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Guide to Licensing and Permits in Hong Kong

6 minute read

You need licenses and permits in Hong Kong to legally operate a business in the jurisdiction. The type of license depends on the nature of your business. A Hong Kong Government department or agency is responsible for the issuing of licenses and permits to eligible companies keen to start a business here.


In order to apply for a license, get your company registered with the Companies Registry first.  It may take two to eight weeks for the government department or agency to give its nod for the license.

A business license or permit is required if you intend to do business in the following domains:

An education business

You need a license and permit in Hong Kong if you intend to start an educational institution here. The agency responsible for issuing an education business license is the Education Bureau of Hong Kong. With a certificate of registration of a school, you qualify for operating a kindergarten, vocational center, language school, academic school, childcare centre, an enrichment centre that offers certificate courses, computer education center, distance learning center, and nursery schools.

Find more information on the process here!

Travel agency

You cannot operate your travel agency in Hong Kong without a license. Any business that deals with travel packages, tour offers, and transportation services is categorised as a Travel agency. If you intend to run a travel business, then you must apply for a Travel Agent’s License with the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau.

With a Travel Agent’s License, you can:

  • Sell transportation tickets
  • Arrange for a transportation package
  • Organise a group or package tour
  • Arrange for hotel/resort accommodation

Find more information on the process here!

An employment agency

A business that provides recruitment or placement services in Hong Kong is required to apply for a license with the Labour Department in order to operate in the jurisdiction.

Such a business is classified as an Employment Agency. Some of the examples of an employment agency include local and foreign staffing companies, foreign domestic worker agencies, headhunting companies, executive search companies, and construction worker agencies.

Find more information on the process here!

A restaurant business

If you intend to start a food and beverage business in Hong Kong, a license or permit is a must. You ought to apply for a General Restaurant License with the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. However, before applying for the license, you must finalize your business premises.

A food business that intends to serve alcohol must apply for the Liquor License approval in Hong Kong with the Liquor Licensing Board. Other food business licenses and permits in Hong Kong include:

  • Import License: A business that plans to import frozen food must apply for an import license.
  • Food Factory License: For a business dealing in the processing of packaged foods or food preparation and manufacturing, a food factory license is required.
  • Restricted Food Permit: You cannot sell restricted food items in Hong Kong without a restricted food permit that allows you to trade in oysters, sushi, cut fruit, and raw meat.
  • You need a permit to sell via a vending machine.
  • A business selling baked goodies and confectionary items needs a bakery license.

Find more information on the process here!

A financial services company

Nobody can operate as a financial services business without a registered license and permits in Hong Kong. The type of license needed depends on the business type. You will need to apply for a money lenders license for money lending business with the Companies Registry. For insurance business, you need to get registered as an insurance agent in Hong Kong. The agency responsible for issuing such a license is the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance.

Other types of licenses include pawnbrokers license, representative license, corporate license, insurance business, insurance brokers, remittance agents and money changers, and deposit-taking company.

Find more information on the process here!

An event management company

If you intend to operate a business that conducts sporting events, community activities, meetings, concerts, outdoor activities, conferences, conventions, and exhibitions, you require a license in Hong Kong. Such businesses are registered as event management companies and the type of license depends on the nature of your business. You will need to apply for:

  • Liquor license
  • Certificate of approval
  • Certificate for Advertising Materials
  • Food Factory License
  • Lottery License
  • Amusements with Prizes License

Find more information on the process here!

A retail business

Apply for a business license and permit in Hong Kong if you wish to start a retail business. The type of license will depend on the type of goods you intend to sell.

  • Apply for the retailer license with the Department of Health if you wish to start a business dealing in Chinese herbal medicines.
  • You need to apply for an animal boarding establishment license with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
  • Apply for a license and permit with the Department of Health for a business dealing in medical devices.

Find more information on the process here!

A trading company

If you wish to start an import or export business, you ought to apply for a specific import/export license, depending upon the type of goods you are dealing with. For a business trading in controlled goods, an import-export license for that type of goods is required. Drugs, cigarettes, petrochemicals, tobacco products, and animal goods are some of the examples of controlled goods.

Find more information on the process here!

Residential care homes

In Hong Kong, all elderly care homes need a license to legitimise their operations. That means you cannot run a residential care home for the elderly without a relevant permit.

Find more information on the process here!

Environmental protection

It is important to be aware of the law regarding environmental protection in Hong Kong if your business is involved in polluting processes, construction work, asbestos-related activities, open burning, furnace installation, production/use/sale of an air compressor, disposal of clinical and/or chemical waste, trade effluent discharge, and import or export of waste.

You also need an environmental protection permit if you are involved in marine dumping activities, recycling e-waste and manufacture/import-export of non-pesticide hazardous chemicals.

Find more information on the process here!

Wrap up

The entire process is pretty simple and straightforward. If you comply with the licensing procedure and requirements, there is no reason for the rejection of your license application. Hiring the services of a professional firm can help ensure proper compliance with the law in Hong Kong when it comes to applying for a license.

Are you ready to start a new business venture? We are here to help you with incorporation! At Sleek we help people everyday to set up their businesses in Hong Kong. Talk to us for practical advice if you have any questions about incorporation here.

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