Singapore has long been touted as a global city with a vibrant Food and Beverage (F&B) industry. Arguably, it is celebrated as the culinary capital of Asia with cuisines from all parts of the world including Mediterranean, Italian, Thai, Indian, Malaysian, Moroccan, Mexican and African, all finding their space here. The sector has crossed over $ 8.3 billion in annual receipts with over 6,500 establishments and touching one percent contribution in the country’s GDP.
With eating out being a national pass-time, more and more Singaporeans putting in longer work hours, and ever-growing tourism sector, the F&B sector is set to grow even further.
If you want to participate in one of the city-state’s most exciting sectors and start a F&B business in Singapore, below is the detailed procedure on the legal requirements including licensing and hiring, registering for imports, as well as some tips on tackling the productivity issues.
Do I need licenses and permits to operate a F&B business in Singapore?
Yes, licenses and permits are required if you:
- provide outdoor dining areas or renovate existing premises
- serve alcohol, sell liquor or tobacco products
- import equipments or ingredients
- provide entertainment in your F&B business
- operate central kitchens, food processing establishments, food factories, hawker stalls, restaurants, cafés, food wagons etc.
- use radioactive or other hazardous substances in the food manufacturing
And what about the laws and regulations to operate a F&B business in Singapore?
Again, while we discuss this in detail below, a quick check-list is that various laws and regulations must be adhered to at all times in the following stages of operating a F&B business in Singapore:
- importing and exporting food products
- hiring workers, especially foreigners
- ·selecting food establishment premises and getting the planning permission
- halal certification
- environment health regulations
- registering the food factory and licensing compliance
- record keeping and tax compliance
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Incorporating a business in Singapore
This step is similar to normal company incorporation procedures in Singapore, which in summary is as follows:
All companies in Singapore must be registered with the Accounting & Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) and abide by the Companies Act. While there are five different entities to choose from, the most common and flexible business entity that can be set up in Singapore is the private limited company.
A private limited company is limited by shares and is a separate legal entity from its shareholders. It is recognised as a taxable entity in its own right. As a result, shareholders of a Singapore private limited company are not liable for its debts and losses beyond their amount of share capital.
The key requirements to register a company in Singapore are as follows:
- At least one shareholder (individual or corporate entity)
- One resident director
- One company secretary
- Initial paid-up share capital of at least S$1
- A physical Singapore office address
Read More Singapore Company Registration Guide
If your establishment hires only Singaporeans, then no issues. But for hiring foreigners, there are certain guidelines that need to be followed as mandated by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). While you can read our detailed Singapore’s work visa guide here, in general, to employ foreign workers for the services sector, you will have to meet specific requirements for business activity, worker’s nationality, quota and levy. The MOM considers a company to be under the services sector if its principal business activity is (for F&B sector):
- Restaurants, coffee shops, food courts and other approved food establishments (excluding food stalls or hawker stalls)
It is to be noted that licences for food establishments are issued by the National Environment Agency (NEA), and only operators with food-shop licences issued by NEA are allowed to employ foreign workers. The NEA licence must bear the name of the company, sole proprietor or partner. You can only hire foreign workers who meet the conditions for source countries, age when applying and maximum period of employment. And source countries are:
- People’s Republic of China (PRC)
- North Asian sources including Hong Kong (HKSAR passport), Macau, South Korea, Taiwan
To qualify as skilled workers, non-Malaysian Work Permit holders working in the hotel, retail and F&B industries must also obtain level 4 of the Workplace Literacy (WPL) listening and speaking assessments administered by Singapore Workforce Development Agency.
Food Shop Licence
You need to apply for a Food Shop Licence if you intend to operate a retail food outlet where food and/or drink are sold by retail. This is a requirement under the Environmental Public Health Act so as to ensure cleanliness and food safety in food retail outlets. Businesses requiring a food shop licence include restaurants, cake-shops, eating houses, coffee-shops, food courts, snack and drink counters, market produce shops, private markets, food caterers, food-shop (pets allowed) and mobile food wagon. And criteria for approval is:
- Eligibility of applicant, as only the following can apply for a licence:
- Singaporean or Permanent Resident for an individual
- Company registered with the Accounting & Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA)
- Association/ Society registered with Registrar of Societies
- For self-employed persons, please ensure that your Medisave contributions are paid up before applying for a licence
- Submission of relevant supporting documents
- Compliance of the list of hygiene requirements issued by the relevant NEA Regional Office.
The NEA will need the following for processing your application:
- Approval from the land agency e.g. URA and HDB (most important)
- Tenancy agreement
- Details of applicant
- Basic food hygiene certificate/Refresher food hygiene certificate of food handlers
- Food hygiene officer certificate (for Food caterers, Restaurants, Food courts and Canteens only)
- Cleaning program
- Layout plan of premises (in scaled metric units)
- Letter of authorisation (when submission of application is not done by intended licensee/director of company holding the licence)
- Pest control contract covering the control of rodents, cockroaches and flies during the year-long licensing period
- Supplementary Information form to capture business name, type of food sold, business operating hours, etc.
- Food Safety Management Plan
- Photos showing the interior and exterior of the catering vehicle
- Vehicle log card
- Cleaning program for catering vehicle
Always request for the Food Shop Licence to be issued in the name of the body corporate. Food Shop Licenses issued in the name of an individual e.g. a Director will not be acceptable for the purpose of work pass applications by the MOM.
The time of approval of application vary from a week to a few months, and costs S$195 (1-year licence) with effect from 1 January 2015.
Under the Customs (Liquors Licensing) Regulations, any sales of intoxicating liquors in Singapore will require a liquor licence issued by the Liquors Licensing Board (LLB).
The LLB issues two categories of licences:
- for retail sale of intoxicating liquors for consumption on the premises; and
- for retail or wholesale of intoxicating liquors for consumption off the premises
To conduct both retail sale and wholesale, two licences will be required. For example, a Retail Liquor Shop Licence and Wholesale Liquor Shop Licence may be issued to the same outlet.
The fee for the license varies from S$520 to S$1600 for a period of two years. An application with all the required supporting documents submitted can be processed within 14 days.
To cater to Muslims, which constitute a significant proportion (15% of the population) in Singapore, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) – the authority for Halal certification in Singapore – offers 7 types of Halal certification schemes to suit the various categories of the food and food-related industry. Of these the Halal Eating Establishment Scheme is issued to retail food establishments such as restaurants, school canteen stalls, snack bars, Halal corners, confectioneries, bakery shops, stalls within a food-court or its equivalent and temporary stalls in bazaars, flea market, trade fairs, etc. The fee varies from S$480 to S$ 640 depending on the floor area.
All commercial food imports that enter Singapore must come from accredited food establishments in approved countries. In addition, only traders who are licensed or registered with AVA can bring in commercial shipments of food. You have to apply for a trader’s licence or register with AVA before importing food into Singapore. Only companies registered with ACRA can apply for a licence.
Notably, different conditions and requirements apply to specific types of food. The conditions would depend on the type of food, source country, etc. For example, meat and meat products can only be imported from accredited overseas establishments. AVA advises all food importers to check the General Classification of Food and Food Products to find out what food group their products fall under.
Additionally, if you intend to import pre-packed food for commercial purposes, you should follow AVA’s rules on food labelling and advertisements. Do note that you must first obtain the general import/export licence (called Central Registration (CR) Number) from Singapore Customs before applying for registration with AVA.
Public Entertainment Establishment Licence
If you want to have some sort of public entertainment in your F&B business, unless exempted, a public entertainment or arts entertainment licence is required under the Public Entertainments & Meetings (PEM) Act, Chapter 257, for any entertainment that is provided in any place to which the public or any class of public has access, whether gratuitously or otherwise.
Goods and Services Tax (GST) Registration
All Singapore companies with annual turnover exceeding S$1 million are required to register for collecting Goods and Services Tax (GST). Currently pegged at 7 percent, GST is a broad-based consumption tax levied on the import of goods (collected by Singapore Customs), as well as nearly all supplies of goods and services in Singapore.
After your F&B is registered with GST, you will have to charge the GST to your clients. Then, at the time of filing the GST returns, this tax charged is deducted from the GST your F&B has already paid towards the supplies purchased. The difference is refunded by the IRAS to you.
Problem Faced by the F&B Industry
The renewed thrust on having a healthy mix of locals and foreigners in the country’s workforce means F&B outlets in Singapore are facing an unprecedented labour crunch. Few tips on how to tackle the labour shortage faced by Singapore’s F&B industry are:
- Take Advantage of Part-time Talent Pool by Hiring Students
- Hire Back-to-Work Mothers
- Give a Chance to Persons with Disabilities
- Train Older Workers and Benefit from Their Experience
- Use Automation to Drive up Productivity such as Pooling certain back-end processes including dish-washing and pre-packaging of ingredients
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