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.