Singapore is full of opportunities, but expats starting businesses in the city should understand what the setup process involves.
As one of the world’s busiest business hubs, Singapore represents a strategic gateway to the East. The city’s attractive tax rates and easy-to-navigate bureaucratic infrastructure contribute to a favourable commercial environment for organisations of all shapes and sizes – one which attracts commercial interest from all over the world.
Despite its reputation, Singapore remains a complex business landscape with a spectrum of rules and regulations for new organisations. Prospective expats wishing to open a business in the city should learn what the process involves ahead of time.
You may engage a third-party service company to incorporate a business in Singapore on your behalf but if, as a foreigner, you plan to relocate to the city to set up yourself, you will need an Employment Pass or EntrePass. Both are essentially work permit visas but the EntrePass is targeted more specifically at those setting up a new business:
- EntrePass applications can be made prior to incorporation in Singapore, or within six months of that date.
- Application criteria for the EntrePass focus on the proposed business idea itself, investment, and employment potential.
- Once an EntrePass is granted, you have 30 days in which to incorporate (if you haven’t already done so).
Incorporation in Singapore – whether as sole proprietorship, partnership or LLP – requires registration with the city’s Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).
- Before registration, company information – including (ACRA approved) company name, description of business activities, director and shareholder details, and address – must be submitted to the registrar. Verification documents (a copy of your passport) should be provided to third-party registration organisations.
- ACRA registration is automated and takes place online via Singapore’s BizFile website or ACRA kiosks. The process costs from S$50 to S$600 (depending on company type) and is normally approved within 15 minutes.
- After incorporation, you will receive a registration number (necessary for all official company documentation). For legal and contractual purposes, a business profile (in PDF form) can be obtained from the registrar for a small fee.
Following incorporation, your business may take its final steps towards commencing operations. These include:
- Opening a Singapore bank account.
- Obtaining a business licence, if necessary.
- Purchasing a ‘company seal’ to stamp all official documentation.
- Hiring employees (you may be responsible for permits for foreign workers).
- Registering for the Goods and Service Tax (GST) – if your annual revenue exceeds S$1 million.
- Registering with the Central Provident Fund (CPF), a compulsory pension fund for all Singapore employees.
Further post-incorporation obligations – such as appointing a secretary within 6 months and holding an AGM within 18 months – vary from business to business. Going forward, it is important to consolidate a successful set-up by ensuring your organisation’s on-going compliance with Singapore’s legal rules and regulations, and taking the time to understand the business culture and customs of both the city and wider APAC region.
Steven Naarden is Regional APAC Director at activpayroll and has over 13 years of experience in multiple industries, most recently the financial service sector. His primary area of specialisation is in Multi Country and Expatriate Payrolls and has a track record of managing Payroll & Compliance projects across the globe.
Steven has also extensive experience in Expatriate Payroll tax reporting and the design of SOX and SAS70 compliant processes. In the past five years, he has dedicated himself to managing Payroll projects across Asia Pacific.