To begin, you will need to make sure your business is already registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority of Singapore (ACRA). Your business, may be retail, must register as a sole proprietorship, partnership or a private limited company.
Two more things have to happen before you can start importing goods into Singapore. First, after you have the business registered with ACRA, you will then activate your Custom Accounts using ACRA assigned Unique Entity Number (UEN) and Singpass. Second, you will have to be registered as a trader with Singapore Customs. As a trader you will be able to apply for permits using TradeNet® for each shipment of goods.
Generally most goods are considered ‘non-controlled goods’ such as clothes and shoes. You do not need license to import ‘non-controlled goods’. However, if you are going import “controlled goods” such as food and animal products, drugs or telecommunication items, you will need to apply for appropriate license for each category from the ‘competent authority’. An example would be importing animals and birds products, you have to apply for a license from the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore.
How to start a trading business?
Step 1: Incorporate a trading company
For starting a trading business in Singapore, you will need to incorporate a company first. For detailed information on this, refer to Singapore company registration guide.
Step 2: Register with Singapore Customs
All importers and exporters are required to activate their account with the Singapore Customs before they can import/export goods in and out of Singapore. Account activation is processed within 1-2 working days after submission of the application and you will be issued a Customs approval letter and is valid for as long as your company exists.
Step 3: Apply for licences and permits
For import/export of all goods
For import of all goods (including controlled and non-controlled items) into Singapore, you are required to obtain an IN Permit through TradeNet® before goods are imported into Singapore.
For export of all goods (including controlled and non-controlled items) out of Singapore, you are required to obtain an OUT Permit through TradeNet® before the goods are exported out of Singapore if your goods are controlled or are transported via rail or road within 3 days of export if your goods are non-controlled or are transported by sea or air
before exporting goods that have been previously imported under the Temporary Import Scheme
before exporting goods under the Temporary Export Scheme
Certain special scenarios such as importing/exporting trade samples of uncontrolled items of a total value not exceeding S$400/- on the CIF (Costs, Insurance and Freight) value may be imported/exported without a permit.
For import/export of controlled goods
The import/export of some goods are subject to the control of Controlling Agencies and are known as controlled goods. To import/export controlled goods you require a permit, in addition to the IN Permit and OUT Permit. You can submit the permit applications to the relevant Controlling Agencies through the TradeNet® system or your freight forwarder or cargo agent for processing and approval. Examples of controlled goods include cigarettes and tobacco products, drugs, petrochemicals, animals and food products.
For import of high-technology items
Certain high-technology items are subject to export control by the exporting country and the Singapore importer may be asked to provide an Import Certificate and Delivery Verification (ICDV) by the exporter. Importers can apply for an ICDV from Singapore Customs. Items covered by an ICDV must be imported into Singapore directly, and are not to be diverted to other countries.
For export, transshipment, or transit of Strategic Goods
If you are going to export, tranship or bring in transit Strategic Goods, you must obtain a Strategic Goods Control (SGC) TradeNet Permit. Strategic goods are regulated by the Strategic Goods (Control) Act. The Act covers all goods and technology that are intended or likely to be used for weapons of mass destruction.
For export of local goods
Certain buyers may ask Singapore exporters for a Certificate of Origin (CO), that proves that your goods are made in Singapore. Certificates of Origin are of two types:
Ordinary Certificates of Origin – to satisfy your buyers that the products exported are wholly obtained, produced or manufactured in Singapore.
Preferential Certificates of Origin – a document that can help improve the competitive edge of your exports by enabling your buyers to claim preferential tariff treatment when importing your products under one of the Schemes of
Preferences or Free Trade Agreements.
You can apply for a CO through TradeNet® or via your freight forwarder or cargo agent.
Some good links for reading are