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Wondering if you need a license to start your company in Singapore? Most companies in Singapore do not require a business license or permit to start operations, but this depends on the nature of your business.
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This comprehensive guide will help you decide if you need a license, which one you need and how to get one. Incorporating a company in Singapore is relatively easy, but it’s only the first step to actually doing business in the country.
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Depending on the nature of your business or company, you will need to obtain a license and permit once your company is registered with the Accountancy and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).
Compulsory licenses are a type of license that certain Singaporean companies must obtain before they can start operating. For example, child care centers must obtain a Child Care License. Other examples include banks, real estate companies, and trading companies.
Some professions require a license to work. Professional licenses can be obtained from professional organizations that govern the profession. Examples of these professions include, but are not limited to, lawyers, doctors, accountants, and architects.
The government requires some businesses to obtain a license to operate their business, e.g. sale of liquor or pharmaceutical products. That’s why it’s important to check the licensing requirements before launching!
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The time frame for obtaining a license can vary depending on the type of license you need and how long it takes to prepare certain documents. In some cases, it may take days or weeks to obtain a license.
In some cases, it may take days, weeks, or months to obtain a license.
As mentioned above, a license may be approved by multiple authorities, which may require a physical visit or inspection of the applicant’s workplace.
Below are the various industry business licenses that companies need to obtain in order to do business in Singapore.
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Retail businesses will need a business license depending on the goods and services they offer and the type of goods and services sold. Your business is considered retail when you sell goods and merchandise directly to consumers. A good example of retail businesses and their licenses is as follows:
Singapore is the world’s 9th largest exporter of goods by 2022, so it’s no surprise that foreign entities are looking to set up import and/or export businesses in the country. To operate as a trading company and do business in Singapore, you need to activate your company account with Singapore Customs.
The timeline for the application process can take days to weeks. Once your application is approved, you will receive a Customs Approval Letter, which is valid as long as the company is active. You need to apply for a permit if your company does one or more of these activities:
Under the Hotels Act, companies must obtain a Hotel Keeper’s License before being allowed to operate a hotel in Singapore. Hotels, guest houses, boarding houses also belong to the category of hotels.
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Business owners must obtain a certificate of registration from the Hotel Licensing Board (HLB) to operate their premises as a hotel.
Hoteliers are required to obtain additional business licenses and permits if they engage in any business activities as part of their offering:
Individuals who want to offer short-term accommodation solutions such as Airbnb do not need to obtain a license to operate, but rather make sure that their guests using their rental properties do not disturb the neighborhood.
Currently, no licenses or permits are required to operate as an Airbnb, as the country is still exploring this specific hospitality business sector and business model. Short-term rental is not illegal in Singapore, but it does go against the 3-month minimum rental period required by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
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Whether you run a hotel that offers spa and massage services or run a salon, you need to apply for a Massage Establishment license. You can apply for the said business license through the Singapore Police Force (SPF) website.
A massage establishment license allows you to offer massage services, manicures, spa baths, foot reflexology services and other similar services or treatments as part of your company’s offerings.
Individuals or companies in the business of providing or creating travel arrangements and/or conducting tours in and outside Singapore must obtain a Travel Agency License under the Travel Agents Act. This business license can be obtained through TRUST (Singapore Tourism Board’s Licensing System for Travel Agents and Tour Guides).
According to Section 4 of the Travel Agencies Act, a company or individual carries on the activities of a travel agency if they advertise or carry out any business activity:
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There are two types of travel agency licenses and permits for travel agents who want to do business in Singapore:
Starting a food and beverage business in Singapore requires many business licenses and permits. But this should not be a deterrent, as Singapore is known as a food haven by foreigners and tourists alike. There are enough people in Singapore who appreciate what Singaporean cuisine brings.
If you have an idea of what kind of food and catering establishment you want to open in Singapore, you can fill out this government e-consultant form to find out what licenses and permits you need.
For new food service business owners, the company must obtain a food store license from the National Environment Agency (NEA) after the company has merged with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).
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Assuming you have chosen a location for business, the authorities will inspect said location before issuing you a license. Goods and Services Tax (GST) registration is also mandatory before starting a business.
All licenses and permits can be obtained through LicenceOne, Singapore’s online portal for business licensing in Singapore. Licensing requirements vary depending on the type of restaurant or cafe registered in Singapore.
After registering your company, you will need one or more licenses depending on the type of events or activities you are organizing. One or more licenses hereunder are valid only for the duration of the event.
Local and international publications wishing to set up a publishing business in Singapore need one of two main licenses: a Newspaper Permit and a Publishing License.
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A newspaper permit is obtained from Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (MDA) and is intended for publishing businesses that plan to print or publish a newspaper in Singapore or sell or distribute an offshore newspaper in Singapore.
A printing press license is for any printing business that wants to operate a press to print newspapers, brochures, maps, charts, magazines and other publications in Singapore. You can obtain this license from the Registrar of Gazettes.
Singapore’s real estate industry has grown over the past few years and with its growth came a statutory council to help regulate the industry and raise the professional standards of real estate agents.
According to the Estate Agents Act, all estate agents, whether sole proprietors, private limited companies or partnerships, carrying out estate agency business in Singapore must obtain the appropriate license from the Council of Estate Agents (CEA).
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If you want to run a private education business in Singapore, you need to obtain compulsory licenses. Private education businesses include childcare centers, academic and non-academic institutions, and kindergartens.
An important requirement for setting up a private education business in Singapore is a school or educational institution premises. You need planning permission from the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore (URA).
Premises renovations require building permits obtained through the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore (BCA). All renovation projects must be performed by licensed contractors, including architects. You will also need a legal completion certificate and a temporary work permit from BCA to get the premises.
You will also need a Fire Safety Certificate (FSC) obtained from the Singapore Civil Defense Force by a registered engineer or architect before you can occupy the premises.
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The type of license you need will depend on which school you want to start. With the exception of non-academic schools, for education or training services serving 10 or more clients, registration with the Ministry of Education or the Private Education Board is required.
All business licenses and permits can be obtained through the LicenseOne portal. You can also refer to this Issuing Authority Chart which lets you know which Singapore government agency is responsible for issuing certain compulsory licenses to certain businesses:
There you have it, everything you need to know about obtaining various business licenses in Singapore. For foreigners looking to start a business in Singapore, you can work with company incorporation services such as Piloto Asia.
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