Singapore is the place for business in Asia – a dynamic cosmopolitan city buzzing with energy, excitement and a strong economy that attracts and supports a diverse range of industries from aerospace and electronics, to medical technology and creative fields.
Whether you’re a first timer or frequent traveller to Singapore, it’s always good to plan ahead, do as the locals do, and make the most of your trip to secure that business connection. Each new visit brings something different to see and do in the lion city.
Before you arrive, keep the following information on hand and you will become a seasoned traveller on your next visit.
1. Getting into the city
Be amazed by the efficiency as you arrive into Singapore Changi Airport (“Changi” in short), the world’s best airport with an impressive standard of ‘first bag on the belt in 12 minutes”. Located in the east of Singapore, it’s only a quick 20 minute cab ride to the city centre. Taxis are the most convenient and economical option and will cost you around 20USD. If you have time, the airport is also directly connected to the fast, clean and efficient Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) with a direct line into the city for less than 2USD and in no more than 50 minutes.
2. Where to stay
You’ll be spoilt for choice in Singapore, with over 420 hotels and 67,000 rooms ranging from budget, boutique to luxurious 5-star properties. If you’re in town for business, choosing a hotel in the Orchard Road or Marina Bay Precincts will be the most convenient for your daily commute.
Choose from great properties like Westin Singapore and The Fullerton Hotel (a national monument that was once home to Singapore’s General Post Office) or the Mandarin Oriental Singapore. More recent property openings like the Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore and the JW Marriott South Beach Hotel Singapore will also delight. If boutique and quaint properties are your liking, the Six Senses Maxwell and Duxton are also worth a visit. Whichever your choice, be bowled over by Asian luxury and hospitality. For a complete listing of the best hotels, check out Tripadvisor’s list of Singapore’s hotels.
3. Culture immersion
Singapore is a colourful melting pot of cultures. Our 5.6 million population is predominately Chinese (76%) followed by Malays (15%), Indians (7.4%) and a growing expat and foreign worker population. This blend of cultures makes living and doing business a wonderful experience. Singaporeans are all bilingual and learn to write and speak English as their first language together with a mother tongue of Chinese, Bahasa Melayu or Tamil.
Beyond a financial and business hub, Singapore is fast becoming a cultural hub for creatives, entrepreneurs and performers that create amazing art, song and dance. From traditional artists to a new wave of designers and artisans, there’s unique talent everywhere for you to uncover.
4. Get with the weather
Singapore is a tropical city with average highs of 88 F (31C) and lows of 77 F (25C). We are hot, humid and it rains often, so dress accordingly. As the locals would say, it’s always hot outside and freezing cold indoors. Somehow we like to over compensate for the heat. If you are attending a business meeting, dress business casual and stick to a blazer. Ties are usually optional (you’ll thank us later when you experience the heat) unless you’re meeting a high ranking government official or VIP .
If you are hosting a local group or client at a restaurant or bar, opt for indoor seating, most locals don’t like sitting outdoors. If you are going to be running around town for meetings, make sure you bring an umbrella for the unexpected shower. The wet monsoon season in Singapore is typically from December to January when the city experiences frequent downpours.
5. When to visit
Singapore hosts a few major festivals and business events every year. These key events have an impact on hotel prices. If the business trip you are planning is not date critical, you may want to check the event dates and avoid them to get more value out of your budget. Singapore hosts the Formula 1 night race every 3rd weekend of September. The four mega B2B exhibitions also impacts hotel rates in the city -The Singapore Airshow (January, even years), Food & Hotel Asia (May, even years), CommunicAsia (June, annual) and ITB Asia (October, annual).
Singapore also observes a total of 14 public holidays. Most companies and businesses will not be open during these days. While it’s always nice to experience the city during the major festivals to soak in the atmosphere and celebrations , pay particular attention to the Chinese New Year holiday. While officially a two-day holiday, most local Chinese businesses close for an entire week. So try to avoid the Chinese New Year entirely or risk being turned down for an appointment. Check out Singapore Public Holidays here.
Take note, Singaporeans also generally like to plan short getaways on long weekends. If a holiday happens to fall on a Thursday or a Monday, it will almost be certain that your client won’t be available to meet you on the Friday. Also, the major school holidays in Singapore run for a month in June and December. These are peak times for families travelling for their annual vacations, so you may want to plan around them or check in advance to avoid having your meeting request declined.
Singapore has the fastest fixed broadband speed in the world, with download speeds three times the global average. It’s also easy to get and stay connected. All the three major telcos M1, SingTel and Starhub offer tourist sims with ample data plans for under 15USD. Free and fast public wifi is also available throughout the city with Wireless@SG. Sign up is easy and you can stay connected in a majority of public spaces, shopping malls and MRT stations.
Singapore is a compact city, just 42km across end-to-end. As a general rule, factor in a travel time of about 1/2 an hour for places in the city and add an additional 10 minutes during peak hours (7.30am – 9.30am and 5pm to 7pm). Make use of the efficient, clean and extensive public transport system of trains, buses and cabs to get around.
MRT/buses – To get on the trains, you will have to purchase an ezylink card (a stored value card for multiple trips) from the station control centres. If you are going to be a frequent user, consider the Singapore Tourist Pass for unlimited rides for 1,2 or 3-day pass usage. Trains will not accept cash and buses will, but no change will be provided. A majority of our train stations are underground and are well connected to the various shopping malls and office buildings for easy commute. Download the official MyTransport App that will give you point to point directions, otherwise, Google Maps or CityMapper work great here too.
Taxi cabs – Blue, Yellow, Red, Green, White and Black. Singapore’s colourful cabs may confuse you, but essentially they all offer the same service and quality just from different operators with slight variations in pricing. If you are on a budget, you might want to stay clear of the white and black coloured cabs as their flag-down rates are much steeper. Also, be prepared for multiple surcharges and additional payments (like peak hour and airport surcharges). Most cabs accept credit card payment and the taxi drivers (uncles or aunties as we affectionally call them) speak English and are generally friendly and your insider tour guide to the best food spots in the city.
Ride Hailing/Sharing – We may not have Uber in Singapore, but check out Grab or GoJek, our local alternatives that are as fast and simple to use. Just beware the mystery “surge” pricing that can double or even triple your fare during peak hours or a heavy downpour! They all offer a variety of services to cater to your needs from premium vehicles, vans and even buses on demand!
8. Taxes & tipping
Retail items are subject to 7% GST (Goods and Services Tax). An additional service charge of 10% is applied in restaurants, and the GST is an additional 7% on top of that. You may see terms like ++, which refers to service charge of 10% and GST of 7%. If an item is offered at ‘nett’ price, it means there are no additional taxes or charges.
Tipping is not expected or widely practised in Singapore. All restaurants already include the service charge regardless of group size. At hotels and other services, if you feel a member of staff has provided extraordinary service, you are welcome to tip, but it is never expected.
9. Lighting up
Singapore has strict laws on where you can and cannot smoke. The general rule is no-smoking indoors and when outside, smoke only in the designated areas (typically demarcated with a yellow box labelled “smoking area”). Most restaurants, bars and pubs will offer customers a designated smoking area. You can buy a pack at all convenience stores and supermarkets but you’ll be hard pressed to locate them, typically hidden behind covered cabinets placed behind the cashier. Since February 2018, other tobacco products have also been banned in Singapore including vaping, smoking shisha and the use of e-cigarettes.
10. Local coffee
If you are a coffee lover, you must try a cup of local coffee at the local coffeeshops. You will find them at hawker centres or chain outlets like Ya Kun or Toast Box littered across the island. Brewed with robust beans and served with sweetened or condensed milk, they have a unique deep, rich, smoky and sweet flavour compared to a conventional brewed coffee or latte. They are usually enjoyed as a set with two half-boiled eggs and a stack of Kaya(pandan flavoured jam) Toast. There’s a whole lingo and system in ordering your perfect cuppa just the way you like it. From Kopi-O (Black with sugar) to Kopi-Siew Dai (Coffee with less sweet milk). Check out this handy guide to ordering your coffee like a local.
11. Obsession with food and choping
Singaporeans love our food and we have very strong opinions about it. A great way to start a conversation is to ask a Singaporean where’s the best place to get a plate of chicken rice. Instantly, you will get a download of where to find the best plate. You’ll find queues everywhere in Singapore, and usually that’s the best indicator of good food waiting at the end of the line.
When dining with colleagues or guests at a local hawker center in the CBD, you might come across an amusing sight of name cards, umbrellas and tissue packs placed on the tables. Don’t be tempted to move or discard them, it’s part of our unique “choping” (reservation) culture! Hawker centres are packed during lunch hour and the only way to secure a seat is to chope one in advance while you wait in line for your food.
12. Wine & dining
If you’re intending to entertain in the city, don’t leave your plans to the last minute. The best restaurants in Singapore are usually fully-booked especially during the weekends.
Plan in advance and use various resources like TAB to search and book unique experiences to host your group at. Score more value and flexibility when you hold your events during non-peak days from Mondays through Thursdays. Singapore’s restaurant scene is bustling with an exciting range of cuisines and concepts in impressive locations, with local and international chefs opening new spots every month. Beyond the big names, find unique venues offering interesting menus and experiences that will wow your guests.
13. Get with the acronyms
Singaporeans have to abbreviate everything. It’s common to find yourself caught in an entire conversation filled with local acronyms leaving you clueless. While you don’t have to blend in entirely, it’s good to keep this cheat sheet handy of the more commonly used terms and abbreviations that will go a long way:
- ERP – Electronic Road Pricing (A road usage payment system used to regulate traffic during peak hours)
- MBS – Marina Bay Sands (The iconic integrated resort in Marina Bay with over 2,000 hotel rooms, a casino and convention centre)
- PIE, ECP, MCE – (Names of the various expressways in Singapore, e.g PIE Pan-Island Expressway)
- MRT – Mass Rapid Transit (The rail network system in Singapore with 119 stations)
- EzyLink – A contactless stored value smart card used to make payments for the MRT, BUS and Carpark payments and small retail transactions
- OTP – One-Time-Password (A secure way to authenticate online transactions, usually sent via SMS to your phone)
- PayNow – A nationwide peer-to-peer funds transfer system that allows you to transfer money using your mobile phone number or NRIC.
- NS – National Service (All male Singaporeans aged over 18 years old must undergo a 2 year period of compulsory military service)
- HDB – Housing Development Board Flats (80% of Singaporeans live in public housing flats built by the HDB government agency)
14. Speak English lah?
During your visit, you may overhear Singaporeans speaking a strange sounding language that you can’t quite put your finger on – sounding like English but with a twist. What you are listening to is actually Singlish! Initially discouraged by the government for being less eloquent and inferior, it is now popularised by the media and a unique part of Singapore culture. Singlish is our informal and colloquial version of Singaporean English. It has become so common that 27 Singlish words have made it into the Oxford English Dictionary. While we wouldn’t advise injecting Singlish lingo into a professional conversation, in more casual settings like drinks with colleagues, it may be a good ice breaker to throw in a “Lah” or “Wah” to warm up to the locals. Master the art of Singlish with this handy guide.
15. Our fine city
While Singapore may have earned a reputation as a “fine” city, the reality is not as bad as it sounds. What you are rewarded with are clean and green streets and pleasant sidewalks. Contrary to popular belief, it has never been illegal to chew gum in Singapore, merely to import it and sell it. Visitors to Singapore are allowed to bring up to two packs of chewing gum per person. It is however still an offence to bring the king of fruits – Durian, on board any public transport because of its pungent and strong odour!
16. More useful resources
Lastly, here are a few resources you may want to check out as you plan your business trip to Singapore.
- Singapore Exhibition and Convention Bureau (SECB)– The Official Convention and Visitors Bureau(CVB) has useful itineraries and practical assistance to organising business events, activities and places to go in the city.
- EDB Singapore – The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), a government agency is responsible for strategies that enhance Singapore’s position as a global centre for business, innovation, and talent. Visit them for useful guides on doing business.
- TAB – Asia’s first online destination to book and manage personalised group experiences in Singapore. From dining, cocktail to team building experiences and events, TAB allows you to discover and customise your corporate events up to groups of 30.