East meets West: A business traveler’s guide to Singapore

With origins dating back as far as the 14th century, the modern city-state of Singapore in Southeast Asia has evolved into a bustling hub of business and innovation. Today, rich and diverse cultures, efficient infrastructure, and world-class dining and entertainment options abound across this destination. Will you be heading to Singapore soon? Then check out this guide with tips from resident and BCD staffer Agnes Heng.

Agnes Heng
Agnes Heng Director of Marketing Communications APAC

Singapore’s major industries and sectors are finance and banking, manufacturing, technology and innovation, tourism and hospitality, and logistics and transportation. It ranked ninth on BCD’s list of Top 10 intercontinental cities for 2023.

This is according to BCD flight and car rental data collected for the report, Cities & Trends Europe, 2023 Edition. Singapore is tied with Zurich for No. 1 on the list of Most Expensive Cities in the World 2024.

Despite the high price tag, the outlook for business travel to Singapore is positive. This is due in part to recent visa exemptions for travelers from certain European countries, and overall, more lenient visa procedures. 

Agnes: Singapore is easy to get around with an excellent transportation network. Ride hailing or cabs are equally affordable. From a female perspective, Singapore is super safe for female travelers. It’s a melting pot of cultures and that reflects in our vibrant food and bar scene. You’ll be spoilt for choices when dining out.

The Singapore Airport

Singapore’s international Changi Airport is one of Asia’s largest transportation hubs. The airport is a destination in itself – with beautiful art spaces, attractions and installations, including a rain vortex that you have to see to believe, hedge maze and free two-hour bicycle rentals.

Getting around

Singapore boasts one of the most efficient and reliable public transportation systems in the world. The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system provides easy access to key business districts and tourist attractions. For added convenience, taxis and ride-hailing services like Grab are readily available. Renting a car is also a viable option, although traffic can be congested during peak hours.

To get to the city from Changi Airport via rail, take the train from Changi Airport MRT Station (CG2) to Tanah Merah MRT Station (EW4) and then transfer to the East West Line towards Tuas Link MRT Station (EW33). Or, take the train from Changi Airport MRT Station to Expo MRT Station (CG1/DT35), and then transfer to the Downtown Line towards Bukit Panjang MRT Station (BP6/DT1).

To get to Changi Airport from the city, take the East West Line to Tanah Merah MRT Station (EW4/CG), then transfer to Changi Airport MRT Station (CG2). Alternatively, take the Downtown Line to Expo MRT Station (CG1/DT35), then transfer to Changi Airport MRT Station.

Fares vary depending on distance traveled, but expect to pay between SGD $2 to $3.50 (approx. USD $1.50 to $2.63) one way. ​Single-ride tickets and EZ-link cards can be purchased at all train stations.

Taxis are readily available for hire at taxi stands in the Arrival areas of Terminal 1 and Terminal 3. The approximate time for a taxi ride to the city center is around 30 minutes, depending on traffic conditions and your exact destination within the city. The fares for taxi rides from Changi Airport to the city are metered. They typically range from SGD $40 to $50 (approx. USD $30 to $37), depending on factors such as distance traveled, time of day, and any applicable surcharges.

Agnes: If time and schedules permit, check out the lush Flower Dome in Gardens by the Bay. The flowers are always blooming and you can view exotic plants from places like the Mediterranean region, South African savannahs and arid deserts. For unique dining, shopping and sightseeing experiences, consider Chinatown, Little India, and Kampong Gelam. Pulau Ubin is a special place. This island northeast of mainland Singapore is a 15-minute ferry boat ride, but worth the trip. It was once a granite mining hub and is one of the last standing kampongs (villages).

Dining & entertainment

Singapore is a paradise for food lovers, with a culinary scene that reflects its multicultural heritage. From hawker centers serving up affordable local delights to Michelin-starred restaurants offering gourmet cuisine, there’s something to satisfy every palate. After a long day of meetings, unwind with a stroll along the waterfront at Clarke Quay or enjoy a cocktail at one of the city’s rooftop bars.

Agnes: For drinks and city views, head to CÉ LA VI Singapore: Restaurant, SkyBar & Club Lounge. Smoke & Mirrors, located at the National Gallery, also boasts stunning views. Singapore is known for our street food and I’ll recommend Lau Pa Sat because it’s conveniently located in the Central Business District. Go in the evenings when Satay Street is open. Singapore is also known for chilli crab, and I would recommend New Ubin Seafood located in the CHIJMES heritage building (also the venue where the movie Crazy Rich Asians was filmed) or Jumbo. Also sample our traditional breakfast of kaya (coconut jam) toast, half-boiled egg and local coffee at Ya Kun. The coffee shops can be found all over the island.

Business etiquette

In Singapore, business etiquette is formal and professional. Dress smartly and arrive punctually for meetings. Handshakes are the customary greeting, and it’s polite to exchange business cards upon introduction. When dining with colleagues or clients, wait for the host to indicate where you should sit and follow their lead in ordering food and drinks. Here’s more on business etiquette:

  • Professionalism: Singaporean business culture emphasizes professionalism and competence. Dress code tends to be informal. A collared long sleeve shirt (tie optional) would suffice in most business settings.
  • Hierarchy: Respect for hierarchy is important but informal address is acceptable. First names may be used in business meetings.
  • Greetings: A firm handshake is the common greeting in business settings. When meeting someone for the first time, it’s polite to ask how they would like to be addressed.
  • Business cards: Exchanging business cards is a common practice. Present and receive cards with both hands as a sign of respect. Take a moment to study the card you receive before putting it away.
  • Negotiation: Negotiations in Singapore are typically conducted in a respectful and tactful manner. Avoid aggressive or confrontational tactics, as they may harm the business relationship.
  • Gift giving: While not mandatory, giving and receiving gifts is common in Singaporean business culture, especially during festivals or significant events. Gifts should be modest and given with both hands.
  • Dining etiquette: Business meetings often take place over meals. Wait for the host to start eating before you begin. Use utensils rather than eating with your hands, unless it’s a customary practice for the specific cuisine being served.
  • Follow-up: After meetings or negotiations, it’s customary to send a follow-up email or message expressing gratitude for the opportunity to meet and reiterating key points discussed.
  • Understanding cultural diversity: Singapore is a multicultural society, and it’s essential to respect and understand the cultural differences of colleagues and business partners from various backgrounds.

Agnes: The common ones are JustCo and WeWork, and they are conveniently located all over the island.

Our experts want to connect with you at the 2024 GBTA APAC Conference! Dig into the latest trends and challenges shaping the business travel sector and explore how BCD can offer innovative solutions. And check out these two BCD Travel sessions.

Sharifah Alhabshi Senior Director of Program Management APAC

Embracing Inclusivity in Travel: Fostering Connections and Accessibility

May 15 | 9 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. | GBTA Main Stage 

What role does travel play in cultivating an inclusive workplace? Why does inclusivity matter? What are some practical strategies for making travel accessible to all? Sharifah Alhabshi, APAC senior director of Program Management, will lend her POV to a discussion about unlocking the power of inclusivity in travel and paving the way for a more connected and accommodating future. 

Ben Wedlock Senior Vice President of Sales APAC

The Big Idea: What is Today’s Work Culture and What Does it Mean for Business Travel 

May 15 | 1:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. | GBTA Main Stage 

The landscape of work is transforming and opening incredible doors for employers to revolutionize the traditional workspace into a dynamic and adaptable one. The Big Idea session at GBTA APAC will explore the potential perks and pitfalls of a flexible work culture and whether flexible work arrangements are just a trend or the future of employment. Moderated by Ben Wedlock, senior vice president of Sales, APAC.

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