5 Lessons For Doing Business in Singapore

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Singapore is a major destination for people in business around the globe. This small country in Southeast Asia is one of the major financial hubs in the world and there are countless opportunities to do business here. With its dynamic economy, strong manufacturing and service sectors and excellent infrastructure, it’s no wonder people are flocking to Singapore for business. For a small country, Singapore punches well above it’s weight with the third highest GDP per capita in the world. It also is home to the highest concentration of millionaires in the world, so you know there is money to be made here.

Positioned as the gateway to Asia, the Singapore Government has attracted a huge number of foreign investors and partnerships over the last number of years. They offer great pro-business incentives through the Singapore Economic Development and when coupled with low tax rates and a highly educated workforce, you can see why Singapore is growing in popularity. From start-ups in virtual offices (click here for more information) to major corporations, there is ample opportunity in Singapore. Take note of these 5 lessons for doing business successfully in the Lion City.


  1. Understand the Culture

Singapore is populated by people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. Chinese, Malay and Indians make up the majority of the people here and each of these groups has their own set of core values and beliefs. In order to do business successfully in Singapore, it’s crucial that you understand the differences between these cultures so that you can behave appropriately.

  1. Know the Right Greeting

When greeting people in Singapore, it’s important to know the appropriate greeting for the appropriate people and/or situation. You want to start any business relationships on the right foot, first impressions are everything.

Malay and Chinese Singaporean men will typically greet you with a handshake. However, when you meet a woman, you should wait for her to extend her hand to you first. If she doesn’t put her hand out, don’t take any offence; simply bow your head slightly while holding your hand over your heart.

Indian Singaporeans will usually greet you with either a handshake or a more traditional ‘Namaste’ where they will put their hands together in front of their chest or face and bow slightly. You should always return the gesture.

When interacting with a western business partner or client, a simple handshake will suffice.

  1. Address People Correctly

While in western countries, it is common to address our business associates and clients by their first names, this is not always the case in Singapore. Malay and Indian Singaporeans will have no problem with you addressing them by their first names, but Chinese colleagues should always be addressed with either MR. or Mrs., followed by their family name.

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  1. Business Cards are Important

Business cards are passed around all the time in the western business world with little or no thought. However, in Asia, there is a certain etiquette to be followed. Always offer your business card with two hands, face up with your details facing the recipient for easy reading. And when receiving a business card also accept it with two hands. Rather than sticking it straight into your pocket, pause for a moment to read it and thank your colleague for their card. Always put the card in your cardholder or pocket, when you are out of sight. Putting it away earlier can be seen as disrespectful.

  1. The Right Meeting Etiquette

Meeting etiquette is seen as very important in the Singapore business community. Meetings are almost always held in offices or at the job site and if they are to be held over a meal it will usually be lunch. These guidelines should also be followed if you are arranging a meeting with a client. Be sure to avoid setting meetings for Fridays and Saturdays, as this is the Islamic weekend. Once you are at the meeting, you should always speak slowly and clearly and remain calm throughout the meeting. Singaporeans don’t like direct conflict and will not say “no” directly.

Start as You Mean to Continue

Consider the local culture and customs and be respectful of your colleagues and you will enjoy doing business in Singapore. The people are extremely welcoming and proud of their culture and will want to share it with you. Be polite and make an effort and you will soon be on your way to conducting business successfully in this fascinating country.

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Jeremy Kaplan

A 50-something year old lifestyle, career, and education blogger based in Atlanta, Georgia. Years of experience in the office setting working with others and still loving it year-after-year.

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