Singapore is one of the world’s most booming business centers today. In terms of ease of business, the city-state also has a sterling track record in welcoming and nurturing business enterprises of all types. Online businesses, and e-commerce ventures, are no exception to this. Singapore prides itself on being one of the pioneers in the e-commerce industry being home to online marketplace sites, and logistics solutions companies. Most business people claim that starting a business, be it physical or online, and registering them is pretty straightforward in Singapore.
If you plan to start your own business in the bustling Lion City, the main agency where you file all your application requirements (and yes, even online selling businesses) is the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). It’s basically the agency that oversees all company registrations in Singapore, and they will also be the ones to verify whether or not your business and your submitted requirements are in compliance with the country’s local laws. Once everything’s been checked and double-checked, you will be granted approval and permission to operate your online business. But where do we begin? Read through this article and let us walk you through the process of registering your online business in Singapore.
Choose a name for your online business
The starting point for your online business registration is to choose a unique and distinct name. It must be unique enough to not be confused with any other enterprise registered in the ACRA. If you are thinking of names and are wondering whether or not some company in Singapore had already been registered under that name, you may check ACRA’s company search feature via their website.
When you’ve settled on a name, the next step will be submitting the required documents and you can do that via BizFile+ which is ACRA’s online filing and information retrieval system. Only when your registration is approved can you move on to the stage of incorporation and begin operating as a duly-registered online business in Singapore.
Getting your requirements ready
If you’re planning to register a business with a more complex structure and you’ve got bigger plans for your operations, you might want to ask ACRA about the specific requirements to make that possible. But otherwise, here are the minimum requirements that you have to comply with in registering your online business in Singapore:
- A minimum of one (1) and a maximum of fifty (50) shareholders. In the case of private limited companies, it is allowed to have 100% foreign shareholding (so for investors from outside Singapore, watch out!)
- A minimum paid-up capital of 1 Singaporean dollar (SGD). You can add to this at any time of your own choosing, and as your capital grows.
- Both Singapore residents and foreign residents have the right to become directors of a Singapore-registered company. However, among the directors of a single company, at least one must be a local resident who is either a Singaporean citizen, a permanent resident, or an Entrepass holder.
- A company secretary who is qualified and hired within the first six months of incorporation, and is a bona fide resident of Singapore. This is mandatory.
- A local Singaporean address (and not just a PO Box number) for your business. In the case of an online business where a physical store is unavailable, this address can be your office or base of operations.
Proceed with registration
Checked all the boxes and firmed up your plans? Then, we can proceed to the succeeding steps. Take note that the company name approval is a distinct step that comes before you proceed with the company registration itself. For company name approvals, you’d have to check and file with the ACRA’s company name database, and pay a fee of 15 SGD for the process to proceed. Once your company name is approved, and you’ve chosen a specific type of business – be it a private limited company, a sole proprietorship, or a limited liability company, you can proceed with the next steps of your company’s registration. If you want to know the differences between company types, check out these materials from ACRA.
Step 1: Company Name Approval. Yes, we know, we’ve mentioned it tons of times but this is really where it all begins. Aside from our earlier notes for it to not be similar or confusing with other company names in Singapore, there are also a few other rules and regulations when it comes to naming your company. Take note of these because we don’t want to waste your time on an unapproved application.
- The company name must not include anything vulgar or obscene. It also must do away with existing registered trademarks.
- Should your company name include something like “broker” and “finance,” the ACRA would have to process it in a longer period than usual.
The company name approval process can be done online through the ACRA website. If there are no complications, you can be done in no time – that is, a few hours! Once your company name is approved, you have to be able to fulfill the registration process within 120 days. If no registration is filed within that time period, the same name will be up for reservation by another person again.
Step 2: The Paperwork. There are some specific documents that you have to submit to ACRA for them to properly evaluate your application, so you need to prepare the following before hitting that apply button:
- Your company constitution
- A description of business activities
- Signed consent forms for each director
- Signed consent form for the company secretary
- Identification and address details for each shareholder
- Business address
- Paid-up capital information
Step 3: The formal registration process. Once you’ve settled all your requirements, you may proceed and visit the ACRA website and book an eAppointment with an ACRA officer for you to detail your company’s information and for them to inquire further about some more details that can help them evaluate your application. After you submitted the documents and attended the appointment, it should take somewhere between one to three days for you to get the go-signal and approval. If the ACRA needs more time to vet your application, this can be extended.
The unspoken steps in preparation
While Singapore prides itself on being on top when it comes to ease of doing business, and a straightforward and streamlined process when it comes to online business registration, starting a business requires some aspects of preparation that can be pretty difficult to condense in a numbered how-to guide. However, we’ll hook you up with some notes so you can think through these important facets to help you prepare better for what’s to come.
Research and planning
While getting a unique name for your company is very important, selling a unique product or maybe an everyday product with a unique twist is equally important and is actually a determinant of the success of your business. In this aspect, it must also be clear to you who your target market is, your product sourcing, your logistics infrastructure, and how to build your website and advertise your online store. It’s a whole lot of thinking and conceptualizing.
Aside from not getting into legal entanglements with similar names with trademarks, you’d also have to consider that your products are not contraband or counterfeit to avoid any prosecution and legal repercussions. Building your business plan is preparing for the long run. It is foreseeing your success and taking the little steps for leaps to become possible.
Secure your funding
Funding is a dealbreaker for business starters. Sometimes, when the issue of sustained capital is brought up, some aspiring business people will altogether shy away. However, Singapore, being the ease-of-business haven that it is, offers great financing programs which you can access to help you with your business. You can access business loans, find investors (there are a lot of them in S’pore!), or source funding from government grants. These are just some of the many ways startups like your online business can be funded and be assisted while it’s taking those baby steps.
Putting the ‘online’ in online business
Registering an online business with the ACRA makes it a business. But your eCommerce infrastructure, which you’re tasked to build with friends or maybe experts you can hire for a fee, is what makes it online. Consider carefully which tools you need for your business at certain points in your operations. However, the rule of thumb is to start with the small, limited, and manageable and from there, expand and diversify systematically. But here are some of the basics, and at most times non-negotiables.
- A domain name. This is the identifier, the address, the online marketplace, and your virtual store. Although your company name can be distinct from your brand name, your branding identity must be reflected in your domain name for optimum identifiability and recall.
- Website hosting. When you avail of the services of a hosting site, you can be more ensured of better security features, and bigger bandwidth, and will actually up the chances of a more stable website that can handle your business as it grows bigger and bigger.
- Web design. This is your online store design and decoration. For marketplace features, you might want to check how Shopify and WooCommerce can help you design and populate your site. Should you have a considerable number of virtual stores that you want to sync and optimize, logistics engine services such as Locad can help you minimize the trouble through its all-in-one Command Tower.
- Marketing and advertising. The lifeblood of any online business is based on its capacity to be popular enough on social media and internet sites to be able to gather a solid customer base. Plan out how to introduce yourself to the audience and where to launch your brand – whether on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or Google Ads. Some of these sites also offer in-app marketplace features to increase your chances of getting those products sold.
- Payment gateways. Since payments are mostly handled digitally when your business is online, it’s essential to have that degree of security with your payment gateways. Some of the most trusted payment gateways used by online business are Stripe, Omise, Paypal and Ecommpay which are also among the gateways that can be integrated into your online marketplace sites.
Accounting and taxes
As in anything we have to do in life, we have to keep track of what we do and measure our success. But, well, aside from evaluating our effectivity, keeping accounts and transaction records are also legal obligations to investors and the government. Accounting and bookkeeping are mandatory requirements in business operations in any country and that includes Singapore. After all, it’s best to keep all your transactions and other financial information regularly tracked so it would be way easier for you to file necessary taxes during the time periods that they are due.
Singapore-registered businesses, including e-commerce ventures, need to file tax compliances, whether their enterprise is active or dormant. There also are reporting standards that have to be met when you file the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) and the ACRA. Deadlines are set at the end of every Financial Year.
Tap that huge Singaporean e-commerce market
We’ve told you about how easier it is to register your online business in Singapore, but we really haven’t gone deeper into the many opportunities you can seize when you tap into the massive e-commerce market in the country.
The Singapore e-commerce market was valued at USD 5.9 billion and is projected to grow to USD 10 billion by the year 2026. E-commerce site users are estimated at around 3 million, mostly attributed to the high penetration rate of internet and smartphone use.
With the ease of registration, the 1 SGD starting capital, and government and private-sector funding assistances available, it is truly enticing to a business startup to have Singapore become its launchpad. While having a certain level of security and support, you will have more room to plan, innovate and try new things for your business to grow. Want to start a business? Then Singapore is the place to be!