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Starting a Spa in Singapore

The spa industry is an important part of Singapore’s health and wellness sector and is one of the few businesses to have demonstrated resilience during the economic crisis. Singapore’s spa industry is reported to be valued at S$140 million a year and this figure is growing year-on-year. Record high tourist arrivals and the growing affluence of individuals has given an impetus to the spa industry in Singapore. Spa-goers are loosening their purse strings and are spending thousands of dollars on exotic treatments and multiple-treatment packages. Singapore’s spa market not only caters to women but is also seeing a rise in the number of men who are willing to pamper themselves with luxurious treatments.

In recent years, there has been a mushrooming of spas all over Singapore from hotels and malls to tourist attractions and the residential suburbs. Research company, Intelligent Spas, pointed out that there were as many as 173 spas in Singapore in 2007, a 63% increase since 2003. Given the strong business potential that the spa industry offers, a number of seasoned players as well as new entrants are setting up shop in Singapore.

This article  provides information on how to setup a spa in Singapore. Note that the information provided here is for general guidance only and is not meant to replace professional advice.

Licenses for Setting Up a Spa in Singapore

Massage Establishment License


Who requires a Massage Establishment License?

According to the Massage Establishment Act, a Massage Establishment (ME) License is required in order to offer massage services, foot-reflexology services, manicure treatments, spa baths or other similar treatments. There are two categories of ME Licenses – Category I and Category II. Most spas usually opt for Category I licensing as they are subject to more liberal business conditions as compared to Category II licensees. In other words, Category I licensees can enjoy unrestricted operating hours, serve alcohol, admit customers irrespective of age, and can also employ foreign masseuses or therapists.

Note that certain establishments are exempt from obtaining the license, subject to certain conditions. Details of exempt establishments are as follows:

  • An establishment is exempt from holding the ME License if it only provides curative massage or other curative treatment that is personally administered by:
    • A physiotherapist who is a member of the Singapore Physiotherapy Association;
    • A person who is registered as a Traditional Chinese Medicine physician under section 14 of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners Act and who has been issued with a practising certificate under section 17 of that Act; or
    • An occupational therapist who is a member of the Singapore Association of Occupational Therapists.
  • An establishment that administers foot-reflexology, physiotherapy, traditional massage or curative massage in full view of the public is exempted from the licensing requirement only if it satisfies the following requirements:
    • There is no room, partition, cubicle or any form of separation device that allows massage services to be administered in private and outside the view of other customers in the premises;
    • Any area in the premises where massage services are carried out is clearly visible from outside the premises and any window in the premises or entrance to the premises is not obscured with any device or accessory such as tinted glass panel, curtain, blinds or any poster or notice;
    • The establishment only employs Singapore citizens, Singapore Permanent Residents or Malaysians who are issued with a valid Singapore work visa;
    • No employee is indecently dressed;
    • The employees do not tout for business or loiter outside the premises; and
    • The operator of the establishment registers details of the operations of the establishment with the Licensing Officer and complies with the all other conditions.
  • Any premises used exclusively for offering only body tanning services is exempt from applying for a ME License provided:
    • The body tanning service administered in the premises is conducted solely by means of a self-operated machine;
    • There is no additional room, partition or cubicle within the premises other than any room, partition, or cubicle that is essential for the operation of the body tanning service such as a treatment room or a changing room; and
    • The operator of the establishment registers details of the operations of the establishment with the Licensing Officer and complies with all other conditions.

Pre-Requisites for Massage Establishment License

The following conditions must be fulfilled prior to applying for a Massage Establishment License.

Business Incorporation
Prior to applying for a ME License the business must be registered with the Singapore Companies Registrar, ACRA. Setting up a company in Singapore is quick and easy involving just two procedures that can be completed online within 24 hours. For details, refer to our Singapore company incorporation guide. If a foreign company wishes to open a spa in Singapore it can either opt for Singapore subsidiary registration or Singapore branch registration.

Applicant Criteria

In order to obtain a ME License (Category I or II) the applicant must:

  • Be 21 years old at the time of application;
  • Be fit-and-proper i.e. free from criminal and vice-related records;
  • Must hold a valid Singapore Employment Pass or Singapore work permit if (s)he is a foreigner.

Company Criteria
For Category I ME License:
The company/establishment must fulfill all of the following veto criteria:

  • A minimum capital investment of S$50,000 in renovation, asset or rental costs.
  • At least  80% of the spa’s therapists and/ or masseuses must have one of the following professional qualifications:
    • Comite International D?esthetique Et de Cosmetologie (CIDESCO) International Beauty Diploma;
    • Confederation of International Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology (CIBTAC) Diploma in Beauty Therapy Services;
    • CIBTAC Award in Body Massage or Diploma in Body Massage and  CIBTAC  Diploma in Anatomy Physiology and Pathology;
    • CIBTAC Diploma in Spa Therapy;
    • International Therapy Examination Council (ITEC)  Beauty Specialist Diploma;
    • ITEC  Holistic Massage Diploma;
    • National Skills Recognition System (NSRS) Skills Standards Package 1 & 2;
    • National Institute of Technical Education Certificate (NITEC) in Spa and Aesthetic Therapy;
    • National Institute of Technical Education Certificate (NITEC) in Beauty Therapy;
    • Higher NITEC in Beauty & Spa Management;
    • Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) for the Spa Sector under the Tourism WSQ Framework.
  • Accreditation for Spa and Wellness Businesses by CaseTrust.
  • Company-issued uniforms for its staff.

The company/establishment must also fulfill one of the following non-veto criteria:

  • The floor area of the spa must at least be 100 sq meters; or
  • The lease duration of the premises must be for a minimum period of two years.

For Category II ME License:

At least 80% of the spa’s therapists and/or masseuses must have the following professional qualifications:

  • Comite International D?esthetique Et de Cosmetologie (CIDESCO) International Beauty Diploma;
  • Confederation of International Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology (CIBTAC) Diploma in Beauty Therapy Services;
  • CIBTAC Award in Body Massage or Diploma in Body Massage and  CIBTAC  Diploma in Anatomy Physiology and Pathology;
  • CIBTAC Diploma in Spa Therapy;
  • International Therapy Examination Council (ITEC)  Beauty Specialist Diploma;
  • ITEC  Holistic Massage Diploma;
  • National Skills Recognition System (NSRS) Skills Standards Package 1 & 2;
  • National Institute of Technical Education Certificate (NITEC) in Spa and Aesthetic Therapy;
  • National Institute of Technical Education Certificate (NITEC) in Beauty Therapy;
  • Higher NITEC in Beauty & Spa Management;
  • Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) for the Spa Sector under the Tourism WSQ Framework.

Approval of Premises

  • Spas that opt for a Category I ME License are permitted to operate in premises such as shop-houses, HDB neighbourhood centres, private shopping centres, commercial complexes and hotels. Establishments that opt for a Category II License must be situated away from residential areas, hospitals, schools and places of worship. HDB residential areas including HDB commercial complexes are also not permissible. Examples of premises that are considered suitable are shopping or commercial complexes and hotels.
  • Approval from the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore (URA) is required for making additions or alterations to a conservation building.
  • Prior approval from the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is required in order to display signs on your conservation building.
  • If you plan to execute any fire safety works, approval from the Singapore Civil Defence Force must be obtained.
  • Before you proceed to rent or convert the premises for your business operation, it is advisable to seek approval from the URA.

Layout of Premises

  • There must be no locking device for the doors of the massage or treatment room.
  • There must be no warning device that could be used to alert the staff of the arrival of enforcement officers.
  • All rooms must be numbered and the numbering should be shown on the layout plan.
  • Rooms used by staff e.g. rest-room and office, should have proper signage with a “No Entry? sign to prevent unauthorized entry by customers.
  • Rooms for massage must be clear of permanent or temporary objects or structures, such as paintings or screens, so that there is a clear view of the rooms when the doors are opened.
  • If the establishment caters to both male and female customers, there must be clear segregation of male and female areas within the establishment e.g. separate entrances, facilities, treatment and massage rooms.

Hiring staff

Spas are free to hire local as well as foreign talent to work as foot-reflexologists, masseuses or therapists. Foreigners must obtain a valid Singapore work permit prior to commencing work. In addition, approval from the Licensing Officer is required for employing staff to work in the spa. Furthermore, foot-reflexologists, masseuses or therapists who are working or will be working in a Category II establishment are required to undergo and pass a mandatory medical screening before they can begin work.

Massage Establishment License Application Procedure

The license application procedure consists of submitting the application form along with the following supporting documents to the Singapore Police Force:

  • A No Objection Letter (NOL) from the building management or landlord for the use of premises as a spa;
  • A copy of the URA planning permission for the proposed use of premises as a health center or spa;
  • A copy of the therapists’/ masseuses’ training certificates that are duly recognised by the Police Licensing Division;
  • A list of particulars of all employees including their name, Singapore identity card number or passport details, position held in the company and certifications attained.

In addition to the above documents, Category I licensees must submit the following documents:

  • A list of the renovation/asset/rental costs invested together with the respective documentary proof such as renovation receipts, receipts of payment, etc.;
  • Documentary proof that the spa is accredited by CaseTrust under the Accreditation for Spa and Wellness Businesses Scheme;
  • Fire Safety & Shelter Department (FSSD) Building Plan Reference Number (The number can be obtained by submitting a layout plan to the Fire Safety & Shelter Department);
  • Photograph(s) showing the front, side and rear view of the staff uniform;
  • Floor plan of the spa stating the total floor area; and
  • Tenancy agreement with the landlord for the premises use stating the length of lease or Certificates of Title or Land Deed (where applicable).

It normally takes 12 working days to process a successful application, upon which a non-transferable license will be issued for a one-year validity period. A license fee of S$525 is payable within 3 weeks from the date of application approval. All spas must adhere to the Massage Establishment Rules as well as the Licensing Conditions depending upon whether they hold a Category I License or a Category II License.

Other Licenses

Depending upon the nature of activities you intend to undertake you may also require the following additional licenses and approvals:

  • Advertisement License for displaying outdoor advertisement signage such as sky signs and electronic billboards.
  • General Radio Communication License for transmitting or receiving messages by means of radio-communication.
  • Localized Private Network License for establishing and providing localized private network services such as use of walkie talkie services within a localized area.
  • Localized Radio Communication License for the operation of remote control devices, local area paging devices, transceivers (walkie talkies), telemetry or alarm systems, wireless data or voice systems (e.g wireless LAN) and any other radio-communication equipment.
  • Wide-area private Network License for establishing and providing wide area private network services such as use of walkie talkie services within a non-localised area.
  • Non-Residential TV License for operating a broadcasting apparatus that is capable of receiving broadcasting signals such as TV sets or PCs that are enabled to receive TV programs.
  • License to keep or possess an irradiating apparatus for use other than sale such as an X-ray machine.
  • License to keep or possess radioactive materials for use other than sale.
  • License for handling and transporting radioactive materials.

On a Final Note

It is advisable to hire a professional services firm to help you set up your spa and obtain the necessary licenses on your behalf as it will help you save time and resources.

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