Your guide to expat life in Singapore

Working in Singapore

A keen focus on trade and development drives Singapore’s thriving economy. The workplace is modern and fast-paced, but the nuances of its business culture should always be respected.

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Doing business

Despite being a tiny island with few natural resources, Singapore is a major trading nation with one of the busiest ports in the world. It also has one of the world’s third largest oil refineries, even though it has no oil of its own. And it’s a leading financial hub.

The city-state’s advanced and transparent economy makes doing business very easy.

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Business culture

Business is based on relationships rather than transactions. Be patient; initial meetings may move slowly as a connection is established.

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Business structure

Businesses have a hierarchical structure and it’s uncommon for junior employees and management to socialise together. This may seem strange if you’re from a more egalitarian society.


A handshake is an appropriate greeting, and you should offer business cards formally with both hands. Flattery or boasting is treated with suspicion and prolonged eye contact can seem aggressive.


Singapore is incredibly diverse, and its business culture can vary depending on who you’re dealing with. For example, alcohol is a suitable gift for Chinese business associates, but not for Malays, many of whom are observant Muslims.

Attitude towards foreigners

Singapore is welcoming to foreign businesses and tolerant of other cultures. The government encourages qualified expats to move to the city-state.

Fast facts

Business language

English is the main language, although Chinese dialects are occasionally used.

Business hours

From 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. People sometimes work half-days on Saturdays.


Mostly formal, but the warm climate means a suit jacket is unnecessary in many situations. Wear a dark suit for first meetings, after which long trousers and a shirt are acceptable outside the banking and finance sector. For women, skirts should cover the knee.


A handshake is appropriate when you greet business associates. Offer your business card formally with both hands. Address colleagues as Mr or Ms until told otherwise, and always show respect to senior associates and older colleagues.


Gift giving customs differ among Singapore’s Chinese, Malay and Indian populations. Also, gifts in a business context might be misconstrued as bribery, so tread carefully.

Gender equality

Men and women are treated equally in business.

Expat salaries

Expat salaries are generally high, especially in the finance and marketing sectors. This can be offset by high accommodation costs, but you should still be able to afford a better-than-average standard of living.

Negotiate a good package including health insurance, education fees for your children and an accommodation allowance as all of these can be pretty costly.

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

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All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in October 2020. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you are aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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