doing business in Singapore

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Changi Airport handled 55 mil- lion passengers last year, yet immigration and baggage- claim waits are rarely longer than 10 minutes. Taxis take about 30 minutes to get to the business district (tipping is not expected); the MRT subway is a shade longer. # Best business hotels. The number of world-class hotels is ...

MACRO / Pursuits

Singapore’s multiculturalism: Indians and Chinese conversing in fluent Malay is quite normal— there’s no one size fits all. Ethnic Malays might not want to shake hands with the opposite sex, since some believe men and women shouldn’t touch in public. Giving a Chinese person a clock as a gift is unthinkable; the Chinese words for “clock” and “funeral ritual” sound similar.

doing business in Singapore TRANSPARENT CORPORATE PRACTICES, Singaporeans’ fluency in English (one of four official languages), and a pro-business government have helped this 50-year-old city-state become the world’s third-richest country. ­Established sectors include shipping and finance, and there’s an emerging biotech scene: Amgen opened a $140 million plant in 2014. Impressive but more telling is Singapore’s first-place rank on the World Bank’s Doing Business 2016 report (the U.S. is seventh). BY SANJAY SUR ANA AND JANE T LIBERT

  Getting around Changi Airport handled 55 million passengers last year, yet immigration and baggageclaim waits are rarely longer than 10 minutes. Taxis take about 30 minutes to get to the business district (tipping is not expected); the MRT subway is a shade longer. ●

  Best business hotels The number of world-class hotels is mind-boggling. Among them, the huge resort-style ­Shangri-la Hotel; on Raffles Avenue, the Mandarin Oriental and Ritz-Carlton Millenia; and in the finance district, the Carlton City Hotel.

  Local gifts Look for authentic foods like bakkwa, a dried-meat Chinese delicacy (think jerky) at Lim Chee Guan, and kaya, a sweet, curd-like coconut jam that is available at any supermarket. Also visit Jamal Kazura Aromatics, which has been creating natural fragrances for more than 70 years.

cinating anachronism in the midst of office buildings. ­Marina Bay is a marvel of marine ­engineering—it was created by a mammoth land-reclamation project.

●  Between meetings In the business district, the ­revered Thian Hock Keng temple was built without the use of nails and is a fas­

  Skip it The Singapore Flyer is underwhelming. Instead, check out the nearby Skypark Observation Deck. It’s cheaper and more memorable.

  Extending your stay There are more than 10 nonstop, two-hour flights per day between Singapore and the Thai island of Phuket, with roundtrip fares starting at just $80. The hotels are a steal—and the beaches are magnificent.

For a longer, interactive version of this story, go to

12    FORTUNE.COM    March 1, 2016

Though one party has governed since independence, Singaporean politics is a complicated subject discussed among friends and family. Skip it. Sports, apart from British Premier League soccer, are not fodder for banter, but do talk about food (Singaporeans’ food obsession is legendary), the weather, the wonderful airport, and whether your hosts have always lived here (many Singaporeans have studied or lived abroad; others have emigrated from overseas). Given the importance of civility, emails should err toward the formal and avoid references that might lead the recipient to lose standing in front of his or her peers. This will doom a business relationship. 

m a rtin puddy—gett y im ages

  Where to entertain clients At Forlino, the Italian food

and views of ­Marina Bay are outstanding. You can’t beat the lovingly made tipples and private rooms at the swank cocktail bar Manhattan.

General pointers: Exchange business cards with both hands and study the cards before placing on the table; never put them in a bag, wallet, or pocket immediately. Singaporeans are more direct than other Asians, but nonverbal communication can signify intent as implicitly as what’s spoken, so pay attention to facial expressions and body language. Avoid extended eye contact—it could be perceived as intimidating and rude—and don’t speak confrontationally or in a way that could cause a client or partner to lose face. Tone down the volume; Singaporeans are generally more soft-spoken than Americans. For pointing, the thumb is more acceptable than the forefinger.

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