Customs & Excise Department

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The Customs & Excise Department (CED) is one of the oldest tax-collecting organisations and border protection agencies in Singapore, having started operation as the Government Monopolies Department in 1910. It has undergone numerous changes in its 90-year history.

The first duties CED imposed were on hard liquors and opium. Over the years, the range of dutiable goods expanded to include motor vehicles, liquor, tobacco products and petroleum. Aside from collecting revenue, CED worked closely with other government departments, such as the Central Narcotics Bureau, to safeguard Singapore’s welfare and security. The introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on 1 April 1994 further broadened CED’s job scope.

CED introduced a dual-channel traveller clearance system at Changi Airport in 1991 to simplify the passenger clearance process and save travellers' time. The Red and Green Channels system of clearing incoming travellers was subsequently extended to all entry checkpoints in Singapore.

In the Very Beginning (mid-18th Century to 1940s)


The ruling colonial government established the Opium Commission. The opium trade provided a steady income to the British Government.


The first customs tariff – a tariff on hard liquors – came into effect.


The Monopolies Department was established on 1 January, taking over control of opium imports and sales.


To raise additional funds for the war in Europe, tobacco – including cigars and cigarettes – was taxed on import.


Customs headquarters shifted from Cecil Street over to Customs House.


The Excise Department replaced the Monopolies Department, reflecting a decreasing reliance on revenue earned from the opium trade. Duties on tobacco, petroleum and liquor were now the major sources of funds.


The Excise Department was renamed the Department of Customs & Excise, headed by the Comptroller of Customs.


To bolster funds for the war effort, duties were imposed on new commodities and a temporary entertainment duty was introduced.


The British Government announced the total prohibition of opium.


The Opium and Chandu Proclamation was passed. Those in possession of opium, chandu, pipes, lamps or utensils had to surrender them. Unfortunately, the prohibition failed to deter addicts, and the huge demand for opium persisted. Traffickers, quick to cash in on widespread cravings, resuscitated the lucrative opium smuggling trade.

Changing with the Times (1950s to 1970s)


Mr Tan Soo Chye became the first local Chinese Comptroller of Customs and Excise.


The Police Force took over responsibility for internally suppressing drug trafficking and consumption. Customs adopted the procedure of stamping ‘Singapore Duty Not Paid’ or ‘SDNP’ on duty-free exports of cigarettes and liquor.


The Control of Imports and Exports Ordinance was passed, enforcing proper trade documentation and controls, and thus upholding Singapore’s economic interests.


The departure of the last expatriate officer marked the full ‘Malayanisation’ of the Department.


The Free Trade Zones Act was established in August, allowing free trade zones to be established.


A new Research and Commercial Intelligence Section was tasked with meeting international obligations that arose from agreements made at international customs conventions.


The Government announced a six-year modernisation plan, which covered the period between 1973 and 1978, to make sure Singapore could meet the anticipated demand for Customs clearance during the 1980s.


The Customs (Liquors Licensing) Regulations required operators of coffee shops, provision shops, hawker centres and other shops to take up beer licences.


From 31 December onwards, an import duty of 15 per cent applied to motorcycles, scooters and other similar machines.


A Narcotics Detection Dog Unit was formed within the Investigations Division.

Moving into the Millennium (1980s to 2003)


On 1 July, the Airports Division moved its headquarters from Paya Lebar to the newly opened Singapore Changi Airport.


The Department moved its headquarters to the World Trade Centre.


The Red and Green Channels system of clearing incoming travellers was successfully implemented at Singapore Changi Airport. This dramatically sped up the Customs clearance process for incoming visitors.


The Goods and Services Tax came into effect on 1 April.


A Customs Call Centre was set up to handle all telephone enquiries relating to customs matters. The Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal commenced operations.


The Department launched its inaugural website. Singapore Customs moved its current corporate headquarters to Revenue House.


The Department received its first ISO 9002 Certification from the Singapore Productivity and Standards Board.


The Tuas and Woodlands checkpoints adopted a paperless container clearance process. The Department launched an electronic filing facility for bulk transfer of baggage belonging to flight and cruise tour groups. In recognition of its outstanding performance and achievements, the Department received the Outstanding Quality Control Organisation Award at the 16th International Exposition of Quality Convention.


The Sea-Cargo Electronic Acknowledgement System (SEA System) was launched.


A survey conducted by Business Traveller UK ranked the Customs clearance process at Singapore Changi Airport first in the world in both the ‘Large Airports’ and ‘All Airports’ categories.