What You Need to Know About the Business Culture in Singapore

 What You Need to Know About the Business Culture in Singapore

Every year, hundreds of people from all around the world come to Singapore to take advantage of local business opportunities. The city-state offers countless options for global entrepreneurs and investors. However, it is critical to be conscious of the business culture in Singapore since the country is famous for its unique cultural diversity and business etiquette. 

To conquer the workplace and become familiar with different business environments in Singapore, you must first learn about the country’s customs and cultural traditions. If you want to accomplish this to take your company ideas and endeavors to the next level, make sure you read until the end.

What is the business culture in Singapore like?

Singapore, a cosmopolitan melting pot of cultures where the east meets the west, has a unique blend of Asian and Western cultural influences in its work culture. Unwritten cultural rules and laws regulate how Singaporeans operate in a place — in this case, your workplace – as a result of these cultural themes. 

The majority of the local government and private firms have a higher influence of traditional Asian culture in their work environment, although large MNCs operating in Singapore often exhibit a largely western-style work culture. Cultural features such as high power distance, collectivism, high-uncertainty avoidance, and long-term orientation have a significant impact on local businesses.

1. Hierarchical relationships

With Chinese accounting for 74.3% of Singapore’s population, it’s not uncommon to find traditional Chinese values influencing most local businesses. When it comes to interpersonal relationships, however, this translates into a hierarchical culture, in which people at the bottom of the hierarchy accept their inferior place and respect formal hierarchical authority. People rarely break command chains or openly dispute their superiors’ decisions.

MNCs in Singapore, on the other hand, have a smaller power disparity between each level. Higher-ranking executives are more likely to delegate decision-making authority to subordinates and give some room for dissent.

2. Collectivism

The majority of Singaporeans and local businesses value group-centeredness or the traditional value of group members cooperating to maintain group harmony. Teamwork and group efforts (cooperation) are seen as the primary means of attaining business goals in the workplace (group harmony). Anti-group-centered behaviors such as disagreeing with the group’s decisions, prioritizing individual desires over the group’s requirements, and bragging about one’s personal achievements are frowned upon since they jeopardize group unity.

In the collectivist culture, people have a preference to work together, share responsibilities and rewards, help each other, and learn from each other than strive for individual recognition.

3. Stick to the rules

In Singaporean work culture, rules tailored to each context are preferred above abstract-universal ideals. Singapore is known for its stringent rules in all areas. Most local businesses do not want too many people running around with too many wild ideas, nor do they want unfocused fragmentations of core enterprises controlled by overzealous entrepreneurs. Employees may be urged to be “as creative as possible” in the spirit of creativity, but with a slew of constraints and limitations.

While the idea of cultivating a few ‘innovators’ and the rest of the population as ‘followers’ worked well for Singapore’s early development, the city-state has now realized that in order to compete in the new global economy, it must disseminate the seeds of creativity more widely. At all levels, a lot of efforts have been launched.

4. Relationship oriented

In business, Singaporeans place a high value on relationships. Rather than securing a ‘fast sale,’ they prefer to establish long-term relationships. They generally want to know a lot about their partners as part of this long-term approach to business connections in order to establish the trust and loyalty needed to support the company in the future. Although some of the data and questions asked may seem extraneous or unrelated to the topic at hand, strive to be patient and provide answers for the benefit of the business relationship.

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Cultural considerations when conducting business in Singapore

When engaging in business connections in the region, there are a few things to keep in mind about the business culture in Singapore. Here is a shortlist of some of them:

1. Punctuality

Being punctual is seen as a sign of respect in Singapore. Keeping a Singaporean business leader waiting is considered impolite, so it is important to be on time. Make sure you respect both your own and other people’s time. If you are going to be late and can’t avoid it, be sure to call as soon as possible.

2. Business cards

Anyone aware of how significant the exchange of business cards is in most Asian countries’ professional cultures would not be shocked to learn that it is also a part of doing business in Singapore.

During your conversation, you may notice an opportunity to give a local Singapore resident your business card. Consider incorporating a Chinese translation on the back of your card to boost the chances of it being regarded positively.

All of the things you’ve learned about courteous business card practice elsewhere will be of value here. Some examples are:

  • Giving and receiving business cards with both hands.
  • Treating received business cards with respect.
  • No writing on business cards, folding them, placing them in your back pocket, or pushing them across the table.
  • Having a solid stock of cards so that you can present them to everyone you meet during trade shows, business meetings, and conferences.

Handy tip:

You can arrange the cards you receive from the people you’re meeting on the table in front of you in the same layout they’re using. This is both courteous and helpful! Just make sure to collect them properly in the end. Try not to have a stack of cards in your pocket since this can be considered disrespectful.

3. Business gifts

In Singapore, business gifts are not frequently exchanged at the start of a meeting. You should also avoid providing presents to government officials, as they may be interpreted as a bribe.

Giving a present as a token of gratitude, on the other hand, is as appreciated as it is anyplace. Something little with your company’s emblem is often considered courteous, and you may want to wrap it. Both hands should be used when giving and receiving a gift. You should not open any gifts you receive until after you have left.

4. Meetings

Besides being on time to work and meetings,  punctuality in terms of presenting materials, sending reports, and completing promises is also valued. So, be sure to complete your tasks before a meeting. 

During meetings, avoid tapping your foot or shifting your legs around because it is seen as a sign that you are either not paying attention or lacking willpower. You should also never point at someone with your forefinger or strike your open palm with your fist. 

In addition, straight discussion and language are essential. When it comes to business, many foreigners arriving in Singapore may be startled by how direct and to-the-point local businesses are.

More things you should note on meetings:

  • Allow a few minutes of social talk to pass before bringing up the subject of business.
  • Determine who is the most senior individual early in the discussion and show respect for their position by asking for their input throughout.
  • Singaporeans may be reluctant to question authority and may want guidance on when it is appropriate to do so. As a result, when speaking or presenting, actively invite questions and grin as you answer them.
  • If you reject a proposal right away, you risk being regarded as dismissing the individual who made it. Instead, avoid causing someone to lose face by making any corrective or disparaging remarks in an indirect manner.
  • Singaporeans are slow at negotiating. When it comes to the amount of protocol they want to follow, try to be patient.
  • Filling in times of periodic quiet should be avoided because these are normally used to reflect on what has been spoken. When given the opportunity, it may take some Singaporeans 10-15 seconds to speak.
  • If you show shows of rage, you may lose face and possibly the deal.

5. Starting a conversation

When conducting business in Singapore, it is critical to be able to initiate respectful conversations with individuals. Taking an interest in the culture of the country is an excellent place to start.

You might want to engage the locals in a conversation about the arts. You can discuss the architecture that has caught your attention. You can also talk about the different foods you’ve tried and how they suit the cuisine.

You should also show that you care about the individual you are conversing with. For example, ask about their travels, hobbies, business goals, or notable achievements. Then, in a humble manner, you can respond in kind about your own successes.

Other things to keep in mind regarding the business culture in Singapore

  • Your Singaporean counterpart will most likely address you by a Western name followed by their surname.
  • Take a cautious approach to all problem-solving situations. To prevent losing face, corrective words should be delivered obliquely.
  • Singaporeans will rarely, if ever, give a flat negative response to recommendations you make, even if they disagree with them. As a result, pay attention to any signals of hesitancy. Pay attention not only to what they say but also to what they may imply.
  • Also, keep in mind that a “yes” may simply mean that the individual understands what is being stated, not that they agree with it.
  • People rarely challenge senior management’s views or decisions. As a result, even if decisions appear to be made by agreement, they are frequently influenced by a senior executive’s original preference.
  • Many businesses in Singapore are run by families.

Cultural mistakes to avoid in Singapore

When visiting Singapore, avoid making the following cultural blunders:

  • Spitting, smoking in public, chewing gum or jaywalking, all of which may subject you to fines in Singapore
  • Talking about politics, bureaucracy, religion, crime or punishment
  • Publicly correcting or disagreeing with a superior
  • Having physical contact with someone of the opposite sex
  • Having public displays of affection with your spouse or romantic partner 
  • Pointing at someone with your finger, which is considered rude in Singapore
  • Touching someone’s head or face
  • Touching things with your feet, which are perceived by some as unclean in Singapore
  • Standing with your hands on your hips, which may be considered angry or aggressive


When doing business in Singapore, it’s crucial to remember the unwritten formalities listed above (which aren’t contained in the Singapore Employment Act or your employment contract) to guarantee good working interactions and avoid culture shock. 

Our local experts are familiar with these customs and can provide valuable information. We can also help make your business expansion to Singapore a success. If this is something you want to accomplish, please contact us immediately.

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