Many of us living in Singapore maintain a “work hard, play hard” approach to life. That’s all well and good, though if you tend to follow the second part of the mantra with particular enthusiasm, it does pay to be cautious. As the team from the British High Commission explains below, we should all be aware of the legal ramifications of particular actions – advice that applies not just to Brits but to the whole expat community.
Drunk and disorderly conduct is a serious crime in Singapore. An arrest for this type of behaviour can have a damaging impact on careers, families and finances for expats and visitors alike. Here’s an example of just one scenario where a seemingly innocuous celebration turned into a more serious situation:
“After enjoying a few drinks with friends, we decided to end the night with a visit to a club. As we were leaving, there was a fight with the bouncers over something my friend said to them. The police came, arrested us and took us both to the police station. I was charged with disorderly behaviour and my friend had extra charges for swearing at the police officers. Now our passports are being held by the police, but I have to travel for work. My lawyer tells me this is going to take months to sort out.”
Most incidents happen after large quantities of alcohol are consumed, and they can involve punching taxi drivers, swearing and physical violence towards police officers, fighting with bouncers and non-consensual touching.
Following an arrest, it is the retention of the passport by the police and the length of time the legal process takes that causes the most distress for expats. The legal process takes months rather than weeks and the passport is held during this time. For those residing in Singapore, having an impending investigation or charges and no passport will mean an uncomfortable conversation with employers or even the loss of a job if travel is disrupted. Legal representation is costly and can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Visitors to Singapore who planned to be here only for a short time can find themselves essentially “stuck” until the legal proceedings are completed.
Penalties reflect the seriousness of the crime. A conviction may lead to incarceration, and sentences are usually around one to three months depending on charges and circumstances. Spending any length of time in Changi prison is very hard, with inmates expected to spend 23 hours a day in a shared cell. Following incarceration, an Employment Pass holder can expect to be deported and usually a travel ban will be imposed.
While living in Singapore, expats (and visitors) are subject to Singapore law. It is very important to take personal responsibility and to know where the consequences of your actions may lead, especially in regards to your family, your career and your finances. By all means, enjoy your night out, but don’t let it change your life.
The British High Commission works to develop and sustain the important and longstanding relationship between the UK and Singapore, and to support British nationals overseas. 100 Tanglin Road. 6424 4200 | gov.uk/world/singapore
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This article first appeared in the September 2018 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!