Singapore is a multicultural society composed mainly of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Eurasian communities. As they build the majority of the population, you will come across Singaporean Chinese most of the time. Being in a multiethnic country, it is important to adjust to the business culture in Singapore.
This article provides an overview of the business culture in Singapore. Although you will encounter many more different cultures doing business in the country, we only try to capture the general picture of the business environment in Singapore.
Singapore’s language is as diverse as the cultures that congregate in the country. Singapore has four official languages, namely Malay, Mandarin, English, and Tamil. While Malay is Singapore’s national language English is the main language people use at work and in schools.
English is the city’s most commonly spoken language although is not the language of the major ethnic group in Singapore. This is because English unifies the multicultural community in Singapore who speak their own mother tongues. Additionally, it is the most practical option to support Singapore’s goal for development and growth.
Punctuality is expected in any circumstance and events in Singapore. Singaporeans are normally punctual and they expect the same with others. In the country, tardiness and absenteeism show a lack of respect for the waiting person. In contrast, being on time, preferably early, portrays thoughtfulness to the person’s time and effort to meet on time.
Gift-giving is common in Singapore, which is one way of expressing gratitude. In businesses, small gifts like pens with the company logo are sufficient. The gifts are often wrapped, presented, and received with both hands. The receiver opens the gifts only when the presenter departs.
It is important to remember that gift handling that connotes severance or cutting is not a custom as they symbolize conflict. Further, in Chinese, the number four rhymes with their word for death, so no one usually gives gifts in a set of four. For Malay associates, you should avoid products made of pigskin materials and alcohol as these defy the laws of Islam.
When doing business in Singapore, remembering Singapore etiquette is important. When making introductions for the first time in formal meetings with Chinese associates, one should always use the person’s title and family name before their personal name. Malays, on the other hand, do not use a family name. They use their first name followed by Bin (“son of”) or Binti (“daughter of”) and their father’s name. This tradition is the same when meeting with Indian associates.
Moreover, business cards are exchanged upon meetings and are treated with respect. Ideally, the business card should be given and received with both hands. One should never write anything on the card as this the giver may misconstrue this as disrespect. Put it casually in your pocket or stash it in a folder.
Start a Business in Singapore
There are many more key factors aside from the business culture in Singapore that one should consider when doing business in Singapore. There’s the economic, geographic, and many more aspects one should look into to better understand how things are done in Singapore.
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