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The Essential Guide to Obtaining a Business License in Hong Kong

  • Modified: 26 February 2024
  • 9 min read
  • Starting a Company
The Essential Guide to Obtaining a Business License in Hong Kong
  • Author Gabi Bellairs-Lombard

    Gabi Bellairs-Lombard

    Business Writer

    Gabi creates content that inspires. She's spent her career writing compelling website copy, and now she specialises in product marketing copy. As the voice of our products and features, Gabi makes complex business finance and accounting topics easy to understand. Her top priority is ensuring that her words impact and inspire her readers.

Starting a business in Hong Kong? One of the most critical aspects to consider is obtaining the proper business license to operate legally and safeguard your interests.

Navigating the business licensing landscape can be complex, but we’re here to help. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about acquiring a business license in Hong Kong, from understanding their importance to specific industry requirements, intellectual property protection and ensuring compliance.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding and obtaining the necessary business licenses is essential for compliant operations in Hong Kong
  • Key licenses vary depending on industry, with professional services firms available to help optimise time and resources
  • Staying updated on regulations, leveraging professional services and maintaining accurate documentation are key steps towards achieving compliance
  • The Companies Registry serves as a valuable resource for businesses to stay informed about the latest regulatory requirements

Understanding Hong Kong Business Licenses

In Hong Kong, a business license ensures the legality and protection of your business. Depending on your industry and the nature of your business, various licenses may be required to commence operations.

For instance, businesses serving alcohol need a liquor license from the Liquor Licensing Board, while an Education Business License is necessary for operating a school or tutorial centre.

Looking to navigate the licensing process seamlessly? Our team specialises in company registration and licensing services, guiding you through the necessary steps to establish your business legally and efficiently. Get in touch today, and let's kickstart your journey with confidence.

Understanding Hong Kong business licenses

Grasping the variety of licenses available marks the first step towards a smooth and lawful operation of your business.

Importance of Business Licensing

Securing the required licenses and permits is key to conducting your business lawfully in Hong Kong, and helps you evade potential fines, legal trouble, and perhaps even business closure.

From financial services to education, various professional fields require specific licenses and permits to ensure compliance with regulations and protect your business assets.

Types of Business Licenses

In Hong Kong, there are numerous business licenses available, catering to different industries and sectors. Some of the most common licenses include:

  • Food Factory License
  • Food and Beverage License (issued by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD)
  • Liquor Licence
  • Lottery License (from the Televisions and Entertainment Licensing Authority)
  • Animal Boarding Establishment License
  • General Business License
  • General Restaurant License
  • Construction Industry Council Registration
  • Travel Agent’s License
  • Money Lenders License
  • Representative License
  • Employment Agency License
  • Hawker License
  • Import License

Schools in Hong Kong need to obtain Certificate of Registration issued by the Education Bureau. Without it, businesses related to education cannot operate in the region.

Identifying the exact licenses and permits your business needs based on its activities and industry is crucial. This will ensure that you are operating legally and in compliance with the relevant regulations. It is recommended to consult with professional services firms or conduct thorough research to determine the exact licenses needed for your business.

How To Apply for a Business Registration Certificate

Obtaining a Business Registration Certificate (BRC) is the initial step for businesses in Hong Kong. A BRC, issued by the Inland Revenue Department, enables businesses to engage in various activities, including:

  • Providing services
  • Trading
  • Consulting
  • Using advertising materials to promote their business
How to apply for a business registration certificate

We’ll now explore the application process and the necessary documents for obtaining a Business Registration Certificate.

Application Process

The application process for a BRC is relatively straightforward. To apply, follow these steps:

  1. Visit the GovHK website
  2. Fill out the application form
  3. Submit the form online
  4. Pay the prescribed fee

The certificate will be issued within two working days of the Business Registration Office receiving a properly completed application

Despite the simplicity of the process, enlisting the services of professional firms can optimise time and resources.

Required Documents

Applying for a BRC requires providing certified copies or duplicates of valid Business Registration Certificates, if applicable.

Ensuring the accuracy and comprehensiveness of all documents is key to a smooth application process and to avoid any delays. Osome can also help you compile and submit the necessary documentation efficiently.

Secure your business's legitimacy with a Business Registration Certificate

Obtain your Business Registration Certificate swiftly and showcase your business's legitimacy. Contact us for hassle-free assistance.

Secure your business's legitimacy with a Business Registration Certificate

Key Business Licenses by Industry

Various industries in Hong Kong may have distinct licensing requirements. For example:

  • Financial services companies need licenses from the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission (SFC)
  • Food and beverage businesses require a Food and Beverage License
  • Travel agencies, restaurants, and employment and recruitment also have specific licensing requirements

This section discusses the essential business licenses for various industries.

Financial Services

Financial services companies in Hong Kong are required to obtain a financial services license (such as a money service operator license) to provide services like banking, insurance, and investment services.

These licenses are overseen by the SFC and are crucial for ensuring compliance with regulations and protecting clients’ interests.

Food and Beverage

For food and beverage businesses in Hong Kong, a Food and Beverage License is necessary.

This license, issued by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), applies to establishments that provide food and beverage services, including restaurants, cafes and bars. Additionally, a Food Factory License is required for businesses involved in the production and processing of food products.

In some cases, a restricted food permit may be necessary, depending on the specific business operations. A restricted food permit is needed for the sale of restricted foods, such as oysters, raw meat and sushi.

Obtaining this license is crucial for ensuring that your establishment operates safely and in compliance with health and safety regulations.

Wondering about Hong Kong compliance? Get our free guide

We cover everything you need to know about filing, deadlines and how to avoid penalties.

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Wondering about Hong Kong compliance? Get our free guide

Travel Agencies

Travel agencies in Hong Kong need to obtain a Travel Agency License. This license, issued by the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, is required for businesses that offer travel services such as booking flights, hotels, and tours.

Securing this license guarantees legal operation of your travel agency and upholds a high standard of client service. Find out more on the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau website.

Restaurant

To legally run a restaurant business in Hong Kong, you will need to have a General Restaurant Licence, which is issued by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD).

If you plan to serve alcoholic beverages in your restaurant, you will also need a Liquor License from the Liquor Licensing Board. Acquiring these licenses is crucial for ensuring that your restaurant operates legally and maintains a high standard of service and safety.

Employment and Recruitment

Employment and recruitment agencies in Hong Kong are required to obtain an Employment Agency License, issued by the Hong Kong Labour Department.

The Employment Agency License is valid for one year and applies to various types of employment agencies, including headhunting or executive search companies, foreign domestic worker agencies, and local and foreign staffing companies. These agencies must also adhere to regulations enforced by the Hong Kong Police Force to ensure the safety and security of their clients.

Obtaining a representative license ensures that your agency operates legally and maintains a high standard of service for clients.

Intellectual Property Protection in Hong Kong

Protecting your Intellectual Property (IP) is crucial for any business operating in Hong Kong. IP encompasses creations of the mind such as:

  • Designs
  • Images
  • Names
  • Literary and artistic works
  • Symbols used in business

This section will cover the significance of trademark registration and how to protect your intellectual property in Hong Kong.

Intellectual property protection in Hong Kong

Trademark Registration Process

Registering a trademark in Hong Kong involves the following steps:

  1. Submitting the trademark application to the Trade Marks Registry
  2. Paying the requisite application fee
  3. Undergoing deficiencies checking
  4. Search and examination
  5. Publication
  6. Issuance of the certificate upon successful completion

Registering a trademark grants the owner exclusive rights to use the registered mark in Hong Kong and provides legal protection against unauthorised use or infringement of the mark by others.

The Benefits of Trademark Registration

Registering a trademark can provide several benefits for your business in Hong Kong:

  • Strategic advantage in the market
  • Boost in brand standing
  • Protection of brand identity
  • Possibility to license and franchise your brand
  • Ability to take legal action against infringers, seeking remedies including damages and injunctions.

In short, trademark registration is a smart investment for businesses looking to safeguard their brand and reputation.

Aside from the licenses and permits discussed above, additional licensing requirements may apply depending on your business activities and industry in Hong Kong.

Expert company registration

We guide you through incorporation, advise you on a better setup and assist with licences if needed. We also offer our support beyond company registration as part of our subscription services.

Expert company registration

Import/Export Licensing

Businesses engaged in importing or exporting products in Hong Kong must obtain an import/export license. This license is mandatory for the import/export of certain products, such as controlled goods like cigarettes, other tobacco products, petrochemicals, drugs, animals, and food products.

Applying for an import/export license involves submitting an application to the Business Registration Office, along with the necessary documents and information stipulated by the Hong Kong SAR government.

Event Management Companies

Though there is no license requirement for event management companies in Hong Kong, specific activity-related licenses or permits may be needed depending on the type of event being organised.

To ensure compliance with regulations, it is essential to research and obtain the necessary permits for each event, as well as to collaborate with professional services firms for guidance and support.

For example, an event management company may need to get a license from the Televisions and Entertainment Licensing Authority, or other licenses such as a Liquor License or Food Factory License. The Televisions and Entertainment Licensing Authority offers various licenses such as Lottery License and Amusements with Prizes License.

Tips for Ensuring Business License Compliance

Keeping updated on regulations, collaborating with professional services firms, and maintaining accurate and comprehensive documentation are pivotal to ensure business license compliance in Hong Kong.

In this section, we will provide tips on how to remain compliant with licensing requirements and stay informed about the latest regulations.

Business license compliance

Staying Updated on Regulations

For businesses operating in Hong Kong, staying current with regulations is pivotal, as it aids in complying with the latest laws, avoiding potential fines and other penalties.

The Hong Kong government offers an online service for searching for import/export licensing requirements, and regulatory bodies such as the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) provide updates on specific industries and sectors. Additionally, the Companies Registry serves as a valuable resource for businesses to stay informed about the latest regulatory requirements.

Working with Professional Services Firms

Collaborating with professional services firms can provide numerous benefits for ensuring business license compliance in Hong Kong. These firms can offer guidance on the necessary licenses and permits, help with document preparation and submission, and provide expert advice on staying compliant with regulations.

Collaborating with professional services firms allows you to concentrate on expanding your business while meeting all licensing requirements.

Summary

Obtaining the appropriate business licenses and permits is crucial for legally operating a business in Hong Kong and safeguarding its interests. Understanding the different types of licenses, their application processes, and compliance tips helps ensure your business runs smoothly and within the confines of the law.

By staying informed, collaborating with professional services firms and being proactive in protecting your business, you can be certain of success in Hong Kong’s dynamic business landscape.

Tip

Want support in obtaining a business license in Hong Kong?

We’re here to help – Osome’s services can be tailored to your business stage, from registering your company to sorting your accounting. Book a call with one of our experts and find out more about how we can help you and your business.

Author Gabi Bellairs-Lombard
Gabi Bellairs-LombardBusiness Writer

Gabi creates content that inspires. She's spent her career writing compelling website copy, and now she specialises in product marketing copy. As the voice of our products and features, Gabi makes complex business finance and accounting topics easy to understand. Her top priority is ensuring that her words impact and inspire her readers.

Get expert tips and business insights

Advice on starting and growing your company, as told by Osome's business community

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FAQ

  • Do you need a business license in Hong Kong?

    Yes, you do need a business license in Hong Kong to legally operate a business.

  • How to start a small business in HK?

    Starting a small business can be daunting, but it is possible.

    We advise you to familiarise yourself with local organisations and institutions, choose a company name, appoint a company secretary, prepare incorporation documents, submit everything to the Companies Registry, and pay the Government Fee to start a small business in Hong Kong.

  • What is a business License Singapore?

    A business license in Singapore is a permit issued by the government which enables companies to operate their specified type of business. It requires that the company is registered with the registrar of companies prior to application.

  • What types of business licenses are available in Hong Kong?

    Hong Kong offers a range of licenses, including:

    • Food Factory License
    • Food and Beverage License (issued by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD)
    • Liquor Licence
    • Lottery License (from the Televisions and Entertainment Licensing Authority)
    • Animal Boarding Establishment License
    • General Business License
    • General Restaurant License
    • Construction Industry Council Registration
    • Travel Agent's License
    • Money Lenders License
    • Representative License
    • Employment Agency License
    • Hawker License
    • Import License
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