Capital city: Singapore
Population: 5.4 million (Department of Statistics Singapore)
Government: Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic
Currency: Singapore dollar (SGD, SG$)
Main languages: English, Malay, Tamil, Mandarin
Main religions: Buddhism, Islam, Christianity
Singapore is a prosperous city-state located just off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. With the exception of its occupation by Japan during World War Two, Singapore was under British sovereignty from 1824 until independence was declared in 1963. After a brief union with Malaysia ended in 1965, the country became an independent Commonwealth nation. Consisting of one main island and around 60 outlying islands, the whole country is just a few hundred square kilometres in area. However, its strategic location for shipping made it a commercial hub during the colonial era and Singapore remains a leading financial centre even today.
A popular destination for British expats as early as the 1920s, Singapore has a historically transient society. Following independence from Britain, the country welcomed large numbers of migrant workers from China, India and Malaysia, adding to the already diverse community. Despite this apparent lack of a single cultural identity, racial and religious harmony is valued highly in Singapore, and major festivals of several religions are celebrated nationally. Generally conservative in nature, modern Singapore has a reputation for being something of a nanny-state, with laws including a ban on chewing gum!
If you ask a Singaporean what the national pastimes are, you will most likely get the answer ‘eating and shopping’. Although this cliché is something of a joke, Singapore certainly boasts a thriving restaurant scene and bustling shopping precincts. However, Singapore has excellent facilities for sport and recreation, and the warm climate means outdoor activities and watersports are popular all year round. The main island is home to several sailing clubs, while golf, badminton, table tennis and shooting are also common. For more information about activities in Singapore, visit the YourSingapore website.
Food and drink
Most Singaporeans, as well as several outsiders, regard Singapore as Asia’s food capital. Dining out is a popular pastime and many celebrity chefs have restaurants in the country. All of the major cultural influences are well-represented on the culinary scene, so expect to find Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian and European foods on offer, with vegetarian and halal options also readily available. Sweet teas and coffees are among the most popular drinks. Be aware that alcohol can be very expensive in Singapore.
Singapore has four official languages – English, Malay, Tamil and Mandarin Chinese. Of these, Mandarin is the most used as a first language as it is spoken by around half the households in the country, but English is the main language in schools and is widely used in business dealings. It is estimated that at least eight out of ten people in Singapore have at least some understanding of English.
Located almost exactly on the equator, Singapore has remarkably stable weather with no major seasonal changes. The average temperature is 23°C (73°F), with highs of around 32°C (90°F). However, as a tropical rainforest climate, the country does see significant rainfall and humidity is frequently between 90% and 100% in the mornings. Singapore has two monsoon seasons, from December to March and June to September.
Safety and security
Singapore has a strict judicial system which serves as an effective deterrent against violent crime. For minor offences, spot fines are enforced so it pays to be aware of local laws and customs. Foreign nationals should be aware of the risk of petty crime, but generally Singapore is a safe place to be. As a leading international centre of commerce, the country does attract fraudsters so be alert to the possibility of financial fraud and scams.