Guide to permits and licensing in Singapore
10 minute read
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:
- Running a retail shop
- Setting up a hotel, guest house, or lodging
- Running a spa
- Establishing a travel agency
- Starting a F&B business
- Running an event management company
- Setting up a real estate agency
- Running a publishing business
- Starting a private education business (includes childcare and kindergartens)
- MAS regulatory obligations (includes non-bank financial services)
We also recommend reviewing our “Checking to see if you need a license” section 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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
There are two types of travel agency licenses available and you can choose to get which one suits you and your company the best:
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:
Restaurants and cafes
Here are 3 basic steps to open your own restaurant or café in Singapore, provided that you already completed your feasibility study and raised enough capital for your new business.
You will need to secure the following documents during the building stage of your business:
- Planning Permission from Land Agencies
- Tenancy/Lease Agreement
- Compliance with the Code of Practice of Environmental Health (COPEH) from the National Environment Agency
In order to legally operate your restaurant in Singapore, you require the following licenses:
- Food Shop License: This is required for all food retail establishments in Singapore. Only apply after you have signed your tenancy agreement and completed the physical layout of your restaurant.
- Basic Food Hygiene Course: This course is necessary for all food handlers in Singapore.
- Liquor License: Apply for this license if you intend to sell liquor in your restaurant.
- License for Importing Food Ingredients: You will need this license if you are going to use ingredients that are sourced from outside of Singapore.
- Halal Certification: This certification is voluntary but advisable due to the sizeable Muslim population in Singapore.
- Central Provident Fund Registration: Employers need to register to this mandatory social security savings plan.
- Government Service Tax Registration: You can apply for this registration once you have reached an annual revenue of at least S$1 Million.
For the application of necessary licenses, you can visit LicenceOne, a one-stop online portal for business licensing in Singapore.
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:
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:
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:
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 LicenseOne Portal is 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
If company name or service is related to architectural services
Board of Architects (BOA)
If company name or activities are related to real estate.
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
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
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
If the name and activities contain or involve “Islam” and “Muslim”
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
Certain business activities require prior approval from the relevant authorities before registration with ACRA:
Cases Requiring Referrals
If the proposed name and activities contain accounting services
If the proposed name and activities contain the term “Co-op” or “Co-operative”
If the proposed name and activities contain the terms ‘Medical’ or ‘Clinic’
Ministry of Health (MOH)
MAS regulatory obligations
Generally MAS regulatory obligations involve the need to have internal and external audit, risk management, compliance, BCP, AML, outsourcing, fit & proper.
To illustrate some of the requirements for a fund manager, base capital required would be S$250,000 and the minimum personnel requirements are as follows:
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.