National Registration Department

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


Legislation was passed to grant Chinese settlers full British citizenship. Although several leading Chinese merchants became British subjects, the majority of immigrants, who were mainly labourers, were not interested in doing so. Most planned to return to China within three to four years, after they had saved enough money.


Citizenship was granted to those born in the Straits Settlements. Troublemakers – people deemed a threat to society – were denied this privilege.


The Governor of the Straits Settlements was given the legal right to banish aliens or non-British subjects. Banishment was seen as a powerful and necessary means of deterring crime and resolving violent conflicts between rival societies.


Registration for births and deaths began. The Dangerous Societies Suppression Ordinance was introduced to deal with conflict-prone groups and societies.


Birth registration was used as a health and statistical measure, but voluntary participation meant these records were severely inaccurate.


In 1871, the Chinese population was 54,572, mainly due to the influx of Chinese immigrants in the preceding years. This wave of immigrants brought a host of problems into the colony, such as slave trading, secret societies and prostitution. The Chinese Protectorate, established on 1 October 1877, aimed to resolve these problems.


The Societies Ordinance was introduced, and registration of societies became compulsory. This empowered the Government to dissolve any society if its activities were seen as a threat to public safety.


Registration of births and deaths became compulsory.


War came to Malaya and the British Authorities introduced the identity card for the first time – a simple, rectangular piece of paper with no photograph. The identity card system ceased during Japanese occupation.


When Singapore was liberated from Japanese occupation in September, the Societies Ordinance remained on the statute book but was suspended and not enforced.


It became clear that gangster societies were abusing their freedom. Crimes of extortion and intimidation were escalating and it became necessary to enforce the Societies Ordinance once again. All societies were called to register their existence.


The identity card was reintroduced after a state of emergency was declared in response to the communist insurgence.

Changing with the Times (1950s to 1970s)


The Registration of Persons Ordinance was introduced. Any person aged 12 or older who resided in Singapore for more than 30 days was required to obtain an identity card.


A new law made it compulsory for parents and guardians to register their child’s name within 12 months from the date of birth. Clerks from the Registration Department were sent out daily in mobile post office vans to help those in rural areas with identity card matters such as applications, replacements and changes of address.


The Citizenship Ordinance offered Singapore citizenship to anyone born in Singapore, British citizens who had lived in Singapore for a minimum of two years, and others who had lived in the colony for at least a decade.


With the introduction of the new Constitution of Singapore, Singapore citizenship acquired international status and significance. By amending the British Nationality Act 1948, the State of Singapore Act 1958 conferred the status of a British subject and Commonwealth citizen on all Singapore citizens.


On 4 August, the Office of Registry of Persons moved from Stamford Road to the Government Offices building at Empress Place.


The Registry of Births and Deaths moved into the same building as the Immigration Department, at Empress Place.


The creation of the Federation of Malaya ended British citizenship for those born in Singapore and Malaya


The National Registration Office was established under the National Registration Act 1965, replacing the former Registry of Persons and introducing a more comprehensive system of national registration. The National Registration Act of 1965 came into effect on 5 May 1966. The National Registration Office began to issue new identity cards on 9 May 1966. A total of 1,070,159 new cards were issued to citizens between May and December 1966. The first card, with the number 0000001, was issued to the Republic’s first President, the late Mr Yusof Ishak.


On 1 January, the identity card system began issuing the same unique number for a person’s birth certificate and their identity card.

Moving into the Millennium (1980s to 2003)


On 16 October, the National Registration Department was established under the Ministry of Home Affairs. It comprised four registries: the Registry of Births and Deaths, the Registry of Citizens, the Registry of Societies and the National Registration Office.


Complete information of every new birth certificate was stored in the Department’s computer system, and computer-printed birth certificates were introduced. The National Blood Grouping Exercise began in May 1985, encouraging people to donate blood for emergencies.


As of March, more than 1,180,000 Singapore citizens had had their blood group tested and recorded on their identity card.


New credit card–sized identity cards were introduced. The size and material made them more convenient and durable, and state-of-the-art security features helped guard against abuse. The conversion of old cards to new occurred between 3 June 1991 and 22 October 1994.


A home service that helped bedridden citizens re-register for their identity cards was introduced


The National Registration Department introduced a new One-Stop Change of Address Reporting System (OSCARS), so Singapore citizens would no longer have to inform each separate agency if they changed address. The new System for Online Death Registration (SOLDER) quickly updated the Ministry of Home Affairs database when a death was registered. This allowed the next of kin to claim Central Provident Fund and insurance money much faster.


The National Registration Department became autonomous. The registration age for identity cards was raised to 15. In the past, children were required to register at 12 and re-register at 17.