Singapore - Country Commercial Guide
Licensing Requirements for Professional Services

Includes license requirements for key professional services that are open to U.S. service providers.

Last published date: 2020-09-16

Legal Services: The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) under the Ministry of Law oversees the regulation, licensing, and compliance of all law practice entities and the registration of foreign lawyers in Singapore. Legal firms with a licensed Foreign Law Practice (FLP) may offer the full range of legal services in foreign law and international law, but cannot practice Singapore Law, except in the context of international commercial arbitration. To practice Singapore law, Foreign Law Practices require either a Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) license, a Joint Law Venture (JLV) with a Singapore Law Practice (SLP), or a Formal Law Alliance (FLA) with a SLP. Most Singapore’s 130 foreign law firms operate FLPs, while QFLPs, JLVs and FLAs each number in the single digits.

The QFLP licenses allow Foreign Law Practices (FLPs) to practice in permitted areas of Singapore law, which excludes constitutional and administrative law, conveyancing, criminal law, family law, succession law, and trust law. As of March 2017, there are nine QFLPs in Singapore, including five U.S. firms.

A Joint Law Venture is a collaboration between a Foreign Law Practice and Singapore Law Practice, which may be constituted as a partnership or company. The Director of Legal Services in the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) will consider all the relevant circumstances including the proposed structure and its overall suitability to achieve the objectives for which Joint law Ventures are permitted to be established. Currently, there are two U.S. law firms with Joint Law Ventures in Singapore. U.S. and foreign attorneys can represent parties in arbitration without the need for a Singapore attorney to be present. There is no clear indication on the percentage of shares that each JLV partner may hold in the JLV.

Legal Services: The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) under the Ministry of Law oversees the regulation, licensing, and compliance of all law practice entities and the registration of foreign lawyers in Singapore.  Legal firms with a licensed Foreign Law Practice (FLP) may offer the full range of legal services in foreign law and international law, but cannot practice Singapore Law, except in the context of international commercial arbitration.  To practice Singapore law, Foreign Law Practices require either a Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) license, a Joint Law Venture (JLV) with a Singapore Law Practice (SLP), or a Formal Law Alliance (FLA) with a SLP.  Most Singapore’s 130 foreign law firms operate FLPs, while QFLPs, JLVs and FLAs each number in the single digits.

The QFLP licenses allow Foreign Law Practices (FLPs) to practice in permitted areas of Singapore law, which excludes constitutional and administrative law, conveyancing, criminal law, family law, succession law, and trust law.  As of March 2017, there are nine QFLPs in Singapore, including five U.S. firms.

A Joint Law Venture is a collaboration between a Foreign Law Practice and Singapore Law Practice, which may be constituted as a partnership or company.  The Director of Legal Services in the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) will consider all the relevant circumstances including the proposed structure and its overall suitability to achieve the objectives for which Joint law Ventures are permitted to be established.  Currently, there are two U.S. law firms with Joint Law Ventures in Singapore.  U.S. and foreign attorneys can represent parties in arbitration without the need for a Singapore attorney to be present.  There is no clear indication on the percentage of shares that each JLV partner may hold in the JLV.

Except for law degrees from a handful of designated U.S., British, Australian, and New Zealand universities, no foreign university law degrees are recognized for purposes of admission to practice law in Singapore.  Under the USSFTA, Singapore recognizes law degrees from Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, and the University of Michigan.  Singapore will admit to the Singapore professional bar a citizen or permanent-resident law school graduate of those designated universities who are ranked among the top 70% of their graduating class or have obtained lower-second class honors (under the British system).  More information on the structure of Singapore’s legal service can be found via Singapore Legal Service  and the Ministry of Law.

Engineering and Architectural Services: Engineering and architectural firms can be 100% foreign-owned.  Engineers and architects are required to register with the Professional Engineers Board and the Board of Architects Singapore, respectively, to practice in Singapore.  All applicants (both local and foreign) must have at least four years of practical experience in engineering or architectural works, and pass written and oral examinations set by the respective Board.

Accounting and Tax Service: The major international accounting firms operate in Singapore.  Registration as a public accountant is required for appointment as an auditor of financial statements in Singapore, although registration as a public accountant is not required to provide other accountancy services, such as accounting, tax, and corporate advisory work.  All entities that provide public accountancy services must be under the control and management of partner(s) who are public accountants residing in Singapore.  If the firm has two partners, at least one must be a public accountant. If the firm has more than two partners, two-thirds of the partners must be public accountants residing in Singapore.  Only public accountants who are members of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) of Singapore and registered with Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority may practice in Singapore.  More information can be found at ACRA website.

Except for law degrees from a handful of designated U.S., British, Australian, and New Zealand universities, no foreign university law degrees are recognized for purposes of admission to practice law in Singapore. Under the USSFTA, Singapore recognizes law degrees from Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, and the University of Michigan. Singapore will admit to the Singapore professional bar a citizen or permanent-resident law school graduate of those designated universities who are ranked among the top 70% of their graduating class or have obtained lower-second class honors (under the British system).  More information on the structure of Singapore’s legal service can be found via Singapore Legal Service  and the Ministry of Law.

Engineering and Architectural Services: Engineering and architectural firms can be 100% foreign-owned. Engineers and architects are required to register with the Professional Engineers Board and the Board of Architects Singapore, respectively, to practice in Singapore. All applicants (both local and foreign) must have at least four years of practical experience in engineering or architectural works, and pass written and oral examinations set by the respective Board.

Accounting and Tax Service: The major international accounting firms operate in Singapore. Registration as a public accountant is required for appointment as an auditor of financial statements in Singapore, although registration as a public accountant is not required to provide other accountancy services, such as accounting, tax, and corporate advisory work. All entities that provide public accountancy services must be under the control and management of partner(s) who are public accountants residing in Singapore. If the firm has two partners, at least one must be a public accountant. If the firm has more than two partners, two-thirds of the partners must be public accountants residing in Singapore.  Only public accountants who are members of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) of Singapore and registered with Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority may practice in Singapore.  More information can be found at ACRA website.