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Guide to Business Licenses in Hong Kong


Guide to Business Licenses in Hong Kong
A business license permits you to conduct a specific type of business activity and is usually issued by a department or agency of the Hong Kong government. Fortunately very few business activities require a business license in Hong Kong.

In order to apply for a business license in Hong Kong, the company must first be registered with the Companies Registry. To find out about how to setup a private limited company in Hong Kong, refer to Hong Kong Company Formation guide.

In this article, we will describe the most common business licenses in Hong Kong and provide links to more detailed information as appropriate.

Common Businesses with Licensing Requirements in Hong Kong
Listed below are some of the common businesses that require a license or permit in Hong Kong. In general, it may take between 2-8 weeks to obtain a business license or permit.

Operating an employment agency
If you wish to operate an employment agency that provides recruitment and placement services to other employers, you are required to obtain a 'License to Operate an Employment Agency' from the Labor Department. Employment agencies include headhunting or executive search companies, foreign domestic worker agencies, local and foreign staffing companies, construction worker agencies and so on.

For more details about eligibility criteria, licensing procedure, time-line etc. refer to Starting an Employment Agency in Hong Kong.

Operating a travel agency
In order to start a travel agency that offers travel or tour packages (including transportation services), you will need to apply for a 'Travel Agent's License' with the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau. The Travel Agent's License permits you to conduct the following activities:

Selling or arranging transportation tickets  
Arranging for hotel or resort accommodation
Organizing a group tour or package tour
For details, refer to Starting a Travel Agency in Hong Kong.

Operating a restaurant
To open a restaurant where food and drinks are sold, you will need to obtain a 'General Restaurant License' from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. Please note that you must first finalize your place of retail operation before applying for the license, as the authorities will inspect the premises prior to granting an approval for the license. If you wish to serve liquor in your restaurant you will require a 'Liquor License' from the Liquor Licensing Board. A Liquor License will only be issued when the premises have also been issued with or are likely to be issued with a Restaurant License. A Liquor License will only be valid if the premises remain licensed as a restaurant. Thus having a General Restaurant License is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for obtaining a Liquor License. Additionally, you may require the following licenses or permits:

License for Storage or Manufacture of Dangerous Goods: If you plan to store liquor not meant for immediate consumption on the premises
Karaoke Establishment Permit: To conduct karaoke in your restaurant
Permission for Outside Seating Accommodation: To use an open area for alfresco dining
Import License: To import frozen meat and poultry
Bakery License: To bake bread or other bakery products for sale at any premises
Food Factory License: To prepare, manufacture, further process or pack food for sale for human consumption off the premises
Permit to Sell Food by means of Vending Machine: To sell food or drinks from a vending machine
Restricted Food Permit: To sell restricted foods such as cut fruit, sashimi, sushi, oyster and meat in their raw forms
For details, refer to Starting a Restaurant in Hong Kong.

Operating an education business
Setting up an educational institute in Hong Kong is often viewed as a lucrative business. As a result, every year there are a number of academic institutes, vocational centers, kindergartens, childcare centers and nurseries that are set up by individuals and foreign institutions. In order to streamline the education sector, the Hong Kong authorities have prescribed certain entry requirements. 

If you wish to set up a kindergarten, an academic school that offers primary and secondary education, a tutorial center, a computer education center, a language school, an enrichment center that offers diplomas and certificate courses or a distance learning center, you will have to obtain a 'Certificate of Registration of a School' from the Education Bureau of Hong Kong.

For details, refer to Starting an Education Business in Hong Kong.

Operating a financial services company
Depending on the type of financial services you wish to provide, you will have to obtain the following licenses:

Representative License, Authorized Institution Registration or a Corporate License issued by the Securities and Futures Commission: To conduct investment advisory services relating to foreign currencies, commodity futures, precious metals, security, overseas stock, gold bullion and fund investment
Money Lenders License issued by the Companies Registry: To operate a money lending business
Registration of Insurance Agents issued by the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance: To act as an insurance agent
Authorization of Insurance Brokers issued by the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance: To act as an insurance broker
Authorization to carry on an Insurance Business issued by the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance: To act as an insurer
Pawnbrokers License issued by the Hong Kong Police Force: To operate a pawnshop
Registration of Deposit-Taking Company (DTC) to Carry on Business of Taking Deposits issued by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority: To operate a firm that takes deposits from customers
Registration of Remittance Agents and Money Changers issued by the Hong Kong Police Force: To operate as a Money Changer & Foreign Currencies/Exchange Broker or Dealer
For details, refer to Guide to Financial Services Licenses in Hong Kong.

Operating an event management company
Licensing requirements for conducting events vary depending on the category of events you specialize in. Broadly speaking, events can be classified as:

Exhibitions, concerts and indoor events
Community, sporting and outdoor events
Meetings, conventions and conferences 
Depending on the specific type of activities you engage in you may have to obtain the following permits:

Amusements with Prizes License issued by the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority: To organize or conduct amusement games with prizes
Certificate for Advertising Materials issued by the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority: To display any advertising materials or film
Lottery License issued by the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority: To organize or conduct fund-raising lottery ticket sales for charities and non-profit making organizations 
Certificate of Approval issued by the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority: To conduct a public screening of a film
Liquor License issued by the Liquor Licensing Board: To sell liquor for consumption on the premises of an event
Food Factory License issued by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department: To operate a food stall or kiosk during an event
Operating a retail shop
Licensing requirements for retail shops vary depending on the nature of goods and services being sold. Examples include:

Animal Boarding Establishment License issued by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department: To run a Pets and Accessories retail shop
Retailer License in Chinese Herbal Medicines issued by the Department of Health: To run a Chinese herbs store
Listing Certificate of Class II/III Medical Devices and Certificate of Registration of Premises of an Authorized Seller of Poisons issued by the Department of Health: To operate cosmetics, medicinal, pharmaceutical & drugs stores
Engaging in import or export activities
If you are engaging in import or export activities, the need to obtain a specific import/export license depends upon whether you are dealing with controlled goods or non-controlled goods. Examples of controlled goods include cigarettes and tobacco products, drugs, petrochemicals, animals and food products. If you are trading in controlled goods you will require a relevant import/export license relating to the goods you are dealing in, issued by the specific governing agency.

For details, refer to Starting a Trading Company in Hong Kong.

On a Final Note
Hong Kong's business licensing procedure is simple and straightforward. If you follow the licensing procedure and comply with the documentation requirements and other criteria, there is no reason for your license to be rejected. Although you can apply for a license on your own, it is advisable to engage a professional services firm to save you time and resources.