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Guide to permits and licensing in Singapore

10 minute read


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

Among the businesses which require licenses and permits are retail stores, hotels, spa, F&B, childcare centres, pharmacies, telecommunications businesses, etc.

Note that the registration of a company with the registrar of companies must be done before applying for business licenses/permits. If such is not the case, the license cannot be obtained. Either organizations or individuals may apply for this license.

Foreigners will need to obtain an employment pass before submission of a business license application. These licences are compulsory because the competent government authorities must pay particular attention to companies in these sectors.

New foreign companies may not be aware of their registration requirements for the Singapore business licences.

Depending on the sector in which a company is setting up, the authorities, the procedures to be followed, as well as other licence application procedures vary.It is essential that business owners understand the type of licenses required for the industries related to their business.

Failure to comply with licensing and permit regulations can result in costly fines and jeopardize the future of a business. The purpose of this guide is to help you find the right license for your business.

We also recommend reviewing the guide 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 nature of goods and services that are being sold and the type of services being provided. Your business is considered as a retail shop when business owners sell merchandise and goods directly to consumers. Below we share with you a few types of retail stores that need to apply for a business license:

  • Supermarkets
  • Pharmacies
  • Telecommunications stores

Trading activities

Singapore is a hot port for traders, making it the 14th largest merchandise exporter in the world. After a Singapore company has been incorporated, all importers, exporters and trading companies are required to activate their account with Singapore Customs before they can begin importing and exporting goods. These permits can be applied online via the TradeNet website.

The application process can vary from a few days to a matter of weeks. 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

Find out more information for importers here.
Find out more information for exporters here.

Setting up a hotel, boarding house, or guest home

Deciding to set up a hotel in Singapore? Several business licenses, permits and approvals are needed in order for you to set up a hotel in Singapore. The 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.

Examples of activities that need to get an additional license:

  • 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 for subletting through 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

In order to set up a spa as a business and offering massage services, 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 and services as part of your spa offerings.

Establishing a travel agency

Travel agent license is a license that is required for anyone wanting to start a Travel agency in Singapore. Examples of few businesses are listed below which require the 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. The country is often considered as a food haven. From Italian to Chinese, there’s a niche for you. Business licenses/permits are more complex when it comes to Food & Beverage.

If you know what kind of establishment you’re going to open, you can fill out the government e-Adviser form to learn exactly which licences you’ll need. If you’re still exploring options, read on!

New food services business owners need to get a Food Shop License from the National Environment Agency (NEA) for retailing food/drinks products after incorporation, before they can start the business. After you have finalised a location for your business to take place, authorities will inspect the location before granting an approval for the food shop license. Note that a company must register for GST before starting its business. Below we have listed a few more licenses relating to food business you can apply for:

  • Halal certification: Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) issues Halal Certificates based on a set of systems-focused Halal Certification requirements known as the Singapore Muis Halal Quality Management System (HalMQ). MUIS schemes span the food supply chain.
  • Import export license for food products: If you wish to import fresh food products (meat, fish, fresh fruits, vegetables, etc..), a singapore company must apply for the relevant trader’s licence from the SFA.

Liquor license

A Singapore company must have a liquor licence in order to sell alcohol. Depending on the type of alcohol, selling time and the type of business establishment, companies must apply for the liquor licence that best meets these criteria.
For more information on the steps and on the application process for applying for a liquor license, click here.
You can apply for a liquor license here.

Restaurants and cafes

Here are 3 basic steps to open your own restaurant or café in Singapore, provided that you have already completed your feasibility study and raised enough capital for your new business.

  • Incorporate your company
  • Location of your restaurant: Find a location and acquire a Food Shop License because your restaurant will be inspected before the Food Shop License is granted.
  • Licensing

You will need to secure the following documents during the building stage of your business:

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:

  • 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 such as:

  • 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) website.

Running a publishing business

Singapore is a flourishing hub for local and international publications. Everyone who decides to run a publishing business in Singapore, can apply for one of the two primary licenses – the newspaper permit and the printing press license.

The newspaper permit/license can be obtained from the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA). If your publishing business is undertaking the following tasks 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 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 ReferralsReferral Authority
If company name or service is related to architectural servicesBoard 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 childrenMinistry 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 ASEANMinistry 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 termsMonetary 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 ammunitionSingapore 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 servicesThe Law Society of Singapore

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

Cases Requiring ReferralsReferral Authority
If the proposed name and activities contain accounting servicesInstitute 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)

MAS regulatory obligations

Generally MAS regulatory obligations involve the need to have an internal and external audit, risk management, compliance, BCP, AML, outsourcing, fit & proper.

A Financial Advisers license is also required in order to carry out regulated financial services activities. The two types of business licenses are: Capital Markets Services License and Financial Advisers License.

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:

  • Minimum requirements for Directors: At least 2 Nominee directors such as legal advisers or corporate secretaries will not count towards meeting this requirement. At least one must be an executive director employed full-time in the day-to-day operations of the company and should be resident in Singapore.
  • Minimum requirement for CEO: Minimum 5 years of relevant experience in a managing or supervising capacity and working in businesses related to that of the fund manager.
  • Minimum requirement for representatives (individuals who conduct the regulated activity of fund management, such as portfolio construction and allocation, research and advisory, business development and marketing or client servicing. They may include the directors and CEO of the fund manager): At least 2 residing in Singapore.
  • Minimum requirements for relevant professionals (would include the directors, CEO and representatives of the fund manager): At least 2 residing in Singapore. Each must have minimum 5 years of relevant experience in the applicant’s intended business. For instance, this could be experience in relevant functions, proprietary trading, or in relevant sectors e.g. sales, risk management.

Next steps

Even though there are many additional areas of business that require licensing before you can start a business, the business licensing application 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. While some of the issues regarding business licenses and permits can be handled on your own, it is usually a good idea to engage a corporate service provider to help you and save you time. Our specialists at Sleek will give you our best efforts!

Are you ready to start your business but still have some questions? We are here to help you with incorporation! At Sleek we provide company incorporation services and other supporting services to help people set up their businesses in Singapore on a daily basis. Feel free to contact us here if you have any further queries you would like us to assist with.


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