Singapore is consistently voted as one of the easiest places in the world to do business. It’s also a melting pot of culture and commerce, home to four national languages and several distinct cultures. When doing business in Singapore, help your meeting go smoothly by taking note of these local etiquette tips and insights.
Singapore is a cosmopolitan country and generally keeps to international standards of business. That said, there are a few nuances that Singaporeans are used to when dealing with each other for business purposes. High on the list is dress code. The country is little more than one degree north of the equator and the weather is usually hot and humid so smart business shirts and pants or skirts without jackets or blazers is fine. Of course, it all depends on the culture of the particular company you're doing business with. You can even give the tie a skip if the meeting is not very formal.
When meeting a business acquaintance for the first time, a handshake is sufficient. Bowing is completely unnecessary unless a specific culture requires it. Maintain a normal amount of body contact and allow personal space between you and your interlocutor. You may notice Malays will usually greet each other with a handshake followed by a palm placed briefly over their own heart. This is a cultural greeting and you are not expected to emulate this if you are not of Malay heritage. If in doubt go for a simple, polite handshake and a warm smile.
Business cards play an important role in Singapore. A business card is extended at almost every first meeting. The polite standard is to proffer the business card with both hands, with the letters oriented towards the receiver. Accepting a business card is also done with both hands as a sign of respect. When receiving the business card, it’s good practice to view it briefly then hold on to it for some time and leave it on the table, face-up during a meeting. While most will not take any offence at immediately pocketing a business card, some might so it’s a good idea to engage with the process.
In some offices and just about every private space you’ll be asked to remove your shoes. This is normal. If requested you can simply leave your shoes at the door. Also be mindful of gift giving. When invited to a social event by a business partner, a bottle of wine is fine as a token (or, if your hosts abstain from alcohol for religious reasons, bring chocolate). Tipping is not a convention in Singapore but is appreciated. The country is a global hub and home to travellers from around the world. Exercising basic sensitivity and asking if in doubt will likely result in a much more productive business trip.