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Singapore Internship Business Etiquette

business etiquette singapore

Singapore Internship Business Etiquette

Great! You got the internship in Singapore, you’re on your way to Singapore, now what do you do once you get to your first day of work?

The way you carry yourself is always the most important thing to keep in mind, but now that you’re (probably) in a foreign country like Singapore, you also need to be mindful and adapt to of some major cultural differences.

Singapore is home to a variety of cultures, but most often you’ll find many ethnic Chinese, Malays, and Indians. This being said, sometimes, you really need to keep your future boss’s heritage and degree of traditionalism at heart to avoid offending anyone. Here are some helpful tips – both specific and general – to get you acquainted with Singapore’s business culture in no time:

Greeting Others:

As you would in most countries, when you meet someone it’s customary to give out a handshake. While this is practiced in Singapore, there are slight differences to the way you might go about it. First, contrary to the ‘western’ handshake, it’s not about asserting your dominance via “the bone crusher”. Rather, Singaporeans usually keep their handshakes light and friendly.

Depending on what gender you are, hand-shaking etiquette may vary. For example, for devout Muslims, it’s often not acceptable for a man to touch a woman in public. In this case, a slight bow upon meeting each other goes a long way. Just remember, when in doubt, take a bow.

Business Cards – Yes, there’s an entire section here on business cards:

A business card isn’t just a piece of cardstock with a logo and name on it – at least not in Singapore. In this country, the business card is treated with respect, always faced up, and treated like a delicate relic. When you either give or receive one, remember to use both hands, and under no circumstances should you slap it in your back pocket or immediately slip in into your folder. And this definitely means no writing on it!

Actually Working:

In some cultures, it’s okay, even expected, to be late to meetings. However, this does not go for Singapore. Being the Asian Tiger that it is, there is definitely minimal messing around when it comes to work. With this in mind, make sure you’re always punctual going into meetings, getting into the office, and getting your work done on time. If there are any bumps in the road that might prevent you from delivering, just give your boss a quick call in advance – it goes a long way.

Also, in terms of work culture, Singaporeans definitely buy into working overtime. Usually the hours for working are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. However, it’s not uncommon to see your Singaporean co-workers work until 7:00 or even 8:00! There’s this tacit understanding that you’ll give your job your all, which brings us to the next point.


Face is extremely important to Singaporeans – they do everything in their power to come across as a respectable, ideal human being. For example, rather than saying, “no,” they may respond with, “I’ll see what I can do.” So naturally, you might need to get used to deciphering hidden messages in body language, tone of voice, and posture. Singaporeans tend to prize subtlety, and hint at a point rather than making the direct statement.

Furthermore, during your time in Singapore, you may want to exercise the ability to air on the more soft-spoken side. To locals, being calm and soft-spoken is more a sign of strength than trying to dominate with conversation with volume. Also, if you pause to think before you speak, they will see this as a sign of wisdom. When one answers a question hastily, it tends to be construed as thoughtlessness and rude.

Gift Giving:

By the time your months in Singapore are up, you may want to consider giving a gift to those who have mentored you throughout your journey. And despite the kind gesture, your gift could be misconstrued as an offense if presented in the wrong way.

Your gift shouldn’t be too expensive – just buy your boss or friends something nice and simple to remember you by, this way, it doesn’t create this idea that they may owe you something in the future. Also, again, keep in mind your boss’s or friends’ religion and how traditional they are.

For an ethnic Chinese, never wrap the gift in white, black, or blue, as these are mourning colors (you should still wrap the gift, though!), and it’s better to give sets in even numbers (except for 4, as it rhymes with death). Also, refrain from giving anything having to do with time (like a clock or a watch), because it goes along with the theme of death.

For ethnic Malays, refrain from giving alcohol or anything made of pigskin. And if you’re debating on when to give the gift, give it as you’re leaving. Gifts in Singapore are usually opened later. And as always, offer it with two hands.

For Indians, the process is similar to that of giving gifts to Malays. Leather products and alcohol are not typically considered appropriate.

Now that you’re basically an expert on traditional cultural differences in Singapore, you don’t need to worry too much on offending anyone! The best you can do now is to get out there and enjoy your internship in Singapore.

To find out more about Singapore, read about the Currency in Singapore, History of Singapore, Climate & Weather in Singapore, What to Wear to Your Internship in Singapore and How to Rock Your Internship in Singapore.

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