Whether you always wanted to start a business or came into entrepreneurship accidentally, Singapore is one of the best places in the world to start a business. According to World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report, Singapore is ranked second for the ease of doing business and fourth for starting a business.
Here’s a guide on how to start a business in Singapore.
Do You Need To Start A Company?
In Singapore, you must register a business with Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) if you are carrying out any activity for profit on an ongoing basis. However, this does not mean that you necessarily have to start a company which is one of the 4 types of business registration available.
You can read more in our article about How To Choose The Right Legal Entity To Start A Business In Singapore.
There are also instances where you may not need to register a business. Namely, you are exempted from registration if you conduct your business using your full name as reflected in your NRIC or with partner(s) using their full names. If you add descriptive words before or after your name, you must register the business.
For example, if you freelance under your own full name – Tan Mei Ling Wendy, you may not need to register your business. However, if you want to brand yourself as Write Well with Wendy, you must register the business.
You can also use GoBusiness.Gov.sg’s e-Adviser for Business Structure to help you decide via a short series of question.
If you choose to register a company, do note that it is the most advanced and flexible business entity available. Your business entity will be registered under the Companies Act and there are various types of company structures available.
#1 Register Your Business
Once you have determined the type of company structure best suits your business, you will have to register your business.
This is done on BizFile+ which is the business filing portal of ACRA, and you can read our Step-By-Step Guide To Registering Your New Business In Singapore for an in-depth guide.
At this stage, you also need to have a registered business address. This will be where correspondence from government agencies will be sent and can be different from the address where your business is operating. If you wish to use your residential as the business address, you can check if your business qualifies under the Home Office Scheme and seek approval from HDB (for HDB flats) or URA (for private properties) respectively.
You also need to determine your registered business activity in accordance with the Singapore Standard Industrial Classification (SSIC) codes. This is important as it will affect the type of licences and permits required for your business as well as the grants and incentives available to you. Thankfully, this isn’t set in stone, you may also change this later on to reflect changes to your business activities.
When you register your business, you would receive your business’ Unique Entity Number (UEN). This is as important to a business as a NRIC number is to a Singaporean individual. It is used to identify your business in all government interactions, including updating entity particulars on ACRA, applying for import and export permits, making CPF payments, filing tax returns with IRAS, as well as registering for GST and even collecting payment via PayNow Corporate by linking your UEN to your business bank account.
The actual process will take 1 to 2 days and can be completed entirely online.
#2 Signing Up For CorpPass
After registering your business, you may be excited to delve into your business plan and start running your business. However, setting up the administrative details at this point will make things easier for you (or your future employees or hired professionals) in the future.
Just as SingPass is essential for Singaporeans to access government services online, CorpPass is needed for businesses using government services (including application for any licences, permits or grants). We covered in detail how to set up your CorpPass account(s) as well as the different account roles in our Guide To CorpPass And How To Set It Up For Your Company And Staff.
Once you have your CorpPass, you can then make all the relevant and necessary online applications.
#3 Apply For The Necessary Licences And Permits
Most businesses require licences and permits for their business activities. For example, a Food and Beverage business will require some form of licence. You can refer to our article – Complete Guide To F&B Licenses In Singapore – And How Much They Cost or login with your SingPass to access GoBusiness’ Guided Journey for food service businesses.
Sometimes, the need for licences and permits is dependent on the scale of your business or on the events you are organising. You can search the relevant licences based on your business sector by using GoBusiness’ Licence guides by sector or use their e-Adviser for Events (which can include Sports, MICE, Arts/ Culture, Business-to-Consumer (B2C) events).
#4 Open A Business Bank Account
While it is possible to continue using your personal bank account (especially for sole-proprietorships and partnerships), it is advisable to consider opening a separate business bank account. As discussed in our article – Personal Credit Card VS Corporate Credit Card: Which Should Entrepreneurs be Using For Their Business Expenses?, separating your personal expenses and those of your business makes it simpler to manage the accounts of the business. In particular, if your business is registered as a company, this has implications on liability and responsibility.
To help you decide on the most suitable business bank account, we have complied a round-up of the 4 Best Business Bank Accounts In Singapore For New Business Owners and a detailed review of OCBC Business Bank Account: Why New Business Owners Should Consider It.
#5 Find An Appropriate Office, Workplace, Premise
During your business registration, you would have been required to input a registered business address. Depending on your business activity, you may have been eligible to use your residential address under the Home Office Scheme.
In this case, setting up a good home office may be of a priority. Consider space-saving furniture to maximise your home space. Don’t forget a good router to optimise your internet connection, good noise-cancelling earphones to block out unwanted sound, comfortable office chairs and standing desks for good posture and a home printer for your hardcopy paper needs.
However, working from home may not be suitable for most businesses. In this case, you may wish to consider whether a co-working space or renting on office is more suitable. If you are renting an office, do pay attention to business broadband plans and electricity plans for offices.
On occasions, you may also wish to work from somewhere outside of home or office. Consider these work-friendly cafes for networking, or just productive work: 15 Work-Friendly Cafes For You To Get Your Productivity Game On
Do note that if you are renting a commercial space, you may need to apply for Change Of Use as there are designated allowed use for different commercial spaces. You can read more in our article – Change Of Use Of Property for Commercial Spaces – A Complete Guide For Businesses in Singapore. You can check whether the property you are planning to rent is allowed for your intended business use at GoBusiness’ e-Adviser for Premises Use.
#6 Government Grants
The government does actively encourage new businesses and entrepreneurship. If you are a Singaporean/PR business owner, and your company is based in Singapore with a minimum of 30% local shareholding, you are likely to be eligible for grants.
Startups may be eligible for SG Startup Founders Grant and all small businesses may apply for the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) for 70% support for technology solutions. The Start Digital Pack can also help small businesses to go digital. Businesses can also apply for the Enterprise Development Grant (EDG) to build internal capabilities and transform and grow overseas.
You can also check GoBusiness’ e-Adviser for Government Assistance to find relevant assistance schemes for your business needs
There are also sector-specific grants and programmes such the Hawkers’ Development Programme that helps aspiring hawkers join the trade.
#7 Hire A Team Or Outsource To Professionals Your Business Needs
While it is possible to run a business alone, most businesses will need to hire a team.
Employment in Singapore is governed by the Employment Act. You will need to craft an employment contract that fulfills the minimum requirements for key employment terms in your employee contracts, make timely salary payments and provide itemised pay slips. Part-timers are also protected under the Employment Act. You would also need to make CPF contributions for local employees.
If you are planning to hire foreign workers, you would also need to apply for the relevant work passes. You can read more in our Guide To Work Passes In Singapore: Work Permits, S Pass and Employment Pass (EP) as well as Guide To Hiring A Foreign Employee On An S Pass In Singapore
Even if you choose run a one-man-show, you may also wish to consider hiring a team of professionals such as an accountant or corporate secretary to assist in your annual filing and tax filing.
Tax filing for self-employed (including private hire drivers), partnerships and companies have different requirements. Depending on the complexity of your business accounts, an accountant may be of help. For companies, one of the requirements is the appointment of a company secretary and you can hire a corporate secretary to fill this role.
Starting And Running A Business Is A Dynamic Process
While registering a business legally only takes 1 to 2 days in Singapore, the actual process of starting and running a business takes much longer. Entrepreneurs should expect the unexpected and adapt to the evolving business landscape.
Hopefully, the above guide gives you a good starting point on your entrepreneurial journey. Additional government resources you can tap on to find out more about starting a business in Singapore include:
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