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Singapore financial overview

I’ve explored Singapore in the past, but on this particular trip I really wanted to broaden my understanding of the country’s legal framework and financial infrastructure. With only 72-hours on the ground, I would have to work fast… so the trip was a whirlwind tour of bankers, lawyers, gold dealers, corporate secretaries, and international tax planners.

Here’s the good news: Mission Accomplished. I learned far more than I expected, caught up with old connections, made new ones… and yes, found groups who are happy to work with US citizens.

There is far too much information to jam into a single missive… and much of what I have to say is highly sensitive– most of these people don’t want their names broadcast all over the internet. I may do a Singapore Black Paper if there’s interest, but first let me make a few summary points:

1) Gold and silver are part of the culture here– you can buy a variety of bars and bullion at just about any bank.  At $991/ounce, a 1-ounce bar was selling for $1107.97 at UOB, one of Singapore’s largest banks. This price includes a 7% gross sales tax (which I’m convinced will eventually be levied in the United States as well).

As for storage options, not only did most banks have zero safety deposit boxes available, but they had a waiting list that runs for several years.  For such an entrepreneurial place, private industry has come up with a solution.

Certis Cisco logistics manages a private secure storage facility with three branches in Singapore. I personally inspected the Jalan Afifi location, which is open 16-hours a day, every day. The security is top-notch, and box rentals start at $99/year.  Click here for more information.

2) Singapore has total banking privacy, and in some situations the banks will not even require beneficial owner information for corporate accounts.

Procedures to open a bank account vary greatly from bank to bank. For example, when I told the account manager my situation, Bank of China basically laughed at me. Other banks I met with were much more welcoming.

It is possible for a foreigner with no presence in Singapore to open a bank account, but only at select institutions. The most effective method by far, though, is to apply for residency through either the EntrePass or EmployeePass program; in this case, opening a bank account is quite painless.

3) Singapore is a common law jurisdiction with trusts and private limited companies set up in the style of Hong Kong, which is obviously based on English rule. To structure a company, only one director is required, though s/he must be a Singapore resident.

Setting up a company is very easy– it can be done online and takes as little as 24-hours to complete. In my opinion, there is tremendous benefit to structuring business activities through a Singapore company, but that will have to wait for another day.

4) Last time I checked, 17% corporate tax did not qualify as a tax haven… the tax is low, but not zero. Singapore tax code is, however, quite friendly to entrepreneurs and especially startups. The first $100,000 of profit is tax-free… and for a start-up, this can be tremendously beneficial.

Singapore also does not tax its companies on income earned outside of Singapore, so long as the funds are not repatriated to Singapore. As such, many Singapore companies have subsidiaries or bank accounts in Hong Kong for their overseas income.

I will be discussing Singapore much more in the future but wanted to provide you with this initial overview today; in short, for a globally-minded entrepreneur or professional looking for work, Singapore should be on a short-list as a place to do business.

About the author: Simon Black is an international investor, entrepreneur, permanent traveler, free man, and founder of Sovereign Man. His free daily e-letter and crash course is about using the experiences from his life and travels to help you achieve more freedom.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Rowan Wilson

    Please consider this a request for the blackpaper. I am planning on relocating to Singapore this spring after finishing graduate school and acquiring more work experience. Interviewing there this past spring was an eye-opening experience. I’d love to learn more from your experiences w/ specific professionals.

    • http://dataddict.wordpress.com/ Marcos Ortiz

      Count me for the Black Paper.

  • Sumeet Valrani

    How do you become a resident of Singapore?

    If you become a resident ope a compnay and pay some taxes can yo become a cititzen? do you have so stay a number days in the country to become a citzen

  • William Williams

    Do you have any recommended securities brokers in Singapore? I understand E*Trade now has offices there, and TD Ameritrade once did, but closed them a few years back. (FWIW I’m not a US citizen)
    Thanks, WW

    • http://privacyoriente.baywords.com/ Pete Orwell

      MF Global ( http://www.mfglobal.com.sg ) is a good broker in Singapore offering access to over 20 world markets if I remember correctly, and they open accounts by mail… for all but US persons. :(

  • http://www.thefalconpost.com The Falcon

    Great Intel Simon,
    Can you comment on the language landscape in Singapore like you did with regard to the Philipines? What percentage speaks English? On another note, I really like the dynamic tag cloud. Can you tell me where I can get it?
    - The Falcon

    • Mahesh

      Falcon,

      Everyone in Singapore speaks English.
      Almost everyone knows at least 1 language in addition to English – which could be – Mandarin, Tamil, Malay or in certain cases Thai, Tagalog, etc.
      However, you utter English in any corner, and you will be understood.

  • Jai

    S’pore Black Paper? Interested. Online Pte Ltd company registration – more info please. Can it be done before proposed resident director moves (to facilitate employment pass), or have to be resident first? Linkie? Instructions link? Are HK/other companies depositing their non-HK source income in S’pore banks & non-taxable in SP? Sounds like Opportunity City, but certainly more details, therefore links/info resources, would be good. If you have links, it might save you writing time & energy, while providing a “one-stop shop” for everything you ever wanted to know… Let your readers do a bit of the legwork per their interests & predilictions….

    Did you get a chance to indulge in those chilli crabs? All work & no play, you know!

  • http://blog.azazil.net Gaz

    Hi Simon,

    Both HSBC Singapore and Citibank [ed note: which have extensive US presence] allow non-Singapore residents to open personal accounts with internet banking facilities with a reference from another bank, a copy of your passport and an interview with an account manager. HSBC says they like to have a SG$75,000 balance, but give a 3 month window to fill the account after it has been opened, and don’t seem to mind a much lower balance either since they charge SG$30 per month if the balance drops below that level.

    All it takes is walking into a the Singapore branch with a convincing reason why you need an account there.

    Cheers,
    Gaz

  • Louis

    1) Gold and silver are part of the culture here– you can buy a variety of bars and bullion at just about any bank. At $991/ounce, a 1-ounce bar was selling for $1107.97 at UOB, one of Singapore’s largest banks. This price includes a 7% gross sales tax (which I’m convinced will eventually be levied in the United States as well).

    In response to the above paragraph from your letter, in Lucas County, Ohio, a few years ago the county began charging 6.75% sales taxes on all gold and silver bullion sales. The tax includes all bars and coins. The tax was added to generate revenue and also added that taxi fare, pet grooming, and dry cleaning to be subjected to sales tax.

    Thank you for the letter and other useful information.

    Louis

  • Clement

    Hi Simon,

    Thank you again for the information on singapore. Yes we need a black paper on singapore later. it will definitely be in demand. also the paper on bsiness structures and your recommendations on which banks to deal with as foreigners. bye for now as we look forward to hearing from you again.

    clement

  • Daverco

    Count me in for a Black Paper. I am in Singapore several times a year and would like to expand my financial horizons there.

    FALCON – the language scene from my experience:
    First and foremost, anyone you’d be interested in speaking with speaks English and speaks it well. If they are educated it is their first language. The cab drivers and many of the less educated Chinese speak more of Chinglish (the Malay speak Manglish – love that term) which as you can guess is slightly bastardized English with a heavy accent. You can understand them easily, but you have to concentrate a bit.
    The educated elite Chinese having been going through a sea change. My understanding is that the parental generation was brought up with virtually no Chinese. Their parents wanted them to succeed in the English-speaking world. Now, there is once again an emphasis on learning Chinese. No worries though. It is taught along side English and the heavily competitive nature of the elites ensures that both languages are expertly spoken. In addition, the primary media in Singapore and all important signs, etc. are in English.

  • Carl

    I would welcome a Singapore Black Paper.

    Carl

  • Yanlin

    Hi, i’m a singaporean. And i just happened to chance upon this posting.

    In regards to what “the falcon” was asking about, generally, most singaporeans speak english. It’s the older generations of singaporeans who do not speak good english and prefer to use chinese or their chinese dialects, however, there are of course exceptions.

    Also, there are more chinese moving here from China and many of them do not have a good command of english.

  • richard butler

    hi am new to your site i am a developer

    just one question i need construction funds for my projects on my web site have you a high worth of funder wanting to come into australia 10% p.a interst turn around 18 months minium ammount 10,000 million australian

  • Jai

    Paik Choo had a marvelous & hysterically funny book on Singlish published back in the 80′s – don’t know if it is still in print. Other than some particularly colorful local expressions, I only ran into problems-without-translation once in a number of yrs in S’pore, with a Tamil newspaper carrier. Nowadays, I understand it’s the flock of recent immigrants, especially in low-level jobs, whose English is rudimentary. But in the main, English is spoken everywhere by everyone. It’s one of the few places (along with Hong Kong) where you can walk into a meeting with one-each Norwegian, Japanese, French, Singaporean, American, and a couple other nationalities knowing no translator needed.

  • David

    I purchased your Black Paper on Panama and would be interested in one on Singapore if you have comparable contacts. I am particularly interested in opening an account at a financially stable bank/brokerage where I could trade stocks, forex, etc., online.

  • Brennan

    Simon,

    Can’t get your link to work.

    Cheers.

    http://www.intlman.com/Move%20and%20store%20gold%20overseas.pdf

  • TEH

    I’d love to see a Singapore Black Paper. And a Hong Kong Black Paper too.

  • Rick G

    Simon:
    I just met a cousin of my wife this weekend. He has been in Hong Kong for the past 15 years. We discussed getting a bank account and a second passport. He said the easiest way would be to register as a business and then get a bank account. He said this is easily done for $300US. Can you confirm this? Also what banks would be good to work with? He suggested HSBC but I thought they would be tied tightly to the US network. Thanks.
    Rick

  • Ne

    Simon,

    So where is the best place to store gold in Singapore?

    Ne

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