Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Singapore, a city-state of 4.8 million people, remains among the safest countries in the world, and while final numbers for 2009 are not available as of this writing, statistics from the first six months of 2009 show an overall decrease in reported crimes of 1.3 percent from the same timeframe in 2008. Specifically, statistics for the first six months of 2009 show a decrease in both violent property crimes (-23.7 percent) and crimes against persons (-4.2 percent), and an increase in theft and related crimes (2.5 percent) and housebreaking and related crimes (17.5 percent). U.S. Embassy Singapore’s assessment remains that Singapore’s rating of being a “low” threat for crime is accurate, but notes that “low” crime does not mean no crime, and individuals should still take common sense precautions to avoid being victimized.
With the exception of crimes occurring in housing developments – generally among family or neighbors – crime in Singapore is generally non-confrontational and non-violent in nature. Criminal acts are usually crimes of opportunity such as purse-snatching, pick-pocketing, or thefts of unattended property. Individuals should be especially alert in crowded buses, the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, streets, markets and night clubs. Additionally, valuables should never be left unattended in hotel rooms or in plain sight in vehicles. As previously mentioned, violent crimes are rare, yet if a weapon is involved, it is most likely to be an edged weapon, as firearms are strictly controlled and punishments for brandishing them – let alone using one – are severe. Specific areas of Singapore – Geylang and lower-cost government housing – suffer from more serious crimes such as muggings, loan sharking, and illicit drug use, although not on the scale of a similarly-sized U.S. city. Geylang is also a known red light district, harboring prostitutes and reportedly enduring an increase in organized criminal gangs. Police response to crime incidents is professional and generally effective.
American and Singaporean authorities continue to receive complaints from small U.S. businesses victimized by credit card fraud using Singapore as a trans-shipment point for criminal enterprises elsewhere in the region. Small American businesses shipping goods to customers located in Singapore should be aware that thieves may use fraudulent credit card information and Singaporean addresses to defraud a business of payment for goods by arranging a transshipment of the goods to points outside of Singapore. Some freight forwarding companies in Singapore may need to scrutinize better all requests to re-label U.S. express air shipments outside of Singapore. Although a shipment’s ultimate destination may not be readily apparent, businesses should thoroughly research all buyers using a shipping address in Singapore to ensure the business is actually located in Singapore. The Singapore Police Force (SPF) Commercial Affairs Department investigates credit card fraud in Singapore.
Singapore is a left-hand drive nation, with first-world road conditions that include well-lit, well-paved, English language thoroughfares and expressways spanning the island. Traffic and driving can be a bit more hectic than typical American driving, with drivers seemingly occupying two lanes at once, and motorcycles darting from lane to lane between cars, but traffic accidents are surprisingly rare. Drivers should be cautious as speeding violations are vigorously enforced by the police and speed cameras are prevalent. Drivers should also recognize the difficulty posed by Singapore’s frequent, sometimes violent, rain downpours that can dump inches of water on the roads in a short matter of time.
The Government of Singapore is defined by the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore to mean the Executive branch of government, which is made up of the President and the Cabinet of Singapore. Although the President acts in his personal discretion in the exercise of certain functions as a check on the Cabinet and Parliament of Singapore, his role is largely ceremonial. It is the Cabinet, composed of the Prime Minister and other Ministers appointed on his advice by the President, which generally directs and controls the Government. The Cabinet is formed by the political party that gains a simple majority in each general election. Singapore has one of the most stable governments in the world, with the People’s Action Party (PAP) assuming power in election before independence, and returning to power in every general election (the most recent in 2006) and has thus formed the Cabinet since 1959. The Government is generally perceived to be competent in managing the country's economy and largely free from political corruption. On the other hand, it has been criticized for using unfair election tactics and violating freedom of speech.
Regional, International, and Trans-national Terrorism
Singapore remains relatively free from civil unrest, political instability, and credible terrorism threats. The Government of Singapore (GOS) frequently cautions its citizens that while the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) cell has been severely disrupted within Singapore, it has by no means been eradicated. Over the last decade, JI cells have been disrupted in Singapore in the midst of preparations to attack U.S. Embassy Singapore, the American Club, the Singapore American School, and other locations associated with the U.S. The head of JI in Singapore and Singapore’s most wanted terrorist, Mas Selamat Kastari, escaped from prison in Singapore in early 2008 and was captured nearly a year later just across the border in Malaysia, raising fears of a possible support network existing in or near Singapore. Singaporean press articles also continue to express concerns that home-grown, self-radicalized terrorists may become a security issue for Singapore in the future.
While organized criminal groups exist in Singapore, their strength remains unclear and it is believed that they focus on crimes such as prostitution, loan-sharking, and narcotics trafficking and rarely target foreigners. [NOTE: Prostitution in Singapore is legal, but various prostitution-related activities are not. These include public solicitation, living on the earnings of a prostitute and maintaining a brothel. In practice, police unofficially tolerate and monitor a limited number of brothels]. Whether concerning organized crime or terrorist activity, prudent measures should continue to be taken by businesses, schools, churches, and other locations where Americans assemble. Travelers should be vigilant when using public conveyances such as buses, subways, trains, planes and ferries. Singaporean officials frequently emphasize the importance of community involvement and preparedness as a critical element in national security, as well as the importance of the private sector in effectively fighting both crime and terrorism. In 2005, the GOS provided counter-terrorism briefings to over 40,000 registered taxi drivers, encouraging them to report on suspicious activities, passengers, and conversations in their cabs.
Although Singaporean law allows for permits of assembly to be granted, the reality is that permits are not issued for any potential demonstration or gathering, regardless of the nature. Singapore’s laws prohibit gatherings of five or more people for demonstration/gathering purposes without a permit, and the law was recently expanded to allow the police to apprehend individuals assembling in smaller groups if the intent is to circumvent the permit requirement for groups of five or more people.
Singapore has not recently experienced natural disasters such as typhoons, tsunamis, or earthquakes. Singapore was largely sheltered from the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami that struck Thailand and other areas.
Industrial and Transportation Accidents
Industrial and transportation accidents remained relatively constant from 2006 (60 industrial deaths), to 2007 (59 industrial deaths) to 2008 (62 industrial deaths), with most deaths occurring in construction, engineering or maritime industries. Singapore’s worst accident on record remains the 1978 explosion aboard the Greek tanker Spyros as it sat in the Jurong shipyard in Singapore. The explosion and subsequent fires resulted in 78 deaths. Transportation accidents, such as ferries capsizing, do occur in the waters near Singapore, and ferry disasters are common in nearby Indonesian waters despite repeated official promises to tighten and enforce safety regulations.
Kidnappings remain rare in Singapore, although kidnapping scams – where an individual calls a family and advises that a member of the family has been kidnapped and will be harmed unless a ransom is paid – are far more common.
Drugs and Narco-terrorism
Visitors to Singapore should be knowledgeable of the severe penalties for narcotics trafficking, up to and including the death penalty. Despite these laws, drugs can still be found in Singapore, and individuals frequenting nightclubs should be particularly vigilant and remain aware of their surroundings. Incidents of individuals unknowingly ingesting a drug placed in a drink occasionally occur, and visitors should again exercise the same amount of caution as they would in any major U.S. city.
Incidents of Police Detention/Harassment
The police remain professional and any report involving a criminal incident will be handled in accordance with the prescribed regulations. Firms assigning personnel to Singapore should conduct security and cultural awareness training for the employee and all family members. Rude and disorderly behavior, particularly directed against women, is prohibited. Inappropriate behavior towards women, classified in Singapore as the offense of “Outraging the Modesty of a Woman,” is strictly enforced. Police harassment is not a problem in Singapore, as the force remains professional, competent and technically proficient.
Where to Turn if You Become a Victim of a Crime
Police assistance can be readily obtained by dialing the Singaporean police emergency number of “999.” Every district within Singapore has a dedicated neighborhood police center, and any neighborhood police center will accept the filing of a police report, not just the district where the crime took place. After-the-fact reports for events such as pick-pocketing can also be completed and submitted online.
Local Hospitals and Clinics
Medical services in Singapore are on par with those of the U.S. and other “first world” capitals. Singapore is a U.S. government regional medical evacuation destination, and private citizens from the Middle East, Africa and Asia often travel to Singapore for medical treatment. Ambulatory services are available island-wide (although response times vary), and differing hospitals specialize in burn units, cardiology and oncology. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) praised Singapore’s medical community during the SARS crisis for their honest reporting and heroic efforts in containing the virus. As a result, Singapore was among the first removed from the CDC’s list of countries to avoid. Individuals should call “995” in the event of a medical emergency, as this is the Singaporean equivalent of “911” for medical services.
Air Ambulance Services
Air ambulance services are not necessary or offered in Singapore.
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Visitors should take normal, big city precautions for their personal safety and security. Avoid carrying excess cash and credit cards, and only use credit cards at reputable establishments. After using a credit card, check your receipts to ensure that only proper charges have been levied against your account, confirming these with your monthly statement. Always remain alert in crowded, public areas like hotel lobbies, subway stations, shopping centers or other tourist areas where pick-pocket or other petty crimes often occur. Do not leave valuables in plain sight. While staying in hotels, always use hotel safe deposit boxes or in-room safes to secure your valuables, and never leave personal or financial information unattended. Heed all warnings with regard to soft targets and potential terrorist threats. Know how to contact local emergency services for police, fire, and medical personnel. For fire safety, learn escape routes from your hotel room immediately upon checking-in. American visitors should register with U.S. Embassy Singapore Consular Section for security and travel updates. Finally, if you are the victim of a crime, file a police report. The police must know that a crime has occurred in order to solve it and/or be more responsive to future problems.
For background notes and other state department services, visit the Department of State home page at: http://www.state.gov
For travel advisories, use the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at: http://travel.state.gov/travel
The Diplomatic Security Service has information at: http://www.state.gov/m/ds/ and U.S. Embassy Singapore operates a site at: http://singapore.usembassy.gov/
For information on avian influenza in Singapore, use the home page: http://www.moh.gov.sg/corp/hottopics/avian_flu/info.do
How to Contact U.S. Embassy Singapore
U.S. Embassy switchboard: (65) 6476- 9100
Singapore police emergency operator: 999
Singapore fire and medical emergency: 995
Orchard Road shopping district police: (65) 6733-0000
Central business district police: (65) 6334-0000
OSAC Country Council
U.S. Embassy Singapore has an OSAC Country Council, which operates as a separate entity under the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) organization due to difficulties incorporating such organizations in Singapore. For specific information, contact the Regional Security Officer at U.S. Embassy Singapore: Tel: (65) 6476-9453, fax: (65) 6476 - 9040. Also visit U.S. Embassy Singapore’s homepage listed above. One of the best sources for overseas security information is the OSAC electronic bulletin board. Travel advisories, country background notes, and links to other U.S. government travel and security services are also available on the Internet.