Travel & Expat Lifestyle Magazine

Learning the Business Customs of Singapore


When doing business in Singapore, be aware that there are strict, formal customs that should be observed. You are expected to behave properly under such a system. People from Singapore prefer to do business with people they are connected with, and personal relations are important. It takes a while to build such relationships, however.

To communicate with Singaporeans, you will have to pay close attention to body language and facial expressions. You should always check how you personally are communicating with this style. People in Singapore are soft-spoken, and being very loud is not regarded highly. Singaporeans consider questioning authority to be taboo, and hierarchy and regard for elders is observed.

In the business world of Singapore, people think of the group as more important than the individual. People often consider the interests of the company over their own personal interests. Networks are important in the business world, as is the group in which individuals represent. In this country, the groups are often related to ethnicity, education or being employed by the same company. Once you are brought into group status, others will accept you, but you must adhere to the regulations of that group. You should be patient to be initiated, as people like to see that you will be committed on a long-term basis. You should always be polite and respectful with those you wish to join.

In terms of meetings, appointments are necessary, and should be made at least two weeks in advance. They can be done by writing, email or phone, but usually writing is the most formal. Arrive on time to meetings, or else you will look sloppy. Expect there to be some small talk before any real business matters are discussed. As there is regard for hierarchy, you should avoid questioning someone who is in higher rank or authority than you.

When you want to go to negotiations, you should send a full list of the people who will attend the negotiation well in advance, as well as their title. Upon arrival, you should wait to be told where to sit. Negotiations are executed very slowly, and patience is admired, so this is a dedication. When asked a question, Singaporeans will usually leave a 15 minute gap before starting to answer it. Because of the group mentality, decisions are determined by consensus.

As for business cards, they are typically exchanged after introductions. You should exchange your cards using two hands. If you are giving your card to an ethnic Chinese, it is a good idea to have one side of your card in Mandarin, with the characters in gold. You should examine other business cards and their details a great amount before you put them away. Your personal cards should be very clean and maintained, as it is a representation of yourself.


2 thoughts on “Learning the Business Customs of Singapore

  1. I can’t say that this is accurate at all. I have lived and worked in Singapore for 6 years and many of Tanya’s observations are incorrect. This is really not a very fair critique of the Singaporean business community (there is plenty to critique) but this seems simplistic and without experience.

  2. Hi Kristy,

    Would you mind sharing more? We’d love to hear your critique and thoughts on specific points that are inaccurate.


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