Singapore is one of the easiest countries to do business. With the help of several government business incentives, it actively promotes investment flows. Due to this pro-business attitude, businesses and entrepreneurs from over the world are encouraged to establish regional or global headquarters in Singapore and to start new businesses there.
If you’re thinking about opening a business in Singapore, you should think about the licenses and permits that would be necessary to launch operations here.
In this article, we will talk about the key license classifications in Singapore, the current licensing standards that apply to different company sectors, and the license application procedure. Our main goal is to assist you in identifying any licenses that may be necessary for you to operate your business in Singapore.
Business License: Definition and Its Importance
A business license is a certificate provided by the appropriate government agencies that formally authorizes your company to engage in activities that are subject to Singaporean legislation. In this approach, the government regulates some business activities, ensures that rules are followed, guarantees the quality of the service or product, and exercises its control over the business activities of businesses.
Majority of businesses may often operate in Singapore without needing any additional licenses. However, a permit from the Singaporean government might be necessary to carry out some specified economic activities,. It’s possible that your type of business needs more than one license because it involves doing several tasks.
Understanding licensing requirements is essential to the effective launch of your company because failing to obtain the necessary licenses or permits can result in expensive fines, disbarment, and other negative effects on your business’s reputation.
Types of Business Licenses and Permits in Singapore
Businesses that want to operate as educational institutions, travel agencies, real estate agents, distributors of alcohol or tobacco, restaurants and bars, or financial institutions, for example, must first apply for a license.
Apply for a license after registering your business with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) before starting actual operations in Singapore.
Occupational Licenses for Professional Services
Certain kinds of professions in Singapore are required to get an occupational license from the relevant authorities. It includes medical professionals, attorneys, pilots, accountants, architects, futures traders, etc. The Ministry of Law, the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants, the Board of Architects, the Singapore Medical Council, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and others are referral authorities to which you might need to apply for a license.
So, if you’re looking to establish a business in Singapore that provides professional services, you might need to get your practitioners’ practitioners an occupational license. Keep in mind that international professionals with degrees recognized in Singapore may also be eligible for occupational licenses – provided they register with the appropriate professional body in their expertise.
Business Activity Licenses and Permits
Specific licenses or licences are required for certain company activity kinds. These permits must be obtained before starting the necessary commercial activities after your company has been incorporated. Below is a description of the most popular industry-specific licenses.
Multiple licenses could be needed for some commercial operations. Don’t confuse a mandatory license with an industry-specific business license because both may be required for you to run your company.
Businesses That Need an Industry-Specific License
The licenses, permissions, and approvals you require from various authorities will depend on the nature of your retail operation. Supermarkets, drugstores, pet stores, and electronics shops all need to apply for a business license.
- Telecommunications shops that want to sell, offer, import, or possess for sale any approved telecommunication equipment need a telecommunication dealer’s license, issued by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).
- Pet shops involved in exporting and selling pets need to obtain a special license issued by the Animal and Veterinary Service. Note that pet shops that sell only pet accessories or are involved in pet grooming activities do not require a special license.
- To open a pharmacy or a drugstore in Singapore, you need a license issued by the Health Sciences Authority in Singapore. To learn more about the regulation of healthcare products in Singapore, refer to our guide.
- For a shop selling cosmetic products, a license issued by the Health Sciences Authority in Singaporeis required.
- Food stores require a Food Shop Licenseor Food Retail License issued by the Singapore Food Agency to operate.
Singapore is renowned as one of Asia’s greatest economic hubs because of its many benefits, including its Free Trade Zones, which make transhipment and international trade easier. Once your company has been registered, you must activate a Singapore Customs account in order to engage in trading activities there.
Whether you intend to transit via Singapore, import goods from outside, export goods from Singapore, or trade controlled items will determine whether you need additional permits or licenses.
Setting up a Singapore company in the construction industry is difficult since doing business in this industry necessitates obtaining numerous permits and approvals from different government agencies.
In Singapore, a license from the Professional Engineers Board is required to offer professional engineering services. A license of this kind is required for businesses engaged in the following activities:
- Building construction;
- Building completion;
- Building installation;
- Site preparation;
- Lease of construction equipment;
- Structural repair works.
Before beginning operations in Singapore, shipping companies must apply for the necessary license or licence. A harbour craft license from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore is required for any company operating a vessel in the port of Singapore. A port clearance certificate must be obtained by a corporation if it plans to operate its vessel outside of Singapore.
A shipping company is required to acquire a Ship Registration Clearance and a Port Limit Manning License, required for crew members to work onboard a vessel, to move people or goods.
You need to obtain specific licenses from a specific government agency, like the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth, in order to open an educational business in Singapore, such as a kindergarten, preschool, language or driving school, childcare centre, or private academic institution. Before requesting a license, you need to register your new business with ACRA and attend to other administrative issues. Most of the time, it takes two weeks to receive your license.
Every form of telecommunications business activity needs at least one mandatory license. Depending on the sort of business, different licenses are required. For instance:
- You might need to apply for a Facilities-Based Operator License, a Satellite Downlink License, a Services-Based Operator License, etc. to offer fixed-line communications solutions.
- A license for in-building terrestrial communications systems as well as a Services Based Operator License is necessary for internet access providers.
- You must obtain a Mobile Network License to offer mobile cellular and radio paging services. It might also be necessary to get additional permits, such as an experimental station license or a satellite uplink license for broadcasting purposes.
Employers can use a variety of communication channels to contact employment agencies; which offer job placement services. Headhunting companies, staffing organizations, nanny placement agencies, construction worker agencies, internet job portals, etc., are all examples of employment agencies.
An Employment Agency License from the Ministry of Manpower is necessary to start any company activity including recruiting services.
In Singapore, there are just two different types of travel agent licenses:
- Travel agents should apply for a Niche License if they only sell, plan, or advertise trips in Singapore and transport travellers who have no claim to accommodations (such as sit-in coach tours).
- Travel agents that engage in any other activity that is not covered by a Niche Licence must apply for a General License.
Real Estate Agency
A license from the Council of Estate Agencies (CEA) is required for any business or person performing real estate agency work. A Key Executive Officer (who will be in charge of the appropriate operation and general management of the company) must submit the license application using CEA’s online services.
A business must fulfil the following licensing standards established by CEA to get an estate agent license:
- Must be registered with ACRA.
- Must appoint an eligible Key Executive Officer (KEO) who satisfies all the criteria.
- Neither a company nor any of its directors, partners, or KEO may hold a moneylender’s license; and none of its directors, partners, or KEO may be an employee, director, or partner of a licensed moneylender.
- A company, its KEO, and all directors, partners, or persons responsible for the management of the company should have a good track record, trusted reputation, and not be involved in any offensive arrangements under the Estate Agents Act.
- Must possess a valid Professional Indemnity Insurance policy that also covers all its salespersons and partners (where applicable).
- Must establish Standard Operating Procedures and service standards guidelines for all its operations.
With over 400 licenses available for the payment service providers sector, Singapore is one of the top financial hubs on the planet. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) requires that you obtain the necessary licenses before starting a business that offers financial or money management services, such as payment services, financial advising, banking, capital markets, or insurance. Under the MAS licensing framework, the following institutions are subject to regulation:
- Standard payment institutions;
- Major payment institutions;
- Credit and charge card issuing companies;
- Money-changing companies;
- Designated payment system operators;
- Designated payment system settlement institutions;
- Deposit-taking institutions(i.e. full banks, wholesale banks, merchant banks, finance companies, and digital banks);
- Capital markets entities(i.e. broker-dealers, corporate finance advisers, credit rating agencies, real estate investment trust managers, securities-based crowdfunding operators, fund managers, approved Collective Investment Scheme trustees, financial advisers, markets and exchanges, clearing houses, trade repositories, trust companies, benchmark administrators and submitters);
- Insurance entities(i.e. direct insurers, reinsurers, captive insurers, etc.).
The Newspaper Permit and Printing Press License provided by the Infocomm Media Development Authority are necessary to operate a publishing company in Singapore that produces books, periodicals, or newspapers.
Your business must obtain a newspaper permit if it engages in any of the following activities:
- Publishing a newspaper in Singapore or printing one.
- A Malaysian newspaper being published, sold, or distributed in Singapore.
- Singapore-based selling or distribution of an international newspaper. A newspaper with a circulation of 300 or more copies in Singapore and that is published outside of Singapore is considered an offshore newspaper.
Hotel and Spa
Any person who would like to open a hotel in Singapore has to receive certain permissions from the Singapore Government. The most important among them are:
- Certificate of Registration to use the premises as a hotel (try this e-adviserto check if your intended use of premises is allowed); and
- Hotel-Keeper’s license, which allows a person to manage the hotel, issued by the Hotels Licensing Board;
- Temporary Occupation Permit or Certificate of Statutory Completion, issued by the Building and Construction Authority.
Food and Beverage
Regulation of the food and beverage business in Singapore is quite complex, and running a food and beverage business will require applying for various licenses and permits that vary depending on your business activities. Below are listed some of the most common:
- To operate a restaurant, you need to obtain a Food Shop Licenseissued by the SFA. Additionally, a Liquor License from the Singapore Police Force is required when you plan to sell liquor in your restaurant. Also, before renting or buying the space, check if your intended use of the premises is allowed using this e-adviser. If not, you will have to apply for a permit from the relevant land authority.
- If you want to open a halal eating establishment, you can attain a Halal Certificationfrom the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore.
- To carry out public trade fairs, a Temporary Fair Permitis required, issued by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA).
- To open a food stall establishment or hawker, you need to submit an application for a Food Stall License.
- Food vending machine operations with temperature control requirements and food processing must be licensed under the Food Vending Machine Licensein order to operate.
- If you intend to import, export, or transship food products or ingredients for your restaurant, you need to either obtain a relevant trader’s license or register with SFA.
- To set up a food storage warehouse, you must register it with SFA.
- Food processing establishments where food is manufactured, processed, prepared, or packed for the purpose of further distribution (e.g. bakery, flour confectionery factories, dairy processing plants, noodle and pasta manufacturers, surimi-based product factories, etc.) are required to obtain an SFA licenseto operate in Singapore.
To operate a healthcare institution in Singapore (e.g. medical clinic, a hospital, nursing home, clinical laboratory, X-ray laboratory), a compulsory license is required from the Ministry of Health. You can apply for the respective license for your medical establishment through this web portal.
All healthcare specialists must be registered with the relevant governing institutions. Doctors and medical specialists will have to obtain a Practicing Certificate from , and nurses from the Singapore Nursing Board.
Depending on the type of activity or event being organized by the event management company, one or more licenses are required. For example:
- To organize indoor or outdoor arts entertainment events (i.e. plays, musical performances, dance performances, art exhibitions, shows, and pop or rock concerts) conducted at a place accessible to the public, a Licence for the Provision of Arts Entertainmentissued by IMDA must be obtained, unless the exemption applies.
- To organize any entertainment events (excluding arts entertainment events) to which the public has access, you must apply for a Public Entertainment Licenseissued by the Singapore Police Force.
- To organize temporary events where animals will be displayed, including animal performances featuring animals such as dogs and horses, an Animal Exhibition Licenseissued by the Animal and Veterinary Service should be obtained.
- To play or reproduce copyrighted music, video recordings, or lyrics at any arts entertainment event, you need to seek permission from the owner of copyrighted work according to Singapore IP law. You may contact the copyright owner directly or obtain a license through a Collective Management Organisation. An exception will be the use of materials from the Creative Commons network.
The Process of Obtaining a License
- License application submission
- Fee payment
- In-principal approval letter
- Additional document submission
- Notification of Final Approval
- License issuance
In Singapore, establishing a business is a relatively simple and straightforward procedure and the business licensing procedure has been simplified to a great extent. If you provide all the necessary documentation and satisfy and comply with all other requirements, there is no reason for your license to be rejected. The ease of doing business aids in fostering Singapore’s efficient and pro-business environment, making it a popular destination for start-ups.
While some of the issues regarding licenses and permits can be handled on your own, it is usually a good idea to engage a professional services firm to save you time and resources.