Business Etiquette in Singapore: A Short Guide

Business Etiquette in Singapore: A Short Guide

04 Sep 2021 | Business

5mins read



Other than differentiating between right and wrong, business ethics entails recognising diversity among co-workers, trust and open communication. Maintaining high standards and fulfilling legal and moral duties are also fundamental. However, as most entrepreneurs focus on profit and loss, they may believe that compromising on ethics is inevitable. One was to display your ethics is through your etiquette.

In multicultural Singapore, you’ll find a melting pot of different cultures, each of which has had its impact on Singapore’s business culture. While conducting business in Singapore, it is critical to adapt to the business culture of your respective partners, which may differ based on race and religion. As such, here are some considerations to take while working with Singaporean colleagues.

Business Cards

The first impression that your potential client will have of you and your company will be based on your business card. Consider it as an extension of yourself. If the majority of your clients are Chinese, it may also be beneficial to have a Mandarin translation at the back of your card.

Business cards are often exchanged when you first meet each other. When exchanging your card, you should use two hands to hold it; between your thumb and index fingers. One may give a small bow when receiving or giving a card. Be sure to make eye contact as well to convey sincerity. 

Once you’ve received a card, set it on the table in front of you or in a card case. If you are unsure of what to do, simply follow what the other person is doing.

Never scribble on a business card, keep it in your back pocket, or chuck it in a folder. These behaviours might be interpreted as disrespectful.


If you have a habit of being late, now is the time to get rid of it. There’s a saying: “5 Minutes Early Is On Time; On Time Is Late; Late Is Unacceptable”. Being punctual shows courtesy and respect for others, no matter if they are consumers, clients, or even coworkers. Basically, punctuality is a cardinal rule in business making.

Singaporeans are known to be punctual, and to keep a Singaporean business partner waiting is considered disrespectful. However, some Singapore professionals may prefer to arrive a few minutes late in order to avoid appearing excessively eager. If you are running late, a call to inform the person you are meeting is always highly recommended. 

How to start a conversation

Avoid raising your voice or displaying rage. A calm voice will gain you far more respect. Start small conversations to make your business partner comfortable before moving on to your main agenda. 

If you don’t know what to talk about, the topic of Singapore’s culture will be a great place to start. From architecture to the arts, you can talk about anything that you admire or that has caught your attention. But the best topic to talk about will likely be food – you can talk about the different dishes you’ve tasted. Even better if you are able to complement local cuisine.

You should also show that you care about the individual with whom you are speaking. Inquire about their travels and hobbies, or their company’s aims and major achievements as well. You can share about your own achievements as well, but be modest.

Business Gifts

Giving gifts is a common way of expressing gratitude in Asia. Small corporate presents, such as a pen with the company logo, will suffice. Gifts are usually wrapped, given and accepted with two hands, and then unwrapped after the giver has left.

However, there are some gifts that are considered taboo in Singapore. In Chinese culture, gifts that represent parting or cutting are inappropriate. One such example would be scissors. An exception will be letter openers. The number four in Mandarin also sounds similar to the word for death, which is why it is vital to not offer anything in a group of four. Clocks are also considered unsuitable gifts since the Chinese phrase for “giving clock” connotes death.

If you’re giving gifts to a Malay or Muslim business partner, avoid giving them products made from pigskin and alcohol as they are prohibited by the law of Islam. Make sure that the food you also consider giving as a gift is Halal. 

Things to avoid

Singaporeans adhere to strict laws and regulations. It’ll do you more good than harm if you follow suit. For example, you can be fined for spitting, smoking in public, chewing gum, or jaywalking. Displaying public displays of affection to your spouse or romantic partner is also prohibited.

When talking about business, topics about politics, bureaucracy, religion, crime, and punishment should be left undiscussed. Avoid correcting or disagreeing with a superior in public, and never point a finger at someone. Standing with your hands on your hips might be also seen as confrontational or furious.