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Importing from China to Singapore: A complete guide

By Fredrik Gronkvist

Singapore is a country that’s punching far above its weight. With a population of only 5.4 million, the size of its economy is on par with many of its far bigger Southeast Asian neighbors.

Singapore (if we exclude Australia) is also our primary market in Asia, both in terms of website visitors and the number of customers.

In this article, we give you an overview of Importing from China to Singapore. Keep reading, and learn more about Singaporean product safety, import duties, required permits and taxes.

singapore-port

 

Singaporean Product Safety Requirements

SPRING (The Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board) is a business development agency, partly tasked with protecting Singaporean customers from unsafe products.

Some products are covered by one or more Consumer Goods Safety Requirements (CGSR).

This includes, but is not limited to, the following product categories:

• Children’s Products

• Toys

• Watches

• Clothing and textiles

• Furniture and beddings

As explained by this FAQ, suppliers (i.e., a Singapore based import business) are responsible for immediately halting sales if a product is deemed as unsafe.

So, what practical implications does this have for importers in Singapore?

Products within the scope of CGSR are required to comply with European Union, United States or International product regulations:

singapore-regulations

Note: This list can be found in the CGSR Booklet, on the official SPRING website.

 

How Importers Can Ensure Compliance with Consumer Goods Safety Requirements (CGSR)

Singapore has not developed its own set of product standards. Instead, it refers to EU, US and International technical and safety standards.

Let me explain what this means for your import business.

a. Assessing Applicable Standards

Go back to CGSR booklet and scroll down to page 15. Here you see a list of Children’s products, and applicable regulations.

For each product, SPRING has assigned a set of standards.

For example, as an importer of Bunk beds, you are required to ensure compliance with at least one of the following:

• EN 747 (EU)

• ASTM F1427 (US)

• ISO 9098 (International)

Assuming we choose to ensure compliance with EN 747 (Read more), we can start looking for suitable manufacturers in China, or elsewhere in Asia.

b. Sourcing Manufacturers

When sourcing manufacturers, in any industry, it is crucial to first have identified all applicable product safety standards. Why? Because ‘previous compliance’ is a critical factor when selecting a supplier.

Now that we have identified EN 747 as the product standards we must ensure compliance with, we have a reference point.

For example, we can now start calling suppliers – and filter out all suppliers that cannot prove that they have experience in manufacturing products (Bunk beds) according to the requirements set in EN 747.

While I don’t have data for this specific industry, I can safely assume that most (say 90%) of all manufacturers don’t have experience with EN 747.

Clearly, we should avoid all such suppliers.

But, 10% is not all that bad. Assuming you would need to refer to an obscure Singaporean standard, that no supplier has ever heard of, that figure would go down to zero.

Fortunately, the Singaporean government understands this – but referring to unknown standards is a big problem for importers in Australia and many other (relatively speaking) small markets.

c. Compliance Testing

All major compliance testing companies, such as SGS and Bureau Veritas, offer services, testing products according to EU, US and International standards.

As such, you only need to refer to, in this specific case, EN 747 – and they’ll do the rest.

 

Electrical Consumer Goods

SPRING lists certain kinds of Electronic products, for home usage, that must comply with either a European Union EN Standard or an IEC International Standard.

The full list can be found on page 17 of the CGSR Booklet.

In addition to the mandatory product standards, Singaporean electronics importers must also ensure that the power plugs are affixed with the ‘SAFETY Mark’.

All power plugs must also be registered with SPRING, with the registration number present in the SAFETY Mark.

 

‘Can I import any product that is CE marked?’

The CE mark is a European Union compliance mark. It indicates that a certain product is manufactured in compliance with all applicable EN standards.

By putting one and one together, it would be reasonable to assume that all CE marked products are ready to be shipped over to Singapore.

However, doing so could be a grave mistake.

Many products containing the CE mark are not actually compliant with the applicable EN standards. The Singaporean government is, of course, aware of this:

‘Consumers should be aware of the various safety/conformity marks and their limitations. For example, the CE marking is based on a supplier declaration of conformity and there is no assurance that consumer goods marked CE have actually been tested to the relevant EN safety standards.’

Personally, I find it fascinating that the Singaporean government has a better understanding of the complexities surrounding compliance with EU regulations – than the EU authorities have.

 

Shipping from China to Singapore

Singapore is only 4 to 6 days away from China’s major ports, offering Singaporean importers the benefit of quick and cost effective sea freight from the world’s manufacturing center.

Below follows an overview:

• Tianjin – Singapore: 7 – 8 days

• Shanghai – Singapore: 6 – 7 days

• Hong Kong – Singapore: 4 – 5 days

Singaporean importers also have the option of air freight and land transportation.

 

Customs Value

Import duties and other taxes (i.e., GST) is calculated based on the Customs Value. In Singapore, the Customs Value equals the CIF (Cost, Insurance and Freight) cost.

Hence, the Customs Value, in Singapore includes the following:

• Product cost

• Transportation costs (from the factory in China to the Port of Singapore)

• Transportation insurance

The official Singapore Customs Authority website provides additional information about conditions and alternative valuation methods.

 

Import Duties

Many products, imported from China to Singapore, are subject to Import duties. The Import duty is normally a percentage, calculated based on the Customs value.

As explained above, the Singapore Customs Value is based on the CIF price. Hence, you can calculate your Import duties as follow:

Import Duty = X.X% x (Product Cost + Freight Cost + Freight Insurance)

The next step is to find out which, if any, Import duty rate applies to your product. Luckily, the Singaporean government.

First, go to the Singapore Customs Web Application.

customs-search-1

Here, you can choose to specify an HS code, CA Product Code or a Description. In the example above, I just typed in “Watch”.

Let’s see what that gives us.

customs-search-2

The system gives us more than 50 different results, containing the word “Watch”. This includes, for example, the following:

91012100: OTHER WRIST WATCHES OF PRECIOUS METAL CASE OR CLAD WITH PRECIOUS METALS WITH AUTOMATIC WINDING (NMB)

91012900: OTHER WRIST WATCHES OF PRECIOUS METAL CASE OR CLAD WITH PRECIOUS METALS (NMB)

91029900: OTHER WATCHES INCL POCKET WATCHES OTHER THAN OF HEADING 9101 NOT ELECTRICALLY OPERATED (NMB)

The Customs classification of a product such as Watches is very specific, as detailed above. It’s up you to determine which HS code applies to your product, and then ensure that the cargo is declared accordingly.

Now, back to the Import duty rate. You can’t see it in the image, but in the columns on the right, you can read the applicable duty rate.

Here, you can also find a summary of dutiable goods in Singapore.

 

Goods and Services Tax (GST)

Not all products are subject to import duties. However, all imports valued above $400 are subject to a GST, currently set at 7%.

The GST is added on top of the sum of the Customs value and the Import Duty. However, as the Import duty is often set at zero, you might be able to leave that out.

Below follows an example:

GST = 7% x (Product Cost + Freight Cost + Freight Insurance + Import Duty)

 

Other Import Taxes and Fees

Alcohol and tobacco products are subject to additional fees, called excise duties. However, in this article we don’t cover Alcohol, tobacco or related products.

 

Registrations, Permits and Licenses

Before you can get started to import products, your business must go through the following registration steps:

Step 1: Register for Unique Entity Number (UEN) and Activate Customs Account

Step 2: Use the (HS/CA) Product Code Search Engine to confirm the HS code and import duty ate

Step 3: Register for IGB account with the Customs (required to pay import duties and GST)

Step 4: Furnish Security

Step 5: Apply for Customs Import Permit

This process is explained in greater detail on the Quick Guide for Importers, on the Singapore Customs website.

 

Visiting Suppliers in Mainland China

Singaporean citizens enjoy the advantage of visa free visits to Mainland China, for up to 15 days. Visa-free entry has only recently become available to other nationalities in China, and so far only for transit travelers.


Fredrik Grönkvist is the co-founder of ScandinAsian Enterprise in Shanghai. Since 2010, he and his team have helped hundreds of companies worldwide, primarily in the EU and US, to develop and manufacture products in China. He is also the main contributor on www.chinaimportal.com, a leading knowledge base for small- to medium-sized enterprises importing from Asia. For further questions, you can contact him on www.chinaimportal.com/contact-us/.

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