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Working in Singapore

Your guide to expat life in Singapore

Want to work in Singapore?

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

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 largest oil refineries, even though it has no oil of its own. And it’s a leading financial hub.

Business in Singapore

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

Business in Singapore is based on relationships rather than transactions. Be patient; initial meetings may move slowly as a connection is established. Singapore is incredibly diverse, and its business culture can vary depending on who you’re dealing with.

Practical details

English is the main language of business, although Chinese dialects are occasionally used. The workday is from 09:00 to 18:00, Monday to Friday, although people sometimes work half-days on Saturdays.

Work dress is 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. Flattery or boasting is treated with suspicion and prolonged eye contact can seem aggressive.

Gift giving customs differ among Singapore’s Chinese, Malay and Indian populations. For example, alcohol is a suitable gift for Chinese business associates, but not for Malays, many of whom are observant Muslims. Also, gifts in a business context might be misconstrued as bribery, so tread carefully.

Expat salaries in Singapore

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.

Top tips for working in Singapore

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in Singapore.

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

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 September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it 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're 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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