Quick guide on importing food into Singapore

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Singapore is a foodie's paradise – well-known for its diverse and rich culinary culture. Its residents have developed a taste for food from all around the world and as a result, there is a significant demand for imported food items in the country. In this quick guide, we will discuss the necessary steps for importing food into Singapore and provide some tips for businesses looking to get a piece of this delectable pie.

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Why import food into Singapore? 

The significant demand for imported food products in Singapore – driven by its diverse culinary scene, adventurous taste buds and high purchasing power – has made it a lucrative market for businesses to tap into. In 2020, the total value of food imported into Singapore amounted to US$6.63 billion, according to Statista. The Little Red Dot’s strategic location in Southeast Asia also makes it an ideal hub for businesses to import food products and distribute them to other markets in the region. For businesses, whether you’re looking to ship mooncakes or premium meats, it's the perfect recipe to whip up a fortune.

But following the directions of Singapore Food Agency (SFA) – the main regulatory body responsible for ensuring a safe and secure food supply in Singapore – is key in order to avoid hefty fines. Under the SFA, the penalty for first-time offences typically involves a fine of up to S$5,000. In this article, we list the steps businesses can take to successfully import food into Singapore.

How can you start importing food into Singapore? 

1. Determine the classification of the food products

Businesses looking to import and sell food in Singapore must adhere to specific requirements set forth by the SFA. First, check SFA’s food classification according to its General Classification of Food & Food Products. Take note that this is a more detailed system of categorisation compared to the Harmonized System (HS) code and is used specifically for food. For example, when importing chicken into SIngapore, the HS code for both chicken breast bone-in chilled and chicken thigh bone-in chilled is 02071300, but the product code for the former is MCC002 and the latter, MCC005.

The SFA maintains a list of food items that are not allowed to be imported, and businesses must check this list before importing any products. This is to determine if the product you are looking to import can be allowed into Singapore and the specific conditions and requirements of its category.

Examples of restricted or prohibited items include fresh fruits and vegetables from specific countries, chill-shucked raw oysters, and certain types of meat. It’s important to make sure that all food items and food products you intend to import have SFA-approved additives and ingredients.

2. Adhere to guidelines and steps by SFA

To safely and efficiently import food into Singapore, businesses also have to adhere to other regulations mandated by Singapore Food Agency (SFA) such as:

  1. Apply for a trader's licence or register: Upon obtaining a Unique Entity Number (UEN) through the registration with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA), businesses can then apply for a trader’s licence based on the type of food product they are importing, whether that’s processed food, frozen food or meat. This is done through the GoBusiness Portal. This licencse is mandatory and must be renewed every year.

  2. Comply with relevant food legislation: All food imports must comply with relevant food legislation governed by SFA, like the Wholesome Meat and Fish Act, for example.

  3. Adhere to SFA's labelling requirements: If importing pre-packaged food, businesses must adhere to SFA's labelling requirements before they can be imported, advertised, manufactured, sold, consigned or delivered.

  4. Apply for an import permit through TradeNet: After complying with all pre-import requirements, businesses must apply for an import permit through TradeNet with other relevant documents, such as the bill of lading and commercial invoice.

  5. Additional permits: If businesses wish to import specific fish species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna (CITES) into Singapore, such as sturgeon or seahorse, they are required to obtain CITES import permits from the SFA. Additionally, they must obtain CITES export permits from the country of export.

  6. Confirmation of approval and import fees: Upon successful approval by SFA, you will be issued a Cargo Clearance Permit (CCP). For every consignment of food imported, you will need to pay import fees.

  7. Book an inspection for the food products upon arrival in Singapore: Imported food products may be subject to routine food safety inspection upon arrival in Singapore, including laboratory analysis to ensure compliance with food safety regulations.

Customs clearance procedures can be time-consuming and may cause delays in the delivery of food products. This can lead to spoilage, decreased shelf life, and ultimately, reduced quality – that’s why it’s of paramount importance that all customs laws and regulations are followed strictly, especially when it comes to shipping food.