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Helpful Hints about Singapore

Business Customs

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

Many Singapore business people are of ethnic Chinese background, and many of them will have “Western” first names (e.g., Nancy Goh). Those who do not will have only their Chinese name on their business card, in which case the family name is listed first. Mr. Chan Yiu Kei would be addressed as “Mr. Chan” and Ms. Wong Ai Lan as “Ms. Wong.”

The names of business people 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 a few degrees 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. 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.

Travel Advisory

Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov/, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet “A Safe Trip Abroad”.

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 United States 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 United States 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 United States. Commercial disputes that may be handled as civil suits in the United States 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.

The State Departments Consular Information Sheet on Singapore can be found at: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/singapore.html

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 at 3501 International Place NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202) 537-3100. Visit the Embassy of Singapore’s web site at http://www.mfa.gov.sg/washington/ for the most current visa information.

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 should be advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should go to the following links.

State Department Visa Website: http://travel.state.gov/visa/

U.S. Embassy, Singapore: http://singapore.usembassy.gov/

ESTA: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov

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.

The American Embassy closes on American and local holidays. Click here to view the Embassy Holiday Schedule.

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