, limo cabs cost about the same as a regular cab. At the airport, though, limo cabs have a separate taxi stand and will charge you $35 from the airport to any point in Singapore (plus a midnight surcharge for late-night fares).
Driving in Singapore
Singaporeans drive on the left side of the road, which makes driving a cinch for folks arriving from former British colonies. Only right-hand drive vehicles are allowed in Singapore, you won’t be allowed to register your left-hand drive car if you bring it with you (unless you have a diplomatic exemption).
Getting a Driving License
Getting a driver’s license (or driving license, as it’s referred to in Singapore) is relatively easy if you already have one in your home country. In fact, if you’re planning to be in Singapore less than 12 months, you don’t need a Singapore license and can drive with your home country license. If your license isn’t in English, you’ll need an International Driving Permit.
If you have a long term pass (employment pass, dependent pass, work pass, or work permit) and are planning to stay more than 12 months, you’ll need to convert your license to a Singapore license before the end of your first year in Singapore. To do this, you’ll need to pass a Basic Theory Test and submit the required documents.
What often trips people up is a requirement for a document from your home country licensing authority indicating the date of first issue of your driving license (if this is not indicated on the license itself). Some countries don’t normally produce this type of document and your Land Transport Authority back home may not know what to do with your request!
Getting an International Driving Permit
If you live in Singapore and are planning to drive overseas, some countries require an International Driving Permit (IDP). As long as you have a Singapore driver’s license, you can apply for an International Driving Permit from the Automobile Association of Singapore.
- Joe Expat’s thoughts on Driving in Singapore – “Our car has been very handy and I don’t regret paying three times the price of a similar car in North America… Bottom line is you gotta have $$$ to own a car in Singapore.” He blogs about the various fees involved with buying a car, driving on Singapore expressways, and the popularity of reverse vs. forward parking.
- Cost of Car Ownership
- Buying a Car in Singapore – on Wikipedia
- Driving in Singapore – by the Singapore Police Force. Everything you need to know about getting a license and avoiding fines.
- OneMotoring – a fast track guide to useful services for motorists
- Driving in Singapore – on Wikipedia
Want options for getting into or getting away from Singapore? Check out the Travel page for tips on flights, buses, ferries, and trains… or the Weekend Breaks page for ideas on where to go on short trips.
Looking for something to do in Singapore? Check out our suggested list of Things to Do.
If you have a Kindle our eBook is now also available from Amazon as a downloadable Kindle Book using this link Living in Singapore – An Expat’s Guide to Singapore
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