Singapore is a global trading hub, gateway to South-East Asia, and an international centre for finance and banking. With a welcoming business climate and competitive workforce, many companies from all around the world choose Singapore as a base.
If you’re involved in exporting from Singapore, or do a lot of business there, you might consider getting a local bank account to make it easier to manage your money. This guide gives you all you need to know to get started, including:
- Types of business you’ll find in Singapore
- Opening an account with a foreign business entity, or as a non-resident
- Practicalities of getting a business account in Singapore
- Fees and charges you need to know about
We’ll cover some of the biggest banks in Singapore as a starting point for researching account options, and also look at an alternative - getting an online multi-currency borderless account from Transferwise.
Having a low cost, convenient way to send money to and from Singapore is essential to minimise your costs and maximise your profits. TransferWise can help, with international payments for low transparent fees, using the exchange rate you’ll find on Google. More on how Transferwise can cut the costs of doing global business, later.
There are a range of different corporate structures in Singapore. If you’re considering setting up a local business there, you’ll need to choose the right type for your needs. And if you have a foreign registered entity already, you’ll need to find a business bank account which is aimed at your company type.
The most common business formats in Singapore are:
- Sole proprietorship
- Partnership - including limited partnership and limited liability partnership
- Local private companies
- Local public companies
- Foreign companies with a Singapore branch office
- Representative offices - non-trading
You can open a business bank account in Singapore with a foreign registered company. Exactly what the process is to do this will depend on the bank. For example, even the banks which allow Singapore residents to open accounts entirely online may require foreign domiciled business owners to attend a meeting in person to get their business accounts up and running.
There are many international banks in Singapore. If you already have a business account with one of the many global banks represented there, you may be able to skip this step by attending a meeting at your local branch, or having a notary check over your documents closer to home. Check with your home bank if they can offer any support to help you to open a Singapore business account.
An alternative: the borderless account for business from TransferWise
You need a business account which makes it easy to manage your money between Singapore and Australia. However, you don’t necessarily need a Singapore based account to achieve this. Instead, you might consider getting a digital multi-currency account from a specialist online provider.
Check out the TransferWise borderless account for business for an account which will allow you to hold over 40 currencies and can be opened entirely online. All ID checks are done remotely so you don’t need to attend a meeting in person, and you’ll get a range of business friendly perks like batch payment solutions and Xero integration.
Your account comes with Australian bank details to receive fee free payments from anywhere in the world, and you’ll also be able to send and receive international payments using the mid-market exchange rate with no markup. There are no hidden fees, just a low transparent fee per transaction.
Opening a corporate account doesn’t take very long, once you have collected all of the documents needed. Singapore resident owners of local businesses can open an account online in minutes with some banks. However, it’s common for non-residents and owners of foreign business entities to need to attend a meeting with the bank to present their paperwork. This can significantly slow down the process.
Check with your chosen bank if they have any alternatives. For example, some banks which operate internationally may allow you to hold a meeting at a branch local to you. At the very least, you may be able to get your application completed online in advance of visiting the bank, to speed things up.
Before you visit the bank you have chosen, make sure you know what documents are needed. These will vary depending on your company structure, and are likely to include:
- A completed application from
- Original ID documents for the business owner and any other signatory to the account
- FACTA form
- Company registration documents depending on the business structure
- You’ll also need a minimum deposit amount in many cases, to open your account
There are no legal restrictions, but banks may limit the number of accounts which you can access. You’ll still most likely have to attend a face to face meeting to present your paperwork.
Singapore’s biggest banks usually ask customers to submit a form and then wait for a call back from a team member to arrange an appointment to visit a branch. This makes it hard, in practise, to open an account from abroad, or purely online.
If you have an account already with a bank present in Singapore, see if they can help you by hosting the meeting closer to home. Or try a smart alternative like the digital multi-currency borderless account from Transferwise.
Finding the best bank for your needs depends on your personal preferences and the type of business you run. It’s definitely a smart idea to look at some of the biggest regional and global banks operating in Singapore, as well as casting your net a little wider and looking at online and digital solutions. Here are some of the largest banks offering corporate and SME banking in Singapore:
- Bank of China
- Global brand with offices and branches all over the world
- Wide range of business products, including multi-currency accounts, current accounts, time deposits and more
- Online banking through HSBCnet
- Currency services for international trade
- 500 branch offices across 19 countries
- Account products and loans for various different company types, including foreign owned enterprises
- Get an eBusiness account for fee free banking as long as you hold a minimum balance in the account
- Business digital account fees $18/month, or get a multi-currency business account for $40/year
- Accounts available with no minimum deposit of fall below fee
- Some accounts can be opened online - although if you have foreign directors of your business you may need to visit a branch to open your company account
- 20 banking offices and outlets in Singapore, and many more worldwide
- Corporate accounts in multiple global currencies including AUD
- Overdraft facilities available for businesses
- Online and mobile banking solutions for convenient management of your money
Singapore banks tend to impose fees for many transactions as well as management charges. However, there are often ways you can get around some of these costs - for example by holding a minimum balance in the account at all times, or by using a linked credit or debit card for transactions. It’s a good idea to shop around, and think carefully about how you’ll use your account once it’s up and running. This way you should find a service that suits you, and not end up paying for features you don’t use.
One important thing to consider is the cost of moving your money overseas. If you’re doing business in Singapore but planning on sending the profits from your business back to Australia, you’ll be making cross border payments on a regular basis. This is one area where traditional banks don’t always serve their customers well. You might find high fees, and a markup added to the exchange rate which means you pay more than you expect for your transfer.
Using a specialist in international payments can work out far better value. Have a look at TransferWise for international payments which use the mid-market exchange rate with just a low transparent fee.
As a business owner you know the value of having an account provider which will save you time and money. Compare your options when you’re looking for a bank account in Singapore, as you may discover that you’re better off ditching old fashioned banks and choosing a modern alternative like Transferwise, for an account with many of the perks of other options - at a lower cost.
All sources accurate as of 23 July 2019
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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