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  • Glenn van Zutphen

Doing Business in Singapore

Hopefully, the world will once again open up and business travel will return. Flying in and out of Singapore's airport is a delight as it's often listed as the best airport in the world. I've lived and worked in Singapore for fifteen years and there are some very important things you need to know to conduct business here. From traffic in the business district to business culture, these are my top tips for navigating Singapore:




  1. Singapore is a very modern city with every kind of public and private transportation. Most Singaporeans use the excellent bus and metro system, called the MRT. But taxis, and private-hire cars are also available. Apps such as Grab Taxi, ComfortDelGro and others are available to make booking cabs easier. They all accept cash and many accept credit cards.

  2. Singapore is a pretty small island, about the size of Manhattan. To drive from end to end in light traffic takes less than one hour. To travel between meetings in the Central Business District (CBD), allow 30 minutes. This would usually be more than enough time. But it’s a good idea to allow extra time — especially if it’s raining – when taxis are in high demand.

  3. All major hotels have restaurants, lounges and meeting rooms, which are great for doing business and any charges can be put on your hotel room tab. Going outside the hotel, areas: Club Street, Clarke Quay. Boat Quay and Chijmes have a lot of restaurants and clubs to entertain clients. There are also celebrity chef restaurants such as Wolfgang Puck's Cut, Tetsuya Wakuda's Waku Ghin, Gordon Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen and several others.

  4. Many flights from North America generally arrive either around midnight (Singapore time) or around 6:00 AM. From leaving your home in the US to arriving at your hotel in Singapore will generally take about 24 hours.

  5. As with most jetlag, staying awake until it’s the normal bedtime in Singapore is the best way to start dealing with it. If you arrive at 6:00 AM, for example, try to keep busy and stay awake all day. It can be difficult, but the jetlag should only last a couple of days. The best way to fight jet lag is to get in the sun to reset your body clock so take a walk.

  6. The heat and humidity in Singapore can be tough for first time travelers. Make sure to bring lightweight clothing and drink lots of water. If you're looking to get some sunlight yet stay cool, you might visit The Shoppes at Marina Bay.

There are cultural and business differences between the US and Singapore.

  1. The “Large & In-Charge” American needs to know that bragging and being a loud-mouth does not impress in Singapore. Practice humility. While it is an aggressive business culture, it is also outwardly a more quiet and subtle one. When you get here, ask questions and listen more than you talk. Bragging does not work here.

  2. Also, bring a box of business cards. They are essential and not having them shows that you don’t understand the business culture here. Give your card with two hands extended, with your name and title facing the other person. Receive their card the same way and take a moment to really examine their name and title. Give them (and their card) respect. If sitting at a table, leave the card at the top of your dinner plate, facing up and towards you.

  3. We use Singapore dollars here, not US dollars. There are infinite places at the airport and around town to convert your cash. All major credit cards can be used just about everywhere. There is no, tipping here as the service charge is added-in to bills. It may feel strange, but tips are not expected and giving a tip will not necessarily get you better service. Sometimes tips can even be insulting.

Typical mistakes or misconceptions about doing business in Singapore.

  1. Singapore is very efficient and corruption is very minimal, if non-existent. It’s generally easy to get high-level meetings if you have a good product or service pitch.

  2. Like anywhere in the world, work hours vary. But working from 08:00 to 18:00 is very common (military time is common here and you should understand it). Dinner would typically be after 7:00 PM (19:00).

  3. There are a wide variety of things to see and do in Singapore. Outside walking tours are a great way to see the 19th Century historic Singapore mixed with 21st Century modernity. There are also wonderful green spaces: Fort Canning Park, Singapore Botanic Gardens (a World Heritage Site) and the relatively new $1Billion Gardens by the Bay. For museums, there are four really good ones: the Asian Civilizations Museum, the National Museum of Singapore, Art Science Museum and the National Gallery of Singapore, which just opened in 2015 in the restored Supreme Court Building. All are very interesting and unique.

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