Global Business GuideSingapore

From Global Connections

This is one of a series of Global Business Guides designed for businesses wishing to expand into another country/territory. This Global Business Guide was produced in January 2016. The materials contained in this document provide a snapshot at that time and were based on the law enforceable and information available at that time.


Singapore is the fifth largest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the world, according to the UNCTAD World Investment Report 2015. FDI flows into Singapore amounted to USD65 billion in 2015.

Singapore ranked first in the World Bank's 2016 Doing Business rankings for the 10th year in a row. Singapore's strengths were highlighted in the following topics: Dealing with Construction Permits, Protecting Minority Investors and Enforcing Contracts. The report highlighted that resolving a commercial dispute through the Singapore District Court can take just 150 days, the shortest time recorded worldwide. Furthermore, efficient dispute resolution is paired with good institutions (such as specialised courts), effective case management and sophisticated court automation tools.

Key facts about starting a business in Singapore:

  • It takes three procedures and approximately 2.5 days to start a new business in Singapore; this process is detailed in the Doing Business in chapter
  • Obtaining an Employment Pass usually takes seven working days if applying online or five weeks if the application is submitted manually; employment regulations are discussed in detail in the Labour chapter
  • Obtaining written permission for a construction permit from the Urban Redevelopment Authority takes approximately 14 days and costs SGD2,680
  • All Singapore incorporated entities must prepare statutory financial statements in accordance with the Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS); further details can be found in the Audit chapter
  • Companies that wish to list securities on the SGX must, amongst other conditions, have a minimum consolidated pre-tax profit of at least SGD30 million for the latest financial year and an operating track record of at least three years; this is discussed further in the Finance chapter

Singapore's attractiveness as a business destination can be attributed to a number of factors, including its strong and efficient legal system, its competitive tax regime and the ease of doing business. Nevertheless, in order to make an informed decision, it is critical to understand the nuances of any local regime. The manner in which people conduct business in Singapore may differ from the home countries of investors. Furthermore, variations on these distinctions may exist depending on the industry in which a company operates.

Singapore has four national languages: Mandarin, Tamil, Malay and English. However, English is the lingua franca of business. Business in Singapore is formal and businesses tend to be hierarchical. Due to the climate, business attire is less formal than that typical of many Western countries.

A handshake is the typical business greeting and business cards will usually be presented after initial introductions. Punctuality is critical. Gifts are generally not exchanged as part of business interactions.

Those looking to establish a business in Singapore may look across Asia for alternative options. However, Singapore can be differentiated on the following factors:

  • Singapore ranked second in the WEF Global Competitiveness Rankings, being in the top 10 in nine out 12 pillars
  • Singapore is strategically located at the crossroads of the east-west trading routes, providing access to markets such as China, India and Southeast Asia
  • Singapore offers a low headline corporate tax rate of 17 per cent, alongside generous tax exemptions for SMEs and industry-specific tax incentives; this is further detailed in the Tax chapter
  • Singapore Changi Airport connects Singapore to 320 cities in about 80 countries; further details can be found in the Infrastructure chapter
  • Singapore is part of 21 regional and bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs); discussed further in the Trade chapter

Despite the myriad strengths of Singapore as an investment location, as a highly open economy, it is vulnerable to global economic downturns. Amidst the continued slowdown in China and waning growth momentum in the US, growth in the economy is likely to remain slow over the next year.

This guide has been developed to provide businesses with an overview of Singapore, its legal regime, start-up and market entry considerations, tax and customs requirements and a general summary of the factors that may affect the decision to do business in Singapore. However, the information contained in this document is generic in nature and you should not act or rely on it without obtaining specific professional advice.

Please note that the Global Business Guides may only be available in English.

Useful Links

1 BizFile (Business Register)
2 Inland Revenue Authority
3 Singapore Customs
4 Immigration and Checkpoints Authority
5 Intellectual Property Office
6 Personal Data Protection Commission
7 Economic Development Board
8 Ministry of Manpower



1 UNCTAD World Investment Report
2 Doing Business Rankings
3 Employment pass
4 Global Competitiveness Report
5 Free Trade Agreements


Download Global Business Guide - Singapore (3.73MB, PDF)


This document is issued by The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, Singapore Branch (HBAP SGH) (the Bank). This guide is a joint project with Grant Thornton. It is not intended as an offer or solicitation for business to anyone in any jurisdiction. It is not intended for distribution to anyone located in or resident in jurisdictions which restrict the distribution of this document. It shall not be copied, reproduced, transmitted or further distributed by any recipient. The information contained in this document is of a general nature only. It is not meant to be comprehensive and does not constitute financial, legal, tax or other professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained in this document without obtaining specific professional advice. Whilst every care has been taken in preparing this document, the Bank and Grant Thornton makes no guarantee, representation or warranty (express or implied) as to its accuracy or completeness, and under no circumstances will the Bank or Grant Thornton be liable for any loss caused by reliance on any opinion or statement made in this document. Except as specifically indicated, the expressions of opinion are those of the Bank and are subject to change without notice. The materials contained in this document were assembled in January 2016 and were based on the law enforceable and information available at that time.

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HSBC retains all responsibility for the translation of the content of this guide. In the event of any discrepancy or inconsistency between the English and translated versions of this Guide, the English version shall apply and prevail.

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