In keeping with Singapore’s conducive business environment, the country’s import and export procedures are relatively efficient and straightforward, and the necessary permits and licenses are issued relatively quickly.

Singapore is one of the largest trading centers in Asia and has successfully established important alliances that crisscross the main sea route from Asia to Europe in addition to establishing strong supply networks with ports smaller regional. The Port of Singapore handles over 37.2 million Twenty Foot Equivalent (TEU) containers and 626.2 million tonnes of cargo per year, making it one of the busiest in the world.

In addition, before the pandemic, Singapore’s Changi International Airport was the seventh busiest airport for international traffic, handling more than seven thousand flights per week and more than two million tonnes of cargo.

What to do before trading

To start doing business in Singapore, the entity must first be registered with the Accounting and Business Regulatory Authority (ACRA), the country’s national business regulatory body.

Once a business is registered, it receives a Unique Entity Number (UEN), which is a standard number issued for each entity in Singapore. All government agencies will identify a company by their UEN.

Importing goods into Singapore

As importer, the business will need to determine whether payment of duty or product tax and sales tax (GST) is required on the products it imports.

Importers should note that:

  • Duties and / or GST are suspended when goods remain inside free zones (FTAs);
  • Duties and / or GST are payable if the goods are released directly for local circulation;
  • When goods are moved from a free zone to customs licensed premises (such as GST-free warehouses or licensed warehouses), duties and / or GST will be suspended as long as the goods are stored in the licensed premises. ; and
  • Duties and / or GST are not payable on goods receiving GST relief or those imported under the GST. Temporary importation program under Singapore customs. This also includes the schemes of the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS):

Register or declare a reporting agent

To receive an import or export permit, the company must first activate a Customs account.

If the company applies for the permit under its own name, then the company will need to register as a reporting agent and apply for an interbank GIRO from Singapore Customs for any duty / GST payment.

If the company appoints a reporting agent to apply for the permit, then it will need to coordinate with the reporting agent to assist with the permit application.

Singapore Customs defines a reporting agent as an entity that applies for a permit on behalf of the trading company.

Check if the goods are checked

All importers should verify whether the goods they wish to import are controlled goods or restricted goods in Singapore.

When a commodity is restricted, the relevant competent authority will be indicated next to the commodity’s HS code on the Singapore Customs Database.

Furnish security

Security must be provided for businesses involving dutiable goods, temporary importation of goods for approved purposes and for the operation of licensed premises, including warehouses and excise factories. Bank or finance company guarantees and insurance bonds are acceptable forms of collateral.

Obtaining the permit

Once the above-mentioned steps have been completed, the applicant can obtain an import customs permit.

All permit applications will cost approximately S $ 2.88 (US $ 2.17) and must be submitted through TradeNet.

Documents for cargo clearance

For any containerized cargo entering Singapore by air or land, the importer is required to produce their customs permits and other supporting documents, such as invoices or air waybills to customs officials for verification.

Any containerized cargo entering Singapore by sea will not require the presentation of printed copies of supporting documents to checkpoint officers.

Export goods from Singapore

Goods must be declared to Singapore Customs if they are intended for export, and in such cases, no GST or duty is charged on the goods.

A Singapore Customs export permit is required for:

  • Temporary exportation of goods intended for re-importation;
  • The re-export of goods under the Temporary importation program;
  • The export of locally produced products or local products paid for GST;
  • Export of tax-free goods from a GST-free warehouse and goods under the Major Exporter regime;
  • Export of dutiable goods from an approved warehouse; or
  • Export of goods from the free zone.

The process for obtaining an export permit is the same as for an import permit. The applicant must declare whether he is the reporting agent or will appoint a reporting agent on his behalf.


Editor’s note: The article was first published on September 9, 2016 and was republished on June 10, 2021, in line with the latest developments.

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ASEAN Briefing is produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm assists foreign investors throughout Asia and has offices throughout ASEAN, including Singapore, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang In Vietnam, Munich, and Esen in Germany, Boston, and Salt lake city in the USA, Milan, Conegliano, and Udine in Italy, in addition to Jakarta, and Batam in Indonesia. We also have partner companies in Malaysia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Thailand as well as our practices in China and India. Please contact us at [email protected] or visit our website at

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