7 things you need to know when working as an expat in Singapore

There are countless reasons so many people are moving to Singapore. The economy is booming, the education system is second to none, and there is no shortage of exciting and entertaining things to do. With so many opportunities for expats in Singapore, what else do you need to know before making your move? We are going to give you a few pointers in our expats guide Singapore.

1 – A unique blend of cultural influences

One of the factors that makes working in Singapore interesting is the unique mix of Western and Asian cultural influences found throughout the country. If you work at a large western company, it often means predominantly western-style work culture. However, when you are working with Singaporean customers and Singaporean colleagues it is important to understand the influence of traditional Asian culture. Traits to be aware of include high-uncertainty avoidance, collectivism, and high-power distance. Before making your move, research and understand Asian culture in the work place, so that you are prepared and can navigate it when you come across it.

2 – Status and hierarchy

When moving to Singapore, it is important to understand the importance of status and hierarchy. This means that those in senior managerial positions and elders must be shown respect. Oftentimes this means avoid calling someone by their first name and simply calling them “Sir/Madam/Boss”. The reason that these traditional Chinese values are important is because Singaporeans of Chinese descent make up over 75 percent of Singapore’s population.

3 – The importance of rules

An expats guide Singapore would not be complete without mentioning that Singaporeans are known for following strict rules everywhere. In fact, Singapore is famous for having strict rules for everything. This is no different in the work culture. This means that you are expected to abide by the set rules and guidelines and also be punctual. It is important to understand the Singaporean work culture, so that you are prepared for it in advance.

4 – Focus on the collective

Expats in Singapore are often surprised at how much group efforts and teamwork are appreciated over individual achievements. In fact, group efforts and teamwork are considered to be one of the main reasons a company can be successful and achieve its goals.
Because it can jeopardize group harmony, behaviours such as boasting about individual efforts, putting individual wants above the group’s needs and disagreeing with the group’s decisions are frowned upon.

5 – Business attire is important

Your business attire and type of business attire depends on your occupation. In the office environment, men tend to wear a tie, dark trousers and long-sleeved shirts for regular business while women will wear skirts and blouses. Understand the dress codes for your place of work in Singapore, so that you can make the appropriate wardrobe decisions as part of your move planning.

6 – The working hours

While 6 days was the norm, many companies in Singapore have moved to 5 days of work per week. Employers are required to provide 1 rest day per week for employees. A normal work week in Singapore is between 40 to 45 hours. However, it is normal to spend more time at work than the average during the week. Workers covered by part IV of the employment act earning up to certain monthly pay thresholds, are legally entitled to overtime should they be required to work it.

7 – Saving face

The concept of ‘face’ has often been described when talking about Asian cultures. In fact, it is an important factor in many Asian cultures. Expats in Singapore will do wise to remember the following tips when talking about ‘saving face’ in relates to their employer/superior:

  • Do not refuse something outright
  • Do not disagree with them in public
  • Do not engage in confrontation or anger with them
  • Do not question when in public
  • Do not correct their mistakes in public

Even though it is possible to decline specific unreasonable requests, you might find that they can be given a dismissive “yes” followed by general non-compliance.
When dealing with your colleagues and employers, these unwritten formalities are going to help to reduce culture shock and ensure smoother working relationships. Singapore provides excellent work and lifestyle opportunities, understanding these subtle differences, will help you to settle in and make the most of the opportunities.
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