A Business Registration Number (BRN) is a unique number assigned to a business by the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) of Hong Kong upon registration.
It is used as a Tax Identification Number (TIN) for businesses. This means that a BRN is necessary for all legal business operations and tax payments in Hong Kong.
Which businesses need a BRN?
You’ll be working a lot with the IRD.
They’re the government body responsible for managing taxes and duties via eTAX and other services.
All the businesses that must register with the IRD need a BRN.
According to the Business Registration Ordinance (the BRO), every person doing business in Hong Kong (all exceptions are listed below) must register their business with the Business Registration Office of the IRD within one month of starting their business.
Note that registering a business is not the same as registering a company. The former is about becoming a taxpayer and is managed by the IRD, while the latter is about forming a legal entity and is managed by the Companies registry. If you incorporate a company in Hong Kong, you need to register with both institutions and it’s done simultaneously. It’s usually a Corporate Secretary job to make sure such operations are done on time and in compliance with all the regulations.
Under Hong Kong rules, overseas companies that are present in Hong Kong need to register with the IRD if:
- they have a representative or liaison office in Hong Kong;
- they rent out their property situated in Hong Kong;
- they have established a place of business in Hong Kong, even if they don’t actually do any business in Hong Kong.
Certain business activities exempt you from registration:
- agriculture, market gardening, breeding and rearing livestock, fishing — but only if you don’t fall under the rules above, i. e. you don’t have a company or you have an overseas company that doesn’t have to be registered;
- charity work — but only if you are an approved charity institution.
How to get a BRN
A BRN is assigned to a business by the Inland Revenue Department as a result of the registration process.
To register, you need to submit an application and pay the fee and levy.
If your application is successful, you will receive a Business Registration Certificate which contains a BRN of the business.
Note that failing to register a business or violating any other provisions of the BRO can result in a maximum fine of 5,000 HKD and up to 1 year in prison.
The BRN format
A BRN is the first 8 digits of the ‘Certificate no.’ on the business registration certificate, for example:
The rest of the digits and letters encode information relevant for the IRD.
Let’s look at an example of a Business Registration Certificate where you can find a BRN and other information related to the business registration:
Where to look up a Business Registration Number
You can check the BRN of any business registered with the IRD via the eTAX service.
To find out a BRN, you need to type the full Chinese or English name of the business and its location, i.e. Hong Kong, Kowloon or New Territories.
The difference between a Business Registration Number and a Company Registration Number
If you want to incorporate a local limited company in Hong Kong or register a company incorporated outside Hong Kong with a place of business in Hong Kong, you submit an application to the Companies Registry.
If the application is successful, you will receive a Business Registration Certificate along with your Certificate of Incorporation. The Certificate of Incorporation contains your Company Registration Number (CRN), which is the 7-digit number at the top left corner.
The certificate looks like this:
Together with the registered name and BRN, the CRN is an important identificator of the company. These identificators are used whenever you interact with the government or business partners or sign any legal documents (e.g. when opening a bank account and renting an office).
The main difference between a CRN and a Business Registration Number is in their primary functions. The CRN can be compared to a company’s Social Security Number. It is used as an official means of representing a company in legal documents and government records. The BRN serves as a Tax Identification Number and is used to identify a business for the purpose of administering the country's tax laws.