Licenses and Permits in Hong Kong for your business

Jun 10, 2021
6 min. to read

You need to have the necessary business licenses and permit approvals in Hong Kong to officially run a business in Hong Kong.

Based on the purpose of your business activity, business licenses, and permits in Hong Kong will be issued. Also, the procurement of these licenses would be the responsibility of a Hong Kong government department or agency. However, the good news for investors is that not every corporation in Hong Kong would need a business license or permission to operate.

First, before submitting your application for the prosecuting licenses and permits in Hong Kong, you must be registered with the Companies Registry. Generally, it can take somewhere from two and eight weeks for these licenses and permits to get approval.

Types of business need to apply for Hong Kong licenses and permits

A Travel Agency

Travel and tourism are expanding at a rapid pace, in line with a fast-growing Hong Kong in many dimensions, giving it a great prospect for many foreign investors. And you must have a license if you want to run your company as a travel agent in Hong Kong.

  • License Type: The License of the Travel Agent
  • Department in charge of issuance: The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau

You are allowed to execute tour services, travel packages, and transportation services with the Travel Agent’s License. You may sell transportation passes, arrange a tour team, plan hotel accommodations, and other related events, to be more precise.

An Education Business

There is an extensive education industry in Hong Kong. The Government of Hong Kong considers organizations, associations, or establishments that offer formal instruction, including courses for 20 or more persons per day, or 8 or more persons per day, to be establishments operating in this field. Individuals wishing to set up any of the above must receive from the Hong Kong Education Bureau a Certificate of School Registration.


  • An individual has been chosen to serve as the school manager
  • The candidate must have appropriate school facilities (ideally something specifically designed and constructed as a school).
  • Have trained teaching personnel who are registered with the Hong Kong Bureau of Education.
  • The maximum number of students permitted in – class has been set at 45 (only 30 students are allowed in a kindergarten class).
  • The applicant must be a licensed corporation in Hong Kong.

Restaurant & Food business

You can consider applying for a Hong Kong restaurant license and permit if you are going to open a restaurant in Hong Kong. It should be remembered that finalizing the location for your restaurant activities is the pre-requisite condition for this business license. Usually, the Hong Kong Authority will specifically inspect these business premises before they accept your license application.

  • Type of License: The General Restaurant License
  • Department in charge of issuance: The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

The restaurant industry will be closely related to the food and beverage business. Therefore, learning about other various forms of licenses that could be needed for the food industry is also crucial for you. For your reference, below are some examples:

1. Restricted Food Permit:

This refers to a corporation that markets limited food goods such as oysters, sushi, sashimi, raw fruit, and raw meat in Hong Kong.

2. License for storage or manufacture of dangerous goods

3. Import License:

It refers to a corporation importing frozen poultry or meat

4. Bakery License

5. Karaoke Establishment Permit

Employment agency

Following the Employment Ordinance, you cannot operate a Hong Kong employment agency without a license, which typically offers recruitment or job placement services 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 validity of the license is one year from the date of issue and must be renewed before expiration.

In another respect, you will be exempted from the license application if you are granted a Certificate of Exemption from the Commissioner for Labor under section 52 of the Employment Ordinance.

Retail business

When you plan to do business in the retail industry, it is a must to apply for business licenses and permits. Note, however, that the licenses or permits required for a retail company can vary from one type of product/service to another. In other words, if you sell different kinds of products/services, you may be asked for more than 1 license or permit.

Below are three popular licenses for a Hong Kong retail company

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

A Trading Company

The lack of tariffs for importing or exporting goods in Hong Kong makes the country a perfect destination for trading firms involved in import/export services. Although trading-related business licenses differ and are contingent on the products being exchanged (e.g., regulated chemicals or pharmaceuticals), the applicability and prerequisites of these licenses remain constant.

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 for 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

Event Management Company

Any organization that holds activities such as community, recreation activities, outdoor, exhibits, festivals, workshops, conventions, and conferences are considered event management companies. Also, there are several company licenses and permit divisions associated with this one too. This again depends, however, on the structure of the company:

  1. Liquor License (Liquor Licensing Board).
  2. Certificate for Advertising Materials (Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority).
  3. Food Factory License (Food and Environmental Hygiene Department).
  4. Amusements with Prizes License (Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority).
  5. Certificate for Advertising Materials (Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority).

Applying for Your Business Licenses and Permits in Hong Kong

It is fairly simple and clear to apply for Hong Kong company licenses and permits. It typically takes 2 to 8 weeks for you to obtain approval from the relevant authorities.

It is advisable that you first identify whether or not your company must obtain the license or permit according to requests from the Hong Kong government to ensure a successful application. You should prepare ample paperwork to complete the licensing process if that is the case.

Office in Hong Kong

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