Social Etiquette in Singapore |

Social Etiquette in Singapore

Social Etiquette is different all around the world so don't be surprised when the Singaporeans are different to what you are used

Posted on

27 April 2015

Last updated on 28 June 2017
Social Etiquette in Singapore

Singapore is a melting pot of different cultures and three of the dominant cultures that make up Singaporeans are the Chinese (76%), Malay (15%) and Indian (6%). While in any setting, mixing of different races and cultures can be problematic, Singapore has successfully made these three cultures coexist in harmony despite having trouble at first. Today, Singaporeans respect these different cultures and have accepted the cultural ties that bind them. 


Coming to Singapore may be a little mind boggling at first especially if you need to interact with locals. As in anywhere else in the world, your social etiquette will depend on the culture the person you are interacting is from. As a general rule, one should always be mindful of the religion of your host country as some may impose stricter laws than what you are initially accustomed to. For example, in Singapore, Malays may be practicing Muslims, the Chinese maybe be practicing Buddhists, so on and so forth. 

Here are some practical tips for social interaction in Singapore to address that confusion:

In General: 

Singapore imposes strict rules on social conduct that require hefty fines, jail term or even a death sentence. These laws should not be broken, particularly:


Smoking in public (designated smoking areas are provided)


Drug trafficking


Importing, selling, manufacturing and chewing gum. 

Social Etiquette for Women: 

Singapore is a very modern city with modern business practices. Therefore, women are welcome to do business and have an equal stance with men. The country has an official policy against discrimination of women.


Gift Giving and Receiving:

The three dominant cultures have their own gift-giving culture and traditions. 

Gifts are not usually given in business.

If a gift is to be given, one must hand over the gift with both hands. 

The recipient should not open the gift in the presence of the giver.

Just as in other countries, never gift a government official to avoid misinterpreting it as a bribe. 


During a Meal:

During a meal, allow the host to order. 

For the Chinese, allow the host to start eating and then follow. 

If a Chinese hosts a banquet for the guest, a Westerner should return the kind gesture by hosting a banquet prior to departure of equal or more value.

In a Malay home, dinner is served right away so always be on time.

In a Singaporean restaurant, the common practice is for food to be served all at once, shared by all, without appetizers. However, the usual small dish of mixed peanuts and other nibbles are present. 

Never share from your plate when dining with Indians. They believe that any food touched by someone’s plate is tainted. 

Place your hand above your plate to politely refuse seconds when offered. Say “no, thank you” while doing so and place your spoon and fork together on your plate to signify that you are already done.

It is considered impolite to refuse initial offers of food and drink.



Singapore is very modern when it comes to clothing. Western attire is the most common. They are quite stylish and very up-to-date with the latest fashion trends.

For women, it is common for them to wear dresses, skirts, sleeved shirts and very casual clothing that is weather conducive. The weather in Singapore can be really hot at times, which is why women try to wear light and enjoy breezy skirts and dresses. 

For men, a jacket is not required but shirt, slacks and a tie are the very common items in a Singaporean man’s get-up. Shirts are usually white because of the hot weather.


Body Language:

Body language can be very tricky when it comes to culture. What is offensive for one may mean nothing to another. In Singapore, the following are observed:


Touching a child’s head is considered as offensive because Singaporeans believe that the head is sacred. 

Never point to anyone with your foot. The foot is considered as dirty since it is the bottommost part of the body. 

One must not tap his feet while sitting down as well as fidgeting the leg because it connotes disinterest and is highly offensive for Singaporeans. 

If you want to get someone’s attention, raise your hand. Do not bound your fist on the palm of your hand because this is an obscene gesture.

Jerking your forearm is also a rude gesture.

Greeting the Singaporean Way

As in anywhere else in the world except for select countries, shake hands with everyone present in a business or social setting. Shake their hands again before leaving and make it a firm one.

Slightly bow your head as a sign of respect. 

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As an expat or a tourist, one must always be mindful of the social etiquette required of you in your host country. Be a responsible visitor or resident by honoring these social etiquettes and avoid embarassment and even better, avoid getting into trouble with the law.