Singapore is recognized as a pacesetter in blockchain and cryptocurrency due to its unfailingly supportive regulatory environment. Over the last few years, Singapore has seen a tremendous rise in the number of blockchain projects that have been registered within its borders.

To keep up with the evolving world of digital tokens, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) published a guide on the e-Tax that details how digital token transactions including ICOs, IEOS and STOs shall be taxed. These came a few months after Singapore released its new regulations for enterprises offering payment services.

The guide focuses on the taxation of three types of digital tokens. These include security tokens, utility tokens and payment tokens (tokens used as payment options). The guide also elaborates on the taxation of other tokens that are distributed through unconventional means like hard forks and airdrops.

Payment tokens

According to the e-Tax guide, all transactions done using payment tokens shall be considered to be in the form of barter trade. Therefore, the recipients of the tokens shall be taxed depending on the value of the underlying goods or services.

Nonetheless, purchasing a payment token is not taxable. However, the returns from the disposal of the token are taxable if the process involved is a trading activity.

Payment tokens miners shall also be taxed if the mining intends to make profits.

Payment tokens distributed via hard forks and airdrops are not taxable if they are freely given out.

Utility tokens

According to the e-Tax guide, utility token transactions are not taxable since they are mainly acquired to enable the users to acquire future services within a specific blockchain network.

Security tokens

According to the e-Tax guide, security tokens are regarded as a form of equity or debt since they give owners an implied degree of control or equity to a certain asset or project. As such, the taxation of the returns gotten from security tokens depends on the type of the return. The types in consideration here are interests and dividends.

ICOs and STOs taxation

According to the IRAS, the proceeds of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and Security Token Offerings (STOs) shall be taxed depending on the functions and rights of the used token.

If the issued token is a utility token, the sale shall be considered to be in the form of revenue and is therefore taxable. This is because the utility token is an obligation for the issuer to provide a service or good in the future that shall be bought or paid for using this token.

On the other hand, the issuance of security tokens shall not be taxed since the proceeds parallel the proceeds obtained from issuance of equities or debts, which is normally capital in nature. However, as mentioned above, withholding tax obligation and the general income tax shall apply to the interest and dividends paid to the owners of the token.

Tokens set aside for founders in ICOs and STOs

In most cases, startups set aside some tokens for the founders. In this case, if the tokens are used to pay or compensate the founders, they are regarded as revenue and the founder that receives them shall be taxed. However, if the tokens are not issued as a form of payment, they are regarded as a capital asset of the founder.

What a taxpayer dealing with digital tokens in Singapore should do

IRAS instructs taxpayers in Singapore that deal with digital tokens to keep proper records of the digital token transactions so that it can be simple to file the returns.

The records should have the following:

  • Transaction date.
  • The number of tokens sold or received.
  • Value of the digital token at the time of transaction.
  • The used exchange rate.
  • Purpose of the transaction.
  • Details of the customers/suppliers in case it was a buy or sell transaction.
  • Details of the ICO or STO.
  • Invoices or Receipts of the expenses incurred within the business.

Singapore has positioned itself as a financial hub not only in South East Asia but also in the whole world. Besides, it has also become a global crypto hub.

Most blockchain companies prefer registering their projects in Singapore due to the favorable cryptocurrency ecosystem there. As a result, Singapore has become home to some of the most innovative projects; the likes of CitiOS, and GeTS, among many other blockchain projects being implemented in almost every sector in Singapore.

The main reason why blockchain technology has thrived so much in Singapore is because the country has been able to maintain a reliably supportive regulatory environment for emerging technologies such as blockchain. The World Bank has ranked Singapore in the top three countries with Ease of Doing Business Index for over a decade. The government gives grants to companies to encourage them to adopt new emerging businesses and it also launched the Smart Nation Initiative in 2014 that aims at creating solutions that will transform the country using big data, networks and Infocomm technologies.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also created a regulatory sandbox for financial Institutions to experiment with Fintech solutions. The sandbox relaxes some regulations for the industry.

Also, as some countries like China and South Korea limit the use of blockchain-based fundraising methods like Initial Coins (ICOs), Initial Exchange Offerings (IEOs) and Security Token Offerings STOs), Singapore has literary encouraged the industry to grow. This has made it possible for startups to easily fund their blockchain projects, which in turn offer solutions to some of the needs that Singapore and the world at whole may have.

IEOs in Singapore

In 2019, Singapore played host to over 28 IEOs out of the about 100 IEOs that were conducted globally. This positioned Singapore as a global leader in IEOs. The second country, the United States of America, only played host to about 11 IEOs. China hosted 9 IEOs, the United Kingdom hosted 7, South Korea Hosted 4, the Cayman Islands hosted 3, Estonia hosted 3, Estonia hosted 3, Switzerland hosted 3, Germany hosted 2 and Malta hosted 2.

The 28 IEOs that were conducted within Singapore’s boundaries raised over $188 million, which is quite a large amount for a single country. This success is greatly attributed to the fact that several cryptocurrency exchanges like Binance are finding their way into Singapore. Besides, Singapore has its cryptocurrency exchange the Huobi Global that has an IEO Launchpad by the name Huobi Prime.

And out of the total amount that was raised through IEOs, over 50% of that amount was raised through the top five cryptocurrency exchanges that include Huobi and Binance among the likes of Gate.io, Okex, and Bittrex.

2020 Projection

The IEO industry in 2020 kicked off with a boom with Biki.com crypto exchange, a Singapore-based exchange joined the league of IEO issuers by announcing its first IEO in February.

With the emergence of new IEO exchange launchpads based in Singapore, and the rush by some of the most renowned exchanges to gain access to the Singaporean market, we could see an even higher number of IEOs being raised in Singapore in 2020 compared to 2019.

On 28th January 2020, Singapore enacted the Singapore Payment Service Act (PSA), creating a legal framework to govern payment systems and Payment service providers. Payment Service providers, including exchanges and platforms dealing with cryptocurrencies or digital payment token providers, must obtain licenses from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to operate in Singapore.

The PSA will ensure that the FinTech industry, which is already well established in Singapore due to the favorable conditions, is streamlined.

Businesses categorized as payment services according to the PSA

According to the PSA, the following services are categorized as payment services:

  1. Account issuance services – These include businesses that offer services like issuance of payment accounts, or related to operations that required operating a payment account. This could include an e-wallet or a non-bank issued credit card.
  2. Domestic money transfer services – These include businesses that offer services that provide fund transfer services in Singapore. This could include payment kiosk or payment gateway services.
  3. Cross‑border money transfer services – These include businesses that offer services that provide for inbound and outbound fund transfer remittance services in Singapore.
  4. Merchant acquisition services – This applies where a service provider accepts and processes payment transactions for a merchant. This could include the operation of online payment gateways or the provision of point-of-sale terminals.
  5. E-money issuance services – These include businesses that offer services that allow for the issuance of e-money in Singapore so that users can pay merchants or transfer e-money to other individuals. Examples of e-money include money stored in e-wallets.
  6. Digital payment token services – These include businesses that offer services that provide for the buying or selling of digital payment tokens (e.g. cryptocurrencies), or provide a platform which facilitates the exchange of such digital payment tokens in Singapore.
  7. Money‑changing service – This applies to businesses that deal with the buying or selling of foreign currency notes in Singapore. This would include money changers that profit from the exchange of physical currency notes.

Licenses to apply for

To start a business that offers any of the above seven services, one must apply for one of the following licenses with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) depending on the scope of the business:

  1. Money-changing license – if the business intends to carry out money changing services only.
  2. Standard payment institution (SPI) license – if the business intends to offer payment services specified in the following thresholds (as stipulated under section 6 (5) of the Act):
      • Average monthly transactions of S$6m for two or more activity types
      • Average monthly transactions of S$3m for any activity type
      • Daily outstanding E-money float of S$5m
  1. Major payment institution license – if the business intends to offer payment services without being subject to the above-specified thresholds.

It is worth noting that even the already running businesses had to apply for new licenses or else be considered as operating illegally without any license and they can be charged with an offense.

Requirements for applying for a license

To apply for a PSI license, one must:

  1. Have a company registered in Singapore or overseas and have a permanent business place or registered office in Singapore.
  2. Have at least one executive director who is a permanent resident of Singapore or at least a Singapore citizen.
  3. Have at least one executive director who holds a Singapore Employment Pass.
  4. Have at least one non-executive director who is a permanent resident of Singapore or at least a Singapore citizen.
  5. Fulfill the prescribed operational and financial criteria.
  6. Have a minimum base capital of at least S$100,000.

In addition to the above-mentioned requirements, the MAS also takes into account other factors like the track record of the applicant, experience, qualifications, the ability to comply with the regulations under the PAS and also the financial condition of the applicant.

License application fee

All license applicants are required to pay a nonrefundable license application fee corresponding to the type of license they are applying for.

  1. Applying for a Money-Changing License costs S$500
  2. Applying for a Standard Payment Institution License costs S$1000 to S$5500 depending on the threshold.
  3. Applying for a Major Payment Institution License costs S$1500 to S$8000.

In addition to the application fee, the applicant must also be ready to pay an annual license fee plus other applicable fees depending on the chosen license.

Issues that can result in the cancelation of the license

License holders can lose their license if:

  • They do not start the stated business within 6 months upon receipt of the license.
  • They stop offering payment services for 6 months.
  • They do not make any payments within 6 months.
  • If the business no longer offers services related to the categories stated in the PSA.

PSA regulations governing controllers and directors of payment service providers

In addition to setting a new presence in Licensing of Payment services, the Payment Service Act (PSA) also sets some restrictions for the directors and controllers who intend to control at least 20% of the service provider businesses.

According to the PSA, a 20% controller in a service provider business is a single person or a person together with other associates that:

  • Owns at least 20% in shares of the company/businesses.
  • Can control at least 20% of the votes of the company/business.

However, to become a 20% controller of the company, the said individual must first apply with the MAS. Then, according to the guidelines of MAS, the authority can approve or reject the applications. Upon approval to become a 20% controller, the MAS may also impose other restrictions on the individual.

Reasons why MAS could refuse an application to become a 20% controller

  1. If the person has been earlier convicted of dishonesty and fraudulent offense in Singapore or elsewhere.
  2. If the person is declared bankrupt in Singapore or elsewhere.
  3. If there are complaints about the individual about unsettled debts.
  4. If the person has been a previous director of a financial institution that has been accused in court in Singapore or elsewhere and its license revoked.

Penalties for contravening the rules and restrictions on control over companies

PSA has set harsh penalties for individuals found contravening the rules set aside for the 20% controllers.

The penalties could include fines of between S$250 000 and S$25 000 per day or imprisonment for a term of up to 3 years for unlawful control of a payment service provider.

Need help with registering for a PSA license?

Gravitas International sister company, MT Chambers LLC, which is a leading Singaporean law firm with an international reach can assist you in the following:

  • Preparing and submitting a PSA license application to MAS to obtain the appropriate license to be allowed to operate in Singapore.
  • Drafting and/or updating current compliance policies and procedures, including AML/KYC procedures to meet new regulatory requirements.
  • Conducting ongoing compliance support that includes assisting with regulatory filings, conducting periodic monitoring and reviewing and amending internal controls.
  • Conducting an internal audit to review the Company’s preparedness to adhere to new PSA regulations.

The MT Chambers LLC is one of the 65 law firms that have been handpicked for a pilot phase program for the new Payment Services Act (PSA) known as the Singapore Academy of Law’s of Payment Regulatory Evaluation Program (PREP).