Starting a Business in Singapore | Moving to Singapore

22nd November 2019
Starting a Business in Singapore | Moving to Singapore

Being conveniently located with easy access to around 330 cities from Changi International Airport and 600 ports from the busy shipping container ports, Singapore is a fantastic place to do business.

In this article, we will look at everything you need to know before starting a business in Singapore.

Why Start a Business in Singapore?

As mentioned above, Singapore is very well connected, not only through an impressive number of transport links but also electronically. According to Ookla Speedtest, Singapore has an average download speed of 196.88mpbs, which is staggering compared to 63.58mbps in the UK.

Singapore also consistently ranks in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index (currently 2nd behind New Zealand). The Ease of Doing Business Index ranks countries according to certain factors such as how long it takes to register a company, how much investment is required and the number of procedures involved.

Business Etiquette in Singapore

Although the procedural aspect of doing business in Singapore is relatively easy, the etiquette and personal aspect will take some getting used to. It is important to remember that there is a high number of expats in Singapore, bringing in elements of different cultures to the mix. For example, there are 4 widely spoken languages; Malay, Tamil, Mandarin, and English. People in Singapore are often reserved in meeting rooms and offices, so keep physical contact (such as back patting) to a minimum.

Another custom to know of is that body language and subtle gestures mean a lot in Singapore, so avoid showing the soles of your shoes, pointing or raising your voice.

Doing business in Singapore is very formal. A smart suit, a firm handshake (without getting too close) and addressing colleagues as Mr or Mrs is critical, especially for the first meeting. You should also be wary of giving gifts while doing business in Singapore - large gifts could easily be misconstrued as bribery and giving alcohol to a business partner is likely to cause offence.

Startup SG

Singapore has a rapidly growing ecosystem for startup businesses. Playing a large role in the rise of young companies is the government-backed scheme Startup SG. Startup SG offers mentorship and startup capital for entrepreneurs across many industries, particularly in the tech sector.

The Startup SG Founder programme will match S$3 for every S$1 raised by the entrepreneur. This programme is for first-time Singapore-based entrepreneurs that hold, or propose to hold, over 30% in the company. Since starting in 2017 the scheme has helped over 3,300 startups in varying levels.

Business Entity Types in Singapore

Much like in the UK, in Singapore there are a number of business entity types, each have their own roadmaps and limitations. The path you take will determine how much tax you pay, how the public will perceive the company and the amount of paperwork required to get the business running. These are Public Limited Company, Private Limited Company and Public Company Limited by Guarantee.

A Public Limited Company by Guarantee is a not-for-profit organisation, such as a charity. Although these companies make a profit (referred to as a ‘surplus’), it is redistributed back into the business rather than to its members. A non-profit organisation in Singapore is also exempt from paying tax. Although only 2 Directors, 2 Members and a qualified secretary are required for this route, the level of paperwork and auditing involved is very high.

In contrast to the 5 person team that can start a non-profit organisation, a Public Limited Company requires 50 shareholders and is subject to stringent rules. The extra regulation around Public Limited Companies is because of their ability to draw funding from the public when the company becomes listed on the stock exchange.

Because of the nature of NPOs and Public Limited Companies, most businesses will be registered as a Private Limited Company. The characteristics of a Private Limited Company in Singapore are very similar to those anywhere else in the world. They are their own legal entity; they have a more credible image than that of a sole trader and raising capital for a Private Limited Company, either through a bank or additional shareholders, is easier.

Minimum Requirements for Registering a Business in Singapore

Although much quicker (typically 1-3 days), registering a company in Singapore is very similar to registering a company in the UK. The requirements for registering are:

Business Name Approval

Before being registered, your company must have a name approved and reserved by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority. The ACRA can reject a name if it is:

If your company name follows these simple guidelines, it will typically be approved within an hour of being submitted online. However, once the ACRA has approved the name, you will have 120 days to register your company, otherwise you could lose your business name.

Paperwork and Documents

As well as registering a name with the ACRA, you will also need to provide them with a few documents. These include a Company Constitution (a standardised version is available), a signed Consent to Act as Director document and a signed Consent to Act as Secretary. These documents must be in, or professionally translated to, English. They will also require you to provide proof of a registered address in Singapore. Once these documents are ready, they can be submitted to the ACRA.

With some planning and preparation, you can complete the process of officially registering and starting a company in Singapore within a few days. You can even do it from anywhere in the world before you move to Singapore.

If you are considering moving to Singapore click here to find out more on our specialist service that has helped expats, like you, move to the so called ‘Lion City’.

  • Between one and 50 shareholders (these can be local or based abroad)
  • Paid-up capital of at least S$1
  • At least one Singapore resident director
  • A registered address in Singapore
  • An approved name
  • A Singapore resident secretary (within 6 months of incorporation).

Business Name Approval

Before being registered, your company must have a name approved and reserved by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority. The ACRA can reject a name if it is:

  • Identical or very similar to another business name
  • Vulgar, obscene or offensive
  • Prohibited by order of the Minister for Finance.

If your company name follows these simple guidelines, it will typically be approved within an hour of being submitted online. However, once the ACRA has approved the name, you will have 120 days to register your company, otherwise you could lose your business name.

Paperwork and Documents

As well as registering a name with the ACRA, you will also need to provide them with a few documents. These include a Company Constitution (a standardised version is available), a signed Consent to Act as Director document and a signed Consent to Act as Secretary. These documents must be in, or professionally translated to, English. They will also require you to provide proof of a registered address in Singapore. Once these documents are ready, they can be submitted to the ACRA.

With some planning and preparation, you can complete the process of officially registering and starting a company in Singapore within a few days. You can even do it from anywhere in the world before you move to Singapore.

If you are considering moving to Singapore click here to find out more on our specialist service that has helped expats, like you, move to the so called ‘Lion City’.

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