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Singapore business licenses

Are you a business owner looking to understand more about the different business licenses and permits required to start a business in Singapore? You've come to the right place!

Not all businesses require a business license in Singapore. However, certain businesses do require one.

A business license is a permit issued by the Singapore government agency that gives you permission to run a specific type of business.

Before you apply for licenses and permits, you must ensure that your business is registered with the registrar of companies via the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).

Type of Businesses that Require Licenses and Permits

As mentioned above, certain types of businesses require a license before they are allowed to operate. Here's a table to illustrate businesses and their licenses and permits requirements:

Type of Business License Required?
Retail Shop Depends on the nature of goods and services provided.
Construction Business Yes
Trading Company Yes
Hotel Yes
Spa Yes
Employment Agency Yes
Travel Agency Yes
F&B Business Yes

Starting a Retail Shop

The licensing requirements vary depending on the type of goods and services provided to customers.

A supermarket that handles raw and cooked foods will require a Supermarket License. Whereby opening a Pharmacy will require a retail pharmacy license from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).

Therefore it is essential to identify the type of retail shop you are looking to open before going to the right government agency to apply for a license.

Construction Business

The construction business has one of the most licenses and permits requirements. To start a construction business, you will need to apply for the professional engineering services license. On top of that, depending on your scope of work, you might need to apply for specific mandatory licenses:

  • Permit for Road Occupation Management
  • License to Occupy and Operate Scheduled Premises
  • Telecommunication Wiring License
  • Advertisement License
  • General Radio Communication License
  • Localized Private Network License
  • Localized Radio Communication License
  • Wide-area Private Network License
  • Non-Residential TV License
  • License to Discharge Trade Effluents

Trading Company

  • Business Activity Classification: Clearly define the nature of your trading business, as different types of trading activities may require different licenses. For instance, if your trading involves importing and exporting specific goods, additional permits or licenses may be necessary.
  • Licenses for Specific Goods: Certain products and commodities might be subject to additional regulations and licensing requirements. For example, suppose your trading company deals with controlled goods like tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, or certain chemicals. In that case, you'll need to apply for relevant permits from the specific government agencies that oversee these products.
  • Customs Brokerage License: If your trading company plans to provide customs clearance services on behalf of other businesses, you might need to obtain a Customs Broker License from Singapore Customs.
  • Intellectual Property Rights: If you're dealing with intellectual property rights, such as trademarks, patents, or copyrights, you should consider seeking legal advice to ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations.
  • Compliance with Laws and Regulations: Singapore has strict trade and business operations laws. Ensure your trading company adheres to all relevant regulations, including the Singapore Companies Act, the Singapore Goods and Services Tax (GST) Act, and other industry-specific laws.
  • Import and Export Procedures: Familiarize yourself with Singapore's import and export procedures, including customs documentation, permits, and licensing requirements for trading across borders.

Hotel

Hotels in Singapore must obtain a Hotel License under the Hotel Licensing Regulations. This license is issued by the Hotel Licensing Board (HLB).

The hotel must comply with various statutory requirements, building codes, fire safety regulations, and health standards set by the relevant authorities.

The HLB classifies hotels into different tiers based on their facilities and services. The classification may range from budget to luxury hotels. The grading helps visitors understand the standard of the hotel they are considering.

In addition to the Hotel License, hotels may need other permits and licenses, such as food establishment licenses, liquor licenses (if serving alcohol), and public entertainment licenses.

Spa

Under the Massage Establishment Act, any establishment offering massage services, like massage, foot reflexology, manicure treatments, spa baths, or similar treatments, must obtain a Massage Establishment (ME) License.

Two types of ME Licenses are available: Category I and Category II. Spas typically prefer Category I licenses due to more flexible business conditions than Category II.

In essence, Category I license holders enjoy unrestricted operating hours, the ability to serve alcohol, admit customers of any age, and are also allowed to hire foreign masseuses or therapists.

Employment Agency

Employment agencies in Singapore must obtain an Employment Agency (EA) License issued by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

This license allows them to operate legally and offer recruitment and placement services to employers and job seekers. Employment agencies are typically required to place a security deposit with the MOM as part of the licensing process.

The amount of the security deposit can vary based on the type and scope of services provided by the agency.

Once licensed, the employment agency must comply with the Employment Agency Act and any other relevant regulations set forth by the Ministry of Manpower.

The agency should also be aware of fair employment practices and avoid discriminatory practices during recruitment.

Travel Agency

Travel agencies in Singapore must obtain a Travel Agent License issued by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). This license allows them to offer travel-related services to customers legally.

Travel agencies are typically required to meet certain financial requirements, including holding a specific amount in a security deposit or having a valid insurance policy to protect customers in the event of the agency's closure.

While not mandatory for licensing, travel agencies may choose to be members of travel industry associations, such as the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS), to enhance their credibility and access additional resources.

F&B Business

All food establishments, including restaurants, cafes, food stalls, and food caterers, must obtain a Food Shop License issued by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA).

This license is required for handling and preparing food for sale. Suppose the food and beverage business wishes to cater to Muslim customers. In that case, they may seek Halal certification from the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) for their food products and premises.

If the food and beverage business intends to serve alcohol on its premises or provide live entertainment, it will need to apply for a liquor license and entertainment license from the Singapore Police Force (SPF).

Shipping Business

There are several licenses and permit requirements in the shipping industry.

  • Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) Approval: The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) is the key regulatory body for shipping activities in Singapore. Depending on the nature of your shipping business, you may need to seek approval or obtain specific licenses from the MPA.
  • Harbour Craft License: According to the Harbour Craft Regulations by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), all vessels used as harbour craft within the port of Singapore for commercial purposes must possess a valid harbour craft license issued by the MPA.
  • Ship Registration Certificate: Every vessel planning to transport passengers or cargo must have a Ship Registration Certificate.
  • Port Limit Manning Licence: All crew members aboard your harbour craft must possess a valid Port Limit Manning License–a mandatory requirement. Different categories of Manning Licenses are issued based on the specific roles of the crew members.
  • Ferry Operator License (if applicable): If your business operates passenger ferries or other types of passenger vessels, you may need to apply for a Ferry Operator License from the MPA.

Event Management

Here are some business license requirements when running an event management company:

  • Arts Entertainment License: This license is required for organizing arts entertainment events, including plays, musical performances, dance shows, art exhibitions, variety shows, and pop/rock concerts.
  • Copyright Permit: A copyright permit is necessary to play or reproduce copyrighted music or videos at any event.
  • Public Entertainment License: To organize entertainment events (excluding arts entertainment events) that are accessible to the public, a public entertainment license is mandatory.
  • Trade Fair Permit: For organizing trade fairs, you must obtain a trade fair permit.
  • Animal Exhibition License: An animal exhibition license is required if your event involves exhibiting animals or includes animal performances.

Real Estate Agency

Any company or individual engaged in real estate agencies or agency work in Singapore must hold a valid Estate Agent License issued by the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA).

Publishing Business

Depending on the type of publications you intend to produce, you may need to apply for a Media License from the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

This license is necessary for certain media-related activities, including newspapers, magazines, and certain digital content.

If you plan to publish books, journals, or periodicals, you may need to register for an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) or an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) for your publications.

These unique identifiers are essential for cataloging and distribution purposes.

Final Thoughts

Understanding Singapore's business licensing requirements is paramount for anyone seeking to establish and operate a business there. Complying with the specific regulations ensures legal legitimacy, fosters consumer trust, and safeguards against potential penalties or closure.

In various industries, from trading to real estate and publishing, adherence to licensing procedures ensures smooth operations and minimizes legal risks.

Staying up-to-date with evolving regulations provides a competitive edge, strengthens business credibility, and demonstrates a commitment to professionalism.

Engaging with professional consultants or legal advisors further enhances understanding, enabling entrepreneurs to navigate complexities effectively and build a solid foundation for sustainable growth and success.

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FAQs

What do I need to do before applying for a business license?

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You will first need to register your business with the registrar of companies via the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).

Do I need a business license?

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How long does it take to apply for a business license in Singapore?

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