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  • Working in Singapore

    The Expatriate guide to working in Singapore

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Working in Singapore

 

Singapore's high speed economy is built upon trade and development, thought the newly arriving expat should carefully abide by the many social rules and protocols.

 


Doing Business

Doing business in Singapore can take some adjusting for newly-arrived expats as many social rules and customs should be learned and used to prevent from offending business partners. 

Singapore is a major expat destination and business hub in Asia. Many expatriates from western countries are taken by surprise when they realize that the business culture in this country is a lot more formal than what they are probably used to. Observing a strict chain of command and keeping others from “losing face” are essential aspects. Although as a foreigner you will get away with a lot, you should at least know the basics of doing business in Singapore.

Careful, don't offend!

When doing business in Singapore, it is important that you avoid direct body contact, especially with members of the opposite sex. While it may be completely acceptable for you to pat someone on the back or put a hand on someone’s shoulder, this gesture might make your Singaporean business partners very uncomfortable. Pointing with a finger and displaying the sole of your shoes is considered very rude in Singapore. Try to gesture instead of pointing with your palm up and refrain from crossing your legs.

Keep in mind that some of your Indian or Malay business partners are Muslims. You should try to hand over items with your right hand only as the left hand is used for personal hygiene and therefore “unclean”. It is also important to respect the personal space of others when you are doing business in Singapore. Singaporeans like to keep their counterparts at arm’s length and might back away if you come too close. 

  • BUSINESS CULTURE

    Business is based on relationships.
    Cool the jets - initially things move slowly as a connection is established.

    Shipping from USA to Singapore

Singapore Business Facts

English is the main language, although Chinese dialects are occasionally used. 

LEARN THE LANGUAGE - Take the initiative and learn the local language. Doing so will help you gain respect among the locals.

From 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. People sometimes work half-days on Saturdays.
Mostly formal, but the warm climate means a suit jacket is unnecessary in many situations. Wear a dark suit for first meetings, after which long trousers and a shirt are acceptable outside the banking and finance sector. For women, skirts should cover the knee.
A handshake is appropriate when you greet business associates. Offer your business card formally with both hands. Address colleagues as Mr or Ms until told otherwise and always show respect to senior associates and older colleagues.

Take your time to get to know your business partners. Relationships are highly valued and your patience will be rewarded. Use proper protocol when meeting business partners, shake the right hand, not the left, study their business card when its given to you and treat it with reverence.

We have put together a collection of resources intended to help Expat Business People, including: Language Software,Professional Clothing & Attire, Business Cards, and more.

 

Exchanging Business Cards

While business cards are a simple necessity in other country’s business cultures, in Singapore, there is a whole ritual surrounding them. First off, the perfect time to exchange business cards is after the initial introduction. Present them with both hands and your name facing your business partner. If you are doing business with Chinese people, it is a good idea to have one side of your card translated into Mandarin.

After you have received a business card from your business contacts, make sure to examine them carefully for a moment. Then place them in a business card case. The respect with which you treat your partner’s business cards (and your own for that matter) is a reflection of how you will treat the business relationship. That is why you should never write on business cards. Don’t crumble or wrinkle them and don’t shove them carelessly in your pocket.

Business Meetings

When you organize a business meeting with a prospective employer or business partner in Singapore, you should make sure to schedule your appointments at least two weeks in advance. It is important that you make a formal request and include a list of your team members and their expertise. If you are getting in touch with a company for a first time, try to get a referral from someone. This will increase your business partners’ trust in you and will make it easier for you to get an appointment. When suggesting a time and date, try to avoid major public holidays in Singapore such as the Chinese New Year when most businesses are closed.

Always try to be punctual or even a little bit early, and be prepared for a short period of small talk before the actual negotiations begin. It is important that the most senior member leads the way. That way, your Singaporean counterparts can keep track of the hierarchy and seat you accordingly. Your presentation should always be accompanied by top-notch material which should be well-structured and informative. Make sure to encourage your business partners to ask questions and respond positively.

Negotiations

When it comes to business negotiations, a lot of the things we have mentioned on the previous page still apply. It is incredibly important to be respectful of hierarchies within a company you are doing business with.  Thus, you should also present your own team accordingly, with the most senior employee leading the way. Never raise your voice, get aggressive, or push your business partners to reach a decision as this will not bring you any positive results. In Singapore, business is done at a rather slow pace, and you should try to be patient. By the same token, it is important to make a respectful pause before answering a question.

Because Singaporeans are always afraid of “losing face”, communication is very subtle. Pay attention to your business partners’ body language and tone to figure out what they are actually trying to say. A “yes” does not always mean yes, and a “no” will most likely never be uttered directly. In a nutshell, you should try to be polite and professional, but also honest. Although they avoid conflict in the meeting room, Singaporean business people are tough negotiators when it comes to deadlines and such. It is always a good idea to draw up a list of compromises you are willing to make in order to seal the deal. Read our guide to culture in Singapore for more information.
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