Question from a reader: We are going to import chemicals manufactured in Vietnam into Singapore. Our Customs brokers are asking us if we have the necessary licenses to import. We already import the same product into Malaysia and no special license has ever been necessary. How do we find out if we need any licenses to import the chemical into Singapore?

What are import licenses?

Importers of some products may need to seek approval from one or more competent authorities prior to import. Licensing regimes can be administered differently in different countries and even within a country – the way each license is managed can differ from agency to agency.

2 Main types of import license regimes

Non-HS code based license regime

This type of licensing regime is difficult to navigate without the help of an experienced Customs broker or consultant who is well versed in the industry specific to your area of business. To describe it simply, competent authorities will publish their licensing requirements on suitable platforms like publicly available memos, online or industry circulars. Traders are expected to keep themselves updated on these requirements. The main difficulty any trader will face is identifying the agencies that most likely have an interest in controlling the import or export of the product they are dealing with and then ensuring that they constantly visit these agency websites to stay current on changes.

HS code based license regime

A HS code based licensing regime makes it easy for traders to identify if their products are caught by any licensing requirements. Typically such a administration allows importers and exporters to look up potential special requirements based on the product’s HS code. It is important to note that several additional steps must be taken to correctly determine whether a product needs an approved import license or not from the relevant competent authority. For example, importers in Singapore can look up possible licensing controls using the product code finder tool online.

Let’s take an example:

If you were importing nitric acid into Singapore, you would first need to correctly determine the tariff code for the product. In this case, let’s assume the product is correctly classified under HS28080000. Using the product code finder, you can see that this HS code is controlled by the Pollution Control Department in the National Environment Agency. The contact information for the department is also mentioned on the tool. The next step would be to contact the agency responsible and inform them of your intention to import the material and share any relevant information like material safety data sheets or brochures. The agency may ask for more information if required or will otherwise share guidance on licensing requirements and procedures to apply for the licenses.

Import License Types

It is important for traders to know that all license types are not the same. Some license types are described below:

  1. Blanket licenses that allow the importer to import any quantity of a commodity indefinitely
  2. Blanket time based licenses that allow the importer to import any quantity of a commodity over a fixed period of time
  3. Blanket quantity based licenses that allow the importer to import a specific total quantity of a commodity
  4. Per shipment licenses
  5. Self declaration licenses
  6. Licenses with attached general conditions such as who the end user can be and record keeping requirements to be met
  7. Any combination of the license types mentioned above

Other license types that we have not mentioned also exist, so it would be highly recommended for traders to study issued licenses carefully.


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