Startup Guide to Developing a Business in Singapore

With a prime geographical spot, low taxes and a well-educated and English-speaking workforce, it’s no surprise that more and more global companies are choosing to set up shop in Singapore.

But how much do you really know about doing business in Asia’s thriving ‘little red dot’, and what should you find out before opening your office here?

singapore business district
photo credit: Gordon Wrigley

Business culture

Like most of Asia, the idea of ‘saving face’ (avoiding embarrassment and the loss of social capital) plays a huge role in business. Singaporeans, especially older Singaporeans, may avoid giving you a direct answer. And confrontation, especially in meetings, is avoided for the same reason.

In the business setting, age usually denotes experience and older candidates tend to be favoured for senior management roles, although this is slowly changing.

Relationships are hugely important in business, so expect to spend time developing relationships with your business contacts over time if you want to do well here.

Don’t try to curry favour by giving someone a corporate gift, though. Gift-giving, which is common in other parts of Asia isn’t practiced in Singapore thanks to the country’s strict anti-bribery legislation.

The cost of doing business in Singapore

One of the biggest attractions for foreign companies is Singapore’s transparent tax system. Taxes are kept low to encourage foreign investment and the system is thankfully clear and easy to navigate.

But while taxes are competitive, there are other costs to factor in. Given its limited size, affordable office space is hard to come by. Most professional businesses are clustered around Singapore’s Central Business District, where rates are some of the highest in the world.

To get around this, some businesses are choosing to have a virtual office in the area to keep a physical presence without the financial burden. Others are moving to other parts of the island where demand is less high.

Singapore office workers
photo credit: Graham Hills

The Singaporean workforce

The Singaporean government has always made education a priority and insisted that English is kept as the official language used in business and schools. This has produced an educated workforce which uniquely speaks a high standard of English while being immersed in Asian culture.

But the government has placed an emphasis on certain industries like biomedical science and finance, so they’re keen for foreign businesses to fill the gaps which locals can’t or won’t).

According to from virtual office provider Servcorp, businesses which specialise in helping companies grow online, fast food stalls and cleaning companies do particularly well in Singapore.

It’s easy to start up and access credit

A new business can be started up in Singapore in a matter of days thanks to the lack of red tape. Singapore is one of the biggest financial hubs in the world and covered in getting credit is relatively easy — although banks tend to be less tolerant of anyone who’s been declared bankrupt or had a failed business in the past.

It’s efficient and stable

Singapore boasts one of the world’s most efficient transport networks in the world, making it easy to get around the island. And unlike some other Southeast Asian countries, the government has worked hard to make sure that everything — from the energy supply to the bureaucratic system — works like clockwork without disruptions which can plague other Asian countries.

The political system is stable and predictable and the crime rate one of the lowest in the world, both of which add to the attraction of doing business here.

It’s a great base for doing business in Asia

Singapore has historically benefited from its prime geographical position in Asia, and it’s still used as a base for businesses operating in the region. Singapore’s diverse ethnic make-up means that its population is well-placed for doing business with other Asian countries like India, China and Malaysia and the country’s workforce is an eclectic mix of nationalities from the region thanks to its open attitude.