6 Steps to Starting a Business in Singapore: Foreigner’s Guide
Singapore has done a lot to get the red tape out of your way and give your business a swift start. To make it all even easier, here’s a step-by-step guide to the stuff you’ll encounter and some tips on how to manage all that.
Learn how to start a business in Singapore from your country:
Pick a company name
First and foremost, you need to choose a company name and have your filing agency validate it in ACRA – the national agency that registers and oversees businesses.
In Singapore, two companies can’t bear the same name. A definite article, a business type indicator (Pte Ltd, Limited, etc.), or a generic word like “corporation” won’t distinguish your company name from the existing one if the core nouns match. So look for a unique word or word combination.
Your company’s legal name can be different from its trading name. Just make sure that the trading name you choose doesn’t have any copyright or trademark issues – a quick Google search should do the job.
Tip: If you want to get a name fast, don’t use words like "finance", "bank", "school", "media", or "education". They refer to the types of business that are regulated by agencies other than ACRA, so your application will go there for review. The company name may still be approved – but it will take several weeks longer.
Choose the business activity type
If you want to start a company, you might already know what you’ll be doing. ACRA wants to know, too, so it’ll ask you to pick and submit an SSIC code. It indicates what your company does and in what field.
Use our free SSIC code search to find the code that suits your future business activity.
Assemble the team
Shareholders. Both individuals and companies can become shareholders. А private Singaporean company has to be owned by no more than 50 of them. Foreign citizens and businesses can hold shares, too.
Directors. One can appoint multiple directors but at least one of them must be local. So a foreigner can only hold the position if there is a second director who is a resident. To solve this problem, you may appoint a Nominee Director. He won’t be engaged in decision-making, only being there to meet the requirements. It’s common practice in Singapore to use the nominee services.
Corporate secretary. Every company is obliged to have this officer – he tracks changes in your company, compiles papers, and reports to the government. The law demands that you appoint a secretary within 6 months after the incorporation but you may need one way earlier.
Choose a registered address
Every Singaporean company must have a registered address. It has to be a real office mailbox that you regularly check.
There are companies that rent out such mailboxes. They collect your correspondence, scan it, and then send to you.
Set the paid-up capital
In most cases, 1 Singapore dollar per share is enough. Paid-up capital can also be in other currencies. You can increase the sum and change the currency any time after your company is incorporated.
Delegate the filing
As a foreigner, you can’t incorporate a company yourself. The state demands that you hire an authorized filing agent – a firm that will collect your papers, fill out the forms, and send them to ACRA.
Osome compiles your papers and files them online – you don’t even have to be present in Singapore. We also provide all the services your company will need during its first year.
Company Incorporation + Nominee Director + Unlimited Corporate Secretary + Registered Address
All fees included
We will need your company name and shareholder details. We prepare an application and submit it to ACRA, the registration body. The whole process can be as fast as 1–3 hours. S$315 government fee is included in the price.
Nominee Director for 1 year
No deposit required. We bill annually – but we refund the unused months. You’ll burn no money.
Unlimited Corporate Secretary for 1 year
Corporate Secretary tracks changes in your company’s structure and top management, compiles papers and reports to the government about your business. Every Singapore business must have one.
Forget about being charged per document. Our Unlimited service covers all standard resolutions you will need.
Registered Address for 1 year
A company must have a real office mailbox that is regularly checked. Official documents are sent there. We notify you about the correspondence, scan it and send it to you. The real letters are forwarded if necessary.
What business entity type do the recommendations above refer to?
We have been discussing the incorporation of an exempt private company limited by shares (Pte Ltd) – the most popular company type in Singapore. There can be from 1 to 20 individual shareholders (not companies), and as many directors as you need. Such a company makes a legal entity separate from its founders, that’s why the debts, the risks, and the responsibilities are made in the company’s name instead of yours. Another advantage a private limited company has is that they are eligible for tax exemptions.
How long does the incorporation take?
It mostly depends on when you are comfortable with providing all the details, as well as the service hours of the authorities. Once all the documents are ready, it takes us less than an hour.
Can I move to Singapore if I start a business there?
Of course. There’s a special visa called Employment Pass. The family members may relocate under Dependant Passes. You can get the visas in about 6 months. However, there are some requirements to meet. For example, the salary you’ll be paying yourself should be about S$6,000 ($4,500). Check out our explainer to learn more.
What is ACRA Singapore?
ACRA stands for “Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority”. It’s an agency that registers and oversees businesses in Singapore. It’s one of the most important institutions you’ll be dealing with as an entrepreneur.
Why do I need a Corporate Secretary?
The law demands that every company appoint a secretary within 6 months after the incorporation and ever has this position vacant. A good secretary is an indispensable part of your team, but you don’t have to hire an in-house one unless you have a big company.
Why do I have to report about my business activity type?
It’s the legal requirement. Every Singapore-incorporated company must have a local registered address – a material mailbox that is available for at least 5 hours on working days. Your registered address goes on all legal documents, i.e. on whatever letter ACRA or IRAS or other agency may send to you. Osome handles your incoming letters, scans and stores them in your account so you have easy access to all your documents.
Can I move to Singapore if I open a business there?
Sure. There’s a special type of visa called Employment Pass you can receive within about 6 months. In order to qualify you need to pay yourself a salary of about S$6,000, especially if you plan to bring family under Dependant Passes.
What do I need to start a business?
Our top tip is to do some calculations. While many people wonder how to start a small business in Singapore, their main concern is economic feasibility. Small businesses not planning to scale up may find the company maintenance in Singapore quite costly, especially if they use a nominee service. Yet we still advise comparing Singapore’s tax rates to your home state’s. For certain businesses, the tax savings may cover the incorporation and maintenance expenses.