Why Aren’t Museums Free in Singapore?

I was charged $16 SGD to enter the Singapore Museum the other day. On the timeout website where i learnt that this exhibit was showing, it said it was free. So i was surprised when i found out that it was only free for permanent residents and Singaporeans.

This is the second exhibit, the first being Yayoi Kusama, where PR/residents were given free entry or a discounted fare.

Now it made me think, why would they limit it to being free for PRs and Singaporeans? Makes sense on face value, you want to give residents the chance to have free entry to the arts and cultural exhibits. Make your people more socially aware of their surroundings, of the past, and subsequently make everyone else pay to fund the exhibition.

But aren’t we, the masses of work pass holders, residents too? As an EP holder anyway, i still pay my share of taxes, i contribute to the economy through spending on various things (rent/utilities/f&b). Last i checked, work pass holders make up a huge proportion of the people in this country.

Foreign Workforce Population

There is an obvious benefit in going to museums, and they have been well documented. These are known as positive externalities (woo Year 12 economics!).

10 Reasons to Visit Museums

10 Reasons to Visit Museums

Many people who don’t normally visit museums have a tendency to dismiss them as boring and often wonder what the appeal is. People visit museums for

Museums are a great way for people to learn about things like history and culture. Museums are a place for people to dream and be inspired. These days museums are more like community centres in the sense that they interactive rather than just showing you old things.

The saying “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it” speaks so true, and can only be supported if we make an effort to inform the community about the past. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to be informed, not just those that can afford to.

And really, does Singapore want to maintain an image of being a concrete jungle full of cookie cutter shopping malls, devoid of any culture like other major cities in the world?

For the employment pass expatriate communities, it gives them the incentive to visit museums to educate themselves and their kids about history, arts, or culture.

For the lesser privileged workers, it gives them something else to do on their free day off that doesn’t involve hanging around shopping malls and picnics at the parks. I don’t say that in an offensive way, people should be free to do whatever they please on their day(s) off, and if that means socialising with friends at the mall then so be it. But again why not open up the museum for all to see. After all, work pass or not, we are all living in this country, we are all contributing to it.

By giving work pass holders a discount, or free entry to museums, the government would be making a conscious effort to integrate ALL residents into the country. We could be trying to integrate all people that are living here, not just the ones with legal rights to stay permanently. Whether I live here for a year, or ten, i personally would still have a part of Singapore in me for the rest of my life. I’m sure other expats feel the same way as well. Same for those coming here as construction workers or helpers. They are living out a substantial part of their life in Singapore. So shouldn’t we give them an equal opportunity to embrace and absorb the benefits from a museum?


There is an obvious downside to this, being the opportunity cost of work pass holders spending money at museums. Perhaps the museums could take a survey to understand the number of work pass holders going to museums. That way they could better calculate the opportunity cost of making it free. Also, there could be the problem of crowd control as well. A small symbolic charge could be in place to help ease that. Also maybe a scaling fee structure whereby an S Pass holder pays a smaller amount than say, an EP holder.

I’ve read this post a few times since clicking on the Post button. But I am not sure if I am conveying myself as intended. If a museum is free for locals, make it free for all so that everyone can enjoy the benefits. Except tourists, please make them pay for it all!