Guide to Business Licenses and Permits in Singapore

1. Introduction

Although most businesses to be carried out in Singapore do not require licenses or permits other than the registration of a company or a firm with ACRA, there are a handful that do as they are regulated by the approving authorities. Some of these are private schools, travel agencies, liquor distributors, moneylenders, banks, childcare centers, importers/exporters, wholesalers and retailers of liquors.

A business license is a permit issued by a Singapore government agency that allows you to conduct a specific type of business. In order to apply for a business license in Singapore, the company must be first registered with the registrar of companies. To find out how to register a private limited company in Singapore, please refer to our Singapore company registration guide.

2. Types of Business Licenses and Permits in Singapore

(1) Business Activity Licenses & Permits

Licenses and permits you need if you decide to carry out certain types of business activities.

Example, in the course of running your business, you may want to renovate, erect advertising billboards on your premises, hire foreign workers or export your products or you may also decide to start selling controlled goods such as cigarettes and liquor.

(2) Compulsory Licenses

Certain types of businesses require a special license before they can operate.

Example, private schools, video companies, travel agencies, liquor distributors, moneylenders, banks and childcare centers. You will need to apply for these licenses when you register your business with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). In such cases, it may take between 14 days ?2 months to get all the necessary licenses, permits and approvals to form your business.

(3) Occupational License for Professional Services

Professionals such as lawyers, doctors, dentists, financial planners, pilots and commodity futures traders and accountants need to obtain occupational license to practice.

If your business offers certifiable professional services, your practitioners need to get occupational licenses. If you are not sure which license to obtain, consult a lawyer and/or the organizations that regulate these professions. A list of professional organizations can be found using e-Guide Singapore or Internet Yellow Pages (Singapore)

3. Industry-Specific Business Licenses in Singapore

Listed below are some of the industry-specific licenses that must be obtained in order to run a particular business in Singapore.

(1) Retail Business

Licensing requirements for retail shops vary depending on the nature of goods and services being sold;

 Tobacco Retail License, issued by the Health Sciences Authority, for the retail of tobacco products.
 Liquor License issued by the Liquor Licensing Board for retail of liquor.
 Telecommunication Dealers License issued by Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore for the manufacture, import, hire, sale, offer or possession for sale of any approved telecommunication equipment or equipment set out in the First Schedule of the Telecommunication (Dealers) Regulations.
 Pet Shop License issued by the AVA, if you intend to use a premise for the display, sale or export of pets. You do not need a pet shop license if you are only selling pet accessories or engaging only in pet grooming activities.
 Wholesale Dealers License for Chinese Proprietary Medicine (CPM) issued by the Health Sciences Authority of Singapore (HSA) under the Medicines Act to allow the companies to import Chinese Proprietary Medicines (CPM). The CPM must be listed and approved for sale in Singapore prior to importation.
 Certificate of Registration of Pharmacy issued by HSA for pharmacies or drugstores.
 Cosmetic Products Notification under the guidance of HSA for retail of cosmetic products.

(2) Construction Business

There are several permits, approvals and licenses that are required for setting up a construction company in Singapore. In addition, one needs to apply to the Ministry of Manpower for work permits in order to hire foreign laborers.

(3) Import and Export Permit

Registration for Central Registration Number (CR No.) had ceased from 23 Dec 2008. With effect from 1 January 2009, Singapore Customs implemented Unique Entity Number (UEN) to replace CR number.

You will need to register with Singapore Customs, the company’s account will then be activated, and it will also enable your company to apply and submit Import and Export Permit applications through Trade Net? if necessary.

It is a regulatory requirement to complete this process and activate the account (by either one of the owners or directors) if your organization wishes to import goods into or export goods from Singapore or submit permit applications on behalf of other traders.

Singapore permits the import and export of non-controlled goods without any license requirements. Examples of non-controlled goods include books, stationery, handicrafts, jewellery, toys and games, sporting and recreational goods, CD ROMs, VCDs, DVDs, flowers and plants etc.

For trading of controlled goods, you will require a relevant import/export license relating to the goods you are dealing in, issued by the specific governing agency. Examples of controlled goods include cigarettes and tobacco products, drugs, petrochemicals, animals and food products.

(4) Hotel

There are several licenses and approvals to be procured in order to set up a hotel or boarding house in Singapore. Apart from the principal Hotelkeeper’s License and approval from the Hotels Licensing Board, permits or licenses will have to be obtained for the following types of activities: housing TVs, organizing ad-hoc entertainment, playing copyrighted music or videos, running a spa, selling tobacco products, operating a swimming pool, etc.

(5) Spa

A Massage Establishment License is required in order to offer massage services, foot-reflexology services, manicure treatments, spa baths or other similar treatments.

(6) Medical Clinic

There are three essential types of licenses in order to operate a western medical clinic in Singapore ?the Medical Clinic License which is a compulsory license for all health-care institutions; licenses for dealing with hazardous chemicals, using irradiating equipment or for purchasing certain medicinal products; and licenses and approvals to carry out medical procedures such as such as liposuction, abortion and sterilization.

(7) Employment Agency

Any business activities that involve recruitment and job placement services for other employers, an Employment Agency License is required from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) of Singapore before business can commence.

Employment agencies include head-hunting firm, executive search companies, foreign domestic worker agencies, local and foreign staffing companies, construction worker agencies, online jobs portals, nanny-placing agencies and so on.

(8) Travel Agency

Businesses that involve arranging and selling travel or tour packages (including transport services only as part of the package and not otherwise), will need to apply for a Travel Agent’s License with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

The license is required if your business falls within Section 4 of the Travel Agents Act (Cap. 334) as below:

 selling tickets entitling an individual to travel, or otherwise arranging for a person a right of passage on any conveyance. A Travel Agency License is not required if the conveyance is owned by the company.
 facilitating a person’s ability to travel by selling or arranging transport tickets, hotel accommodation and foreign visas to destinations outside and within Singapore. A travel Agency License is not required if the mode of transport and the place of accommodation is owned by the company.
 purchasing for resale the right of passage on any conveyance
 arranging or conducting tours within or outside Singapore
 hold yourself out as or advertising that you are willing to carry on any activity referred to in the previous points.

(9) Financial or Funds Management Service Business

Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) oversees the issuance of licenses for financial and funds management services. There are essentially three types of licenses:

* Capital Markets Services License for businesses that work with securities.
* Commodity License issued for commodity trading agencies.
* Financial Adviser License for financial firms that provide advisory services to the public.

The Guide to Financial Services License in Singapore provides a basic introduction to the two type of licenses (i.e. Capital Markets Services License and Financial Advisers License), exemptions, how to obtain these licenses, eligibility requirements, application procedure, and other related information.

(10) Food and Beverage Business

 All food related businesses are required to have a Food Shop License from National Environment Agency (NEA), which will conduct an inspection prior to issuing a license. Other related licenses that you may need or want to apply:
 Halal Certification issued by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS)
 Liquor License issued by the Liquor Licensing Board for the retail sale of liquor, including beer. Different types of licenses are issued depending on whether consumption is on or off premises.
 Tobacco Retail License, issued by the Health Sciences Authority, for the retail of tobacco products.
 For operating a central kitchen, you may require Factory Registration and a License to Operate a Meat or Fish Processing Establishment or Cold Store, issued by the AVA.
 License for Importing Food Ingredients. If you intend to import processed food products and food appliances, you need to apply for a Registration Number with the Food Control Division (FCD) of Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

(11) Event Management Business

Event management companies that are in the business of organizing various types of events will have to obtain one or more licenses depending upon the event or activity being organized. Examples of such licenses include Arts Entertainment License, Copyright Permit, Public Entertainment License, Trade Fair Permit, Animal Exhibition License, etc.

(12) Real Estate Agency

Given the rising importance of Singapore’s real estate industry, a new statutory board was recently setup in order to better regulate the industry and raise professional standards in the interest of consumers. The new framework has enhanced the licensing of real estate agencies, introduced a compulsory registration of real estate agents and established new industry regulations.

(13) Publishing Business

A publishing business publishes written materials such as books, magazines, newspapers and any sort of periodical. The Newspaper Permit and Printing Press License are the two primary licenses that are required for anyone wanting to start a publishing business in Singapore.

(14) Telecommunications Business

There are several legal requirements and licenses to be obtained in order to establish a telecommunication services related business in Singapore. The licensing requirements vary depending upon the type of telecommunication service being provided. Each type of business activity requires a compulsory license and may require one or more additional licenses.
(15) Educational Institutions
Setting up an educational institution or to provide educational services usually requires one or more licenses to operate. Each of the licenses is issued by a different government authority; it can be the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports and/or Ministry of Education.

Typically application for licenses and permits in Singapore can only be done after successful incorporation of your company; however, in a few instances, application for licenses and permits is done simultaneously with the application for name approval from Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA), from which, the ACRA system will indicate if another approving authority is required to grant licenses or permits.

In general, it may take between two weeks to two months to get a business license or permit depending on the type.