Start a Import Export or Trading Business in Singapore

Start a Import Export or Trading Business in Singapore

This guide gives an overview of how to start a import/export or trading company in Singapore.  It outlines the activities of trading in Singapore, registering a company, opening a customs account, applying for licenses and permits, and financing facilities.

3 steps to start your trading business

Singapore is the world’s busiest transshipment hub and the gateway to Asia.  If you trade globally, this is where your import export business should be based. Ranked as one of the world’s easiest place to do business, we can help you set up your import export business in 3 easy steps.

1.  Company Registration

Your first step is to register your company.  Our Singapore company registration guide discusses this process in detail.  We can help you incorporate your company within ONE day and assist to open a business bank account immediately.

2.  Singapore Customs Account Activation

All businesses that import and export goods in and out of Singapore will need a Singapore Customs Account.  This account is required to apply for import/export/transshipment permits.

3.  Apply for Licences and Permits

Import/Export of ALL goods

All such goods require a permit obtained online via TradeNet®.  Goods imported into Singapore, will require a IN Permit.  Goods exported from Singapore will require a OUT Permit.  Some exceptions are applicable.  For example, permits are NOT required for importing/exporting trade samples of uncontrolled items provided the total value of such items do not exceed $400 CIR (Costs, Insurance and Freight).

Import/Export of controlled goods

Goods which come under the purview of Controlling Agencies are known as controlled goods.  Some examples of such goods are cigarettes and tobacco products, drugs, petrochemicals, animals and food products.  In addition to the usual IN and OUT Permits, Controlled goods require additional permits from the appropriate Controlling Agencies.  The additional permit can be applied online via TradeNet®.  If you are using a freight forwarder or cargo agent, they may assist with the application of this additional permit too.

Import of High Technology goods

Some countries impose export control for some high-technology items.  In such cases, the Singapore importer may require an Import Certificate and Delivery Verification (ICDV) by the exporter.  Where required, ICDV applications can be made via Singapore Customs.  It should be noted that such items must be directly imported to Singapore and NOT diverted to other countries.

Export, Transshipment or Transit of Strategic Goods

Strategic goods are those intended or likely to be used for weapons of mass destruction.  It is regulated by the Strategic Goods (Control) Act.  Such goods require a Strategic Goods Control (SGC) TradeNet® Permit.

Export of Local Goods

Foreign importers may request for a Certificate of Origin (CO) from Singapore exporters.  This serves to certify that the goods were actually made in Singapore.  Certificate of Origins can be obtained online via TradeNet®.  There are 2 types of Certificates of Origin:

  • Ordinary Certificates of Origin – certifies that the goods are wholly obtained and produced in Singapore.
  • Preferential Certificates of Origin – provides your exports a competitive advantage by allowing foreign importers to claim preferential tariff treatments under the Schemes of Preferences or Free Trade Agreements.

Taxes and Fees

Customs and Excise Duty

Some goods are subject to customs and/or excise duty.  Classified as dutiable goods, these goods can be manufactured in Singapore or imported to Singapore.  Some examples of dutiable goods are intoxicating liquors, tobacco products, motor vehicles and petroleum products.

Goods and Services Tax

Goods and Services Tax (GST) is levied on all goods imported in Singapore for local consumption.  The prevailing GST rate currently stands at 7%.  Administered by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS), the GST is collected by Singapore Customs.

Businesses can register with IRAS to collect GST.  When this is done, you may charge your buyers GST.  You can receive a GST refund for imported goods that are NOT for local consumption and subsequently exported out of Singapore.

Singapore Customs Fees

Singapore Customs charges procedural and administrative fees.  To facilitate fast and efficient payments of all such fees to Singapore Customs, including duties and GST, it is recommended that GIRO arrangements be made where direct deductions are made from your bank account.

How we can help?

If you’re ready to start, ECRA can help you through the entire process.  For more discussions on the various related issues, please consider reviewing the following:


Ryan is the senior writer at ECRA. He has more than 10 years experience in the media and communications sector. He focuses on business and immigration. Ryan creates informative and compelling content for entrepreneurs that are looking to establish or expand their companies or businesses.