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Registering a business in Singapore

A foreigner can easily start and run a business in Singapore. However, to make it easier, it is recommended that you engage a registered company incorporation agent with a registered filing agent license to help you.

There are six key steps to starting a business in Singapore.

Sole Proprietorship and Exempt Private Limited/Private Limited are the two business types that are the easiest to register in Singapore. Do note that for Sole Proprietorship, only Singaporean citizens are allowed to incorporate such a business.

Can Foreigners Start a Business in Singapore?

Foreigners can easily start and run a business in Singapore with minimal restrictions. The Singaporean authorities, however, do require at least one director who is a resident of Singapore, either a citizen or a legal resident.

Your business must also have a registered address in Singapore, which cannot be a PO box. Alternatively, you can become a legal resident in Singapore, allowing you to establish and manage the business on your own without needing another director.

You can opt for a nominee director service if you prefer to stay overseas. This service helps you fulfil all the necessary legal requirements for starting a business in Singapore.

💡 Relevant: Read about applying for an Entrepreneur Pass in Singapore or our guide to applying for Singapore Permanent Resident to facilitate starting your business as a foreigner in Singapore.

Benefits of Starting a Business in Singapore

Singapore is recognised globally as a hub for finance, manufacturing, trade, and technology. It consistently ranks high in international assessments for "cross-border investment" and "world's smartest city." The country stands out due to its low tax rates, minimal bureaucracy, stable political and economic climate, excellent infrastructure, and a well-developed financial system, ensuring the security of your investments.

Singapore provides unique tax advantages not commonly found in other nations, including:

  • A single-tier taxation system
  • No tax on overseas income
  • No capital gains tax
  • No dividend income tax
  • No tax on assets from inheritance or gifts
  • Streamlined and simplified tax filing procedures

Avoidance of Double Taxation treaties, preventing individuals from being taxed by both Singapore and their home country on foreign income or assets.

English is widely spoken in Singapore, minimising language barriers and the need for translators. The country boasts a skilled and productive workforce readily available for hiring. Geographically, Singapore is strategically located for trade, especially for import/export companies, with neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. Furthermore, in recent assessments, Singapore's airport and maritime ports consistently rank among the best globally.

🔎 Read more: Here’s a guide to Singapore’s tax system and rates in 2024.

Six Key Steps to Start a Business in Singapore

Step 1: Choose a Business Structure

Choosing a business structure is extremely important. It is like a business plan. Different business structures will suit you depending on your business plan and business model. Also, different business structures will require a different set of processes and requirements to register. There are three main types of business structures to choose from in Singapore. 

Private Limited Company

This is the go-to business entity for dedicated entrepreneurs. This structure offers limited liability, which means the legal liabilities of the shareholders are separated from the company, making it easier to secure financing and enhancing the credibility of your business. Popular for bigger businesses in technology, IT, consultancy, and logistics.

Sole Proprietorship

Sole proprietors operate under their personal name. Tax processes are simpler. However, it comes with unlimited liability, meaning there is no legal separation between the individual and the business. Popular for social media influencers, ecommerce, and other online businesses and online stores. 

General Partnership

In a partnership, two or more individuals jointly own a business. Like sole proprietors, there is no legal distinction between individuals and the business. Additionally, a partner can end the partnership at any time.

Step 2: Choose a Business Address

Every Singaporean company must have a registered address, and it cannot be a PO box; it must be a physical location.

You can rent a registered address if you don't have a permanent headquarters. In Singapore, numerous companies provide virtual office addresses for entrepreneurs. These services receive your mail, scan it, and forward it to you.

You can choose your registered address, whether it is a home office or a co-working space. Any physical address is acceptable for this purpose.

🔎 Read more: Here’s our guide to setting up a representative office in Singapore.

Step 3: Register Your Business Name

Similar to your business, your company name must be distinctive! The initial step in starting your business journey in Singapore is selecting a unique company name and verifying it with ACRA.

In Singapore, there can not be duplicates in a business name. This means that the names of businesses must be unique, and the nouns in the name must differ from those of other businesses. However, if you already have a Parent company overseas and you want the same name for the Singapore company but it has been taken, you can always file an appeal with supporting evidence to ACRA. With enough paper evidence, ACRA might approve the name application.

Look for a distinctive word or combination of words. It's important to note that your company's legal name can differ from your trading name, but ensure that your trading name doesn't violate copyright or trademark issues. Utilising Google can be helpful in this regard. Alternatively, you can search for your chosen name on BizFile+ and ensure no other business with the same name exists. Finally, you can register the chosen business name on Bizfile+.

Step 4: Register Your Business

There are two ways to register your business in Singapore:

  1. Register via BizFile+; and
  2. Engage a registered filing agent.

Requirements to Register a Sole Proprietorship/Partnership

To register a Business (Sole Proprietorship/Partnership), here's what you need to be aware of:

Application Fee:

  • $100 for one year or $160 for three years (includes registration and renewal fee)
  • An additional $40 for each Optional Alternate Address registered

Average Processing Time:

  • Typically approved within 15 minutes after the registration fee is paid
  • May take 14 to 60 days if the application requires review by Referral Authorities

Pre-requisites:

  • All position holders must be at least 18 years old.
  • Owners must clear outstanding Medisave liabilities with the CPF Board.
  • The owner(s) must be a Singapore Citizen or Singapore Permanent Resident or hold an EntrePass or Employment Pass (EP).
  • EP Holders should obtain a Letter of Consent (LOC) from the Ministry of Manpower.
  • All owner(s) or authorised representatives must endorse the application before payment.
  • For foreigners: The services of a registered filing agent (e.g., a law firm, accounting firm, or corporate secretarial firm) are required to submit the online application on their behalf.

Required Information/Documents:

  • Commencement date
  • Business address
  • Particulars of business owners and authorised representatives (if applicable)

Requirements to Register a Limited Partnership

To register a Business (Limited Partnership), here's what you need to be aware of:

Application fee

  • $100 for one year or $160 for three years (inclusive of registration and renewal fee)
  • Additional $40 for the provision of each Alternate Address (optional)

Average processing time

  • Usually approved within 15 minutes after the registration fee is paid.
  • May take 14 to 60 days if the application needs to be reviewed by Referral Authorities

Pre-requisites

  • All position holders must be at least 18 years old
  • There must be at least one General Partner and one Limited Partner
  • All partners are required to clear their outstanding Medisave liabilities with the CPF Board
  • The partners must be either Singapore Citizens, Singapore Permanent Residents, or an EntrePass or Employment Pass (EP) Holder
  • EP Holders should first get a Letter of Consent (LOC) from the Ministry of Manpower
  • Alternatively, if all the General Partners are not residing in Singapore, a local manager must be appointed
  • All partners and the local manager (if applicable) must endorse the application before payment can be made
  • Foreigners will need to engage the services of a registered filing agent (e.g., a law firm, accounting firm, or corporate secretarial firm) to submit the online application on their behalf

Information/documents required

  • Commencement date
  • Business address
  • Particulars of partners and local manager (if applicable)

Requirements to Register a Limited Liability Partnership

To register a Business (Limited Liability Partnership), here's what you need to be aware of:

Application fee

  • One-time registration fee of $100
  • Additional $40 for the provision of each Alternate Address (optional)

Average processing time

  • Usually approved within 15 minutes after the registration fee is paid
  • It may take 14 to 60 days if the application needs to be reviewed by Referral Authorities

Pre-requisites

  • All position holders must be at least 18 years old
  • There must be a minimum of two partners
  • The partners must be either Singapore Citizens, Singapore Permanent Residents, EntrePass Holders, or Employment Pass (EP) Holders.
  • EP Holders should first get a Letter of Consent (LOC) from the Ministry of Manpower.
  • A local manager who is residing in Singapore must be appointed
  • All partners and the local manager must endorse the application before payment can be made
  • Foreigners will need to engage the services of a registered filing agent (e.g., a law firm, accounting firm, or corporate secretarial firm) to submit the online application on their behalf

Information/documents required

  • Commencement date
  • Registered office address
  • Particulars of partners and local manager

🔎 Tip: Engage with an agent to help you incorporate your businesses. Here are the 5 best company incorporation services in Singapore.

Step 5: Register a Corppass Administrator Account

After registering your business, the next important step for transactions with Singapore Government agencies is to have a Corppass Administrator (Admin) account.  You can register for your Corppass account via the Corppass portal for all businesses. 

Corppass serves as your business's singular corporate digital identity, accessible through your personal Singpass. Each business entity can appoint up to 2 Corppass Admins.

Corppass Admins are empowered to:

  • Manage Users' Access: Control access to digital services for users within the entity.
  • Customise Digital Service Access: Tailor digital service access for individual users within the organisation.
  • Authorise Third-Party Service Providers: Grant authorisation to third-party service providers, allowing them to transact on behalf of your business for selected digital services.

Step 6: Open a Business Bank Account

It is highly recommended that you open a business bank account for your business.

A business bank account provides several benefits, including:

  1. Separation of Business and Personal Transactions: Keeping business transactions distinct from personal ones.
  2. Effective Tracking of Business Finances: Facilitating the monitoring of business cash flows, income, and expenses.
  3. Simplified Income Tax Filing: Assisting in financial data organisation, making it easier to file accurate income tax returns.

Requirements to Open a Corporate Bank Account in Singapore

Singapore Companies:

  • Address proof of all authorised signatories, directors, and declared UBO(s)
  • Identify Card/Passport copies of all directors, authorised signatories, and declared UBO(s)
  • Bizfile
  • Memorandum & Articles of Association (M&AA)/Constitution
  • Original Proof of Principal Place of Business (only if the place is different from what is reflected in the Bizfile)

Foreign Companies:

  • Certificate of Incorporation
  • Certificate of Incumbency (issued within one year)
  • Memorandum & Articles of Association
  • Certificate of Incorporation of corporate director (if any)
  • Certificate of Registration of corporate director (if any)
  • M&AA/Constitution of corporate director (if any)
  • Original Proof of Principal Place of Business (only if the place is different from the business registered address)
  • Address proof of all authorised signatories, directors, and declared UBO(s)
  • Passport copies of all directors, authorised signatories, and declared UBO(s)

🔎 Read more: Here’s a guide to opening a bank account in Singapore.

Administrative Work Following the Setting Up of a Business

After setting up your business in Singapore, there are additional requirements you may need to address:

  • Business Licenses and Permits - Certain businesses must obtain approval from the relevant government body. For example, private schools need approval from the Ministry of Education.
  • Business Insurance - There are many types of business insurance available in Singapore. Depending on your needs, you might want to look into them in more detail.
  • Office Hours - ACRA requires information about your registered office address and its opening hours. These hours should not be less than 3 hours per workday.
  • Customs Registration - Registering with Singapore Customs is necessary if your business involves exporting from or importing into Singapore.
  • Goods and Services Tax (GST) - GST is applied to the supply of goods and services in Singapore, including imported goods. Businesses with revenue exceeding S$1 million must apply for GST. The IRAS controls the taxes in Singapore; think of them as the IRD in HK. 
  • Singapore Central Provident Fund (CPF) - Singapore's national pension fund requires contributions from both employers and employees. All employers and employees must contribute a portion of their income to the CPF.

Corporate Secretary Requirements in Singapore

A corporate secretary, also known as a company secretary, is required by the Companies Act 1967 under clause section 171, which requires all companies in Singapore to appoint a corporate secretary whose main duty is to ensure that every company complies with Singapore’s Company Law.

In Singapore, a corporate secretary has important jobs to do for a company. They help make sure the company follows all the rules and regulations. The corporate secretary is like a guide for the company and its leaders, giving advice and making sure everything is done the right way. The company secretary acts as a bridge between the company's stakeholders. They play a big role in making sure the company runs smoothly and succeeds in what it does.

Here are the main roles of a corporate secretary:

1. For the Company:

  • Ensuring the company and the business activities follow all the rules.
  • Protects the company's interests.
  • Makes certain the company is governed well.
  • Oversee the Company's deadlines to ensure that the company meets all deadlines to remain in good standing and have good corporate governance.
  • Keeping and maintaining the statutory registers of the company

2. For Company Directors:

  • Gives advice and support to the directors.
  • Share information with directors so they can help in meetings.

3. For Company Shareholders and Stakeholders:

  • Communicate regularly with shareholders and stakeholders.
  • Protects the shareholders' and stakeholders’ interests.
  • Shares financial statements on time for approvals by the directors during the Annual General Meeting, whether physically or by written means.

According to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (“ACRA”), the key jobs of a Singapore corporate secretary include:

  • Keeping important statutory company records; Filing annual returns;
  • Organising board meetings for shareholders and the board of directors;
  • Submitting all required documents on time; Helping with administrative tasks and keeping minute books for meetings;
  • Ensuring good corporate governance is in place, legal, and administrative support to the board; Making sure the board's decisions are carried out; Ensuring the company follows all the laws;
  • Keeping abreast on legal changes and compliance requirements.
  • Communicates well with shareholders; and 
  • Prepares annual general meetings (AGM) with the company's directors, usually within six months after the financial year ends.

🔎 Read more: Here is the full guide on what a corporate secretary is in Singapore.

Fundings and Grants Available for Startups and Small to Medium Businesses

Many business grants are available, especially for new businesses like startups and small businesses. However, there are certain criteria to qualify for funding:

  1. The business owner is a Singaporean/PR
  2. The company is based in Singapore
  3. The company has a minimum of 30% local shareholding

The Singapore government has created a list of grants available for businesses and small business owners in Singapore.

💡 Tip: Click here to view the full list of grants available for businesses in Singapore. 

Alternate ways of getting funding for your new business are to engage in crowdfunding, seek out angel investors, and get small business loans from business credit companies.

Conclusion

Singapore is one of Asia's premier business destinations, with minimal barriers to setting up operations. It boasts attractive investment and trade prospects and a low corporate tax rate, making it a highly appealing global business hub. Doing business in Singapore is as easy as it gets due to the support from the government. In Singapore's environment, owning a successful business is not a dream. 

The company registration process in Singapore involves selecting a suitable company name, completing the necessary documentation, and registering the company with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (“ACRA”). This efficient, straightforward, and budget-friendly process allows for quick online completion.

FAQs

What are the key steps to start a business in Singapore?

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There are six key steps: choosing a business structure, selecting a registered business address, registering the business name with ACRA, registering the business itself, setting up a Corppass Administrator account, and opening a business bank account. Each step involves specific requirements and considerations, such as business structure suitability, legal compliance, and financial setup.

Can I register a business in Singapore if I am a foreigner?

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What is ACRA?

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What's the difference between BizFile+ and GoBusiness?

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