9 steps to starting a small business in Singapore

Hannes Ausmees

If you’re considering opening a small business in Singapore, you’ll need a lot more than a good idea. Setting up a Singapore business will mean getting acquainted with business registration rules, how to hire employees, the law around filing and paying business taxes and more. This guide is here to help.

Table of contents
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1. Are you ready to start a business?

Let’s start at the beginning. Opening a business in Singapore is a huge adventure - but it’s also a challenge. Before you get started, make sure you’ve got a solid plan for your company and how you’ll make it a success.

Investing time in research and planning at this stage is crucial to make sure you can hit the ground running, so before you start to fund and register your new Singapore company, you’ll want to have:

  • A clear vision of your customer and how your business will meet their specific need
  • Solid, data driven insights into how you can provide and refine your product and service
  • An understanding of the market and your competitors, and what makes you different
  • A great business plan which includes contingencies
  • Financial forecasts showing how you may expect your company to perform, based on different scenarios
  • A marketing plan to make sure you can connect with your customer base as soon as you
  • Specialist support and advice if you need it to help get your business off the ground

If you’re feeling confident about all of these, it’s time to move on.

2. Financing

Before you can launch your business you’ll need to work out how you can fund and finance it.

Your business plan and initial financial forecasts should give some indication as to what funding you’re likely to need, and when. However, you’ll still need to work out where the money will come from to get your company up and running.

You may choose to use your personal savings, take a bank business loan, look for financial backers, or even try to access financial support like grants from an organisation like Enterprise Singapore¹.

While you’re making your decision, it’s worth splitting out your costs into capital costs - one off payments - and fixed ongoing costs.

Capital costs are likely to be things involved in setting up your business. While these will vary widely depending on the type of business they may be things like the costs of setting up a website, or buying equipment.

Fixed costs on the other hand tend to be ongoing, like rent for a business premises or salary for your employees. Having a plan for these costs is essential to protect your cashflow as you’ll need to pay them even if your business isn’t yet turning a profit.

How to start a business in Singapore with no capital?

Starting a business in Singapore includes some mandatory steps, like registering your company and reserving a name. However, these are actually pretty low-cost, which means it’s feasible in theory to start a business in Singapore with more or less no capital. We’ll look at the costs of registering a business in Singapore later - but it’s good to know that this could be as low as 115 SGD.

Mandatory costs are unavoidable - however, if you’re hoping to start a business for the lowest possible cost you’ll need to consider a few things like:

  • How will you pay for any equipment or website fees? You may need support from friends or to borrow items until you’re up and running
  • How will you market your business? Word of mouth, social media and similar can work well here
  • How will you manage your money? Having a clear overview of your finances is essential
  • How can you access advice, support and professional help? Check out organisations like Enterprise Singapore for non-financial support as well as loans and grants

3. Understanding tax obligations - cost of setting up a business in Singapore

How you report and pay your business taxes will depend on your business entity type, and the turnover of your company, among other things. If you’re a sole proprietor or in a partnership, you’ll usually need to report your revenue and adjusted profit only if your income is under 200,000 SGD a year². If your income is 200,000 SGD to 500,000 SGD, reporting requirements are a little more stringent - and once you’re earning 500,000 SGD or more a year the reporting processes change again.

Tax reporting processes - and tax rates - are different for corporations and other larger business entities³.

As with anything to do with taxes, it’s relatively complex, even though IRAS does make it as easy as possible to report and pay your taxes online. Getting professional advice would be a smart plan, to make sure you’re fulfilling all your obligations. There’s also a helpful start up kit which can support many new entrepreneurs in navigating tax matters⁴ - check out the IRAS website for more.

4. Register a business name

Your next step will be to reserve your business name with ACRA - the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority⁵. First you’ll need to check the name you’ve selected is not already in use, which you can do through BizFile⁶.

Assuming you have a unique name, you can reserve it on BizFile for 15 SGD. That will hold the specific business name for up to 120 days. You’ll need to progress to registering your business in Singapore during this time, or the reservation will lapse. At this stage you’ll also have to specify your business activity type for statistics and licensing purposes.

5. Get a Singapore office address

As part of your ACRA registration you’ll also need to add a business and residential address⁷. If you intend to work from home you may need approval, depending on the property type - for example, if you’re living in an HDB you’ll need to get the go ahead before you can register your home as a business.

At this stage you’ll also need to add your residential address, or an alternative address where you can be contacted if you don’t want your home address to be on public record.

6. Register your small business

Let’s take a look at the most commonly used business entity types in Singapore⁸, including their definition and the fees to set up and register this type or business:

Entity type/Description⁹Sole proprietorPartnership or limited partnershipLimited liability partnershipCompany
DefinitionOwned by 1 personOwned by 2 or more personsPartnership where the partner’s personal liability is limitedSeparate legal entity from shareholders and directors
Ownership1 person2 to 20 people for a partnership 2 or more for a limited partnership2 or moreVaries based on entity type
Legal statusNot a separate legal entity from the ownersNot a separate legal entity from the partnersSeparate legal entity from the partnersseparate legal entity from the owners and directors
Set up/registration cost115 SGD for one year115 SGD for one year115 SGD315 SGD

If you’re setting up a sole proprietorship or partnership you can do so yourself in BizFile¹⁰. For more complex legal entity types, seek professional advice.

7. Open a business bank account in Singapore

All of Singapore’s major banks have a good range of business bank accounts, from low fee online only offerings, to accounts with more features which may charge higher fees and suit more established businesses. In many cases you’ll be able to open your Singapore business bank account online - although whether or not this is possible will depend on your business entity type, residency and relationship with the bank you select. Learn more about the best corporate bank accounts in Singapore here.

If you’re looking for a low fee, feature packed multi-currency account in Singapore, check out Wise Business. Open your account fully online for a one-time fee of 54 SGD, with no ongoing charges and no minimum balance requirement.

Wise Business provides local SGD bank details for your business, including 8 other bank details (USD, EUR, AUD, etc) for no extra cost - so you can get paid like a local from 30 countries. You’ll also be able to hold and exchange 50+ currencies, using the mid-market exchange rate with transparent fees* to send payments to 70+ countries - just what you need when you’re just starting your business.

Wise also offers business friendly perks like batch payments which let you send up to 1,000 transfers at once, in your preferred currencies, linked debit cards for easy spending, and cloud accounting integrations so you can keep on top of everything easily.

Get a Wise Business account

*Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing: Only Pay for What You Use for the most up-to-date pricing and fee information.

8. Hiring - registering with CPF

Once your business is off the ground it may be time to get some extra help. If you’re planning on hiring employees in Singapore, the first thing to do is to apply for a Central Provident Fund (CPF) submission number. You can do this online through BizFile for convenience.

Make sure you’re clear on the processes and requirements for both employee and employer CPF contributions, and when they apply. In most cases you’ll be responsible for administering all withholding and contributions - but exactly how this works does depend on how much your team member earns, so it’s best to get some individual advice to make sure you’re clear on the rules in your case.

It’s also worth checking if you’re required to buy work injury compensation insurance, based on the type of work and income of your employees. Finally, bear in mind that different rules apply when you’re hiring foreign workers - get all the advice you need to make sure the process runs smoothly.

Get all you need to know about the CPF contribution rate here.

9. Filing corporate taxes

How you go about filing your business taxes will depend on your business entity type. If you’re a sole proprietor or in most types of partnerships, your business is not considered a separate legal entity from a tax perspective. That means it’s easy to file your taxes with IRAS online through SingPass¹¹.

Estimated submission time is just 5 - 10 minutes, and you can even do it from your phone. Make sure you’ve taken a look at the IRAS website to check the documents and details needed in advance, so you can get everything done smoothly.

If you have a registered company you’ll need to follow a separate tax filing process - in this case you’ll be best off taking professional advice.

Starting a small business in Singapore as a foreigner

Foreigners can register a business in Singapore. If you’re legally resident here and hold an appropriate pass you may be able to register your company alone. If you’re not a Singapore resident, you may find you need a local representative, director or manager, depending on the business entity type¹².

The good news is that there are companies like Sleek for example, which can help you set up a business in Singapore as a foreigner, to keep the experience hassle free. If you're not living in Singapore but need local bank details, you can open a Wise multi-currency account online to get your local SGD bank details without the hassle of applying for a bank account as a foreigner.

Summary

Starting a business in Singapore is a big adventure - and as Singapore is well known for ease of doing business, you can rest assured that the process is pretty straightforward too. Getting your company up and running is a big undertaking, but you can be sure there’s support for you at every step of the way. Use this guide to get started - and good luck!


Useful resources

  1. Ministry of Manpower about starting a business in Singapore - https://www.mom.gov.sg/working-in-singapore/starting-a-business
  2. ACRA home page - https://www.acra.gov.sg/
  3. Enterprise Singapore Grants - https://www.enterprisesg.gov.sg/financial-assistance/grants
  4. IRAS - Corporate income tax - https://www.iras.gov.sg/taxes/corporate-income-tax
  5. Sleek Company Secretary and Accounting - https://sleek.com/sg/

Sources used in the article:

  1. Enterprise Singapore
  2. IRAS - calculating business income as a sole proprietor or partnership
  3. IRAS - tax obligations by business type
  4. IRAS sole proprietor and partnership start up kit
  5. ACRA - registering a business name
  6. BizFile
  7. ACRA - register an address
  8. ACRA - business entity types
  9. ACRA - comparison of business entity types
  10. ACRA - registration process
  11. IRAS digital services - self employed, sole proprietors and partnerships
  12. ACRA - foreigners registering a business in Singapore

Sources checked on 19.09.2022


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This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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