Having just returned from a trip to Singapore, one of the world's best business centers in the Asia Pacific, I feel re-energized by the lovely people I met with and what I learned. I traveled to Singapore to participate in a board meeting for the World Entrepreneurship Forum (full disclosure: I am a pioneering member and appointed advisory board member). I want to share with you some stats and tips on doing business in Singapore that I hope will put this multicultural, cosmopolitan country on your radar.
In the eyes of an entrepreneur, Singapore has a lot going for it, including its proximity to major markets (map of Singapore here), pro-active government, tax benefits for foreign firms and reasonable corporate laws. It's also relatively easy to do business there.
Of the roughly 5 million people in Singapore, 2.9 million were born locally. The population is mostly made up of Asians - including Chinese, Malaysians and Indians, among others - with a GDP per head of 44,757. (2010 in U.S. $; Market Exchange Rate).
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (you must register for free access to country content), Singapore is ranked as having the best quality of life in Asia and the eleventh best in the world.
Singapore Foreign Trade
The EIU also indicates Singapore recorded a merchandise trade surplus of US$30.2 billion in 2009. Exports totaled US$273.4 billion in that year, while imports stood at US$243.2 billion. The leading suppliers to Singapore in 2009 were Malaysia (11.6%), the United States (11.6%), China (10.5%) and Japan (8.1%).
There's plenty of room for importing and exporting in this market, provided you conduct your business in the following industries (2009 data): electronic components and parts, mineral fuels, chemicals and chemical products for exports and machinery and transport equipment, mineral fuels, manufacturing goods and miscellaneous manufactured articles for imports.
Singapore has been a member of the World Trade Organization since Jan. 1, 1995.
Singapore is a premier global transportation hub with its busy container ports hosting 200 shipping lines with links to 600 ports in over 120 countries. Changi International Airport, which I flew in and out of, offers over 5,000 weekly flights by 80 international airlines to more than 200 destinations worldwide.
People get upset when I say that Singapore is considered the entrepreneurial capital of the world. Why? Because if you are an entrepreneur, as I am, your native country is the entrepreneurial capital of the world (For me, the United States is No. 1!). But the reality is that several leading unbiased research reports indicate that Singapore, as of right now, can rightfully stake its claim to that title.
Take the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Rankings, where Singapore was ranked No. 1 in 2010 and 2011, out of 183 countries. Whether starting a business, trading across borders or protecting investors, Singapore makes the entrepreneurial ride easy for folks. The most striking part of the data I reviewed (download PDF file here) is the speed at which you can get just about anything done relative to business: set up a business (within 3 days), obtain written permission to build a warehouse (14 days) and get credit (10 days). This uncomplicated process is a fertile business breeding ground for individuals who have bright ideas that they wish to bring to the marketplace.
Another interesting study is the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2010 Global Report, published Jan. 20, 2011. GEM conducts surveys of the entrepreneurial attitudes, activities and aspirations of individuals around the world. Over the course of 12 years, they have covered 80 economies. Surprisingly enough, Singapore is not covered in the 2010 report, whereas Vanuatu, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, Australia, Japan and the Republic of Korea are. However, Singapore was featured in a promising fashion in the GEM 2005 Report.
If you are doing business in the United States, you have the advantage of importing and exporting even more freely by leveraging the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, which reduces trade barriers and fosters bilateral trade and investment between the two countries. If you are located elsewhere, you still have the ease of importing and exporting to and from Singapore due to its ease of doing business as mentioned earlier.
Tips for Doing Business in Singapore
Based on my findings, here are twelve tips for doing business in Singapore:
- Easy to do business (very little red tape)!
- Have a "can do" attitude and you will get things done!
- When you exchange business cards, use both hands, go slow and handle the exchange with dignity and respect.
- There is equality of the sexes in Singapore, so treat businessmen and businesswomen exactly the same: with courtesy and respect.
- English is the business language while the official languages are Malay, Chinese and Tamil.
- Power meals start with long lunches for business discussions (leave your spouse behind).
- Gifts are nice for hosts or business colleagues, but keep it simple, inexpensive and not too personal.
- Most local Singaporeans have a global outlook, making the country a progressive place to do business worldwide.
- Consider using Singapore as a distribution hub for Asia.
- Corruption is nearly non-existent.
- Tipping is not customary (at least that is what I was told by the hotel concierge when I asked about the tipping protocol for baggage/taxis).
- Singapore is twelve hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Saving Time or thirteen hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. (I usually wore a watch that showed me local time and the time at home).
So, if you are looking for a new market to enter that will be a breath of fresh air, Singapore is worth a serious look.
Photo credits courtesy of Laurel Delaney