Starting a business in Singapore

Written by on 18th August 2017
Category: APAC, Business

So, you’ve decided to start a business in Singapore. What better place to make your mark than Southeast Asia’s Lion City: a destination famous for its trade links and investment opportunities. Scoring highly in all areas conducive to business, Singapore is in a league of its own. These articles from Entrepreneur and The Business Times Singapore have certainly proven that to be the case.

In November 2016, SilverDoor Apartments opened its very first international office in Singapore, in a move that helped us develop even closer relationships with our clients and property partners in the region. As such, we’re well aware of the work it takes to start a business in Singapore.

From sourcing staff to registering your website domain, there are lots of different factors to consider. But, with the right planning and financial backing in place, there’s no reason why your venture shouldn’t be a successful one.

These top tips should help you on your way:

If you’ve not already decided what sort of business you’re going to start, then you may want to weigh up your options. Perhaps you’d like to do something out of the ordinary like these 10 companies. HerworldPLUS recommend you researching hastags on social media to see what’s trending in certain sectors. As a female business owner, you might also consider taking inspiration from some of these top Singaporean entrepreneurs.

At registration stage, you’ll be asked to fill out a legal entity form stating the type of business you intend to establish, be it a sole proprietorship or limited liability company. Those registering with a partner are advised to choose a partnership firm. Alternatively, if you’re self-employed, then sole proprietorship is a great option.

New companies are best off registering as private limited companies. In doing so, a business owner can restrict his liability to purely company assets. This structure also affords you better credibility when negotiating with investors or customers. It’s worth noting that government agencies offer tax discounts and incentives to private limited companies.

To register a private limited company, you’ll need both a shareholder and director. From that, one director must either be of Singaporean descent or a Singaporean permanent resident. If you’re not a permanent resident, but would like to become one, you can seek assistance from a government agency, who will offer incorporation services. Such services include the appointment of a nominee director, along with secretarial support.

Hawksford helps small and medium business owners become incorporated by offering a number of specialist services and support. With their expert guidance, we were able to establish a subsidiary company and appoint both a Director and Company Secretary in our APAC office. Their online resource GuideMeSingapore is particularly handy in getting you to grips with the region, as is this article from Honeykids Asia. Alternatively, if you just want to get your head around the different types of business structures, check out this article from The Finder.

By law in Singapore, the name of your business must reflect its ethos and not sound similar to any related companies. If you’re struggling to come up with a name, you can enlist the help of an incorporation service company to carry out a check for you.

In order to register your business, you’ll need to provide a full address for the space you plan to rent or buy. This address is essential as all official documentation will be sent here. Once you’ve settled on a site, you’ll need to get approval for it from Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Those renting a Housing Development Board flat, however, must seek consent from the Housing Development Board itself. On the other hand, if you’re planning to operate from a rented house, then permission must be gained through what’s known as a House Office Scheme (HOS). Under this scheme, a business owner can only employ a maximum of two foreign workers. Again, if you’re unsure of what path to take, please consult an incorporation service provider.

Click here for details of how to start a business from home in Singapore.

Certain types of businesses in Singapore require mandatory licensing, so, if you’re unsure, check in advance. For detailed information about licensing, please refer to the LicenceOne portal. Depending on your niche, you may need various licenses from different authorities. Food and Lifestyle Writer, Seth Lui, has some useful recommendations for opening a restaurant or food business in Singapore.

To register your business, including foreign offices, you need to visit the website, Bizfile and submit an application. Bizfile is an online filing and retrieval system, run by Singapore’s financial statutory board, ACRA, or the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

A Bizfile registration can be carried out at home, at work, or from one of the ACRA kiosks, depending on your preference. Before sending off your application, however, you must first obtain either a CorpPass or SingPass.

All applications are usually approved within the first 15 minutes of payment, unless of course they need to be referred on to a separate authority.

Next, you’ll need to print your registration number on all of your company invoices, bills or letterheads. ACRA will also need to be notified of any changes to your business model.

Foreign companies looking to setup a representative office in Singapore are permitted to approach the following government agencies for support:

  • Banking, finance and insurance: Monetary Authority of Singapore
  • Legal: Legal Services Regulatory Authority
  • All other industries: International Enterprise Singapore


Singapore boasts a wide variety of premises for businesses. Whether it’s a factory you’re after, a warehouse, or a modern office block, you can rest assured that premium facilities and infrastructure are readily available. We recommend sourcing a space in easy reach of your clients.

Click here for a full list of Singapore’s business and industrial parks.

Singapore’s strong pool of international talent makes recruiting candidates easy. Employees can be sourced through head hunting agencies and online recruitment portals such as Job Street.

Further information on Singapore’s labour market, including hiring and training, can be found on the SME Portal.

Lack of red tape means Singapore’s government departments are free to help businesses grow. Assistance comes at very levels, from investor support to compliance expertise. The following government agencies are especially useful:

EDB Singapore

  • For: investor assistance

SPRING Singapore

  • For: growth for small and medium sized enterprises, including financing and management development.

Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA)

  • For: registering a new business, along with information on corporate governance practices.

SME Portal

  • For: enterprises trying to start and maintain their businesses

Every business needs an online presence, so make sure you have a website in place. Begin by registering a domain name. This can be done using one of the following websites: Network Solutions, Netfirms or A Plus.

Next, you’ll need to source a web host – in other words, a server that will represent your website on the internet, and make it visible to the public. As a rule, the site where you’ve registered your domain name should also provide web hosting.

If you’re planning on providing any online services through your website, then it’s worth getting SGS certified. With an SGS certification, business owners can demonstrate their products, system and services adhere to national and international standards and regulations. Click here for details.

Depending on your nationality, you may need a visa to work/live in Singapore. Professionals entering the country typically require one of three passes:

Employment Pass

Applicable to professionals, managers and executives. Candidates must:

  • Have a job offer in Singapore
  • Earn a fixed monthly salary of at least S$3,600 per month (more experienced candidates need higher salaries)
  • Have acceptable qualifications – typically a good university degree or specialist skills


For qualified foreign entrepreneurs looking to start a new business in Singapore. Those applying must:

  • Have, or be intending to start a private limited company registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority
  • If registered, the company should be less than 6 months old on the date you apply
  • If you’ve not registered, you can wait for the outcome of your application before registering
  • Your company possesses at least $50,000 in paid-up-capital. You must present a bank statement that shows at least $50,000 in a Singapore-based company bank account
  • You own at least 30% of the shares in the company

All nationalities are free to apply for an Entrepass.

Your company must also meet one of these requirements, which will be assessed on merits:

  • Receives funding from a Government-accredited VC or business angel
  • Contains an intellectual property
  • Has an on-going collaboration with a university of recognised research institution
  • Is an incubatee at a Singapore Government-supported incubator

Personalised Employment Pass

Applicable to high-earning existing Employment Pass holders or overseas foreign professionals. This pass provides greater flexibility than an Employment Pass.

As an overseas foreign professional, your last fixed month salary must be at least S$18,000. Employment Pass holders should possess a fixed monthly salary of at least S$12,000.

To retain your Personalised Employment Pass (PEP), you should:

  • Not become unemployed in Singapore for more than 6 months at any time
  • Receive a fixed salary of at least S$144,000 per calendar year

Further passes are available for skilled and semi-skilled workers. These are as follows:

 S Pass

Applicable to mid-skilled technical employees who possess the following:

  • Relevant work experience and diploma level education.
  • A monthly salary of at least S$2,000

R Pass

Suitable for unskilled workers with:

  • Sufficient work experience
  • A fixed monthly salary of at least £2,000

It’s worth noting that a foreign worker levy applies for recruitment of any mid-skilled or unskilled employees. This restriction stipulates that five local (Singaporean) employees must be hired for every non-Singaporean S Pass or R Pass (work permit) holder. Click here to calculate a foreign worker quota for your business.

During the transition phase of setting up a business and finding somewhere permanent to live, you may require some temporary housing.

Serviced apartments are an excellent choice for short-term use as they offer more space and greater privacy an average hotel room. As Singapore boasts a wide range of different serviced apartment options, expats can rest assured that quality accommodation is readily available. Singapore Lifestyle blogger, Daphne, recommends a stay at Capri by Fraser, which, incidentally is also a SilverDoor-verified property. You’ll find a full list of serviced apartments in Singapore on the SilverDoor website.

Should you require an independent co-working space for business purposes at any point during your time in Singapore, be sure to check out this list.


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