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Guide to licensing and permits in Singapore

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Deciding to set up a company is one thing but the next step from there is the type of business you are setting up. Certain business types are required to obtain a license/permit when you register your business with Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).

 

In this article, we share with you the main types of businesses that require getting a license/permit before they can begin operation. Quick jump to your relevant section:

We also recommend reviewing our Checking to see if you need a licensesection at the end of this article to cover off other instances of checking in with ‘referral authorities’’ where your business activity may converge with organisations created to further Singapore’s interests (eg tourism, youth and family, defense, etc).

Running a retail shop

Licensing requirements for retail businesses depend on the type of goods that are being sold and type of services being provided. Your business is considered as a retail shop when owners sell merchandise directly to consumers. Below we share with you a few types of retail shops that need to apply for a license:

  • Supermarkets
  • Pharmacies
  • Telecommunications stores

Starting a construction business

When deciding to set up a construction company in Singapore, bare in mind that there are several licenses that are required. You would also need to apply to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for work permits in order to hire laborers from overseas. Under the Professional Engineers Act, If your company takes part in the activities listed below, you would then need to apply for a license and get an approval from the Professional Engineers Board (PEB):

  • Building completion
  • Building construction
  • Building installation
  • Mixed construction
  • Construction work other than constructing buildings
  • Lease construction equipments
  • Site preparation work
  • Structural repair works
  • Offer other specialised construction

Trading activities

Singapore is a hot port for traders, making it the 14th largest merchandise exporter in the world. After a company has been incorporated, all importers and exporters are required to activate their account with Singapore Customs before they can begin any business.

 

The activation process will take up to 2 working days and once it has been done, you will be issued a Customs approval letter, which will be valid for as long as your company is active. If you fall under the categories listed below, your company has to apply for a permit:

  • For import/exports of all good
  • For import/exports of controlled goods
  • For import of high-technology items
  • For export, transshipment, or transit of Strategic Goods
  • For export of local goods

Setting up a hotel, boarding house, or guest home

Deciding to set up a hotel in Singapore? Several licenses/permits are needed in order for you to set up a hotel in Singapore. First permit is the Hotel-Keeper’s License. Under the Hotels Act, any business owner wanting to open a hotel in Singapore (including lodging house, boarding house, guest home) must obtain a Certificate of Registration to use the premises as a hotel from the Hotels Licensing board.

 

If the activities listed below take place in your premises, you would need to get an additional license for it:

  • Housing TVs
  • Organising ad-hoc entertainment
  • Playing copyrighted music/videos
  • Running a spa
  • Selling tobacco products
  • Operating a swimming pool
  • Halal certification

What about AirBnB?

AirBnB and other short-term housing solutions are a complicated area of regulation that is currently under review. Although short-term renting is not illegal for a private property, it does contravene a guideline stating a minimum 3-month rental period issued by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). In the past the URA has fined individuals in the past for subletting using AirBnB.  Owners of short-term rental homes may not need licensing but should ensure guests don’t cause disturbance to the neighbourhood or they are at risk of getting in trouble with the URA.

Running a spa

If you are running a spa as a business, you need to apply for a Massage Establishment License. Once this license has been obtained, you are then allowed to offer massage services, foot-reflexology services, manicure treatments, spa baths or other similar treatments as part of your spa offerings.

Setting up an employment agency (this includes recruiters)

All employment agencies in Singapore need to get an Employment Agency License (EAL) before starting their business and each license is valid up to 3 years. This license is required for all categories of recruitment agencies and is governed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). There are 2 types of licenses available:

  • Select Licence: candidates earn a monthly salary of more than $4,500
  • Comprehensive Licence: all other agencies that do not qualify for the above license

Establishing a travel agency

If you are thinking of starting a travel agency business in Singapore, you need to apply for a travel agency license. A few activities are listed below which require the business owner to apply for a license:

  • supplying any person a right to travel on any conveyance (ie type of transportation);
  • purchasing, or reserving, for resale to a person a right to travel on any conveyance
  • supplying any tour (whether or not organised by the person) to any other person, and
  • such other similar activity as may be prescribed

There are two types of travel agency licenses available and you can choose to get which one suits you and your company the best:

  • Niche license: (lower minimum financial requirements) Agents who intend to sell, arrange or advertise tours only within Singapore, and provide conveyance to passengers but without any right of accommodation
  • General license: (higher financial requirements) Agents who will conduct other activities beyond what is described in the scope of a Niche License (eg. tours out of Singapore)

Starting a F&B (food and beverage) business - this includes liquor licenses

Singapore is famous for having and appreciating all types of cuisines. From Italian to Chinese, there’s a niche for you. Licenses/permits are more complex when it comes to F&B.

 

After incorporation, but before you can start your business, you need to get a Food Shop License from the National Environment Agency (NEA) for retailing food/drinks. After you have finalised a location for your business to take take place, authorities will inspect the location before granting an approval for the license. Below we have listed a few more licenses you can apply for:

  • Halal certification
  • Liquor licence
  • License for importing food ingredients

Starting a shipping business

Singapore is known as the global port for shipping. If you are thinking of starting a shipping/maritime business in Singapore, you need relevant licenses depending on the nature of your business:

  • Harbour Craft Licence: Operate vessels within Singapore’s port
  • Port Clearance Certificate: Operate vessels within and beyond Singapore’s port
  • Ship Registration Certificate: Transport passengers or goods
  • Port Limit Manning Licence: For crew members to work on-board your ships and vessels
  • Launch a New Vessel Permit: To launch a new vessel more than 15 meters long in the port
  • Ship Station Licence: Operate radio-communication equipment on your Singapore registered ship
  • Ship Sanitation Control Certificate: Certify your vessel’s sanitary condition to transport goods
  • Permit to discharge/load/transit dangerous goods and dock vessels carrying such goods
  • Other Licences and Permits for related activities

Running an event management company

Event management companies are responsible for organising different types of events, which requires them to obtain one or more licenses depending on the event or activity that is being organised. Below we have listed a few licenses available:

  • Arts entertainment license
  • Copyright permit
  • Public entertainment license
  • Trade fair permit
  • Animal exhibition license
  • Advertisement license
  • Fireworks display license
  • Notification to conduct lucky draw

Setting up a real estate agency

With Singapore’s real estate industry booming over the years, a new statutory board was set up to achieve better regulation of the industry and raise professional standards (interest of consumers). This new framework has a few key features:  

  • Enhanced licensing requirements for real estate agencies
  • Compulsory registration of real estate agents
  • New industry regulations

All real estate businesses need to obtain a license from the Council of Estate Agencies (CEA).

Running a publishing business

Singapore is a flourishing hub for local and international publications. When deciding to run a publishing business in Singapore, you have two primary licenses that you can apply for – the newspaper permit and the printing press license.

 

The newspaper permit can be obtained from the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA). If your publishing business is undertaking the following activities listed below, you would need to apply for this license:  

  • Printing or publishing a newspaper in Singapore
  • Selling or distributing an offshore newspaper in Singapore

The printing press license is for a business that operates a press to print publication such as newspapers, pamphlets, maps, charts and magazines in Singapore. You would then need to obtain the printing press license from the Registrar of Newspapers.

Starting a private education business (includes childcare and kindergartens)

Deciding to start your own private education business? There are certain mandatory licenses that you need to obtain in order to start your business like childcare centres, kindergartens, academic schools and non-academic schools in Singapore.

 

The type of licenses depend on the type of education establishment you are planning to start. The key requirement for education businesses is that all private establishments providing to 10 or more people (except non-academic schools) have to register either with the Ministry of Education (MOE) or Council for Private Education (CPE), depending on the type of education establishment.

Checking to see if you need a license for other activity

These are the basic licenses/permits required in Singapore. The Online Business Licensing Service (OBLS) is a 1 place platform where you can apply for your licenses and permits. Click here to visit the website.

 

You can refer to the Referral Authority Chart below, which identifies the approving authority for a specific business type.

 

Cases Requiring Referrals

Referral Authority

If company name or service is related to architectural services

Board of Architects (BOA)

If company name or activities are related to real estate.

Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS)

If company name or activities are related to commodities futures trading, brokerage, clearing etc.

International Enterprise Singapore (IE Singapore)

If the proposed activities involve community services for the elderly, families, youths, disabled or children

Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS)

If the proposed business name contains terms such as “Military” or “Defense”.

Ministry of Defense – Defense Technology and Resource Office

Organization rendering educational or training services of academic nature. Names of such establishments contain terms such as ‘college’, ‘national’, ‘Singapore’, ‘university’ etc.

Ministry of Education – Private Schools Section

If the proposed name contains the acronym ASEAN

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

If the proposed company is to be engaged in financial services and with a name containing terms related to financial services such as ‘Bank’ ‘Futures Exchange’, ‘Clearing House’ or ‘Securities Exchange’ or other similar terms

Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS)

If the name and activities contain or involve “Islam” and “Muslim”

MajlisUgama Islam of Singapore (MUIS)

If the business activities are related to arms, explosive chemicals and ammunition

Singapore Police Force – Licensing Division

If the proposed name or tourism-related activities involve the term “Merlion”

Singapore Tourism Board (STB)

If the proposed name or activities are related to law or legal services

The Law Society of Singapore

Certain business activities require prior approval from the relevant authorities before registration with ACRA:

 

Cases Requiring Referrals

Referral Authority

If the proposed name and activities contain accounting services

Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA)

If the proposed name and activities contain the term “Co-op” or “Co-operative”

Registry of Co-operative Societies

If the proposed name and activities contain the terms ‘Medical’ or ‘Clinic’

Ministry of Health (MOH)

Next steps

Even though there are many additional areas of business that require licensing before you can start business, the licensing procedure in Singapore has been made simple and easy. If you meet the necessary requirements and submit the needed documentations, there is hardly any reason for your license to get rejected.

 

Are you ready to start the year with a new business venture? We are here to help you with incorporation! At Sleek we help people everyday to set up their businesses in Singapore. Talk to us for practical advice if you have any questions about incorporation here.

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