A guide to Singapore – etiquette, customs, clothing and more…

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Singapore, once identified as a British colonial trading post, has become one of the wealthiest city-states in South-East Asia and has become a global financial hub that thrives both in economic structure and cultural diversity. Prided on stability and security, Singapore has shown Gross-Domestic-Product growth at an average of 7.7 percent since gaining independence, and has maintained steady population growth, now totalling over 5.3 million, with a current growth rate of 2 percent anticipated in 2016. The Singapore government estimates the population will continue to grow in coming decades, as will cultural diversity built upon a trade-driven economy that encompasses a great majority of foreign workers, with an anticipated population makeup of 50 percent as immigrants by the year 2030. Singapore is an adventure, building upon itself, and is establishing a framework for success in culture and enterprise moving forward into the future.


The Singapore Breakdown


Population-wise, Singapore is now recognised as the second densest sovereign state in the world, with a population over 5.69 million as of 2016. It has vast cultural and demographic diversity with multiple ethnic backgrounds including 74 percent Chinese, 13 percent indigenous Malays, and over 9 percent Indians, with an additional growing population of Eurasians. Even though Malay is recognised as the national language of Singapore, English is the primary working language and is also used within educational institutions. In addition to a diverse ethnic population, religious diversity has helped to create an even richer culture in Singapore, with Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Hinduism and multiple other religions building the spiritual foundation of the growing country.


An Encompassed Culture


As with any country throughout the world, there are multiple “Do’s and Don’ts” in Singapore that should be considered when visiting, either for leisure or business. When travelling with a spouse or engaging in cultural activities with a significant other, avoid public displays of affection and always remain calm, showing little to no emotion. Joking or being humorous should only be done if you know someone well and after building a solid relationship. To help build a good relationship, when invited to a house for a party or gathering, always bring a gift, but ensure it is small enough not to be considered a bribe.


Throughout Singapore, Western clothing is very common, with casual dress being popular, but there are some considerations to take into account. For men in business, always come prepared with a white shirt, standard tie and trousers, but leave the jacket at home. For women in business, consider wearing a blouse with sleeves and a formal skirt or trouser suit. Singapore has made prominent strides in helping to support women in all areas of society, both in business and personal contexts, with official policies created to help protect against any discrimination of women.


Establishing relationships among friends and co-workers in Singapore has become fundamental and dining and entertainment are an important part of the country’s culture. Dinner and meals are known to be a time to socialise and build upon relationships, even within a business setting. Sharing multiple dishes at the table, served all at one time, is very common, with limited availability of appetisers or drinks. When at a dinner or formal occasion with a host, it is appropriate to allow them to order all the dishes, trusting in their judgment to serve the group as a whole and thus showing them respect. To continue to show respect and avoid any faux pas, never share leftovers and always eat with utensils in your right hand, as the left hand is seen as being “unclean.” And after the meal, expect to stay involved in discussion for at least an hour, further building relationships.


The Business Side of Singapore


Beyond the electrifying and progressive culture that Singapore offers, the business side of Singapore has become increasingly welcoming and inviting for international companies. The details behind starting a business in Singapore and the etiquette developed within the culture should be closely considered before jumping into a new venture or investment. However, it should also be welcomed with open arms, as Singapore offers numerous benefits for start-up businesses.


Why Choose Singapore to Conduct/Start a Business?
Why would a company or investor decide to take part in a new business activity or venture internationally, let alone specifically in Singapore? It comes down to a simple statement: Singapore has built a foundation of strong trade and investment platforms, making it one of the most competitive Asian markets and an ideal location to establish a global presence. Not only has Singapore established such firm trade and investment platforms, but it has also created an easy system for establishing and maintaining business.
Businesses that set up international headquarters and a presence within Singapore can benefit from Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements, numerous free trade agreements, and strictly regulated intellectual property laws. When business leaders are looking to save at the bottom line, as well as provide peace of mind and protect the ideas and methodologies that enhance competitive advantages in an ever-evolving global market, they often chose Singapore.


In many countries throughout the world, registering as a foreign entity can be challenging, with multiple obstacles to overcome before entering the local market. Singapore has developed a simplified registration process to allow new businesses and branch offices to efficiently take on the competition with the development of three government agencies that streamline business registration. In the industry of banking, finance and insurance, the Monetary Authority of Singapore has been established to meet the needs in foreign entry. In the legal realm, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority provides appropriate streamline services in Singapore. And for any other industries, the all-encompassing International Enterprise of Singapore is able to assist in providing useful and efficient processing.
Beyond specifically designed government agencies for business registration, Singapore has been significantly recognised for noteworthy bureaucratic partnership within business services. By consciously breaking down barriers that other countries have established, Singapore has a foundation that demonstrates inter-agency-cooperation, rather than confrontation, to help businesses grow and flourish.
For the past five decades, the Singapore economy has grown rapidly, reaching its highest level of Gross Domestic Product within the last six years, and has been recognised as having one of the highest GDP per capita in the world. Beyond being one of the freest, most business-friendly economies in the world, the Singapore economy helps to promote foreign entrance with trade platforms, enhancing a competitive Gross Domestic Product, last valued at over $292 Billion USD.


With so much support and cohesive advancement recognised in the business marketplace of Singapore, the more pertinent question may in fact be, “Why not do business in Singapore?”.


What happens after business entrance in Singapore?
When establishing business activities in any new country, it is critical to understand fundamental cultural norms and practices so that the opportunity for success is not hindered, but rather supported at the most critical stage of business development. From the initial introduction at a business meeting, to distinct corporate culture, there are several key components to remember when entering into the competitive environment of Singapore.


Meeting, Greeting and Body Language
When beginning a business meeting or social occasion, one should always shake hands with each individual present, both when arriving and when leaving, and do so in a firm manner. Additionally, many people in Singapore will bow slightly when shaking hands, making it appropriate to give a small bow in return. As a general rule, avoid touching a person’s head, or their child’s head, as it is considered sacred.


Corporate Culture
Being punctual in many countries is an important part of corporate culture, but in Singapore punctuality is taken to an even higher level and being on time to meetings or notifying others of any expected delay is key. Business meetings should be to the point and include direct discussion when handling any issues or priorities of money.




Transport in Singapore could not be easier. There is an abundance of taxis and ‘rickshaw’ style vehicles, as well as an excellent rail network system. It is, however, quite expensive to use private transport such as taxis. The best and most economical method of transport around Singapore is the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport), operated by the train network, with the bulk of the stations being within walking distance of all the commercial centres, tourist attractions and other areas of interest. Buy an EZ-linked stored-value card (commonly known as Singapore Tourist Pass), and enjoy the benefits of 1, 2 or 3 day inclusive travel. Currently (2016) the pass for three days is only S$20.


Equally, the bus pass operates using the same stored-value card. These two methods of transport will get you around Singapore in the most economical fashion. Buses and trains are generally air-conditioned, so they are quite a comfortable way to travel. To help you plan your trips around Singapore, use one of the 3 Visitor Centres, where you can buy the passes, as well as tickets to all the major attractions or events at the same time.


Transport to the smaller outlying islands around Singapore can be made by boat, causeways and the cable car which will take you to the famous island of Sentosa.




It would be impossible to mention all of the sights to view in Singapore, as there are so many places of both historical and cultural value, as well as those provided for pure entertainment, such as theme parks.


If you are interested in museums, the Asian Civilisation Museum has outstanding displays of artefacts depicting and documenting Eastern civilisations. If architecture is top of the list, The Victoria Theatre, Concert Hall and The Arts House are all within a localised area and are very impressive buildings, as well as housing impressive art galleries and artistic performances.


A visit to Singapore is not complete without enjoying afternoon tea or a drink at the bar in the famous Raffles Hotel. Steeped in history (it opened in 1887), discover the progression of the hotel from its former owners to the conversion by Sidney Raffles. Be aware though, that food and drink in Raffles comes at a price, but it’s worth it for the historical value. Raffles was a haven for expats during World War 2 and is where the famous drink ‘the Singapore Sling’ was invented.


The Chinatown area of Singapore is certainly worth taking a half day or full day to explore. Take a ‘bumboat’ along the Singapore River (at night is the most spectacular), eat at one of the wonderful restaurants and explore the night market for bargains.


If you are travelling alone or with children and you love the animal environment, try the Safari Tour, where there are over 130 species of animals, some endangered such as the pangolin. At night, this tour is amazing, as you can experience shows such as fire-eating and tribal performances – voted top attraction by the Singapore Tourist Board.


Sentosa Island, as previously mentioned, is a must for full-blown entertainment. With a free-entry casino, theme park and numerous restaurants, it is an all-encompassing day tour. Go by cable car, and see an elevated view of the Singapore skyline.


It really is worth going to one of the Singapore Visitors Centres, to make the most of your time on this wonderful island. They will guide and advise you to plan your leisure time to the best possible use.


How to enjoy Singapore, whatever your budget


Visiting somewhere far-flung is always extremely exciting and there aren’t many places as extraordinary as Singapore. If you’re lucky enough to jet off to this magical country you want to get the most out of your visit. The trouble is, a new country brings a huge wealth of possibility but knowing where to start can be daunting. In this short guide we help you to cut to the chase so you know exactly where to shop, where to eat and drink and where to stay in exotic Singapore.


Shopping In Singapore
Singapore is a diverse country holding onto the historical traditions of old but also embracing modern buildings, architecture, culture and shopping. It’s genuinely a shoppers’ paradise so arm yourself with plenty of cash because there’s lots to explore, from bustling markets to luxurious designer boutiques and everything in between.


The shopping centres have to be seen to be believed and are so futuristic in design that even if you don’t want to ramp up your credit card bill it’s worth visiting just to behold the incredible architecture. One of the newest centres is the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands which boasts more than 170 boutiques and is known for high-end luxury, including Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta and YSL. Of course, if you prefer department store shopping, spend a little time browsing the high-street and designer labels at Tangs and Robinsons, these large stores are dotted around the central area and difficult to miss.


For those who love high-fashion at mid-price don’t miss the largest shopping centre in the city, VivoCity in Harbourfront Walk which boasts a plethora of brands including Superdry and American Outfitters. There are plenty of other malls in the Marina Bay area and along Harbour front to explore too.


If you love bargaining in a market and want to find something a little more authentic, then head down to China Square Central on Sundays, which is excellent for collectables and souvenirs. Or make your way down to Bugis Street and Haji Lane: both are a treasure trove of modern and traditional Singaporean products, including clothes, shoes, jewellery, nick-nacks and collectables. Be prepared to haggle, you’ll come away with bags of great deals for a fraction of what you planned to spend!


Eating & Drinking In Singapore
Singapore has enormous choice when it comes to eating and drinking, whether you want to sample local cuisine or prefer to enjoy Western food, there’s something for every palate and every budget. If you want to impress or you’re looking for something that is more of an experience than a good quality meal you have to try some of the Michelin starred restaurants in Singapore which are popping up everywhere. French restaurant Odette’s has two Michelin Stars and is the go-to for fine dining; you’ll find it on St Andrew’s Road in the National Gallery. For something more authentic, try Shish Mahal in the Albert Court Hotel which is a combination of Indian and Nepalese cuisine – you’ll definitely find something to awaken your taste-buds because it’s both fragrant and spicy!


For more budget-friendly quality cuisine head into Chinatown which is a haven of street food, stalls and local restaurants. Try YumCha which is great for a traditional Singaporean breakfast or head into the Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre where you’ll find a little of everything and get to sample plenty of local cuisine, perhaps chicken rice or an oyster omelette!


As far as drinking, every quality hotel boasts a great bar where you can sample classic cocktails (try a real Singapore Sling!) as well as plenty of modern concoctions. Bugis is one of the more bustling areas of Singapore and has plenty of excellent nightlife; try the Hood Bar & Café which offers live music and plenty of great tasting cocktails. If you’re on a budget, head to Number 5 Emerald Hill which has an all-day Happy Hour – and from 9pm to 1am, it’s buy one Martini – get one free!


Staying In Singapore


Whether you’re seeking 5 star luxury accommodation or you’re looking for something more budget-friendly there are a number of excellent hotels to choose from, each providing that exquisite Singapore charm that the country is renowned for. For top-end quality and old-fashioned charm, the famous colonial style Raffles Hotel in Beach Road dates back to 1887 and offers plenty of beauty and resplendent R&R but at a high price! Of course, if you prefer something a little more modern, then the Fairmont in the heart of the city offers stupendous views, beautifully appointed and decorated bedrooms, a well-equipped relaxing spa and 15 bars and restaurants to choose from.


night-roads-serangoonFor those on a budget it’s not easy to find cheap accommodation in Singapore, as it’s one of the most expensive places in the world, but there are a number of decent hotels at around £100 per night. Try the 1920s style Naumi Liora in Chinatown, which has 79 rooms, a gym, bar and a good restaurant called the Study. The restaurant serves British style food with recipes by English chef Jason Atherton. Or you could seek out a colonial style hotel called the Wanderlust which is quirky and fun in bright rainbow colours with low-cost rooms. Yes, they’re small but there are TVs and even espresso machines. There’s even a little French restaurant, which is basic but offers enjoyable food at very reasonable prices.
You can, of course go serious deluxe – Singapore is full of luxury hotels, some independent but most are part of chains or groups, such as Hyatt, Shangri-La and Marriott.


Dos and Don’ts in Singapore


Before travelling, make sure your current passport fits the travel requirements for Singapore. A visa is not required for UK citizens for travel of less than 30 days. Check with your travel agent or the Singapore Embassy before booking your trip.
Whilst a very hospitable nation, the residents of Singapore are quite private and formal in their dealings. Keep within the quite strict regulations in Singapore and you will have a wonderful visit. Take note of the following:

  • Avoid eating, even sweets, on public transport, particularly chewing gum. It is an offence that could cost you up to S$500.
  • Never go topless on view – not even in your hotel room if you can be overlooked.
  • Always flush the toilet – random spot checks on public lavatories could cost you up to S$150.
  • No littering or spitting in public places – another fineable offence.
  • Under no circumstances carry pornographic material – heavy fines or imprisonment.
  • Discussing religion or politics is considered offensive, as is raising your voice or losing your temper.
  • If using a laptop or tablet, do not connect to an unauthorised Wi-Fi network. This is considered a crime.
  • Don’t tip – this is not a cultural practice, and only a few restaurants even include a service charge.
  • No drugs other than prescription, unless you wish to spend a considerable amount of time in jail.

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