You’re interested in doing business in Singapore. Congratulations — for multiple reasons, Singapore is among Asia’s elite markets, even for businesses based far outside the region.
However, successfully competing in Singapore requires a host of special considerations at every stage of your local subsidiary’s business lifecycle.
In particular, you and your team would do well to take these five customs and practices under advisement before devoting substantial resources to your Singaporean expansion. An ounce of prevention (in this case, preparation) is worth a pound of cure, as they say.
You Can Get By With English (But It Helps to Know Other Languages Too)
Singapore’s lingua franca is English. If you arrive in Singapore knowing no other language, you’ll be able to conduct business as you would elsewhere in the English-speaking world.
That said, several other languages are widely spoken in Singapore — Mandarin and Malay, among them. Since you’re almost certain to encounter speakers of both languages in your travels here, it helps to have some familiarity with them — if for nothing else than to show that you’re more than meets the eye.
Save the “Icebreaker” Jokes for Later
Those accustomed to North American business etiquette will likely find Singaporean customs a tad formal for their tastes. For example: whereas a first meeting in Chicago or Vancouver might begin with light discussion of the weather or sporting news, Singaporean “icebreakers” are more businesslike. No need to display your sense of humor until you’re better acquainted with your local partners.
Work With Trusted Local Service Providers
Speaking of local partners: despite widespread English usage and more or less Western business customs, outsiders who align with local service providers tend to encounter less resistance upon entry to the market. Local financial firms like Singapore-based Asiaciti Trust can help first-timers navigate the city-state’s financial system, for instance.
Be Punctual, Even If It’s an Inconvenience
Punctuality is extremely important in Singapore. “Fashionable lateness” is not a custom here; you must be on time (or early) for any scheduled appointments, no matter how casual or trivial.
Dress Formally, Despite the Climate
Singapore’s equatorial location precipitates a tropical climate with little seasonal variation. Despite this, visitors from higher latitudes must take care to observe local business dress norms: that is, the same formal norms to which they’d hew in more temperate capitals of finance, such as New York and London. Suits and long-sleeved dress shirts are preferred for men; demure business wear is the norm for women.
Plan Your Entry
If it is not yet abundantly clear, your team must take all reasonable steps to plan its entry into the Singaporean market before making substantial investments in the effort. Without such preparation, your chances of making headway in Singapore will significantly decrease — and the likelihood that you’ll need to write off your investment may well increase.
Even with meticulous planning, your success in Singapore is by no means assured. No business opportunity is a sure thing — especially not one as compelling and sought-after as entry into the Singaporean market.