Singapore is a thriving, modern and developed city, an island of modernity in an otherwise chaotic Southeast Asia. Stamford Raffles is normally credited with the city’s establishment in 1819, the small town rapidly becoming the administrative and trading centre for the whole of Malaya during the nineteenth century. The city streets still reflect the British heritage with museums, law courts, restaurants and shops all house in revamped colonial buildings. There is also strong Chinese, Indian and Malay influence, reflected in the architecture and scattering of mosques and temples. Since independence – first from the British and then from Malaysia in the mid twentieth century – the city has developed rapidly, becoming one of the foremost business hubs in the region. The small island has much to offer. From theatre and the arts, to a small but buzzing bar and restaurant scene to rival any Asian city, along with a fair helping of green space, forested areas and islands for hiking and cycling, the city really has something for everyone.
One thing that Singaporeans never tire of is the array of shopping malls, bars and places to eat. Almost every street has a variety of eateries offering global cuisine from Vietnamese, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Malay, and French to healthy salad bars, cafes, and bakeries. First time visitors will appreciate the area around Chinatown, especially Club Street, Ann Siang Road, and Duxton Hill where locals, expats and tourists spend the night bar hopping.
Two of the best things for me about Singapore are the excellent urban planning and safety. Singapore is a very walkable city, easily navigable with ample shaded streets when it hits midday. The public transport (MRT) is well connected, fast, efficient and cheap.
The climate is tropical, averaging 30° all year round. Pack sun cream, insect repellent (mosquito borne dengue fever is common), an umbrella (tropical downpours) and…a cardigan. Yes, you heard me correctly, almost all indoor spaces max the air con so high that it is really an essential item. The monsoon or rainy season usually fall in the months around April and December, so bring a brolly.
Local business etiquette and customs
Dress Code: Smart Casual
It all depends on the culture of the company you’re doing business with. Generally, business blouses and skirts is the norm or a tailored dress without jacket for women is common. Singaporean women, even those with high net worth, are understated and except for a diamond ring or earrings, usually do not flaunt much jewelry. Think “The Good Wife.” While it may be very hot and humid on the streets, the air conditioning in the offices can be very cold, so pack a scarf or shawl.
Some establishments require semi-formal wear for the evening – long trousers and business shirts for your male plus one. Closed toed shoes are safe. A LBG (little black dress) with a pair of heels will never be out of place in Singapore’s trendy nightspots.
Personal space: Singapore is a multi-cultural, multi-religious nation living together in harmony. Maintain a reasonable level of body contact and allow personal space between you and your contact. Singaporeans are rather reserved and may not welcome a kiss on the cheek so refrain if you are from cultures that are more touchy-feely.
Greetings: When meeting a business acquaintance for the first time, a handshake is sufficient. Bowing is completely unnecessary unless a specific culture requires it like with the Japanese. Malays will usually greet each other with a handshake followed by a palm placed briefly over their own heart. This is a cultural greeting and you are not expected to emulate this if you are not of Malay heritage. If in doubt go for a simple, polite handshake and a warm smile.
Business Cards: Business cards play an important role in Singapore. A business card is extended at almost every first meeting. The polite standard is to hold the business card with both hands, with the letters oriented towards the receiver. Accepting a business card is also done with both hands as a sign of respect. When receiving the business card, it is good practice to view it briefly then hold on to it for some time and leave it on the table, face-up during a meeting. While most will not take any offence at immediately pocketing a business card, it is a good idea to follow this common practice in Singapore.
Gift giving: It is not the norm to bring a gift to your business hosts even if they is entertaining at home or most usually a restaurant. It might also be seen in a negative light and the host may feel embarrassed. He or she is honoured just to have you turn up looking beautiful! Tipping is not a convention in Singapore as service charges and a VAT is added to your bill but appreciated.
Table manners: When eating Malay and Indian food, if needed with hands, use only the right hand and never the left. When having a Chinese meal round a communal table, observe table etiquette first. Allow your neighbor to serve you as a guest. Learn to use a pair of chopsticks will impress the dinner guests and a good ice breaker is to ask for tips on using the elements on the table. Courses can go up to 10 dishes, each with a symbolic meaning. It is common that most Singapore business is usually secured over a meal most times. Called “Quanxi” it is one way to size up their potential business partner or new partner in a social setting.
Modesty: The business culture in Singapore is like any global city. Conservative dress is highly recommended and any show of cleavage avoided, as it will be giving the wrong signals. Modesty in dress is also recommended when entering temples and churches not in minis. Cover the knees and arms and a head scarf especially in mosques.
Restrictions for women: Singapore has a strong international community from every corner of the globe as far as Russia and Fiji. So, unlike many nations, Singapore has hardly any restrictions on any women who are encouraged to compete on meritocracy. It is an ideal city for women who can achieve their highest potential and given the opportunities. There is high degree of freedom and empowerment of all women with many holding high positions in business and government. Setting up a business here is also an easy process compared to other countries. Visit This is uniquely Singapore – female friendly in every sense of the word!
travel and transport
Singapore’s MRT (mass rapid transit) system is the fastest way to travel around the Central Business District (CBD). The extensive rail network puts most of Singapore’s key attractions within walking distance from an MRT station. Buy a Singapore Tourist Pass, a special EZ-Link stored-value card for unlimited travel between one and three days which is good for both business and leisure travel. (link: http://thesingaporetouristpass.com.sg/)
Taxis are metered, but there may be surcharges depending on when, where and which company’s taxi you board. If you wish to book a cab, you can call a common taxi booking number, 6-DIAL CAB (6342-5222), and your call will be routed to an available taxi company’s call center. Uber is also available but be alert to their different fee structures.
Singapore’s bus system has an extensive network of routes covering most places in Singapore and is the most economical way to get around, as well as being one of the most scenic. You can pay your bus fare using an EZ-Link stored-value card or the Singapore Tourist Pass. Most buses in Singapore are air-conditioned – a welcome comfort in a tropical city.
Singapore Visitor Centre
Drop by one of the three Singapore Visitor Centres in ION Orchard, Orchard (next to orchardgateway@emerald) or Chinatown if you need help. Get information on tips and recommendations to plan your itinerary, purchase tickets to attractions and tours, pick up locally designed souvenirs and book accommodation. Connect with me if you need a second opinion. (Link: http://www.visitsingapore.com/travel-guide-tips/getting-around/tourism-centre.html)
Dining and bars
Where to start…? For an overview, check TimeOut listings; thehoneycombers.com; or www.hungrygowhere.com. For some tried and tested recommendations: for tapas try Sabio at the bottom of Duxton Hill www.dhm.com.sg/sabio or La Champaneria cava bar and tapas at the top of the same hill www.lachampaneria.sg/. For Western style food and an excellent view of the marina, Level33 microbrewery works (advance booking essential).
For a great selection of wines by the bottle and casual dining, Drinks and Co on Club Street is always a favourite. Also in the Chinatown area with a slightly higher price tag is Esquina, for some of the best Spanish food outside of Spain: esquina.com.sg. Neon Pigeon offers an eclectic mix of western and eastern food with a great cocktail menu to match: neonpigeonsg.com. A really good fine dining Chinese restaurant is Empress, within the Asian Civilisations Museum, they also have daily happy hour. Further out of the city centre are two bar/restaurants (both with happy hours until 8pm) on St George Street: The Refinery (Japanese/Singaporean) and AEIOU, the latter a slightly hidden, understated place with surprisingly good food.
For high class bars with happy hours, check out Mezza9 at the Hyatt, Scotts Road, Black Swan near Raffles Place MRT for weeknight drinks, or Hi So bar Wednesday Ladies Night (free champagne!) at the Sofitel. Interesting bars/speakeasy include 28 Hong Kong Street (located as the name suggests) or Maison Ikkoku at Kandahar Street http://www.maisonikkoku.co
On the local menu, Singapore is famous for its street food and some of these ‘hawker centers” are open 24 hours. Singapore’s national food dishes include Hainanese Chicken Rice; Satay and Laksa to name a few. (Link: http://www.visitsingapore.com/editorials/the-street-food-of-singapore.html). Dining alone in Singapore is also not uncommon and it is no cause of feeling awkward. Most fine restaurants will make its female solo guest feel welcomed and cared for. In the hawker centers and food courts, it is common to see working women dining alone and then rushing back to the office. Sharing tables are a common practice at these venues.
women’s networks and events
Karen’s top 5 networking list:
Business Woman’s Network: http://www.businesswomennetworksg.com/
Female Founders: http://www.femalefounders.com/
Meetup: A portal for hundreds of networking events to meet your needs (https://www.meetup.com/)
Internations host a women’s group event at least once a month. Check the local timings at http://www.internations.org
beauty and fitness
Beauty is big business in Singapore and the top brands as well as wellness and spa treatments, fitness centers, Pilates and yoga is available in all price points. My top pick with all the best spa brands available is SEVIIN at Tangs Plaza (https://www.tangs.com/content/about/seviin) For something outside the city across on Sentosa Island is Auriga Spa (http://www.auriga-spa.com/singapore-spa-resorts.ph). Trimmings at Robertson Quay has an extensive menu, from waxing to massage, facials and spa treatments: http://www.trimmings.com.sg.
Singapore has a wealth of open spaces for running and exercise. If you are staying centrally, Marina Bay, Marina Barrage and Tanjong Rhu Promenade all offer great running/walking/cycling options. Further north is the Botanic Gardens (MRT Botanic Gardens), or get a short taxi ride to MacRitchie Reservoir where you can run or walk for hours. Also good is the East Coast Park, where you can hire bikes but you will need to get a taxi from town. If you have a free day over a weekend, it’s worth visiting Pulau Ubin, a small island off the north-east coast. Bikes can be hired here. Big gym chains also have outlets in Singapore (e.g. Virgin Active and Fitness First) and you can buy day passes to visit. If you are visiting for work, check corporate options too as many of the gyms do deals with local big businesses. You find however that all the larger, corporate hotels have gyms/pools.
safety and emergency services
Singapore is an extremely safe and clean city. All Singaporeans speak English except for some of the older generation of ethnic races. Smoking in public places are confined to dedicated smoking areas outside buildings, jaywalking, littering and chewing gum may get you a fine. Cab drivers are honest so feel assured with a safe ride. Singapore puts a high demand on adhering to its laws and does not tolerate disturbance to the peace, creating mischief and rioting. Penalties for drug offenses include the death penalty.
With the terrorist threat being a reality in all major cities in the world today, Singapore is also vigilant but you will get used to armed military and police patrolling in pairs around crowded public areas but there is no cause for alarm. Singapore is very safe for the solo female traveler at all times of the day. Helpful people will be on hand to offer assistance. Caution should be applied in areas like the red-light district of Geylang, local bars in the city’s outskirts, open street markets and dark lonely parks as with every country too. Exercise caution and protection against your personal belongings and you will travel with peace of mind.
Your health and safety is our utmost concern. In an emergency, call my personal ambulance service, mention my name (Karen Hoisington) and ask for Keith: +65 84445363/ +65 94825414
Fire & Ambulance: 995
Non-Emergency Ambulance: 1777
Police Hotline: 1800 255 0000
Traffic Police: 6547 0000
The Singapore Promotion Board lists all the city information at www.visitsingapore.com as well as practical travel essentials at http://www.visitsingapore.com/travel-guide-tips.html
ambassador fiona williamson
A British expat enjoying living and working in Southeast Asia. I’ve been in the region for five years, recently relocating to Singapore for work. I enjoy the outdoors and am a keen runner. The sunny climate of Singapore is perfect for this! If you have questions about your trip to Singapore, you can contact me at email@example.com
ambassador karen hoisington
Karen Hoisington, a Singaporean, offers a concierge service called Singapore First Class, because she believes in providing the best visitor experience when in Singapore for business or pleasure. Karen is also the owner of her own company, Datum Branding, a pioneer in branding airlines to zoos achieve a global presence. She started her career in London, UK, before returning to Singapore to be an award-winning art director at the world-renowned Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency. Later, she formed her own successful branding consultancy. Her book, Brand! Desire, was recently launched, in which she shares her successful tips for making brands a success. Karen is also a regular presenter on TV and gives public talks on Singapore heritage, history and lifestyle themes. If you have questions about your trip to Singapore, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @SGFirstClass.
Singapore First Class
Arriving in a strange new city can be daunting especially in a fast-paced modern city like Singapore – dubbed “The Switzerland of the East.” My concierge service is called Singapore First Class because I believe everyone needs a helpful “go-to-gal” when arriving in a new town. Being a founder and owner of Datum Branding, helping local super brands achieve a global presence, I understand the importance of assimilating quickly into the local culture by being well-informed. I am a Singaporean who loves to help visitors feel at home in my beautiful and efficient city.
Networking: See who is networking in Singapore now