Singapore is ranked #2 on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2020. The city-state boasts a sound economic, political, legal and regulatory environment. It also supports cross-border trade, and has business-friendly processes for credit, electricity, permits, taxes, contract enforcement, etc. Singapore also has a strong banking infrastructure that’s fully integrated into the global financial system. It also has a reputation for integrity, offers attractive tax incentives, and strictly enforces laws against financial crime and money laundering. For all these reasons, Singapore is a very attractive destination for foreign businesses.
When you’re looking to set up a company in Singapore, opening a business bank account should be one of your first steps after registering with ACRA (Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority). Most banks in the country offer many features to open a corporate bank account.
In this article we will take a close look at how this process works for a non-Singaporean, i.e. either an expat foreigner residing in Singapore or a foreigner residing outside Singapore.
Can a non-Singaporean open a business bank account in Singapore?
Can it be done online or do you need to visit the branch in person?
How much does it cost to open and maintain a corporate bank account?
What is the application process and what kind of documentation is involved?
What are the common challenges non-Singaporeans face while trying to open a corporate bank account?
Let’s answer all these questions and also shine the spotlight on a cheaper and easier way to manage your international payments and receipts.
Can Foreigners Open a Business/Corporate Bank Account in Singapore?
In a word, yes.
Ease of banking is one of the primary reasons for Singapore’s popularity as a global business destination. However, following recent regulatory rulings and recommendations, Singaporean banks have tightened their rules regarding scrutinising new foreign clients, particularly around money laundering and counter-terrorism financing (AML/CTF).
Advantages of Opening a Business Bank Account in Singapore
All banks in Singapore operate without any government-imposed financial controls on funds’ movement, meaning there are generally no restrictions on receiving funds or making payments internationally. So, with a Singapore-based corporate bank account, you can legally receive funds from or send payments to any country in the world (exception – countries on Singapore’s sanction list).
Another advantage is that major banks offer accounts specifically designed for foreign business entities, and offer many everyday banking services. Many also offer multi-currency accounts so you can maintain funds and conduct transactions in any major currency, including USD, GBP, Euro, CAD and AUD. Other important currencies like MYR and INR are also supported.
Due to COVID-19, many banks allow businesses to open a bank account remotely, following a video interview. Since an in-person meeting with the bank is no longer required, you can open your account without even visiting Singapore. The account can also be operated fully remotely.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) regulates all banks operating within Singapore. It also carefully monitors the capital adequacy and leverage ratios of all locally-incorporated banks. All depositor funds are insured by Singapore Deposit Insurance Corporation Limited (SDIC). Moreover, all banks offer secure Internet banking. All these features ensure the safety of your company’s funds.
Requirements and Documents to Open a Business Bank Account in Singapore as a Foreigner
As a foreign entity, any Singaporean bank will require detailed information and documentation about your business.
- Proof of registration of the foreign-owned Singapore company
- Identification and residential address proof of the company’s:
- Ultimate Beneficial Owners
- Copies of passports or Singapore national identification cards of all Directors
- Background information of Ultimate Beneficial Owners in the form of a website or CV
- Professional background information about key executives
- Copy of the company’s Memorandum and Articles of Association (MAA)
- A resolution by the company’s Board of Directors
- Other company-specific documentation
- Proposed business activities
- Business model/profile
- Business plan
- Potential customers/clients
- Potential suppliers/vendors
- Anticipated banking transactional activity
- Optional but good to have: Reference letters from previous business banking relationships
All document copies must be “Certified True” by the Company Secretary or a Director. The concerned bank may also ask for original documents as well as additional documents for further KYC verification.
Corporate Bank Account in Singapore: Application Process
The process to open your Singapore corporate account will depend on the bank and account type you choose. But in general, you will need to follow these steps to get the account up and operational:
Choose the bank and account type (Singapore dollar account, foreign currency business account, etc.)
Check if you can open the account remotely or if you need to be physically present in Singapore
Fill out the account opening form. Make sure it is signed by authorised signatories
Prepare the required documentation, including proof of company registration
Include the Board of Directors Resolution sanctioning the account’s opening and the account signatories
Provide proof of identification and residential address for each of the company’s shareholders, ultimate beneficial owners, and directors
Submit all documents along with minimum deposit (if mandated by the bank)
How Much Does a Corporate Bank Account in Singapore Cost?
1. Setup fee
Most banks in Singapore don’t charge any fees to open a corporate/business bank account, although there are a few exceptions.
2. Maintenance fee
You should however, expect to pay a monthly maintenance or administration fee of S$10 to S$40, which may be waived for the first few months, depending on the bank. A few banks charge no such fees, which offers smaller companies, startups, and entrepreneurs greater flexibility and freedom to focus on their business needs, rather than on banking expenses.
Some banks also charge a fee for issuing chequebooks, and for setting up Internet banking.
3. Minimum balance
Almost all banks specify a minimum threshold for initial deposit. Some require a low initial deposit of S$1,000 to S$3,000, which is ideal for small businesses with limited startup capital. Ongoing minimum balance requirements vary between banks, but in general, they fall in the range of S$1,000 to S$100,000. Some banks also charge a “fall-below fee” if the account balance falls below a certain threshold. This generally varies from S$15 to S$35. A few banks offer special corporate accounts for entrepreneurs, with initial deposits as low as S$500. They also waive minimum average monthly balance requirements and fall-below fees for a fixed period (e.g six months).
4. Transfer fee
Some banks offer free FAST transfers, i.e. transfer of SGD funds from one bank to another within Singapore. However, if your company expects to make a lot of foreign funds transfers, i.e. transfers from or to countries other than Singapore, you should expect to incur costs of S$10 to S$40 (and even above) per transaction. You may incur such international transfer fees for both sending and receiving foreign funds, plus a commission and/or a currency conversion fee that’s a percentage of the transfer amount.
Challenges Faced by Foreigners When Opening A Corporate Account in Singapore
All Singapore banks strictly apply the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and Common Reporting Standards (CRS). So, when looking to open a corporate bank account in the country, you should expect stricter compliance checks and KYC requirements from banks. This can be challenging for some non-Singaporeans, especially if they come from countries where such norms are either non-existent or not strictly implemented.
Banks also ask for many kinds of documents regarding company registration, ultimate beneficial owners, business profile, etc. It can be difficult and time-consuming to complete this paperwork. However, without them, it’s not possible to open a corporate account, so the effort is necessary.
Another challenge is that due to the many compliance and business checks, the opening process can be long. This is because data on foreigners in Singapore or applicants outside Singapore is not easily available in the government’s information system. Typically, for companies with foreign shareholding, it takes 3-4 weeks for banks to process the application. There is no fast track, same day or instantaneous processing of applications from foreign-owned business entities, so if any agency or individual claims they can help you with this, be very wary.
Some banks insist on in-person interviews with applicants, so if you’re not currently in Singapore or can’t travel to Singapore (say, due to COVID restrictions), you might not be able to open a corporate account here.
Disclaimer: This guide should not be construed as professional advice. Please check the terms of service of the respective banks before making any decisions (financial or otherwise).