Business Culture of Singapore: A Primer on Singaporean Business Etiquette


Due to Singapore’s rich cultural history, several distinct ethnic groups including Chinese, Malay, and Indian, combine to shape business culture in Singapore. Business travelers must be familiar with the business etiquette of the specific ethnic heritage of their Singaporean counterparts to make the best impressions, but there are a few cultural characteristics that are shared among all of the groups.

Business Meetings in Singapore

According to, business meetings in Singapore should be scheduled well in advance, accompanied by a list of the names and titles of attendees provided for the preparation of hierarchical seating arrangements. While punctuality is not extremely important, it is advisable to arrive promptly to show courtesy to the host. Singaporeans may intentionally arrive late to certain events, however, in an effort to avoid appearing anxious or hasty. As with other Asian cultures, such as the Phillipines, international guests should wait to be seated by their host after arriving to a meeting or event.

When sitting, international businesspeople should keep both feet planted on the floor. According to “International Business Etiquette” by Marie Sabath, crossing one’s legs in front of a host or superior is not appreciated. Travelers should also avoid maintaining direct eye contact when speaking or listening, and should never criticize or disagree with a senior member or their own party in front of their Singaporean counterparts; the Singaporeans themselves will never do these things.

Business Attire

Conservative formal business attire is preferred in most situations. White long sleeve shirts with dark jackets are common for men, while women tend to have more options, including conservative skirts, blouses, or pant suits. Due to the generally hot and humid weather in Singapore, however, it is acceptable to leave the suit jacket at home on hotter days.

Chinese Business Card Ceremony

International businesspeople attending meetings with Singaporeans of Chinese descent should expect the same importance to be placed on the ritual exchanging of business cards common in Chinese business culture. Business cards will likely be exchanged between all members of both parties at a meeting, and should be given and received with two hands and a slight nod or bow. Taking the time to thoroughly read over each card, and laying the cards respectfully on the table rather than quickly putting them away will be appreciated.

Employee Relations

Singaporean culture places a greater emphasis on respect for seniority in the home and workplace than western businesspeople may be accustomed to. Singaporean employees will stand when a senior manager enters a room, for example, and will avoid showing disagreement with superiors in public.

There is an emphasis on the welfare of the collective over the individual throughout Singaporean culture, and this can effect the way that Singaporean employees view their employment, as well as the expectations they have for their employer.

Business Gifts in Singapore

Gift giving may be one of the most challenging aspects of doing business in Singapore, since individual cultural heritage comes heavily into play when choosing the types, number, and presentation of business gifts. As a general rule, guests should either present gifts to everyone in attendance during the gift giving, in order of seniority, or privately to individuals. Flowers should be avoided for all groups, since these may be associated with funerals.

It is best to gain an understanding of the gift giving etiquette of the specific cultural heritage of international business counterparts, whether Chinese, Indian, Arab, or Malay, to ensure that the proper etiquette is observed.

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