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Banking guide to Singapore

Singapore is one of the world’s premier banking jurisdictions, and one of my personal favourites alongside Hong Kong and the US. In this guide, I detail how to open personal and business bank accounts, how to apply for credit, how to setup payment processing accounts, how to transfer money in and out of Singapore and share personal experience and observations.

An overview

Singapore has one of the world’s most developed and diverse banking sectors, with dozens of banks and financial institutions offering a wide range of services. The most relevant, for this guide, are the banks, fintech and brokers. The banks usually operate branch networks and all offer access to a wide range of products and services. Most tend to focus on the local market, as well as corporate clients and high net worth individuals. The fintech operate on e-money licenses, meaning they are not real banks and as such, cannot issue Singapore bank account numbers. Instead, they usually partner with banks to issue those numbers. They offer a wide range of products and services, many which are complementary to the banks offering, and their focus is on both private and corporate clients, mostly locally. The brokers operate on brokerage licenses and offer access to all the instruments and services expected of such institutions. Those include stocks trading, bonds trading, currencies trading, ETFs trading, robo advisor accounts and more.

Deposits in Singapore are protected by the Singapore Deposit Insurance Corporation (SDIC) up to 75000 SGD, assuming they are held in eligible accounts. In any cases, deposit security is not a major issue in Singapore as the banking sector is very stable and well capitalized.

Opening an account

In most circumstances, it is not possible to remotely open a bank account in Singapore as a non-resident (although there are exceptions). This goes for both personal and business accounts. Even in person it can be difficult, unless you qualify for a premium account / private banking. If you simply want a functional offshore bank account, with low fees and interesting features, I recommend looking at the US instead.

Personal accounts

Your first step will be to choose a bank. This step is important and deserves careful consideration as it will significantly influence the account opening process and the services you will have access to as an account holder. While there are many banks operating in Singapore, you should only consider the local banks in my opinion. As of 2022, they are DBS, OCBC and UOB.

The banks listed above all offer similar accounts and debit cards. They all have online banking, mobile banking, they also all support PayNow and FAST and all offer multi currencies accounts.

After choosing a bank, you will have to start preparing your due diligence documents. Every bank in Singapore will ask you for a proof of address (from a reputable bank or utility company, in your name, less than 3 months old) and a valid passport. Some will also ask for additional documents such as a recommendation letter from a reputable bank, a proof of origin for the funds you deposit etc. It is important to note that your documents will have to be in English. If they are not, they will have to be translated by a bank-approved translator. You will also need to have some cash on you, as a deposit is often required to activate the account. In most cases, 100 SGD will be enough. I recommend calling your chosen bank before flying to Singapore, to confirm their up to date requirements.

You can read my guide on travel hacking for ways to save money on your trip. Plan to spend at least 2-3 full days in the city (I recommend staying for an entire week in case you are asked for more supporting documents and need to have them shipped in). When you arrive at a branch, simply tell the receptionist that you want to open a non-resident account and they will point you in the right direction. Although it is not necessary, having a local mobile phone number will greatly help with setting up the online banking. You can get a SIM at the airport and can keep it active long-term by depositing a few SGD every couple of months. It usually takes up to an hour to complete the process so plan your day accordingly.

Business accounts

While the requirements vary from bank to bank, they usually are the same as for personal accounts + certified copies of your company documents. Be prepared to answer questions regarding the type of business you run (or plan to run), your business experience, your clients, the source of your initial deposit, your transaction volumes, how do you process payments etc. Often, you will have to provide the bank with A LOT of supporting documents, possibly even some references.

To open a business account, you will first need to book an appointment with the bank. I recommend calling at least 2-3 weeks in advance to ensure that you get your preferred time-slot. During the call, the bank will inform you of their due diligence requirements and of the location of their commercial banking center. Simply show up with the requested due diligence documents. Depending on the bank, the account may be opened on the spot or in the following days (or weeks). A debit card will usually be issued and in some cases, a two-factor authentication device. Please note that most Singapore banks charge a due diligence fee when opening a business account for a foreign company. The fee can be as high as 1000+ SGD (and will be due regardless of whether they approve or decline your application). In most cases, you will be asked for a reason for opening the account (that you want a SG business bank account is not a valid reason, you need a reason why you NEED the account). Do note that unless you plan to deposit a significant amount, and can provide a rock solid proof of origin for the funds, you will not be able to open an account for an IBC.

Fintech

Fintech are financial services companies that offer accounts that often mimic bank accounts, but are not. They are not allowed to hold deposits directly so instead they use segregated accounts at underlying banks. This means that deposits are not protected by the government.

They also typically issue prepaid cards instead of debit cards. These cards function in a similar way but are not as widely accepted although some fintech in Singapore offer regular debit cards.

Sleek and Aspire are the two most popular fintech for business accounts, while Youtrip, Wise and Revolut are the most popular fintech for personal accounts.

Long term considerations

Once your accounts are open, you should register for online banking using the information the bank provided to you. I recommend doing this while in Singapore so that you can visit the bank again if there are any problems. Once registered, make sure that your account informations are accurate and that you are signed up for two factor authentication with at least one backup method (for example, mobile number + authentication app). This will ensure that you do not lose access if there is an issue delivering text messages to the number on file.

Local address

While the residential address on your accounts should be your real address, it is usually possible to add a different correspondence or mailing address. Using a Singapore address as your correspondence or mailing address can greatly help with the long-term maintenance of your account. For example, it will ensure that you do not miss time sensitive letters from the banks. It may also help you avoid having your accounts closed due to a lack of ties. The most cost-efficient way of getting a Singapore address is via a mail forwarding service provider. You can find more details here along with a list of my favourite service providers.

Applying for credit

A number of credit card opportunities are available in Singapore. To access this content, please log into your Insiders Club account. If you do not have an account, click here to learn about the benefits of membership.

Payment processing

Stripe, PayPal and Braintree are available in Singapore, for locally-registered companies. Their processing rates and fees are higher than they are in the US, Canada and Europe, however, so it makes sense to consider using a payment processing subsidiary instead (not to mention currencies support).

If you have a Singapore business, you have access to a large number of payment processing services. I maintain a list of such services and provide service specific guides, you can access it here.

Moving money

I have written a comprehensive guide on how to transfer money internationally. You can read it here.

Wise and Revolut are both available in Singapore and are excellent options for smaller irregular international money transfers. For local money transfers, PayNow and FAST are the best options. Do make sure to register your phone number or NRIC / FIN for PayNow before sending / receiving transfers.

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