Singapore flag Singapore: Business Environment

Business Practices in Singapore

Opening hours and bank holidays

General Information
Doing Business Singapore Guide
Commisceo Global, Singapore business culture as per Commisceo Global
Opening Hours and Days
Business hours are normally 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. from Monday-Friday. Singapore Government agencies and many private sector companies are closed on Saturday.

Shops are normally open every day from 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.


Public Holidays

New Year's Day 1 January
Chinese New Year February
Good Friday March - April
Labour Day 1 May
Vesak Day May
National Day 9 August
Hari Raya Puasa (End of Ramadan) Varies each year
Deepavali October - November
Hari Raya Haji (Aid al-Adha) Varies each year
Christmas Day 25 December
Holiday Compensation
When a public holiday falls on a Saturday, schools close on the following Monday to compensate. However companies generally remain open for business.

Periods When Companies Usually Close

New Year 1-2 days on 31st Dec and 1st Jan
Chinese New Year 2 days of public holiday (dates based on Chinese Lunar Calendar)

Business culture

The Fundamental Principles of Business Culture
As it is one of the most business-friendly countries in the world, modern day Singapore has been shaped by its business culture. Singapore is constantly ranked as one of the best countries in the world for doing business by the World Bank. Despite the multi-ethnic composition of the country, there is a shared focus on creating wealth and values such as tolerance and politeness. Nevertheless, negotiations may change depending on the ethnic origin of the Singaporean counterpart.

Hierarchy, based on age and position, is quite important in Singapore. Everyone has a distinct place within their business and must observe the requirements of their positions during any negotiation. Nevertheless, decisions are usually reached by a consensus and the group’s interests are put before the individual’s or the manager's needs. The decision-making process takes time, as negotiations are conducted at a much slower pace than most European countries and the U.S.

Singaporeans are relationship-oriented in business and prefer to build enduring ties rather than sealing a quick deal. Relationship building and familiarity can take longer than expected, pushing back business. Nevertheless, it is worth remaining patient as the success of negotiations will largely depend on the level of relationship formed. Business entertaining is an important aspect of relationship building.

First Contact
When requesting a meeting with a prospective business partner in Singapore, it is recommended to schedule appointments at least two weeks in advance. The request should be formal and include a list of the team members attending the meeting and their expertise. It is also best to be introduced by a third party. This facilitates the first contact, enables immediate access to key interlocutors and gives credibility. When suggesting a time and date, it is best to avoid major public holidays in Singapore such as the Chinese New Year.
Time Management
Punctuality is highly regarded in Singapore and tardiness is considered to be a sign of disrespect. It is recommended to inform your Singaporean counterparts of any delay with an explanation and an apology. Even if negotiations tend to be slow, meetings are usually timed in advance with a set agenda.
Greetings and Titles
Greetings vary considerably depending on the ethnic origin of the local business contact and their gender. When meeting someone from the same sex, Chinese business contacts will use a light handshake or, among women, a slight nod of acknowledgement. Malay business contacts will often use the handshake and the "salaam" accompanied with a slight bow.  Indian business contacts should use the handshake and the "Namaste". One should wait for the women (from all three ethnicities) to initiate. Malay (Muslim) men and women may not shake hands.

Titles are somewhat important and it is best to address people by using their professional title or Mr, Mrs, or Ms, followed by the surname. Unless you know for sure that your Singaporean female associate is married, most are addressed as Ms.

Gift Policy
Gift giving is not encouraged as it can be interpreted as bribery. If you want to bring gifts to a meeting, it is important to keep them modest (e.g. corporate pen). It is also better to give the gift to a whole group at once to show transparency in the gesture. Gifts should be given with both hands and they are not supposed to be unwrapped in the presence of the giver. If the meeting is with a government official, no gift should be given whatsoever due to very strict anti-bribery rules.
Dress Code
Conservative and formal attire is recommended both for men and women. Dark coloured suits with shirt are recommended for men, although a jacket and a tie are not mandatory. Conservative skirts (below the knee), trousers, suits and dresses are appropriate for women. Short, tight fitting and sleeveless attire are to be avoided. Being well-groomed is appreciated for both genders.
Business Cards
Exchanging business cards usually follows a specific protocol and takes place after a first introduction. Cards should be exchanged with every business associate after the introductions. When giving or receiving the card, it is recommended to use both hands (or the right hand at least) and place it between the thumbs and forefingers. In some cases, the exchange may be accompanied by a slight bow. It is also important to study the card for a moment, make eye contact with the giver and then carefully place it on the meeting table or in a card case or pocket. Business cards are usually considered as representative of a person's identity.
When meeting an ethnic Chinese, it is better to have the reverse side of the business card translated into Chinese.
Meetings Management
The first meeting usually serves the purpose of establishing a personal connection and trust among partners. Singaporeans want to get to know their foreign counterparts in detail and some of the questions they ask may seem irrelevant or unrelated to the point. Nevertheless, it is important to answer for the sake of building the relationship. Meetings usually start with small talk until the chairperson of the meeting launches the negotiation.

Presentations should be accompanied by top-notch and informative material. It is best to back up your claims with facts and figures. It is also recommended that the most senior team member leads the way so that your Singaporean counterparts can have an understanding of your team’s hierarchy and seat you accordingly. You should also encourage your counterparts to ask questions and respond positively.

Patience and mastering indirect communication are key to a successful business meeting in Singapore. It is important to remain calm and patient under all circumstances and not to raise your voice or get aggressive. Singaporeans usually make a respectful pause before answering a question to show that the question was given appropriate thought, and foreign counterparts are expected to act similarly. Singaporeans often fear “losing face” in public, which makes communication very subtle and indirect. Thus, a “yes” may not always mean a definite yes whereas a “no” will almost never be uttered directly. By the same token, foreigners should also avoid rejecting proposals directly, so as to avoid causing anyone to lose face, and adopt an indirect approach. Due to the indirect nature of the communication, it is important to read the body language of your Singaporean counterparts and look for subtle details in their answers. That being said, Singaporeans can be tough negotiators when it comes to money and deadlines.

Dining is the most common form of business entertainment in Singapore. It usually serves the purpose of socialising and building relationships rather than discussing business. It is better to allow the host to choose the food. Unlike business meetings, a slight delay may be appropriate for dinners so as to avoid coming across as too eager to eat food.

Sources for Further Information
Cultural Atlas - Singaporean Business Culture Kwintessential - Business Etiquette in Singapore Expatfocus - Business Culture in Singapore Culture Crossing - Business Etiquette in Singapore

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Latest Update: July 2024