3 Business Expectations to Consider when Operating in Singapore

When Operating in Singapore as a business, what do you need to keep in mind?

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For any business owner one of the most fraught things to navigate is working out what the correct guidelines are for doing business – especially when you’re going to be operating within a new country. First of all, you’re faced with setting up your new business and then you also need to be concerned with all of the different nuanced elements of that particular place in the world! Is it acceptable to dive right into business over lunch, or is it important to wait a while and develop a relationship? Are you supposed to shake hands or bow to a new client? Is it appropriate to rent a serviced office, or do you need to have a premises that is all your own? (For more on serviced offices click here.) No matter which way you look it’s got the potential to be a minefield out there! If you are considering getting into business in Singapore then you’ve come to the right place! This a guide to some of the key business expectations that you’re going to need to consider if operating in Singapore.

The first thing that you need to understand is that this thriving business hub comprises Chinese, Malay, Indian and European-Asian people as a key part of the community. The most common type of person that you will meet in your business trades is going to be Singaporean Chinese, as they form the majority of the population. It’s vital that you know how to adapt to the cultures of the people that you’re going to be working with. That said, the majority of Singaporeans are open and cosmopolitan in their outlook. They won’t be likely to take any offence if you make a social faux pas, especially because they’re likely to recognise that you’re from a different culture!

Expectation One

When you are entertaining your Malay colleagues or associates (who are Muslim) be sure that you avoid doing business during Ramadan or on Fridays. Make sure that you never serve alcohol or pork to your Malay clients, and make a note of the fact that most Indian people do not eat beef, either. As a rule, the person who called the meeting, pays. You won’t usually have a business breakfast, instead enjoying a business discussion over lunch being the norm. Be on time for your meetings, and be sure to let people know if you’re going to be late.

Expectation Two

Giving a gift is a great way to say thank you for business. Small corporate-style gifts like a pen or a diary would be well received, and gifts are usually presented wrapped and given to the receiver with two hands. It’s usually not done that you give gifts with the connotation of cutting something, like scissors, as this can symbolise conflict!

Expectation Three

General etiquette points around meetings and introductions include:

  • When introducing people for the first time, always be sure to include the person’s title and family name, then followed by the person’s first name if they are Chinese. If the person has a western name then they just need to be introduced as in the west.
  • Malay people don’t use a family name. They have a personal name which is followed by bin (son of) or binti (daughter of) before their father’s personal name.
  • Women hold positions of equal power in business and this should be respected.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it’s hoped that you might draw on some of these nuanced points and draw some greater knowledge for your business ventures in Singapore. Don’t forget to investigate other major elements of doing business in Singapore so that you’re primed for success on your initial business trip here.