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Business Culture in Singapore and What You Need to Know to Succeed

July 20, 2015 | Sharon Cheong

Singapore continues to offer rewarding financial opportunities to entrepreneurs and investors from around the globe.  A low tax rate at 14.2% is highly attractive to businesses from a wide range of industries. This major world economy attracts large corporations who desire an offshore presence in Asia. It also attracts people who are ready to take the plunge and become business owners. Since so much work is outsourced to Singapore and comes in all shapes and sizes, one of the best ideas is to find a need and fill it. A new manufacturing plant will need workers, but they will also need managers and all the products to run an office. These could include copy paper, pens, toner and small office machines. 

Imagine the business you could build for yourself just by supplying a local manufacturer with their raw materials. The employees will need services too, including lunch, drinks, snacks and miscellaneous personal care products. Wherever your passion lies, you can find a way to build a highly profitable business in Singapore. However, one of the barriers to doing this lies with knowledge of the business culture. Westerners are not accustomed to some of the unique traditions and observances in Singapore. 

Ethnic Groups

Singapore is comprised of several ethnic groups including Chinese, Indian, Malay, and Eurasian populations. There are a great many Singaporean Chinese citizens doing business and they do form the majority. The good news is that they're very cosmopolitan in their views and have become used to foreigners being in their midst who do not know the traditional customs. That means they're very forgiving to those that commit a social faux pas. If you are new to the area and not well-informed, then the best course of action is to be polite and patient. 

Business Meeting Etiquette 

Shake hands with everyone at a business meeting and greet them with a friendly smile. Avoid discussions about religion, traditions and culture. Though it is important to learn about these aspects of Singapore, it should not be done at a business meeting in front of strangers. Never bring up politics or racial issues. Stick to the topic at hand and the purpose for your business meeting. 

The Language 

You'll find many English-speaking people in Singapore and they have developed their own language known as “Singlish”. This is a form of English that is peppered with local dialects and slang. The official languages of the land are Chinese, Tamil, and Malay. If you spend enough time there, you will pick up a few essential words in each language. 

Business Entertainment 

A business luncheon is the ideal time for business discussions. Singaporeans rarely schedule business-related breakfasts. A spouse will hardly ever attend a business event such as this. Expect a long lunch of at least two hours.  Punctuality is very important to Singaporeans so please be on time to any meeting or luncheon. If you expect to be late, call those invited. Business gifts are a good way to express your thanks, but keep them small, such as a pen with your company logo. Gifts should be wrapped and presented at the end of the meal as a way of saying, “Thanks for your time.” When presenting a gift, use both hands and do not wait for the recipient to open it. Never give any gift like knives or scissors, as these are seen as symbolic of conflict. A letter opener is the one exception to this rule. Avoid gifts that are made from products like alcohol and pork or pigskin. These items are in conflict with the laws of Islam. 

Business Office Space 

If you are new to the Singapore region, then the easiest way to set up your new business is simply to lease serviced office space. Servcorp Serviced Offices offer the very best in leased office space and they include many amenities. Get a highly skilled staff, IT and HR personnel and bi-lingual receptionist. Fully furnished meeting rooms and boardrooms are also available. Please call +65 6690 6161 to learn more.