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Whether you’re a frequent traveller or a one-holiday-a-year kind of person, a country’s Customs department has the ability to frustrate and confuse in equal measure. It’s made more difficult when you consider that each nation has its own set of laws – where do you even start?
With this in mind, we’ve put together a handy guide to a destination that’s popular with Australian travellers year-round – Singapore. Well over 300,000 Aussies visit the city-state each year, so it’s worth learning about the ins and outs of the Customs system. Here’s what you need to know.
A simple colour-coded system
At all entry points in Singapore, you’ll find a colour-coded system designed to make Customs declarations that little bit simpler. There are only two colours – the Red Channel and the Green Channel.
If you have nothing to declare, head through the Green Channel, but be aware that you still may be searched or questioned by officials. If you aren’t quite sure what to do, take the Red Channel just to be safe.
The Red Channel is also where you need to go if you have goods to declare. These include dutiable or taxable goods that exceed the duty-free concession or GST relief (which we’ll talk about below), as well as controlled, restricted or prohibited items. You’ll need an import permit from the relevant authorities if you are to carry such goods through.
What do I need to know about Singapore’s dutiable goods?
As with many other countries, duty-free goods in Singapore include intoxicating liquors such as spirits, wine and beer. Before you dash around the duty-free bottle shop to get as much value-for-money booze as you can lay your hands on, there are a few things to bear in mind. Of course, you’ll need to be aged 18 and above, and have spent more than 48 hours outside of Singapore beforehand. Additionally, you cannot have arrived via Malaysia, or carry any liquors prohibited under Singaporean law. You’re also limited as to how much you can take, with three options open to you:
Very handy to know, and this information will save you the disappointment of having to pay the extra GST at Customs for your goods – or having them confiscated.
Tobacco products including cigarettes and cigars are also dutiable – there is no duty-free concession for such products in Singapore.
— Singapore Customs (@sg_customs) October 9, 2016
Is it possible to get a GST refund on the goods I’ve bought in Singapore?
Yes it is! It’s called the Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS), and it’s designed to help non-resident travellers to Singapore get a little money back on their holiday purchases. To qualify, your goods will have to have been bought in Singapore from shops that participate in the scheme – just ask if you aren’t sure.
If you’re flying back to Australia, you can claim your refund at either Changi or Seletar Airport before your plane leaves. By visiting the Customs office before you depart, you can find out if you’re eligible – you may land back in Oz with a healthier bank balance than you expected!
What should I not bring into Singapore?
Of course, the usual suspects should not be brought into Singapore – weapons, explosives and live animals. Pornography, e-cigarettes and firecrackers should also be left at home, and even a packet of cigarettes might be taken off you. The notorious chewing gum import ban has been in place since 2004, but you won’t be asked to hand over your half-eaten packet upon entry. However, you cannot buy chewing gum once in Singapore, and face a fine of AU$660 if you discard your used gum anywhere other than a designated bin – so be very careful!