In this guide, I explain in details how to open personal and business bank accounts in Singapore. I also cover the process of applying for credit, a merchant account and how to transfer money between your Singapore accounts as well as internationally.
Preparation and due diligence
The first step is to choose a bank. This is perhaps the most important and trickiest step as it will influence not only the rest of the account opening process but also your future as an account holder. There are a LOT of different banks operating in Singapore but only a few that are suitable for non-residents. Unlike in Hong Kong, it is actually possible to open an account remotely in Singapore. That said, it is a lot easier to do so in person at the bank. If you absolutely cannot travel to Singapore, Citibank is the easiest bank to work with for remote openings. If you can travel to Singapore, the banks you should consider are DBS, OCBC (and its subsidiary, Bank of Singapore), UOB, Standard Chartered and HSBC. They all open accounts for non-residents and all offer debit cards (that can be used online). They have very different minimum deposit requirements, however, starting at around 1000SG$ and going well over one million SG$. All Singapore banks offer online banking and multi-currency accounts. When choosing, you should consider the monthly fee (usually waived if you maintain the minimum balance required), the wire transfer fees, the incoming transfer fees and the quality of the online banking.
Due diligence for personal accounts
Most banks in Singapore require a proof of address (from a reputable bank or utility company, in your name), a valid passport from a non-blacklisted country and a letter of recommendation from a bank in your home country. If you are a national of a Western country or a developed Asian country, you should be able to open an account. Obviously, if you are American it will be a lot harder to convince a bank to open an account for you due to the pressure on them from the IRS and US gov (They have to declare all assets held by Americans clients to the IRS which is very expensive for the bank). You may also need to explain the reason why you need an account in Singapore. Simply wanting an account there for the sake of it will not usually be enough so find a good reason!
Due diligence for business accounts
While requirements vary from bank to bank, they usually are the same as for a personal account + certified copies of the company documents. Be prepared to answer questions regarding the type of business you run (or plan to run), your experience, your clients, the source of your initial deposit, the transaction volumes, how will you process payments etc. Often, you will have to provide the bank with LOTS of supporting documents as well as references. Supporting documents often requested include proofs of business activity and invoices from clients.
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The best Singapore banks
After choosing a bank and preparing your due diligence documents, you have to book a trip to Singapore to open the account in person at the bank. To save some money you can read my guide on travel hacking.
Opening personal accounts
A few days before you travel to Singapore, you should choose the branch you will visit to open the account. I recommend choosing a branch on in the CBD as almost all the major banks have branches side by side there. In the unlikely event that one refuses to open an account for you, you can visit the one next door and try there. On the big day, make sure you have the minimum deposit amount in cash on you along with all your due diligence documents. You can also wire the money in once the account is open. 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 you set up the online banking so I recommend getting a prepaid SIM card from SingTel before visiting the bank. It usually takes up to an hour to complete the process so plan your day accordingly. In almost every cases, you will receive your debit card and documentation on the spot.
Opening business accounts
To open a business account, you will first need to book an appointment with the bank. I recommend calling at least 2-3 days in advance to ensure that you get your preferred time-slot. During that call, the bank will inform you of their due diligence requirements and of the location of their commercial banking center. Simply show up at for the appointment with the requested due diligence documents and the initial deposit (in cash). You can also wire the money in once the account is open. Depending on the bank, the account may be opened on the spot or in the following days. A debit card will usually be issued and in some cases, a two-factor authentication device.
Using the accounts
Once the account is open you should register for online banking using the information the bank provided to you. I do recommend doing this while in Singapore as you may need to receive a verification SMS on your prepaid SG phone number to complete the process. If there is a problem you can also walk into a branch and seek help which is convenient. Once registered, make sure all the information displayed on the online banking is accurate. Because some banks require you to receive a verification SMS or make a verification phone call in order to add a new wire link, you should link your new Singapore account to your existing ones (in SG or your home country) before leaving the city.
Singapore banking is not very different from banking in other countries. You can view your balance and initiate transfers at any time using online banking, an app or over the phone. The debit card you received should work everywhere in the world, simply make sure that the processing machine / ATM has the logo displayed on your card (Visa, Mastercard, NETS, Cirrus etc).
While you need a bank statement or utility bill as a proof of address when opening an account, it is usually possible to register a new correspondence address without any supporting document once it is open. Having a local address can greatly help when it comes to applying for credit or buying investment products. The most cost-efficient way of getting a local address is via a mail forwarding service provider. You can find more details here along with a list of the best service providers.
Apply for credit
As in Hong Kong, it is possible for non-resident to apply for credit in Singapore. That being said, the cards available are not as good as those in Hong Kong and usually come with higher fees. Because you probably do not have a local credit file, the bank is likely to ask you to leave a security deposit. Depending on the bank, that security deposit may be equal to the credit limit granted or may be larger. In most cases, it will be returned to you in full once you have established a good payment history. While each bank follows their own rules, most tend to ask for a deposit equal to around 10% of the minimum salary required for a specific card. For example, if a card has a 30000SG$ minimum salary requirement, the deposit asked by the bank is likely to be 3000SG$.
Opening a merchant account
I maintain a list of the best payment processing services per country, you can access it here.
I have written a comprehensive guide on how to transfer money internationally. You can read it here.