Guide to Business Licenses and Permits in Singapore


Singaporean Business Permits And Licenses

Certain business activities in Singapore require the owner to hold a relevant business license. These licenses are issued by a Singaporean government agency, and are essentially permits allowing the holder to conduct a specific related type of business. The company must first be registered with the Registrar of Companies prior to submission. Please see our company registration guide to learn how to register a private limited company in Singapore. (I’m assuming a link will be inserted here)

This guide forms a basic introduction to the variety of industry-specific licenses and permits offered to potential businesses in Singapore.

Licenses required for businesses in specific industries

The license processing may take between two weeks to  several months, depending on the nature of your business and the specific license chosen. Do note that certain businesses require these licenses prior to commencing operation, so factor this lead time into your plan.

Retail shops

The specific licensing requirements for opening a retail store will vary depending on the primary business of the store. The nature of the goods and services you provide will determine what specific license you require. Our guide on establishing a retail outlet in Singapore provides a more comprehensive look at the licensing requirements for three of the most popular types of retail stores, specifically telecommunications stores, supermarkets and chemists/pharmacies. This guide also outlines the requirements and licenses required to stock and retail items such as liquor and cosmetics that are regulated by the authority.

Construction businesses

Establishing a construction company in Singapore requires the business-owner to apply for several permits, approvals and licenses. Companies looking to hire foreign labourers will also be required to apply to the Ministry of Manpower for work permits for each individual labourer. To learn more, please see our guide on establishing a construction company in Singapore.

Trading companies

Our guide on starting a trading company in Singapore provides a broad overview of steps involved in meeting the various financial, regulatory and logistical requirements. This includes opening a customs account, acquiring licenses and permits for import/export, the types of goods that can be imported or exported into/from Singapore, relevant taxes and fees, options for trade financing, procedures for clearing cargo, options for goods storage and more. Our guide on importing controlled goods covers the specifics of importing ‘sensitive’ goods into the country, while our guide to the Singapore Global Trader’s Scheme covers tax incentives provided for global trading companies with a presence in Singapore.

Hotels and boarding houses

Establishing a boarding house or hotel requires several licenses and approvals. In addition to the principal Hotel-Keeper’s License and the approval from the Hotels Licensing Board, a number of other licenses have to be acquired for specific activities. These include organised ad-hoc entertainment, running a spa, selling tobacco products, housing TVs, operating a swimming pool, et cetera. Our guide to establishing a hotel covers the specifics of the licenses and permits required.

Spas and massage parlours

Offering specific treatments including foot-reflexology, manicure, massage, spa baths requires licenses be acquired. Read our guide to establishing

Western medical clinics

Operating a western medical clinic requires licenses.. Clinics will also require a license for dealing with hazardous chemicals, using irradiating equipment or purchasing medicinal products and another for carrying out medical procedures such as abortion, sterilisation and liposuction. To learn more about the licensing requirements and key facts, please see our guide to starting a western medical clinic in Singapore.

Employment agencies

An Employment Agency License is required to start and operate an employment agencies. For more information on licensing pre-requisites and the application procedure and expected timeframe, please see our guide to starting an employment agency in Singapore.

Travel agencies

Singapore travel agents are required to hold a travel agency license. Ottavia’s guide on starting a travel agency in Singapore provides a broad overview of the establishment process of a travel agency and the steps required to obtain a travel agent’s license.

Restaurants, bars, cafés and other food and beverage businesses

Establishing and maintain any food and beverage (F&B) business in Singapore requires meeting several regulatory requirements. To assist, Ottavia has prepared a comprehensive guide on the process. Part I of Starting a Restaurant in Singapore provides a broad overview of the process, outlining the primary legalities including incorporation of the business, application for a food shop license and hiring staff. Part II provides a detailed look at the procedure for obtaining  license for the serving of liquor, registration for the Goods and Services Tax and the Central Provident Fund, registering for importing food products and services and other administrative necessities. We also provide a guide to incentives for the food industry in Singapore, outlining the schemes and programmes offered by the government to assist the F&B sector in in enhancing their profitability and growing their business. Regulations governing the importation of food products are also available on our site.

Shipping businesses

An overview of the minimum legal requirements for establishing a shipping or maritime business in Singapore is provided in our guide to starting a shipping company. Relevant legislation includes provisions governing:

  • the operation of vessels inside and outside of Singaporean territory,
  • the ability of crew members to work on board vessels at sea,
  • the correct way to handle dangerous goods
  • the necessary communication equipment required on each vessel

Event management companies

Companies in the business of organising various types of events are required to obtain one or more licenses depending on the precise nature of their business. These licenses can include Copyright Permits, Trade Fair Permits, Arts Entertainment Licenses, Public Entertainment Licenses, Animal Exhibition Licenses and others. Our guide to starting an event management company provides details on these licenses.

Real estate agencies

A new statutory board was established to provide better regulation of Singapore’s real estate industry. This move reflects the rising importance of the industry to the nation’s economy and was designed to raise professional standards to better serve consumers. This framework has increased the licensing requirements of real estate agencies, requiring compulsory registration of all agents and established a raft of new industry regulations. For detailed information, please see our guide to establishing a real estate agency in Singapore.

Publishing houses

Any publishing business in Singapore requires the Newspaper Permit and a Printing Press License in order to operate. For details on these two primary licenses and the criteria for application, the application procedure and other relevant information, please see our guide to establishing a publishing business in Singapore.

Telecommunications businesses

A number of licenses must be acquired and several legal requirements satisfied by individuals looking to establish any business related to or providing telecommunications services in Singapore. The specific licensing requirements vary depending on the precise nature of the applicant business and the type of telecommunication service provided. Each type of business activity is attached to a compulsory license, and may also require a number of additional licenses. Please refer to our guide to establishing a telecommunications business in Singapore for a comprehensive guide to the licensing procedure.

Private education businesses

Educational establishments in Singapore require several mandatory licenses to operate within the country. Our guide to establishing a private education business covers the various registrations, licenses and permits that must be acquired prior to starting operating any childcare centre, kindergarten, or academic or non-academic schools in Singapore.

In conclusion

Singapore is a favourite destination of entrepreneurs and start-ups due its efficient and pro-business environment and the ease with which a venture can be established. The process for registering a company is simple and straightforward and the government has taken steps to further simplify business licensing procedures. If you’re able to quickly provide all necessary documentation and comply with all other requirements, there is no reason for your license application to be rejected.

While many issue surrounding licenses and permits can be handled by the applicant, it is often a good idea to engage the services of a professional firm to ensure the timely and cost-effective completion of the process.