Can I Sue a Foreigner or Foreign Company in Singapore?
Having knowledge of how to sue a foreigner or foreign company in Singapore is extremely useful, especially if you have personal or business dealings with foreigners or foreign companies in Singapore. This article will explain how you can bring a lawsuit against a foreigner or foreign company in Singapore, for example, in the event of a dispute.
The issue of whether you can sue a foreigner or foreign company in Singapore depends on whether the Singapore courts have the right to hear the case. This is also known as the court’s jurisdiction to hear a case. The jurisdictional issue can be determined by asking the following two questions:
- Is the intended defendant situated in Singapore or abroad?
- Is the intended defendant a natural person or a corporation?
The intended defendant would refer to the party (in this case, the foreigner or foreign company)that you intend to take action against or sue.
In all instances, you, as the claimant (i.e. the person bringing the claim against the foreigner or foreign company) should also be located in Singapore to bring a lawsuit against a foreigner in Singapore.
This article will cover:
- When can the court hear your case against the foreigner or foreign company
- Suing a foreigner or foreign company situated in Singapore
- Suing a foreigner or foreign company situated abroad
- Whether it is practical to sue in Singapore
When Can the Court Hear Your Case Against the Foreigner or Foreign Company?
For the court to have the right to hear your case against a foreigner or foreign company situated in Singapore, the originating claim or originating application (collectively, originating process) has to be personally served on that foreigner or foreign company (unless the court dispenses with the requirement). This is done slightly differently for natural persons and companies.
In general, personal service entails physically leaving the document with the person you are serving. For example, calling out to the intended defendant that you are starting proceedings against him while waving the document in the air would not be sufficient personal service.
If it is impractical to serve the document personally, you may apply to serve the document through substituted service. This means that the court may order the use of any method that is effective to bring the document to the notice of the foreigner or foreign company. Examples of substituted service might include registered post, posting on doors, or electronic means like service over WhatsApp or other smartphone apps.
Foreigner or Foreign Company Situated in Singapore
To effect personal service of the originating process on a foreigner, you must leave a copy of the document with that foreigner or in any manner agreed with that person, such as sending the originating process to an agreed physical or email address.
A crucial characteristic of service within Singapore’s jurisdiction is that you naturally have the right to serve the process documents on the intended defendant, even if the intended defendant is only passing through the country. This differs from service out of Singapore’s jurisdiction on a foreigner, which requires the court’s approval to be obtained before service can be effected. This is explained later in this article.
It should be noted, however, that even if the court has jurisdiction over the foreigner because the foreigner was passing through Singapore, the court may still stay proceedings (i.e., your case will not be allowed to move forward) if Singapore is not the appropriate forum to decide the case.
Slightly different rules apply if you wish to sue a foreign company that is situated in Singapore.
A foreign company may be served within Singapore if it is “physically present” in Singapore. This means that the company has been carrying on business in a fixed place of business within Singapore.
Nonetheless, the court will take into consideration all facts to determine whether the company can be regarded as present within Singapore, by looking at whether sufficiently substantial business had been carried out within Singapore.
For a foreign company that is physically present in Singapore, personal service may be effected by serving the originating process on an officer of the corporation, or by any means agreed with the company.
The originating process can also be served on the foreign company in Singapore through the following means:
- Addressing it to the foreign company and leaving the document at, or sending the document by post to, the foreign company’s registered office in Singapore;
- Addressing it to an authorised representative of the company and leaving the document at, or sending the document by post to, the authorised representative’s address;
Foreigner or Foreign Company Situated Abroad
Serving the foreigner’s or foreign company’s agent or manager in Singapore
If the foreigner or foreign company is not in Singapore, personal service may be effected by serving on the foreigner’s or foreign company’s agent or manager instead.
However, the agent or manager must have had personal control or management within Singapore over the principal’s affairs (e.g. the company’s business) that are related to the cause of action. In addition, the agent or manager’s authority or business relationship must be ongoing with the principal during the time of the application for the originating process.
Serving the foreigner or foreign company abroad
Before you can bring a lawsuit against a foreigner situated abroad (or serve other court documents on the foreigner), you must apply to the Singapore courts for approval to effect personal service on the intended foreign defendant.
The court will give its approval if it can be shown that the court has the jurisdiction or is the appropriate court to hear the action.
To obtain such approval, you must apply to the court by summons without notice, supported by an affidavit that states the following:
- Why the court has the jurisdiction or is the appropriate court to hear the action;
- In which country or place the intended defendant is, or probably may be found; and
- Whether the validity of the originating process needs to be extended.
To show that the court is the appropriate court to hear the action, you should include in the supporting affidavit any relevant information showing that:
- There is a good arguable case that the matter/issue being disputed has a sufficient nexus (i.e. relationship or connection) to Singapore;
- There is a serious issue to be tried on the merits; and
- Singapore is a proper forum to try the action.
The above requirements apply equally to foreign corporations and natural persons. Fulfilling these three requirements will ensure that the case is a “proper” one for service out of Singapore, and the court will accordingly grant approval to serve an originating process or other court document on the foreigner abroad.
As the intended defendant will not receive any notice beforehand of the court’s approval, you must ensure that all key facts of the claim are disclosed in the application for the originating process.
It should be noted that the court’s approval is not required for the following:
- If service out of Singapore is allowed under a contract between the parties.
- To serve documents other than the originating process if the court has already granted approval for service of the originating process out of Singapore.
1. Sufficient nexus to Singapore
There must be a “good arguable case” that there is sufficient nexus to Singapore. To show that there is a sufficient nexus to Singapore, you should refer to any of the non-exhaustive list of factors in paragraph 63(3) of the Supreme Court Practice Directions 2021 (SCPD 2021).
For example, one of these factors is that the defendant is domiciled, ordinarily resident, carrying on business, or has property in Singapore. This provision is not confined to corporations and may apply to natural persons. It should be noted that an individual carrying on business in Singapore, whether by an agent or otherwise, can be brought within the jurisdiction of the Singapore court under this provision.
2. Serious issue to be tried on the merits
You must also convince the court that there is a serious issue to be tried on the merits of the case. This generally refers to a substantial question of fact or law that you have a genuine desire to be tried. For example, your case should not be groundless or is being brought just to harass the foreigner or foreign company.
3. Singapore is the proper forum for the case to be heard
To show that the Singapore court is the appropriate court to hear the action, you must convince the court that Singapore is the natural forum to try the case. This in turn requires you to show that Singapore is the jurisdiction/country with the closest and most real connection with the dispute.
Things to note when serving out of Singapore
Must you include the foreigner’s personal particulars in your originating claim?
In filing an originating claim, you must follow the format in Form 8 of the SCPD 2021, which requires you to fill in both the foreigner’s or foreign company’s “name and identification number”.
You must include certain particulars of the foreigner of foreign company, such as the NRIC or FIN number for natural persons, and the UEN number for registered businesses. You may refer to paragraph 58(7) of the SCPD 2021 for more information.
If you do not have the person’s identification number required above, you can write “(ID No. Not Known)” first. However, once you obtain the necessary identification number, you will have to update the Registry (of the relevant court, i.e. the Registry of the Supreme Court or State Court) through the Electronic Filing Service.
Does the process of service out of Singapore change depending on which country the foreigner or foreign company is located?
For all countries, service out of Singapore may be done:
- By some means specified in a Civil Procedure Convention between the two countries,
- By the government or judicial authority of the foreign country if that government or authority is willing,
- Through a Singapore consular authority in that country, or
- According to the manner provided by the law of that foreign country.
In addition, service out of Singapore may generally be done through any manner contractually agreed between the parties, but it should not be contrary to the laws of that foreign country.
Do note that there are additional rules for service of originating processes which differ depending on the country in which the foreigner or foreign company is located.
For example, foreigners or foreign companies who are located in Malaysia or Brunei Darussalam can be served (in addition to the ways mentioned above) by sending the originating process by post to an appropriate officer of the relevant court.
Undertaking to pay the expenses incurred for service out of Singapore
If serving out of Singapore, your solicitor will also have to give an undertaking in writing to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Registrar, and whoever will be serving the person in the foreign country (e.g. a judicial authority) to pay all the expenses incurred in serving the foreigner or foreign company.
Overarching Consideration: Is it Practical to Sue in Singapore?
In making the decision to sue a foreign defendant in Singapore, here are some practical considerations to keep in mind when deciding whether you should sue in Singapore:
Does the foreign defendant have assets in Singapore?
An important consideration would be whether the foreign defendant has any assets (such as money or property) in Singapore against which the judgment can be enforced. This is because it does not make financial sense to sue a foreign defendant, and incur costs while doing so, but not be able to claim compensation or damages should you win your case.
For example, it would be practical to attempt to enforce an injunction prohibiting the disposal of assets against a foreigner defendant in a Singapore court if all his assets are in Singapore.
However, if the foreigner defendant has most of his assets in other countries, you should check whether those countries would recognise and enforce a judgment from Singapore before commencing your claim in a Singapore court.
Does the cause of action concern foreign immovable property?
The Singapore court has no jurisdiction to hear disputes involving title to or rights of possession in foreign immovable property such as land. Such disputes include claims for the proceeds of the sale of immovable property, if the claim turns upon a question of title or possessory right.
Nonetheless, it should be noted that the Singapore court can still have jurisdiction over such disputes in certain exceptional circumstances.
Whether the Singapore court will hear the matters that you want to sue the foreigner for
As mentioned above, the Singapore courts may not hear your case if Singapore does not have jurisdiction or is not the proper forum to hear it. In such a case, suing in a foreign country may be your only option if you still want to pursue your case.
Costs of suing in Singapore vs overseas
It may be relatively costly to sue in certain countries, taking into account court fees, lawyer fees, travel expenses, etc.
Efficiency of the foreign country’s legal system
The time it takes for your case to proceed to trial may also differ from country to country. If the court in a foreign country is not as efficient in deciding on disputes, you may have to wait for months or even years for your matter to be resolved. Having to go through such protracted legal action can also add to your legal costs.
Other practical considerations
Other practical considerations when deciding whether to sue in Singapore or another country include:
- Whether you have a contract with the foreigner that provides where disputes should be heard. For example, your contract may have a dispute resolution clause providing for disputes to be resolved in the Singapore courts.
- Where the foreigner or foreign company is located (i.e. place of residence for a foreigner, and place of business for a foreign company).
- Where the claim arose.
The points listed above will each have an effect on whether your claim has a sufficient nexus to Singapore.
Ultimately, the decision to sue a foreigner or foreign company in Singapore or abroad, or at all, involves a complex interplay between procedural rules, laws about which country’s court can hear a particular case, and a number of practical considerations.
It should also be noted that for some methods of service overseas, such as through the government or judicial authority in the foreign country, you may even be legally required to appoint a lawyer.
You may therefore wish to engage one of our civil litigation lawyers here to guide you through the decision-making process and to assist you in taking your case to court.
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