Singapore Culture & People of Singapore

6 min read|Last Updated: May 13, 2024|

Known for its diverse and multicultural community, Singapore is home to the 4 dominant races – Chinese, Malays, Indians, and Eurasians, along with foreigners who work and live in Singapore. When setting up a company or moving to Singapore, it is always important to understand the country’s people and culture.

The People of Singapore

The 3 most common ethnic groups in Singapore are:

  1. Chinese – 75% of the population
    • Most are Fujian and Guangdong descendants
  2. Malays – 15% of the population
    • Oldest community in Singapore
    • Most are of Indonesian descent – Baweanese or Javanese
  3. Indians – 7% of the population
    • Primarily consists of Malayalis, Tamils, and Sikhs
    • Sinhalese and Pakistani descents are also included

With the diversity of racial groups, English was selected as the primary medium of instruction and communication. The other three languages that are commonplace in Singapore are Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil.


What is the Singapore Culture like?

Being a multiracial society, Singapore is a melting pot of various customs and cultures. Some of the popular cultures and traditions are:

  • As a form of greeting, shake hands firmly with all, even when departing. A slight bow while shaking hands is considered respectful.
  • Take off your shoes before entering anyone’s house. This applies to temples and mosques as well.
  • Make sure never to point at someone or something with your index finger. Instead, do so with a thumb or simply raise your hand for indication.
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  • Tipping is not required in Singapore. Most restaurants add a 10% service charge to the bill. In some places, tipping is completely prohibited.
  • Refer to middle-aged and older people as ‘Uncle’ or ‘Auntie’, as it is seen as a sign of respect in Singapore.
  • While eating with chopsticks, do not stick them upright in the bowl. It is reminiscent of funeral rites and considered bad luck.
  • Casual clothes (shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops) are acceptable in most places in Singapore. Pack formal outfits and dress shoes for higher-end restaurants.

A Fine City

Singapore is known as a city-state with strict rules. Some petty crimes in particular that could land you in hot water (unknowingly) are:

  • Possession of chewing gum or trying to bring them into the country without a doctor’s prescription.
  • Jaywalking – Walking or crossing the street unlawfully
  • Smoking in places with ‘No Smoking’ signs.
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  • Tipping is not required in Singapore. Most restaurants add a 10% service charge in the bill. In some places, tipping is completely prohibited.
  • Refer to middle-aged and older people as ‘Uncle’ or ‘Auntie’, as it is seen as a sign of respect in Singapore.
  • Urinating or spitting in public.
  • Littering on the roads instead of using the dustbin.
  • Fighting in a public place, such as bar brawls or street commotions.

Queuing in Singapore

In Singapore, there is the mentality that “if there is a queue, it must be good”. This often leads to a “kiasu” mentality, where people join the queue before knowing what they are queuing for. But often, the result turns out to be good. This frequently happens in hawker centres especially!

Cuisines in Singapore

This leads to the next point: Cuisines! There is a plethora of food options available in Singapore. From American fast food to Indian, European to Chinese, there are choices for everyone to ease that itch. There are even delectable fusion foods to try, such as Curry Fish Head and Cereal Prawn Pasta. Another plus is the price point of the food here. There is an entire range, from a low of $2.50 (for Michelin chicken rice) to a few hundred of dollars (for omakase, fine dining etc) per pax.


Singaporeans take education very seriously. There is an emphasis on learning, with parents cramming tuition and supplementary classes into their child’s timetable from a young age—all in the name of sending their child to a “good school”. Be it brain enrichment centres or karate classes, parents are signing their children up for these extra-curricular activities as well.

Night Life

As hard as the people here work, they play hard as well. In the city-state, clubs and bars often stay open till the wee hours of the morning, for revellers and party animals to unwind. Supermarkets and fast-food chains are typ open as well, for the late night snack. Since Singapore has relatively low crime rates, expect to see people up and about till late at night!

Religions in Singapore

The many racial and religious groups in Singapore make the country’s festival celebrations colourful, they include:

  • Buddhism
  • Taoism
  • Christianity
  • Islam
  • Hinduism
  • Sikhism

With various religions, Singapore has a wide array of commemorative festivals as below, with key occasions celebrated as official public holidays in Singapore.

Chinese New Year Deepavali National Day
Hari Raya Puasa Christmas Hungry Ghost Festival

Work Culture

Workdays in Singapore are generally five days long. However, this is highly dependent on the industry and company. Up till 2005, Singapore practised a 5.5 days work week, with the half day on a Saturday!


In Singapore, there is respect for the hierarchy in the company. Subordinates usually obey the orders of their superiors, and in the event of an agreement, it is best to take the conversation behind closed doors to give the superior a “face”. This is not just limited to disagreements, however. Sensitive discussions (such as pay negotiations) take place similarly. If superiors are publicly embarrassed, there may be dire consequences (such as rejection of the request, and difficulty climbing the corporate ladder). However, these are highly dependent on the company’s culture. Given the influx of Western and Eastern multinational corporations, such social issues may not exist in the company.

Doing Business in Singapore

Despite the diverse racial mix in Singapore, the government ensures every race has equal opportunities by enforcing labour laws to fight against racial discrimination.

If you are looking forward to starting a business in Singapore, you should take note of some of the local business customs:

  • Avoid conducting business meetings during Ramadan or on Fridays, nor should they serve alcohol or pork when doing business with Muslims
  • Do not serve beef to Hindus
  • The person who invited someone else to any social or business events should pay the bill, but the other party can reciprocate during the next event
  • Punctuality is important – those who are running late for a meeting must let the other party know in advance

Foreigners in Business in Singapore

Many foreigners are interested in investing in Singapore because of the business grants available and the pool of skilled professionals. Also, the business culture in Singapore is conducive and polite, with the government looking to attract skilled foreign talents.

If you’re a foreigner looking to incorporate a company in Singapore, there are certain procedures that you will need to undergo before you can operate in Singapore such as registering your company, securing a visa, and more.

Here at Paul Hype Page, we specialise in bringing foreign entrepreneurs into Singapore with our local expertise in company setup and employment pass applications.


Come to our office or get in touch virtually for a consultation on your company incorporation with employment pass, and other corporate services.


Is it part of an initial business meeting to give gifts in Singapore?2021-08-21T23:16:53+08:00

Gift-giving is not part of an initial business meeting in Singapore.

Is it appropriate for me to host a business breakfast in Singapore?2021-08-21T23:15:39+08:00

Business breakfasts are not common in Singapore. If you would like to host a business meal, lunch is usually preferred.

How about gift-giving in Singapore, is it part of an initial business meeting?2020-11-20T13:59:47+08:00

Nope, in Singapore, giftgiving is not part of an initial business meeting.  

What are the typical working hours in Singapore?2021-08-21T23:17:19+08:00

The typical working hours in Singapore are 9am to 6pm, with a 1-hour lunch break in between.

What is the meeting etiquette in Singapore?2021-08-21T23:17:46+08:00

If you would like to have a meeting with your business partner, be sure to schedule and confirm the meeting ahead of time. It is very rude to arrive late to a meeting – if you are going to be late, inform the host beforehand and apologise.

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