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Which types of business need licenses and permits in Hong Kong?

Content Team7 minute read19 Aug 2021

business license permits

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

Types of business 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. Just some certain sectors are in need of applying for a business license, here are a few:

1. 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 potential 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 are allowed to conduct tour offers, travel packages, and transportation services. To be more specific, you can sell transportation tickets, organize a group of the tour, arrange hotel accommodations, and other relevant activities.

2. Employment agency

In accordance with the Employment Ordinance, without a license, you cannot operate an employment agency in Hong Kong which 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 are granted a Certificate of Exemption from the Commissioner for Labor under section 52 of Employment Ordinance, you will be exempted from the license application.

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  • Incorporation process
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3. Education business

Operation an 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, vocational center, language school, a computer education center, a distance learning center, nursery centers, and many related-education businesses in Hong Kong.

4. Restaurant & Food business

If you are going to operate a restaurant in Hong Kong, you should start to apply for a Hong Kong restaurant license and permit. It should be noted that the pre-requisite criteria for this business license are to finalize the location for your restaurant operations. Normally, these business premises will be clearly 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 food business. Below are some examples for your reference:

  • Liquor License: applies for a food business that serves alcohol. 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 for business which 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

5. 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 which 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

6. Financial service company

Hong Kong is well-known as a premier international business and financial center in the world. The financial service sector in this country 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 which 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 remittance and/ or money changing service business
  • Pawnbrokers License (The Hong Kong Police Force): To carry on business as a pawnbroker
  • Registration of Deposit-Taking Company (DTC) to Carry on Business of Taking Deposits (The Hong Kong Monetary Authority): To run a banking business or the business that takes deposits in Hong Kong

7. 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 of popular import/export licenses for you:

Examples of Types of Import/Export License 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

8. Event management company

With different types of specialized events, you are required to obtain specific licenses and permits in Hong Kong. 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

How to apply for Hong Kong business licenses and permits

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

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

Whether my business in Hong Kong needs a license? Here is a useful guide to checking your Hong Kong company’s business license and permit

NOTE: The pre-requisite criteria for any applicants for a business license in Hong Kong is 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 hassles of tasks during registration, you should engage a trusted service provider like BBCIncorp Limited to help you. We offer affordable and effective services with a transparent process for offshore businesses in Hong Kong!

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