American firms wishing to establish a presence in Singapore have several straightforward options to do so. They can establish a Representative Office (RO), register as a Branch of the parent, or incorporate as a Singapore company.
If an American company wishes to carry on operations in Singapore, it should register a branch office or incorporate a local company with the Accounting & Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) . ACRA publishes an excellent guide that takes the first time registrant through the process of establishing a branch office or incorporating in Singapore.
Setting up a Representative Office in Singapore can be a good way for American firms to explore business opportunities in Singapore or the region. ROs in banking and insurance need to register with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and meet the guidelines or requirements laid out by the MAS. ROs in all other industries need to register with International Enterprise (IE) Singapore. ROs can only carry out market research, conduct feasibility studies or work as a liaison on behalf of the parent company. ROs may not conduct business directly or on behalf of the parent company. ROs cannot ship, transship or store goods in Singapore. American firms can either work through an agent or distributor to do so or establish their own commercial presence.
For Branch Offices, the Companies Act requires a foreign company to appoint two local agents in Singapore to act on behalf of the company. The agents must be ordinarily resident in Singapore i.e. a Singaporean Citizen, a Singaporean Permanent Resident, or a person who has been issued an EntrePass/Approval-In-Principle letter/Dependent Pass.
Establishing a Singapore Business:
American firms can also register a sole-proprietorship, partnership, limited liability partnership or incorporate a company in Singapore. For a sole proprietorship the process takes about one day, while more complex business entities can take up to six weeks and require lawyers and accountants to assist with incorporation documents. A point to bear in mind is that registration/incorporation of a company does not automatically mean that expatriate staff can be assigned to Singapore. Foreign staff must obtain employment passes from the Singapore Ministry of Manpower, although this is generally quite routine.