Singapore - Country Commercial Guide
Business Travel

Summary: Includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, acceptable business etiquette, dress, business cards, gifts, etc.

Last published date: 2020-09-16

Business Customs

Business discussions are usually conducted in a very straight forward manner.  English is widely spoken, and most businesspeople are skilled and technically knowledgeable.  Furthermore, most agents and distributors have visited the United States and often handle several American product lines.  Corruption is virtually non-existent.

Many Singapore businesspeople are of ethnic Chinese background, and many of them will have “Western” first names (e.g., Melody Yeo).  Those with only a Chinese name presented on business cards will list his/her family name before their first name.  For example, a person whose card reads “Mr. Chan Yiu Kei” would be addressed as “Mr. Chan.”

The names of businesspeople of Malay or Indian descent are written and spoken as given name followed by family name.  For the sake of politeness and respect, it is wise to address a businessperson by the last name rather than the first name until invited to use a given name.  When in doubt it is not impolite to ask.  The common and polite Singaporean phrase is ‘How shall I address you?’

Business cards are a must as they are immediately exchanged during business and social meetings.  The East Asian practice of presenting a business card with both hands is observed.  There is no need to have special business cards printed in Chinese.

Located one degree from the Equator, Singapore has a constant tropical climate year-round.  Daytime temperatures average between 85- and 90-degrees Fahrenheit.  Humidity is very high and rain showers are frequent.  Temperatures at night average between 76 and 80 degrees.  All public buildings, indoor restaurants and taxis are air-conditioned.

Summer-weight suits/dresses, several dress-shirts, and an umbrella are recommended for the traveler.  Singapore business dress is a long-sleeved shirt and tie for men, although one will not be out of place without a tie.  Some formal meetings call for a coat and tie.  Businesswomen wear light-weight attire.  Evening/dinner-dress is a shirt and tie for men but there isn’t a strict dress code for women.

Tipping is not customary in Singapore.  Restaurants automatically add a 10% service charge and a 7% goods and services tax (GST) to the bill.

Travel Advisory

U.S. companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States are advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process.  Visa applicants should go to the following link(s):  State Department Visa Website

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the U.S. and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.  Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than those in the U.S. for similar offenses.  Persons violating Singapore laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.

There are strict penalties for possession and use of drugs as well as for trafficking in illegal drugs. Visitors should be aware of Singapore’s strict laws and penalties for a variety of actions that might not be illegal or might be considered minor offenses in the U.S. Commercial disputes that may be handled as civil suits in the U.S. can escalate to criminal cases in Singapore and may result in heavy fines and prison sentences.

Singapore customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary import and export of items such as weapons, illegal drugs, certain religious materials and pornographic material.  Singapore customs authorities’ definition of “weapon” is very broad, and, in addition to firearms, includes many items which are not necessarily seen as weapons in the United States, such as dive knives, kitchen knives, handcuffs and expended shell casings.  Carrying any of these items without permission may result in immediate arrest.  All baggage is x-rayed at every port of entry, so checked baggage will also be inspected for regulated items.

Generally, there are four types of dutiable goods in Singapore:  alcoholic beverages, tobacco, gasoline and motor vehicles.  Travelers entering Singapore at any port of entry must approach an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer at the “Red Channel” for payment of duty (e.g. alcohol and tobacco) and goods and services tax (GST) if you have dutiable goods which exceed the GST relief or duty-free concession.  It is an offence to proceed to the “Green Channel” for clearance if you have items that are subject to payment of duty and/or GST.

Visa Requirements: U.S. citizens do not need a visa if their visit to Singapore is for business or social purposes and their stay is for 90 days or less.  Travelers to the region should note that Singapore and some neighboring countries do not allow Americans to enter under any circumstances with fewer than six months of validity remaining on their passport.  Travelers should note that there are also very strict penalties for overstaying their visas.

Specific information about entry requirements for Singapore may be obtained from the Embassy of the Republic of Singapore.

U.S. companies should note that Singapore is part of the Visa Waiver Program and that eligible nationals of Singapore are able to travel to the United States without a visa for tourist and business travel of 90 days or less provided they possess an e-passport and an approved authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).  Third country nationals living and working in Singapore may have to obtain a visa before visiting the United States.  U.S. companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States are advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process.  Visa applicants should go to the following links:

•          State Department Visa Website

•          U.S. Embassy Singapore

•          ESTA

Singaporeans are eligible to participate in the U.S. Global Entry Program, expediting the customs process upon arrival in the U.S.  Information on this program and how to participate can be found on the Global Entry Program page on the website of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

U.S. companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States are advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process.  Visa applicants should go to the following link(s):  State Department Visa Website

Currency

Singapore’s unit of currency is the Singapore dollar.  Travelers’ checks and currency may be exchanged in the baggage claim area at Changi Airport (at a reasonable rate) or at any hotel (at a less favorable rate).  Singapore features dozens of Government-authorized “money changers” located in major shopping centers, offering competitive rates and they will usually accept U.S. travelers’ checks as well as major currencies.  International credit cards are widely accepted in hotels, restaurants and retail shops.  ATMs that accept U.S. cards are widely available.

Telecommunications/Electronics

Telecommunications and Internet facilities in Singapore are state-of-the-art, providing high-quality communications with the rest of the world.  Mobile phone users can access third generation (3G) and 4G or Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks and services in Singapore, with theoretical speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps).  Internet connections are widely available in hotels. 

Singapore’s island-wide free Wi-Fi service offers additional connectivity options.  Dubbed Wireless@SG, it offers access speeds of 5Mbps at over 19,000 Wi-Fi hot spots in public places such as shopping malls, town centers, business district and public transport hubs.  All visitors can log on via a web-portal using a one-time password (OTP) sent via SMS to their foreign mobile number.  Alternatively, visitors with a Singapore prepaid SIM card from M1, Singtel and StarHub can choose to download the Wireless@SG App (available for Android and iOS users), which will enable their smartphones to automatically log in to all Wireless@SG hotspots after a one-time setup.

Besides a nationwide broadband network infrastructure, Singapore is well connected by multiple satellite and submarine cable systems with more than 500 terabits per second (Tbps) of potential capacity supporting international and regional telecoms connectivity.  It has more than 17.5 terabits per second (Tbps) of international internet bandwidth connectivity to economies such as the US, China, Japan, India, as well as some countries in Europe and ASEAN.

The standard electrical current used in Singapore is 220-240 volts AC (50 cycles) and you can use power plugs with three square prongs here.

Transportation

Situated at the crossroads of international shipping and air routes, Singapore is a center for transportation and communication in Southeast Asia.  With more than 100 airlines serving 400 cities in around 100 countries and territories worldwide, Singapore’s Changi Airport has established itself as a major aviation hub in the Asia Pacific region.  Singapore is one of the busiest ports in the world in terms of shipping tonnage, with more than 130,000 vessel calls annually.  The country is linked by road and rail to Malaysia.

Taxis are abundant, metered, safe, inexpensive, air-conditioned, and most drivers speak English.  Drivers should be given place names for the destination as these are often more familiar than street names.  To promote the flow of traffic, the Government limits the total number of cars on the road through heavy fees/taxes and imposes a surcharge on vehicles entering the Central Business District during peak hours.  In addition, Singapore has an exceptionally clean, efficient subway system and bus network.

Language

English is widely spoken in Singapore.  It is the language of business, government, education and the media.  Many businesspeople are highly educated and have traveled extensively.

Health

Good medical care is widely available in Singapore and high-end medical tourism is a growing business.  Doctors and hospitals expect immediate payment for health services by credit card or cash and generally do not accept U.S. health insurance.  Recipients of health care should be aware that the Ministry of Health auditors in certain circumstances may be granted access to patient medical records without the consent of the patient, and in certain circumstances, physicians may be required to provide information relating to the diagnosis or treatment without the patient’s consent.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s website

The Singapore Ministry of Health’s website  contains helpful health information and the latest updates on the COVID-19 situation in Singapore.

Local Time, Business Hours and Holidays

Singapore is twelve hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Savings or thirteen hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.  Normal business hours are 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., Monday-Friday.  Government of Singapore agencies and many private sector companies are closed for business on Saturday.  Shops are normally open every day from 10:00 am – 9:00 p.m.

U.S. Embassy Singapore closes on American and local holidays.  The dates on which holidays are observed in 2020 and 2021 are listed below:

2020

OFFICIAL DATE

U.S. HOLIDAY

SINGAPORE HOLIDAY

DATE OBSERVED

January 1

New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day

Wednesday, January 1

3rd Mon in January

Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Monday, January 20

January 25-26

 

Chinese New Year

Friday, January 24

Saturday, January 25

Sunday, January 26*

Monday, January 27

3rd Mon in February

President’s Day

 

Monday, February 17

April 10

 

Good Friday

Friday, April 10

May 1

 

Labor Day

Friday, May 1

May 7

 

Vesak Day

Thursday, May 7

Last Monday in May

Memorial Day

 

Monday, May 25

May 24

 

Hari Raya Puasa

Sunday, May 24*

Monday, May 25

July 4

Independence Day

 

Friday, July 3

Saturday, July 4*

July 31

 

Hari Raya Haji

Friday, 31 July

August 9

 

 

National Day

Sunday, August 9*

Monday, August 10

1st Monday in September

Labor Day

 

Monday, September 7

2nd Monday in October

Columbus Day

 

Monday, October 12

November 11

Veteran’s Day

 

Wednesday, November 11

November 14

 

Deepavali

Friday, November 13

Saturday, November 14*

4th Thursday in November

Thanksgiving

 

Thursday, November 26

December 25

Christmas

Christmas

Friday, December 25

* U.S. Embassy Singapore will observe local and American holidays that fall on a Saturday the preceding Friday and local and American holidays that fall on a Sunday the following Monday.

2021

OFFICIAL DATE

U.S. HOLIDAY

SINGAPORE HOLIDAY

DATE OBSERVED

January 1

New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day

Friday, January 1

3rd Mon in January

Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Monday, January 18

February 12-13

 

Chinese New Year

Thursday, February 11

Friday, February 12

*Saturday, February 13

3rd Mon in February

President’s Day

 

Monday, February 15

April 2

 

Good Friday

Friday, April 2

May 1

 

Labor Day

Friday, April 30

*Saturday, May 1

May 13

 

Hari Raya Puasa

**Thursday, May 13

May 26

 

Vesak Day

Wednesday, May 26

Last Monday in May

Memorial Day

 

Monday, May 31

July 4

Independence Day

 

Monday, July 5

July 20

 

Hari Raya Haji

**Tuesday, July 20

August 9

 

National Day

Monday, August 9

1st Monday in September

Labor Day

 

Monday, September 6

2nd Monday in October

Columbus Day

 

Monday, October 11

November 4

 

Deepavali

Thursday, November 4

November 11

Veteran’s Day

 

Thursday, November 11

4th Thursday in November

Thanksgiving

 

Thursday, November 25

December 25

Christmas

Christmas

Friday, December 24

*Saturday, December 25

* U.S. Embassy Singapore will observe local and American holidays that fall on a Saturday the preceding Friday and local and American holidays that fall on a Sunday the following Monday.

** According to Singapore Ministry of Manpower (MOM)’s 2021 gazette public holidays, this date is subject to change.

Temporary Entry of Materials or Personal Belongings

Goods may be temporarily imported under the Temporary Import Scheme for a period of six months and for purposes such as repairs, testing and stage performances, auctions, displays, exhibitions or other similar events without the payment of duty and/or GST.  A banker’s guarantee is required under the Temporary Import Scheme.  The temporary imports are covered by a Customs Inward Permit or a Carnet.  Goods temporarily imported must be re-exported within the prescribed period using a Customs Outward permit.  GST must be paid if the goods are not subsequently re-exported.  The procedures governing such importation can be found at the website of Singapore Customs.