Are you planning to start a business in Hong Kong? It is a significantly important step to know whether your business falls into specific activities that must have licenses in Hong Kong or not.

In this article, we will clarify some typical types of businesses that are required to apply for a business license in Hong Kong.

Which entity types must apply for Hong Kong business licenses and permits?

Some business activities in Hong Kong require a license from a specific agency or a department of the Hong Kong government. Therefore, in addition to making good preparations for your business registration, one more important step to make your business run smoothly is to examine if the company needs to apply for licenses and permits.

It is good to know that not every business in Hong Kong complies with the requirements of licenses and permits. Certain sectors require applying for a business license, and here are a few:

Travel agency

In line with a fast-growing Hong Kong in many perspectives, traveling and tourism are developing at a speedy rate, making it a great opportunity for many foreign investors. And if you want to operate your business as a travel agency in Hong Kong, you must have a license.

  • Type of License: The Travel Agent’s License
  • Department in charge of issuance: The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau

With the Travel Agent’s License, you will be able to conduct tour offers, travel packages, and transportation services. To be more specific, you can sell transportation tickets, organize a group tour, arrange hotel accommodations, and do other relevant activities.

Employment agency

Under the Employment Ordinance, without a license, you cannot operate an employment agency that typically offers services regarding recruitment or job placement to other employers in Hong Kong.

  • Type of License: License to Operate an Employment Agency
  • Department in charge of issuance: The Labor Department of Hong Kong

Note that the license validity is one year from the issued date, and it must be renewed before expiration.

In another aspect, if you receive a Certificate of Exemption from the Commissioner for Labor under section 52 of the Employment Ordinance, you’ll be exempt from the license application.

Education business

Operation and education business also requires a license and permit in Hong Kong.

  • Type of License: The Certificate of Registration of a School
  • Department in charge of issuance: The Education Bureau of Hong Kong

By getting the certificate of school registration, you can set up a kindergarten, an academic school, a vocational center, a language school, a computer education center, a distance learning center, a nursery center, or many other educational businesses in Hong Kong.

Restaurant and Food business

If you are going to operate a restaurant in Hong Kong, you should apply for a Hong Kong restaurant license and permit. Note that the pre-requisite criteria for this business license are to finalize the location for your restaurant operations. Normally, these business premises will be examined by the Hong Kong authority before they approve your license application.

  • Type of License: The General Restaurant License
  • Department in charge of issuance: The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

A restaurant operation will be tied closely to the food and beverage business. Therefore, it is also crucial for you to learn about other different types of licenses that may be required for the food business. Below are some examples for your reference:

  • Liquor License: applies for a food business that serves alcohol. The Liquor Licensing Board of Hong Kong is the authority in charge of issuance.
  • Import License: applies to a business that imports frozen poultry or meat.
  • Food Factory License: applies for a business that conducts food preparation, food processing, and manufacturing.
  • Restricted Food Permit: applies to a business that trades restricted food items in Hong Kong such as oysters, sushi, sashimi, cut fruit, and raw meat.
  • Karaoke Establishment Permit: applies to business that wants to conduct karaoke in the restaurant
  • License for storage or manufacture of dangerous goods
  • Permission for Outside Seating Accommodation
  • Bakery License
  • Permit to Sell Food by using Vending Machines

Retail business

It is a must to apply for business licenses and permits if you plan to do business in the retail industry.

Note that your required licenses or permits vary based on the type of goods or services. So, you may be asked for more than one license or permit if you sell different types of goods/services.

Three of the most common licenses for a retail business in Hong Kong are:

  • The Retailer License in Chinese Herbal Medicines (Department of Health) to operate a store that sells Chinese herbs.
  • The Listing Certificate of Class II/III Medical Devices and Certificate of Registration of Premises of an Authorized Seller of Poisons (Department of Health) for operating cosmetics, medicinal, pharmaceutical & drugs stores.
  • The Animal Boarding Establishment License (Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department) to operate a Pets and Accessories retail shop.

Financial service company

Hong Kong is well-known as a premier international business and financial center in the world. The financial service sector has been booming in recent years, and it is more likely to attract more and more investors. For those who are in the mind of doing business in Hong Kong regarding this sector, note that without a registered license and permit in Hong Kong, you cannot run a financial service business.

It is also noteworthy that required licenses for a financial service company can be varied, depending on which type of financial service you are going to provide to the customers.

Below are some of the most common types of licenses with their purposes for your reference:

  • Money Lenders License (The Companies Registry): To carry on business as a money lender in Hong Kong
  • Registration of Insurance Agents (The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance): To run an insurance agent
  • Authorized Insurance Brokers (The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance): To run an insurance broker
  • Authorized Insurance Business (The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance): To operate business as an insurer
  • Registration of Remittance Agents and Money Changers (Customs and Excise Department): To operate as a remittance and/ or money-changing service business
  • Pawnbrokers License (The Hong Kong Police Force): To carry on business as a pawnbroker
  • Registration of a Deposit-Taking Company (DTC) to Carry on the Business of Taking Deposits (The Hong Kong Monetary Authority): To run a banking business or a business that takes deposits in Hong Kong
  • Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) Licenses: These are crucial for businesses involved in securities and futures markets. The types of SFC licenses include:
    • Representative License: Required for individuals who perform regulated activities.
    • Authorized Institution License: For institutions conducting regulated activities.
    • Corporate License: Necessary for corporations that provide securities and futures-related services. This includes investment advisory services, securities dealing, asset management, and other activities like fund investment, foreign exchange trading, commodity futures, security trading, overseas stock trading, and more.

Trading company

Free trade policy is a pull factor for many people making investments in Hong Kong. The number of trading companies in Hong Kong is also proportional to its trading economy growth. If you wish to step into this business category, keep in mind to obtain a valid license and permit with the authority before its operation.

Your business may need different kinds of licenses to import and export goods. Here are some common products that require an Import/ Export license:

Dutiable goods

These goods include alcoholic liquors, tobacco products, hydrocarbon oils, methyl alcohol, and so on.

The licenses to import/ export dutiable goods are issued by the Customs and Excise Department.

Controlled chemicals

You can obtain a license to import or export controlled chemicals via the Customs and Excise Department.

Animals or birds

To import/ export animals or birds, you must apply for a license from the Import and Export Division of the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department

Food items

For food products, the import/ export business must be issued a license by the Center of Food Safety, Food, and Environmental Hygiene Department.


Your company can opt for the right license via the Trade and Industry Department

Pharmaceutical products, medicines, and dangerous drugs

To operate a business importing or exporting these product types, you need to obtain a license issued by the Pharmaceuticals Import/ Export Control Unit, the Pharmaceutical Service of the Department of Health.


The license issued by the Plant and Pesticides Regulatory Division of the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department will legally allow you to import or export pesticides.

eCommerce company

Some also asked us: Does a Hong Kong eCommerce business need a license? 

The answer is actually yes. It does not matter whether you are a trading company or an online business, the products and services you’ll provide in the market are the keys to whether you need to apply for a license – that is why we think of industry licenses.

Following your registered eCommerce business in Hong Kong, you have to obtain the needed license the same as other types of business, if applicable.

Let’s say you are going to sell alcohol online, then don’t forget to check out a required business license as well on the government’s site.

Event management company

Organizing specialized events in Hong Kong may also require obtaining specific licenses and permits.

Below are a few examples of different event categories and the corresponding licenses you may need:

  • Liquor license issued by The Liquor Licensing Board
  • Certificate for Advertising Materials issued by The Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority
  • Lottery license issued by The Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority
  • Amusements with prizes license issued by The Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority
  • Food factory license issued by The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
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Apart from license and permit requirements, do you know what other compliance regulations your business needs to adhere to when establishing a company in Hong Kong? Find out in the ComplyMate guide!


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How to apply for Hong Kong business licenses and permits

The application for Hong Kong business licenses and permits is straightforward. Typically, it takes you from 2 to 8 weeks to get approval from the relevant authorities.

To ensure a successful application, you should first identify whether your business must obtain the license or permit as per requests from the Hong Kong government or not. Should this be the case, prepare sufficient documentation to complete the licensing procedure.

Does my business in Hong Kong need a license? Here is a useful guide to checking your Hong Kong company’s business licenses and permits

Note that the pre-requisite criteria for any applicants for a business license in Hong Kong are that the particular company must be already registered with the Companies Registry of Hong Kong.

If you wish to save time and money and avoid the hassles of tasks during registration at once,  engage a trusted service provider such as BBCIncorp.

We offer affordable and effective services with a transparent process for offshore businesses in Hong Kong, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team via for more advice on your Hong Kong business.

Disclaimer: While BBCIncorp strives to make the information on this website as timely and accurate as possible, the information itself is for reference purposes only. You should not substitute the information provided in this article for competent legal advice. Feel free to contact BBCIncorp’s customer services for advice on your specific cases.

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