Three elements combine to make Singapore the easiest economy in which to do business, according to the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2010 Report”: It has the most open economy for international trade; It has the best investment potential; It is ranked No. 1 in Asia (4 in the world) for having low levels of corruption.
Its stable currency, low inflation and interest rates ensure it is a key Asian financial centre. Although Singapore has few natural resources and no water supply necessitating the importation of food and raw materials, it has a significant natural harbour (the busiest in the world and second in size only to Rotterdam) which accounts for its high re-export trade. The economy relies on electronics and information technology, banking and finance, and, to a lesser extent, tourism
Singapore is in an ideal position for petroleum and petrochemical refining, drilling rig manufacture and shipbuilding and repairing. In terms of capacity, it is the world’s third-largest petroleum refiner after Rotterdam and Houston.
The government is building up biomedical engineering and multimedia sectors while large investments in tourism are being made to boost this potential valuable sector of the economy. However, Singapore is Southeast Asia’s most expensive destination although food, accommodation, clothes and electronics are still cheaper than in the West.
The island state has one of the highest standards of living and home ownership levels in the world. Its citizens enjoy good housing, health care, excellent standards of education. There are no unemployment payments or programmes but unemployment is minimal and thousands of workers in skilled and unskilled jobs are imported.
Dress Code in Singapore
Standard business attire for men is a long-sleeved shirt and a tie, although a tie can be dispensed with so that the shirt’s collar button can be opened. It is simply too hot to wear a jacket. Women usually wear Western business attire although some prefer Malay-style kebaya and sarong.
Greeting Someone in Singapore
Singaporeans are typically formal upon introduction. The standard greeting is a firm handshake, but conservative Muslims avoid touching the opposite sex, so a man meeting a Malay woman should let her offer her hand first and a woman meeting a Malay man should wait for him to offer his hand. If they place their hand on their heart and bow slightly, do the same in return. Never hug.
The eldest, or the person with the most status, is introduced first at meetings. Business cards are essential and are exchanged on initial introduction. They should be presented and received with both hands and a small bow of the head. Study the cards you receive and place them on the table, not in a shirt pocket or wallet and do not write on them as these are all disrespectful actions. Government officials do not use cards. Much communication will be non-verbal, so pay attention to facial expressions and body language.
It can be difficult to know all the intricacies of introduction in Singapore because so many cultures come together: the best approach is to wait and see what the other person will do and follow suit. Likewise with names: Chinese, Indian, and Muslims have different types of names (for example Chinese people may have three names: the surname comes first, followed by personal names). It may be confusing as to what you call them. When in doubt, politely ask what they prefer to be called.
Presentations and Business Meetings
Appointments should be made two weeks in advance preferably by writing to the person. Simultaneously send a list of the titles and names of the people who will be attending meetings/negotiations. Punctuality is most important. Singaporeans are tough negotiators on price and deadlines and decisions are taken by consensus, and presentations should be accompanied by charts and figures..
Business Hours and Banking
Business hours vary throughout the city. In general, you will find most shops and stores open around 10:00am. In their effort to cater to tourists, many businesses remain open until 7:00pm and even later. It is not unusual for stores to be open until midnight, especially during certain parts of the year, such as the Great Singapore Sale. Banking hours also vary: most typical banks open at 9:30am and close at 3:00pm Monday through Friday. Many banks are open from 9:30am to 11:30am on Saturday. Again in an effort to provide the utmost convenience for visitors – and residents – many banks offer extended hours and are open on weekends.
Do not try to schedule meetings during the week of the Chinese New Year since many businesses close for the entire week.
Singapore isn’t a smoker-friendly city: tobacco products are taxed heavily, and you are only allowed to bring one pack of cigarettes into the city. You will find smoking bans in all air-conditioned places, including clubs and bars, many hawker centers, and in all public transportation. Outside, smoking can only be done in designated areas, which are usually marked with yellow outlines or signs that read “smoking zone.” And do not even think of flicking a cigarette butt onto the ground.
Singapore is a relatively laid-back city; a good rule for conduct is to behave as you would at home or with family. Simply be genuine and respectful. One difference between Singaporeans and those in countries like the United States is that they make very little small talk. Chatting with a store clerk or waiter is not generally done. This is not out of rudeness but out of respect for their own and others privacy and personal space. This cultural difference is also apparent in the inflection and tone when people speak. It may sound more brusque than many Western ears are used to, but again, no disrespect is intended, quite the opposite, in fact.
Business gifts are frowned on as they smack of bribery. In any event it’s a minefield giving a gift as there are cultural differences between the three main ethnic groups and some gifts could be insulting. Most flowers are not acceptable by any culture as they are given to the sick and are regarded as funeral flowers. It is best not to give a gift.
If you are invited to a business associate’s home, stop at the door and take off your shoes. If you bring a gift, make sure it is appropriate for your host. Again, this can be confusing because there are different rules for different cultures. For instance, it is not appropriate to bring a bottle of alcohol to dinner at a Malay’s home. For Chinese recipients, elaborate wrapping paper is expected but you do not wrap gifts for babies. And many people of Chinese, Malay, and Indian heritage do not open gifts in front of you.
Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry
31 Stanley Street, Sicci Building, Singapore 068740
Tel: 6222 2505/2855
Singapore International Chamber of Commerce
6 Raffles Quay, 10-01 Singapore 048580
Tel: 6500 0988
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