Starting a Restaurant in Singapore: A birds-eye view of the primary legalities (Part 1)

Thinking of opening a restaurant in Singapore? The city state of Singapore is celebrated as a culinary paradise. The melting pot of multitude of culture boasts of a vibrant food scene which is sure to thrill the global gastronomes. Cuisines from all parts of the globe, American, Mediterranean, Italian, Thai, Indian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Mongolian, Brazilian, you name it you have it here in this small island state.

This guide is part one in our two-part guide on starting a restaurant in Singapore. You can open part two to learn about the other formalities that you may need to handle while starting a restaurant in Singapore at the end of this guide.

Do you wonder how the small city state, has such a dynamic restaurant industry? The avid patronage of the locals, the curious palates of the tourists and the drooling taste buds of expatriates together have made the culinary kaleidoscope all the more colorful. The favorite hobby of the nation is eating, to be more specific eating out and most of the young Singaporeans do not cook at home hence, a strong market for the restaurant business in Singapore.

The market being receptive to a variety of cuisines, enterprising restaurateurs aspiring to launch their food business in Singapore will find the going smooth and safe provided they have an exciting menu, enticing taste and the right price coupled with courteous service. Restaurateurs who are keen to set their table in Singapore will find this article informative published in two parts. This Part (Part I) will clear some clouds regarding the primary legalities to get going with starting your restaurant venture in Singapore. The start up phase involves the following important aspects:

  • Business Incorporation
  • Food Shop License
  • Halal Eating establishment Scheme
  • Liquor license
  • GST Registration
  • CPF Registration
  • Registration to import processed Food products and Appliances

Business Incorporation

Now that you have decided that Singapore is the ideal location for opening your restaurant, the first order of business is to setup a Singapore company.  For detail, see Singapore company incorporation guide.

Relocation for Foreign Owners

Whether you are the chef de’ founder or the founding manager injecting finance and managing the restaurant enterprise, either way, the business in its infantile phase requires you to nurture at least until it breaks even and stabilizes. Successful opening of a restaurant in Singapore will likely require your presence especially in the early years.

Under the Singapore Immigration Regulations, foreign entrepreneurs who wish to setup a restaurant in Singapore will be required to apply for an Entrepass if they wish to relocate to Singapore to operate their business.

Food Shop License for Restaurant

After you have settled your company registration and relocation visa matters, you will need to identify a space that is ideally suited for the menu you serve and your target market. Under the Environmental Public Health Act, it is mandatory to secure a Food Shop License issued by the National Environment Agency (NEA) for retailing food and/or drinks. Finalizing the place for restaurant operations should precede the application for Food shop License because the authorities will inspect the premises before granting an approval for the license.

The application for the Food Shop License must be accompanied by the following supporting documents:

  • Compliance with the Code of Practice of Environmental Health (COPEH) and operational requirements for foodshops, which covers areas like minimum kitchen size, refuse management, noise and cooking fumes control etc. Please study the requirements appended. They will be verified through a pre-licensing check of the premises upon the completion of renovations and installation of equipment.
  • Approval from the land agency e.g. URA and HDB (referred to as planning permission from land agencies)*
  • Tenancy agreement **
  • Details of applicant – one of the following (where applicable):
    • Individual – Both sides of NRIC
    • Company – Information Business Profile from Accounting & Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA)
    • Society – Certificate of Registration from Registrar of Societies
  • Basic food hygiene certificate/Refresher food hygiene certificate of foodhandlers
  • Food hygiene officer certificate (for Food caterers, Restaurants, Foodcourts and Canteens only)
  • Cleaning program
  • A scaled metric layout plan of the premises showing the layout in the kitchen, preparation area, refreshment area, toilets, stores, etc.
  • Pest control contract covering the control of rodents, cockroaches and flies during the year-long licensing period. The inspection frequency of the food shop premises covered in the contract shall be at least once a month to detect any sign of pest infestation.
  • Supplementary Information form to capture business name, type of food sold, business operating hours, etc.
  • Food Safety Management Plan (with critical control points identified) or proof of registration for the “WSQ Apply FSMS for Food Service Establishments” course. (For Food Caterers only)
  • Photos showing the interior and exterior of the catering vehicle
  • Vehicle log card or tenancy agreement for rental vehicle to prove ownership of catering vehicle
  • Cleaning program for catering vehicle

*Please note that this is potential pitfall for applicant. Applicant should ensure the relevant planning permission is obtained, prior to signing any tenancy agreement and investing in renovations/equipment for the premises.

**Please note that the submission of a tenancy agreement is not required during the initial stage of application for a licence. The tenancy agreement will only be required at the final stage, before NEA approves and issues the licence. You are advised not to sign any tenancy agreement, until the land agency concerned has approved the relevant use for the premises, and you are reasonably confident you can meet with the COPEH requirements by also verifying with the owner/landlord on the necessary renovations like installation of exhaust system, piping for sinks etc.

Application for the Food Shop License for your Singapore restaurant is made online and the processing time is approximately 1-2 weeks. There will be a pre-licensing inspection of the premises where you plan to open your restaurant and depending on the outcome of the inspection, the processing time may be affected. If the application and supporting documents are in order, an in-principle approval and a list of hygiene requirements for compliance will be given to the applicant.

You may commence the set up or renovation of the premises for your Singapore restaurant according to the layout plan submitted in your Food Shop License application. Once set up or renovation of the premises is complete, you will need to inform the NEA to arrange for a site inspection to verify the compliance of all the hygiene requirements. Upon verification of the hygiene requirements, the license will be issued. The license has to be renewed every year.

Hiring Staff

Starting a restaurant means you will need to hire local and perhaps foreign workers as well. Staff in most restaurants in Singapore consists of both local and foreign workers due to the fact that most Singaporeans don’t like to work in this industry. For foreign staff, you will need to apply for a relevant work pass which is subject to approval by manpower authorities. For more details on staff hiring, refer to employee hiring guide for Singapore companies.

These are the most preliminary yet primary legalities while opening a restaurant in Singapore. This can be accomplished easily with the help of professional firms who provide company incorporation and related business services.

Ready to get a license?

If you are interested in getting a business license in Singapore, Hawksford can help. Request a quote now to take the next step towards your dream business.

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