When friends and family from home learned that I was moving to Singapore, after locating it on a map, one of the most common responses was, “wait, is that the place where you can get caned for chewing gum?”
There is quite a bit of confusion about laws in Singapore among the international community. As an American, my introduction to Singapore law came in the 1990s when an American teenager was caned for vandalizing property with spray paint. The story made headlines in the US and drew attention to other laws in Singapore that were considered strict (by US standards), like the ban on chewing gum.
Then like a good game of “telephone” – where a secret gets whispered around a room until it reaches the last person who reveals a very different secret from the original – people came to believe that you can be caned for chewing gum in Singapore. This is not true.
The myths and misinformation about laws in Singapore still circle. Singapore has the reputation of being a nanny state with very harsh punishments for what some might consider minor offenses. It’s enough to make some expats worry they’re going to be chucked in jail for dropping their gum wrapper on the sidewalk.
I’ve set out to find the truth. Are some of the common myths about Singapore laws true?
1. Let’s get this one out of the way…Chewing gum is illegal.
False. Chapter 272A, Section 3 of The Regulation of Imports and Exports Act, regulates the use of chewing gum. With a doctor’s note, you may chew medicinal gum and purchase it at a pharmacy. You may also chew for personal consumption but the gum would have to have been bought outside of Singapore.
Regular chewing gum sold elsewhere as candy, cannot be found in Singapore. Harsh? Maybe but there is no risk of stepping on or discovering a wad of old, nasty hard gum stuck on the subway.
The Finder’s Take: We don’t miss it.
2. Being naked in your own house is illegal.
True (sort of). Under Section 27A (appropriately titled “Rogues and Vagabonds”) of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, Chapter 184, a person cannot be naked in a private place while being exposed to public view.
The fine can run up to $2000 or include no more than 3 months jail time. So, close your curtains!
The Finder’s Take: This would be a good law for lots of cities.
3. Using someone else’s (private) wireless internet is illegal.
True. In some places, if someone chooses to not secure their wi-fi connection, it’s consider fair game to “borrow.” In Singapore, Section 6(1)(a) of the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act defines this as hacking. You can be “fined a maximum of $10,000 or jailed up to three years, or both” (Thor, The Straits Times, 14 April, 2014).
The Finder’s Take: Wireless plans are very affordable these days. Get your own.
4. Jaywalking is illegal.
True: Jaywalking, defined by Chapter 276, Sections 121 and 140 of the Road Traffic Act, within 50 meters of a crossing zone, is a punishable offense. You can be fined $20 on the spot for your first offense. The fine will increase for subsequent infringements. Under the law, you could ultimately be jailed but there do not seem to be any cases where this has happened.
The Finder’s Take: It’s for your own safety. And the extra steps to the crosswalk are good for your health!
5. Littering is illegal.
True. Littering is also punishable with a $1000 fine for your first offense. Under Chapter 95, Section 113 of the Environmental Public Health Act, subsequent fines can run upwards to $5000.
The Finder’s Take: Good. No one likes a litter bug.
6. Leaving a public toilet unflushed is illegal.
True. Also under Chapter 95, Section 113 of the Environmental Public Health Act, you must flush public toilets after using or risk being fined $500. Public toilets are supposedly, occasionally and randomly monitored.
The Finder’s Take: This is just good manners.
Singapore is sometimes referred to as the “fine city” due to all of the finable offenses. If one were to browse all of the statutes in the books, indeed this might feel true. But the reality of living in Singapore is very different. The streets are not filled with armed guards carrying canes. It is a very clean and orderly city but mostly it just feels like those living here are well mannered, rather than acting out of fear of punishment. And that’s just fine by me.
More dos and don’ts in Singapore!
By Kathleen Siddell, June 2015