Singapore is an island city-state located in Southeast Asia. Due to a highly developed economy and business friendly policies, Singapore has become an ideal location for startups as well as established organisations.
Considered as a major financial centre and the most “Tech-ready” country in the region, it’s not uncommon for overseas professionals to visit Singapore for work and business.
Since the country boasts a multiethnic culture of Chinese, European, Malaysian and Indian communities, it’s always a good idea for visitors to have basic knowledge about the behaviours and etiquette prevalent in Singaporean society.
Today we’ll take a look at some of the points you should keep in mind if you’re visiting Singapore for business purposes.
The language used for conducting business in Singapore is English. Even though the country has four official languages (English, Tamil, Mandarin Chinese and Malay), it is usually easy to communicate with your business counterparts because many Singaporeans are bilingual and fluent in English.
If you’re meeting with Chinese associates then they’ll probably be introduced by their title and family name followed by their personal name.
Singaporean Malay’s don’t use a family name. They are introduced with their personal name followed by “Bin” (son of) or “Binti” (daughter of) and then their father’s first name.
Indians will use their first name before s/o (son of) or d/o (daughter of) followed by their father’s first name.
If someone has a western name like “Paul” then he is introduced with his first name followed by his last or family name.
Greet everyone in the meeting by firmly shaking hands with them. Also shake hands with everyone when you’re leaving.
Singaporeans usually bow slightly when they shake hands so it’s a good idea to reciprocate when doing the same. If you’re associate is of Chinese decent or older than you then bowing while shaking their hands indicates respect.
Always bring lots of business cards to meetings in Singapore.
Present the card to your associate with both hands with the name facing the receiver. Similarly receive cards with both hands as well.
Treat the business card with respect. You can lay it on the table in front of you and place it in order according to the seating arrangement of the people you’re meeting with.
Never write on the card, don’t put it casually in your back pocket or inside a folder as this can be seen as a sign of disrespect.
Meetings can be scheduled weeks or even months in advance but always be on time for them. Arriving late for a business meeting is considered as an insult.
Foreign visitors are also expected to be punctual for social occasions.
Singaporeans are reserved in nature. As opposed to Western culture, don’t try to look anyone directly in the eyes. This is viewed as being disrespectful. Only catch your counterpart’s eyes for a second and then lower your gaze. This means that you’re honoring the person in front of you.
Also don’t try to touch a persons or a childs head as the head is considered sacred.
If you need to get someone’s attention then don’t point at them with your finger, raise your hand.
Avoid tapping your foot or fidgeting with your legs during meetings because this shows a lack of interest on your part.
Although most of the conversation will be business oriented you can expect some small talk at the start of a meeting.
Avoid discussing politics or religion. It’s okay to ask how the family is doing. A typical greeting would be “Have you eaten?” or “Have you taken your lunch?” You can also make small talk about the weather or the world economy.
It’s also acceptable to be direct in matters regarding business and money.
A lot of business meetings in Singapore are scheduled at lunch time. These business lunches can go on for a couple of hours or more so it’s best not to schedule any other meetings immediately after lunch.
Small business gifts are acceptable but avoid giving a gift to a government official as it can be considered a bribe.
Present the gift with both hands and don’t open a gift in front of the giver.
For Chinese Singaporeans avoid giving something in sets of four as the number 4 rhymes with the word for death. Also avoid giving clocks as in their culture giving a clock also implies death.
For your Malay counterparts avoid products like alcohol which go against the laws of Islam.
Even though Singapore has a tropical climate typical business attire consists of long-sleeved shirts and ties for men and long-sleeved blouses or pantsuits for women.
Some industries like banking and financing are more formal and it’s usually good for foreign visitors to be dressed a bit more formally than others.
It’s best not to schedule anything a week before and after the Chinese new year because businesses in Singapore are mostly closed around that time. There’s also limited activity around Christmas time and public holidays which fall close to the weekend.
Other than that Singapore is open for business around the year with many organisations working on Saturday too.