Managing a business in Singapore

Effectively managing the operations of your business is just as important as the initial step of registering your new enterprise, and there are many aspects to consider.

This guide explores the key elements of managing your business, including opening a corporate bank account in Singapore, securing office premises, hiring employees, as well as navigating trademarks and licensing.  

Opening a corporate bank account

After your company has been successfully incorporated, the next important step is to open a corporate bank account to make and receive payments for your business.

Banks in Singapore

As an established financial hub, Singapore houses several local and foreign banks. The city-state is home to Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC), Development Bank of Singapore (DBS), United Overseas Bank (UOB), Standard Chartered, Citibank, and Maybank, to name just a few.  

Some banks charge a set-up fee for opening a corporate bank account which varies from bank to bank.  

As part of the increasing regulation to counter money laundering and terrorist financing, the banks in Singapore go through stringent ‘know your customer’ (KYC) measures. It’s worth noting, the evolving rules and sanctions of various countries and global governing bodies may impact the eligibility and timeframes of opening a bank account in Singapore. 

Singapore account opening requirements

There are several options when it comes to opening a corporate bank account in Singapore. Most banks offer features such as multi-currency accounts, internet banking, trade financing, freedom to move funds across countries, and much more.  

In general, most banks require that the account signatories and majority directors are physically present in Singapore for paperwork signing at the time of opening the corporate bank account. Some banks may accept the signing of documents at one of their overseas branches, or in front of a Notary Public. 

Typically, banks will request several documents including the certificate of incorporation, board of directors' resolution, company business profile, copy of passport (or Singapore identity card), and residential address proof of the directors. Note that documents relating to the ultimate beneficial owners are particularly important.  

Additional documents may be required on a case-by-case basis. Approval for opening a corporate bank account is usually granted, provided the required paperwork is complete and satisfies the bank’s internal due diligence criteria. 

Securing office premises

Besides needing a bank account, your business will most likely require office space to conduct its business. There are various office space options that you may consider. 

Conventional office

For starters, you may decide to rent a conventional office space from a building landlord. The common practice for the duration of a lease agreement in Singapore is between two to three years, with longer leases available for up to six years if you intend to occupy a larger space. At the end of your lease term, most landlords offer the option to renew for a further term. 

An office in Singapore usually comes with standard fittings. If you need to customise the office to suit your preferences, you may do so in accordance with the terms and conditions stipulated by the landlord. In such cases, it may be possible to negotiate a rent-free period for renovation. 

Serviced office

For businesses seeking a short-term solution, serviced offices or business centres are professional, ready-to-use office spaces that are available for rent on an immediate basis. Managed by specialised companies and located mostly in Singapore’s Central Business District (CBD), these offices offer a prestigious business address, a choice of different sizes of suites, and a flexible duration of tenancy. 

You can benefit from an individual office suite within a managed facility that offers access to amenities such as reception, utility rooms, meeting rooms and advanced IT infrastructure. Rental fees are typically inclusive of the base rent, utilities, security and office furniture. The only additional costs incurred are for add-on services on a per usage basis. 

Virtual office

Virtual offices offer an office experience without the physical space. A typical virtual office package in Singapore will provide your business with the use of a corporate business address, dedicated phone/fax numbers, personalised telephone answering, mail handling, and the use of meeting rooms on an ad-hoc basis. 

Virtual offices may cater to different business needs. For example, startups located in budget-friendly areas can use a virtual office gain a prestigious business address and elevate their corporate image. Similarly, home-based entrepreneurs may gain an official address through a virtual office, enhancing their credibility, as well as being able to make use of meeting rooms for in-person meetings.

Home office

If your business operates on a smaller scale, you may wish to consider working from home. Singapore’s Home Office Scheme allows people living in a Housing & Development Board (HDB) flat or private residential property to conduct small-scale businesses within their homes, as long as the business activity is permitted.

To run a home office, you must be the owner or tenant of a home or be authorised to stay in the home. It cannot facilitate more than two persons who are engaged in the operation of the office and who are not residents in those premises.

Registration with the HDB or Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is required to use your living quarters as a home office in Singapore.  

Hiring employees

Depending on the nature of your business, additional manpower may be necessary to support growth and operations. Like many countries, Singapore encourages the employment of local staff. It is, however, an open and inclusive economy, and welcomes foreign talent with the necessary background, experience, and skills.  

In Singapore, the relationship between employer and employee is regulated by the contract of employment between them. Parties are generally free to contract as they choose, subject to complying with the Employment Act. 

The Singapore Employment Act

The Employment Act is Singapore’s all-encompassing statute relating to labour and employment issues. It lays down specific regulations regarding the basic terms and conditions of employment and the rights, duties and responsibilities of employers and employees.  

Your first step is to know whether your employees are protected by the Employment Act. If so, the terms you draw out in their employment contracts cannot be less favourable than what is mentioned in the Employment Act. 

If your employees are not covered by the Act, the terms and conditions of employment can be negotiated between both parties. Once finalised, they must be clearly stated in the employment contract. The contract will bind both of the parties. 

The Employment Act covers local and foreign employees, except the following: 

  • Domestic worker 
  • Seafarer 
  • Statutory board employee or civil servant 

Employment contracts

An employment contract is an agreement between an employee and employer that specifies the terms and conditions of employment. It is advisable to have a written employment contract in Singapore. A violation of one or more of the terms by either an employee or employer is considered breach of contract.  

Most contracts include several important clauses such as appointment position, duration of employment, remuneration, and hours of work.  

Hiring local employees

For employees that are Singapore citizens or Permanent Residents (PRs), the employer is required to make contributions to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) fund. Monthly contributions are made by both the employee and employer. The maximum CPF contribution rate for employer and employee is 17% and 20% respectively. This can be lower based on the employee’s age and permanent resident status. 

The employer is responsible for sending the monthly payment, which includes both the employer’s and the employee’s respective contributions, by the 14th of the following month. The employee’s portion is then deducted from the salary.  

There is no CPF contribution for foreign employees in Singapore. 

Hiring foreign employees

Under the Employment Act, employees who are not Singapore citizens or PRs must have a valid work pass to be able to work in Singapore. These will need to be obtained before they can start work. It is important to note that certain work passes come with restrictions or quotas on the number of foreign employees you can hire. 

For details of the types of work passes available for foreign employees, please see our Singapore immigration guide. 

Registering a trademark

While Singapore law does not mandate trademark registration for usage, having a registered trademark can add value to your business. By filing for trademark registration, your business obtains a right to ownership and can prevent others from adopting a similar or identical mark without prior permission. 

Trademark registration procedure

The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) is responsible for examining each trademark application to decide whether the trademark is registrable. The registration process can take up to 12 months, depending on whether there are objections or other technicalities. 

The steps involved in Singapore trademark registration are outlined below. 

Identify class of goods and services

Before applying, you will need to identify the specific goods and services to trademark. These are classified from classes 1 to 45 under the International Classification of Goods and Services (ICGS).

Self-search for conflicts

Conduct a search on existing trademarks via the IPOS Digital Hub platform. This is to ensure that there is no prior trademark that is identical or similar to the one you intend to use. 

File your application

The estimated filing fee for registration of a trademark on a per mark per class basis is SG$280 with the IPOS. It’s worth noting that the application fee is not refundable. 

It’s important to make sure your application is filed under the correct class. It will be necessary to file applications in more than one class if your business deals in a wide range of goods or services. 

Examine for compliance

Once the trademark application has been received, the IPOS will review it.

If the requirements for registration are not met, you will receive an examination report outlining the objections and the specific goods or services in question. You must respond within four months.

Publish for opposition purposes

Upon acceptance, the application will be published for opposition purposes in the Trade Marks Journal.  

Any interested party may oppose the registration of the mark within two months of the publication. The applicant will be notified and must respond with a counterstatement to resolve the objection. A decision on the application will be made after hearing both parties.

Successful registration

If there were no objections from any party, or if all the objections were resolved in favour of the applicant, the trademark will be registered and a registration certificate will be issued. 

The registration of a trademark is valid for ten years from the date of application. It can be renewed repeatably, for 10 years at a time, by paying the applicable renewal fee. 

Trademark licence registration

As a trademark owner, you may authorise another entity to use your registered trademark by signing a trademark licence contract. Typically, the licence is granted through a formal written agreement with a detailed description of the scope of authority, along with terms and conditions of use. A typical trademark licence agreement can include the following: 

  • Scope and terms of usage 
  • Duration 
  • Fees payable 
  • Exclusivity 
  • Permission to sub-licence the trademark 

Alternatively, you may register for a trademark licence with the IPOS Digital Hub. 

Applying for a business licence

Certain types of business activities require a special licence before they can operate. A business licence is a permit issued by a Singapore government agency that allows you to conduct a specific type of business.  

For more information on the licences relevant to your business, you can visit the GoBusiness Licensing website

Next steps

Whether you are setting up a new company or expanding your business in Singapore, we can provide you with the dedicated support you need, enabling to focus on your core business.  

As an international provider of corporate services, our team will work closely with you to help you achieve your objectives. Speak with our consultants to find out how we can help. 

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