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 which are required to apply for a business license in Hong Kong.

Types of businesses that need to apply for Hong Kong licenses and permits

Some business activities in Hong Kong do require a license from a specific agency or a department of the Hong Kong government. Therefore, in addition to making good preparation 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.

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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, nursery centers, and many related-education businesses in Hong Kong.

Restaurant & 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 Machine

Retail business

It is a must to apply for business licenses and permits if you plan to do business in the retail industry. Note, however, that the required licenses or permits for a retail business can be varied from one type of goods/services to another. In other words, you may be asked for more than 1 license or permit if you sell different types of goods/services.

Below are three popular licenses for a retail business in Hong Kong:

Types of License Purpose
Retailer License in Chinese Herbal Medicines (Department of Health) To operate a store that sells Chinese herbs
Listing Certificate of Class II/III Medical Devices and Certificate of Registration of Premises of an Authorized Seller of Poisons (Department of Health) To operate cosmetics, medicinal, pharmaceutical & drugs stores
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 joining 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 presents some 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
  • Representative License, Authorized Institution License, Corporate License (The Securities and Futures Commission): To operate a business that provides investment advisory services, including fund investment, foreign exchange trading, commodity futures, security, overseas stock, and other related activities
  • 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 the business that takes deposits in Hong Kong

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.

Similar to some of the aforementioned types, there are certain licenses for different kinds of imported and exported goods that your business intends to run. Below we instance some popular import /export licenses for you:

Examples of Types of Import /Export Licenses For Different Items Department in charge of issuance
Import /Export license for dutiable goods such as alcoholic liquors, tobacco products, hydrocarbon oils, methyl alcohol The Customs and Excise Department
Import /Export license for controlled chemicals
Import /Export license for animals or birds The Import and Export Division, Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department
Import /Export license for foodstuffs The Center of Food Safety, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
Import /Export license for textiles The Trade and Industry Department
Import /Export license for pharmaceutical products, medicines, and dangerous drugs The Pharmaceuticals Import /Export Control Unit, Pharmaceutical Service, Department of Health
Import /Export license for pesticides The Plant and Pesticides Regulatory Division, Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department

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

With different specialized events, you’ll need to get specific licenses and permits in Hong Kong.

Let’s look at the following examples to examine which activities your event company is falling into, then apply for valid licenses/permits in need.

Types of License Department in charge of issuance
Liquor License The Liquor Licensing Board
Certificate for Advertising Materials The Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority
Certificate of Approval
Lottery License
Amusements with Prizes License
Food Factory License The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department


Wondering how much it would cost you for applying for certain licenses and permits in Hong Kong? Take a quick test to find out the cost estimation for your business in Hong Kong, including the estimated fee for a license or permit in the city.

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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 it 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, at the same time avoid the hassles of tasks during registration, you should 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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