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Doing business in Singapore


News day / Preparation to visit Singapore requires some knowledge of the laws as they apply to both natives and visitors. A few include: no littering, no chewing of gum, no illegal drugs [which is clearly visible on signs from the airport throughout], no weapons, pornographic material, jaywalking, spitting and smoking in public places. These are but a few of the more general laws. However, it would help to undertake a quick review. Singapore is a very safe nation, with the authorities ensuring it remains that way.

In many western countries, “eye contact” is a barometer for trustworthiness. It is important to appreciate that the Singaporean culture prefers intermittent eye contact, meaning you may not have business partners looking at you “directly in the eye” always. Please understand this has nothing to do with a lack of trustworthiness, but sustained eye contact is considered hostile and aggressive.

If you are to present a proposal for consideration to your business partners, ensure it is heavily technical, and the most advanced you can present, as this is a country where they are extremely focussed on innovation and technology.

With respect to greetings, if you are interacting with the younger, foreign – trained Singaporean, a handshake is the most common form of greeting. For the more mature, more of a hand clasp may be welcome, where both hands are used and this lasts for around ten to twelve seconds.

Westernized women usually shake hands with both women and men, whereas Singaporean men usually wait for a woman to offer her hand. It is important to note that too-frequent handshaking is easily misinterpreted as an amorous advance. The traditional Malay greeting is the salaam where both parties stretch out one or both hands, touch each other’s hand[s] lightly, then place their hand[s] back to rest over their heart. This greeting is done only between people of the same sex.

When meeting persons, ensure they are addressed by their title and name. If a person does not have a professional title [Doctor, Engineer etc], use “Mr” or “Madam”, “Mrs,” or “Miss,” plus their name. If you do not understand the pronunciation of a name, simply ask for guidance and repeat to confirm your pronunciation is correct.

Singapore prides itself on being the most corruption free country in Asia. As a result, there are very strict laws pertaining to bribery.

Government employees may not accept gifts at all. Do not present a gift to anyone unless you have established a personal relationship with that person. If, however, you have established such a friendship, note the following: Malays consider dogs unclean, therefore do not present a toy dog, or pictures of dogs. Among the Indian population, the frangipani flower is used only for funeral wreaths, please be aware. Remember to stay away from giving leather products to observant Hindus, out of respect for their beliefs. Likewise, do not present pork or alcohol products to observing Muslims.

As a visitor, you should dress more conservatively until you know what degree of formality is expected.

Men should be prepared to wear a business suit, which can easily be adjusted accordingly. Women should wear the traditional business suit, inclusive of a pant suit. In some circumstances, and as a result of the heat, the dress code can be less formal – however, follow the lead of your host.

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