Singapore is a member of the World Customs Organization (WCO) and ASEAN. Hence, the HS code used for imports and exports is based on the 8-digit ASEAN Harmonised Tariff Nomenclature, or AHTN. The first 6 digits of the AHTN is aligned to the WCO’s Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System. All traders who are involved in importing or exporting goods into or out of Singapore will have to know the correct HS code to use on Customs declarations for their products. Wrong HS codes can result in wrong import duties being levied on products. It can also result in traders not realising that they need to apply for specific licences prior to import.
HS Code for Singapore Imports
There are several ways for Singaporean traders to find out what the correct HS codes/HS classifications for their products are.
- Self-Classification. This is the best method, but only if the trader is familiar with the General Rules of Interpretation that need to be used when doing HS classification. However, these rules are not exactly based on common-sense or intuitive logic. So, without spending dedicated time to learn these rules (GRIs) or attending some form of HS classification training, traders should not attempt to classify products on their own. In some cases, it might be worth hiring a compliance professional to classify your products. This is typically a decision that needs to be made depending on the volume of imports that need to be classified. Not being skilled in classifying products is not an excuse that will let traders off the hook if products are found to have been classified erroneously. The Customs website has extensive resources to guide traders in doing HS Classification.
- Customs Ruling. If traders wish, they can apply for an advanced ruling with Singapore Customs. Compared to many other countries, applying for a ruling in Singapore is easy and straight forward. The outcome of a ruling is formal and official documented confirmation from Singapore Customs regarding the correct HS code to use for a product. Customs rulings are binding, which means that traders do not have a choice to use any other code once a ruling has been issued. If the trader disagrees with Customs determination, he/she will have to appeal to Customs successfully before attempting to use another HS code. According to the Singapore Customs website, rulings take 30 days to process. However, traders have reported that if they provide all required documentation and respond to Customs’ queries quickly – they can get the result much faster than that.
- Refer to alphabetical index. Singapore Customs publishes an alphabetical index that traders can refer to when attempting to identify the correct HS code for their products. However, this is a limited and not all commodities are mentioned. If the trader is attempting to import common chemicals, the alphabetical index may be especially useful. If you have the CAS number for a chemical, you can also try searching online for resources that map CAS numbers to HS codes. However, you must exercise due diligence, as there is no guarantee that the online resource you find is correct.
Once a trader has identified the correct code, the trader should check the licensing conditions attached to the HS code by using the product code finder tool. The tool will allow the trader to identify the possible agencies controlling the import or export of their product. Clicking on the records will reveal the contact information for the relevant branches in the respective agencies.
If you want to import face creams, the likely HS code to use would be 33049930. Searching for licensing controls on tool shows that this HS code has several product codes that may be controlled by HEALTH PRODUCTS REGULATION GROUP (HPR) HEALTH SCIENCES AUTHORITY (HSA).
|Product Code||Product Code Description|
|HSAHP||REGISTERED THERAPEUTIC PRODUCTS, REGISTERED MEDICAL DEVICES, CLASS A MEDICAL DEVICES EXEMPTED FROM REGISTRATION, REGISTERED ORAL DENTAL GUMS ……|
|HSAIFRSA||THERAPEUTIC PRODUCTS, MEDICAL DEVICES, CHINESE PROPRIETARY MEDICINES; NOT CONTAINING CONTROLLED DRUGS OR PSYCHOTROPIC SUBSTANCES, IMPORTED WITH SPECIAL AUTHORISATION OR APPROVAL FROM HSA ……|
|HSAIPU||THERAPEUTIC PRODUCTS, MEDICAL DEVICES, CHINESE PROPRIETARY MEDICINES; NOT CONTAINING CONTROLLED DRUGS OR PSYCHOTROPIC SUBSTANCES ……|
If the characteristics of your product fits any of the descriptions above, you will have to check with the agency concerned if any licences are required to be approved prior to import. The agency contact details can be found by clicking on the search results.
HS Classification mistakes to avoid:
- Wrong HS code due to misunderstanding the product. When importers rely on brokers to classify products for them, there is a high chance that the broker may misunderstand what the product. For example, if the broker is trying to classify a product based on just a product description that reads “CAR BOX TOY”, he/she may classify it as a “toy car” or as a “carton box (for toy cars)”.
- Using different HS codes each time you import the same product. When importers or exporters do not give specific instructions to brokers and/or engage multiple brokers, each broker may classify the same product differently, every time they declare an import.
- Reclassifying products due to licensing controls. Some traders may be tempted to shop for HS codes if they realise that the correct HS code requires a licence that is troublesome to obtain. Attempting to bypass licencing controls with a false declaration is a serious offence.
It is always advisable for traders to maintain documented records that describe how HS codes were determined for their products. If done correctly, these documents can be used to demonstrate to Customs auditors that some level of due diligence was exercised when these codes were first selected and that the trader is committed to compliance. If necessary, traders should hire a compliance professional for guidance, because attempting to save costs in the area of cross border compliance can result in penalties and fines in future.