July 17, 2024

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An Expatriate’s Guide to Cultural Differences Across Southeast Asia

An Expatriate’s Guide to Cultural Differences Across Southeast Asia


Southeast Asia is home to some of the best countries in the world to visit. Their rich and diverse cultures will wow you, but they also come with their own unique set of rules that travelers may not be used to observing. Here we’ll discuss some cultural differences across Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam

An Expatriate’s Guide to Cultural Differences Across Southeast Asia


Singapore is a multicultural city-state that’s known for its cleanliness, safety and efficiency. It also has a reputation for being expensive; however, if you’re willing to do some research ahead of time, you’ll find there are plenty of ways to save money while living in Singapore.

Singaporeans love their food and they’re very proud of their local cuisine (which includes dishes like chilli crab). In fact, the country boasts over 100 different types of street food carts serving up everything from chicken rice soup to fishball noodles–all at low prices!


Malaysia is a Muslim country and it’s important to dress modestly. The locals are very respectful, so be sure to follow their customs as well. You should always be polite and courteous when interacting with people from Malaysia.

It’s also important that you understand that Malaysia has a diverse culture, with many different ethnic groups who come from all over the world.


Thailand is a Buddhist country. The Thai people are very polite and respectful, so if you’re visiting Thailand be sure to be respectful of their culture. For example, don’t step on anyone’s toes or point at them with your finger. In fact, don’t even point at anything! It’s considered rude in Thailand because it resembles making an arrow with your fingers (which is how they shoot arrows). Instead of pointing at something use an open palm facing upwards as if you were holding up a glass for someone else to fill with water or beer for example…

The food in Thailand is delicious but spicy so make sure you have some water nearby when eating out! Also keep in mind that there’s no such thing as vegetarian status here – everything has meat or seafood in it unless otherwise specified by the menu item name such as “vegetable soup” instead of just plain old “soup”. If this doesn’t suit your tastes then consider trying one of our other Southeast Asian destinations like Malaysia where there are plenty more options available like curries made with coconut milk instead!


Indonesia is a big country with many different cultures. The most important thing you should know is that Indonesians are very friendly and open to foreigners, so if you have any questions or need help with anything, just ask! They will be happy to help you out.

Indonesia also has some cultural differences from other countries in Southeast Asia that may make it feel like an entirely different world at times–for example:

  • There are no street addresses in Indonesia; instead people give directions based on landmarks nearby their homes or offices. If someone asks for your address when giving directions back home, try saying something like “I’m near the mosque” or “My house is across from a convenience store.”


Vietnam is a country that’s been on the rise for years, and the people are friendly, open and welcoming. They’re also family-oriented–so much so that they often live with their parents until they get married.

Vietnamese culture is super superstitious: if you see a snake or black cat, it’s considered bad luck; if someone sneezes in front of you or coughs without covering their mouth (which is rude), then it means something bad will happen soon; kicking over a bench or stepping on someone else’s foot means breaking up with your partner before marriage; touching someone else’s head (even accidentally) means they’ll have bad luck until they wash their hands three times…and those are just some examples!

Vietnamese people are religious too–there are Buddhist temples everywhere in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), which make great places to visit if you like taking photos 🙂 The majority identify as Buddhist but there are also many Christians living here too!

Southeast Asia is a great place to travel, but each country has its own customs and cultural norms.

Southeast Asia is a great place to travel, but each country has its own customs and cultural norms. It’s important to be aware of these differences while you’re visiting so that you can avoid offending anyone by accidentally breaking their rules.

  • Dress appropriately. In Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Indonesia, wearing shorts or sleeveless shirts in public is considered disrespectful because they expose your skin (which is considered private). Also remember that although there are no specific dress codes for eating out at restaurants in Singapore, most people will still wear casual clothing such as jeans or khakis instead of shorts or tank tops when going out at night–especially if the restaurant serves alcohol!
  • Know how to greet people properly. In many Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos (but not always Thailand), it’s customary for strangers who meet each other for the first time shake hands instead of bowing low with clasped hands like Japanese people do when greeting one another (this custom varies depending on where exactly in Japan one lives). However this doesn’t mean all Asians bow down whenever they see each other – only certain cultures do this kind gesture when being introduced by someone else who knows both parties well enough already without needing any introduction whatsoever between them first before approaching one another directly without hesitation whatsoever; otherwise it would just seem rudely invasive behavior!


We hope that this article has helped you learn more about Southeast Asia and the cultural differences between its countries. There is still so much to discover about this fascinating region, but we encourage you to go out there and explore!