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Types of Business Entities in Singapore

Before a business begins selling goods and services in Singapore, it must first go through the process to legally register itself with the country, one of the most common of which is company incorporation. The first step to registering a business or company incorporation is choosing the right business structure. There are several types of business entities available, each differing in various aspects including:

  • Limitation of liabilities of the owners
  • How the income of the business and those of their owners are taxed
  • Registration and compliance requirements of the entities
  • Application of the requirements for registration of GST and;
  • For Representative Offices of foreign entities, restrictions on the activities that may be undertaken in Singapore

Described below are selected key features and differences between the various types of business structures.

1. Sole-proprietorship

Registration of a sole-proprietorship is not the formation of a new business entity but is in effect a business name registration of the trader (sole-proprietor). It is not a separate entity apart from the owner. A sole-proprietorship does not have limited liability and the personal assets of the owner will be accessible to meet the liabilities of the business.

Compared to other forms of business entities, the registration and compliance requirements for a sole-proprietorship are relatively simple. The profits of the business are attributable to the owner, who will be taxed on the sole-proprietorship’s profits as personal income.

A business is required to maintain and retain sufficient accounting records and documents to enable its income and expenditure to be readily ascertained and verified.

2. Partnership (General Partnership)

Registration of a partnership is also effectively the registration of a firm’s business name and the particulars of its partners (an individual or a corporation). A partnership is not a separate legal entity apart from the partners, and its partners do not have limited liability. 

The requirements for registration of a partnership are also relatively simple especially if the partners are all individuals in Singapore. A partnership does not have any constitution to regulate the affairs of the partnership. While there are laws that apply to them, there may be an agreement to govern the relationship among the partners. This agreement should also be drawn up if the profit-sharing ratio is not equal among the partners.

The profits of the business are allocated to the partners who will be taxed on the profits as their personal income. Even though the entity itself is not subject to tax, a partnership will have to submit an income tax return with details including the allocation of the divisible income among the partners.

A partnership is also required to maintain and retain sufficient accounting records and documents to enable its income and expenditure to be readily ascertained and verified.

3. Company

Companies are legal entities separate from the members (a minimum of one individual or corporate shareholder) and Directors of the companies that can be 100% owned by foreigners. They possess the capacity to own property, and pursue legal actions under their own name like any other person. To operate in Singapore, companies must have a registered office address and appoint at least one Director residing in Singapore. A shareholder (member) may also serve as a Director of a company. There is no authorised capital for Singapore companies, and shares in Singapore companies do not have any par value.

Companies may be classified as public or private, and their liabilities may be limited or unlimited with respect to their members. Under normal business circumstances, the personal assets of a limited liability company’s members are protected from claims against the companies.

Public companies with limited liability may be limited by shares or by guarantee, the latter being common for charitable and nonprofit entities.

Companies are governed by the Companies Act 1967 and related subsidiary legislation, common law and their own Constitution. The relationships between shareholders may also be bound by any shareholders’ agreements that may be in place.

A company is required to prepare financial statements that comply with the requirements of the Financial Reporting Standards and give a true and fair view of the financial position and performance of the company. The financial statements must be audited by a registered public accountant or accounting entity unless the company (excluding public companies) qualifies for exemption from audit requirements.

Learn More: Audit Exemption for Private Companies

A company will be taxed at the prevailing corporate income tax rate on its profits. It will therefore be required to submit its own income tax returns. Dividends paid by Singapore companies are exempt from tax in the hands of their shareholders including foreigners. There is no withholding tax on dividends in Singapore.

4. Foreign company (Branch of foreign company)

A foreign company must register itself in Singapore before it commences business operations in Singapore. The main documents and information required for a foreign company registration includes:

  • Certified copy of the certificate of its incorporation or registration in its place of incorporation
  • Certified copy of charter, statute, constitution or memorandum or articles or other similar instrument, and
  • Particulars of the Directors of the foreign company.

A foreign company is required to have a registered office in Singapore and appoint at least one individual who is resident in Singapore as its authorised representative.

Additionally, it is required to prepare a statement showing its assets used in and liabilities arising out of its operations in Singapore, and a profit and loss account relating to the company’s operations here. These financial statements must be audited unless the branch qualifies to be considered as dormant in Singapore. Foreign companies are required to lodge the financial statements relating to its operations in Singapore together with its own financial statements (financial statements of the “Head Office”) within 60 days of its annual general meeting.

A foreign company is required to submit income tax returns in Singapore and will be taxed at the prevailing corporate income tax rate on the profits arising out of its operations here.

5. Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)

LLP is a relatively new business structure with features of a general partnership and a company that may be viewed as a hybrid entity.

As its name indicates, a limited liability partnership (LLP) is a form of partnership. It offers advantages such as the ability to acquire property, and the same rights as a corporation. However, unlike general partnership, an LLP has a legal identity separate from its partners. Additionally, the liability of all the partners in an LLP is limited (except for liability arising in tort for any partner’s own wrongful act or omission). The obligations of the LLP remain solely those of the LLP.

The compliance requirements for an LLP are similar to those of a general partnership except that they need to submit an Annual Declaration to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).

Generally, an LLP is treated like a general partnership for income tax purposes even though it is a separate legal entity. The profits of the LLP are allocated to the partners who will be taxed on the LLP’s income as their personal income. An LLP is also required to submit an income tax return for the partnership indicating the allocation of the profits between the partners.

6. Limited Partnership (LP)

Limited partnerships (LPs) are also a relatively new business structure introduced in 2009 that are suitable as investment vehicles or funds. Unlike an LLP, a LP does not have a separate legal personality from its partners.

A LP must have at least one general partner and one limited partner. General and limited partners may be individual or corporate entities. A LP can be managed only by the general partners who will have unlimited liability for the debts and obligations of an LP. Liabilities of limited partners are limited to the amount they agree to contribute to the LP, but are not allowed to participate in the management of the LP.

The profits of a LP are not taxed at the entity level but are allocated to the partners who will be taxed on the profits as their personal income. A LP is required to submit a return for the partnership which will include the capital contribution of its partners.

7. Variable Capital Company (VCC)

A Variable Capital Company (VCC) is a new form of company specifically created for investment funds.

VCCs offer flexibility in capital management, where the issuance and redemption of shares may be increased or decreased easily. Shares of the VCC are to be issued, redeemed or repurchased at a price equal to the net asset value of each share. A VCC may also be set up as an umbrella VCC, housing sub-funds that operate independently, with liabilities and assets ring-fenced from one another. 

A VCC must appoint a manager to manage its property or to operate the collective investment scheme(s) in the VCC. The manager of a VCC must be holder of a capital markets licence, a Registered Fund Management Company (“RFMC”) or a person who is exempted from having to hold a capital markets licence.

VCCs are required to prepare financial statements that comply with Singapore Financial Reporting Standards and such financial statements must contain separate accounts for each sub-fund. The financial statements must be audited and there are no exemptions from audit requirements for VCCs.

VCCs are treated as companies for the purposes of income tax. For computation of income tax, each sub-fund is generally treated as if it is a VCC subject to certain modifications. An umbrella VCC will be treated as a single entity where its taxable income is the total of the taxable income of all its sub-funds.

8. Representative Office (of foreign company)

A Representative Office (RO) of a foreign company is meant to allow foreign companies to explore and evaluate their business opportunities in Singapore and the region. It is temporary in nature with a licence to operate in Singapore for a period of only one year. The RO licence may be extended to up to a maximum of 3 years, after which the foreign company is expected to incorporate a subsidiary company or register a branch in Singapore.

The activities of a RO are restricted to conducting market research and feasibility studies on the viability of setting up a permanent entity in Singapore.

Due to the nature of activities that may be carried out by an RO in Singapore, a RO does not generate taxable income in Singapore and is not required to submit any income tax returns. However, employees working in the RO in Singapore are subject to Singapore income tax on their employment income.

Next Steps

Your choice of business entity may depend on various factors including the advantages and compliance requirements of each business structure, which will all differ depending on the type of business entity. Regulatory requirements may also require businesses to opt for certain types of entities. For example, a “company for licensing purposes, or LLP for joint ventures or strategic partnerships.

After the most appropriate business structure has been selected, there may be further considerations including the number of entities to incorporate or register and the ownership structure of those entities. 

For the incorporation of a company, these issues need to be addressed:

  • Whether the constitution of the company requires any special provisions (e.g. regarding transfer of shares in the company)
  • The shareholding structure
  • Whether a shareholders’ agreement is required to document the arrangements that have been agreed among the parties

For companies that operate internationally, the impact of cross-border taxation will also need to be assessed. Decisions regarding the structure to be adopted may cover capitalisation, manner of financing the Singapore entity, inter-group transactions and pricing of these transactions.

Unless the company has a simple structure, the company incorporation process in Singapore may be complicated. Without prior knowledge, these steps can be difficult to understand and navigate. This is why it could be helpful to engage company secretary services, to have a professional company secretary handle matters related to company registration for you. 

While we trust that the above highlights will provide a brief overview of the various types of business entities that may be registered or incorporated in Singapore, there is other information which cannot be summarised or was otherwise not discussed in the above material.

Let us know if you have any questions or require assistance on your specific scenarios or circumstances. Our firm will be able to undertake a review and assist you with application of the rules to your case.

Kindly note that we may not be able to provide explanations of the tax rules and regulations or how they may be addressed or applied to specific circumstances unless a detailed review is undertaken.

K E Wee & Associates PAC is a professional firm of chartered accountants offering company incorporation services, company secretarial services, and more. Get in touch with us to find out how we can help your business.


Wee Kong Eng

Public Accountant, Tax & GST Consultant

Master of Taxation, CA (Singapore), CIA, Dip. in Law, ATP (Income tax & GST), Assoc CVA

K E Wee & Associates PAC, Public Accountants and Chartered Accountants

Email: kongeng@kewee.com.sg

Mobile: +65 97552868

Office: +65 67200950 ext 111

Disclaimer and limitations

Information is updated as of 13 August 2023 and may be subject to change. The above Information may have been summarised, simplified or paraphrased for easier understanding and to suit scenarios more commonly applicable to client companies. It is not meant to be a comprehensive guide or substitute for professional advice. All opinions or interpretations are solely those of ourselves and our partner firms and may be subject to agreement by the relevant authorities. While effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the above information, we shall not be liable for loss arising directly or indirectly from any inaccuracy or omission in the information provided.