Guide to Business Etiquette in Singapore

In its own way, Singapore is as cosmopolitan as Sydney or San Francisco, but just as there are certain customs and forms of politeness in these other multicultural cities, it’s worthwhile keeping a few rules about proper behavior in mind when visiting Singapore on business.

Although the local population is ethnically predominantly Chinese, many other groups are represented, while a large number of international companies maintain offices in Singapore. A wide range of religions are represented in the city and friction between various groups is rare. Foreigners of any origin are typically made welcome as long as they don’t go out of their way to be rude.

First Impressions

The good news for most international visitors to Singapore is that English is the lingua franca in this small country with no fewer than four official languages, so you will rarely need a translator in an office environment. There are, however, some nuances between how different ethnic groups prefer to be addressed and greeted – asking an employee at the hotel you’re staying at should clear up any confusion.

Considering the tropical climate, business dress is less formal than in Europe. A suit jacket is usually unnecessary for both men and women, while having to wear a tie depends on the level of the meeting and the amount of existing rapport. Of course, there is no excuse not to be neat, and if you are unsure of the protocol for any particular occasion it is better to dress up rather than down. Shoes are removed in some indoor settings, just follow the cues of those around you. You should definitely take the trouble to arrive on time and apologize if you’re unavoidably late.

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Business card protocol is very important. It will be a good idea to invest in some professional-looking business cards printed on heavy stock, perhaps with a Mandarin translation printed on the back. You should offer your card almost as soon as you greet a person, using both hands. When receiving a card, study it for a moment and treat it with some respect – don’t just stuff it in your wallet. Other small gifts, perhaps representative of your home country or company, are also appropriate except when meeting anyone working for the government.

Conducting Discussions

The concepts of “face” and group harmony are very important to Singaporeans, as in many Oriental countries. Discussing business is less about stating facts and desires, and more about developing relationships, shaping consensus and emphasizing mutual interests. If you raise your voice, act aggressively or become impatient, you will gain nothing and only lose face in front of all concerned.

In keeping with Confucian influences, deference to elders and seniors is very important. Brashness or directness are considered a little uncultured, so try to use phrases like “Some people might say…” and other indirect ways of getting your point across. Similarly, Singaporeans will rarely decline a proposal or request outright, but may simply defer answering until you get the message. Alternatively, they might offer to do business with you, but only on terms so outrageous it will be clear they’d rather not.

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It is not difficult to do business in multicultural Singapore, but paying a little attention to local norms will make progress go that much smoother, and help you develop the network of connections that is all-important to future contacts.

About Morris Edwards

Morris Edwards is a content writer at, he writes different topics like Ways to Save Money for Your Business, The Most Innovative Economy In Asia: Singapore and all topics related to working and Business Registration in Singapore.

David Griffin

David Griffin