Types of Licenses for Businesses in Hong Kong

Types of Licenses for Businesses in Hong Kong

Obtaining the right licenses is a crucial step for businesses in Hong Kong, ensuring compliance with legal requirements and the smooth operation within the city's regulatory framework.

Before starting any business activities in Hong Kong, companies must obtain a Business Registration Certificate. This document serves as official proof of business registration and is a fundamental requirement for legal operations.

Various industries require specific licenses for their operations. These licenses, typically issued by sector-specific government bodies, ensure compliance with industry standards and regulations.

Let's take a look at one of the most common licenses in Hong Kong, divided per categories.


Food Business License

If you plan to establish a restaurant or café and serve food and beverages, obtaining a 'General Restaurant License' from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department is essential. Before applying for this license, it's important to choose a suitable premises. The chosen premises must meet the requirements for a general restaurant license, and authorities will assess it before granting the license.

If your business includes serving alcoholic beverages, you'll also need a 'Liquor License.' However, it's important to note that a Liquor License is only granted when your premises already have a Restaurant License or are in the process of obtaining one. Therefore, while a General Restaurant License is a necessary foundation, it's not sufficient to obtain a Liquor License.

Other type of license to consider in the food and beverage business, can be the following:

  • License for Storage or Manufacture of Hazardous Substances: In scenarios where storage of non-immediately consumable liquor is intended.
  • Karaoke Establishment Permit: Mandatory for introducing karaoke activities within the establishment.
  • Permission for Outdoor Seating Arrangements: Requisite when utilizing open spaces for alfresco dining.
  • Import Licence: Mandatory for importing frozen meat and poultry.
  • Bakery Licence: Essential for the production of bread and bakery products intended for retail.
  • Food Factory Licence: Essential for preparing, manufacturing, processing, or packaging food designated for human consumption, excluding onsite consumption.
  • Permit for Food and Beverage Vending Machines: Essential for vending food and beverages via machines.
  • Restricted Food Permit: Mandatory for selling specific foods in raw forms like cut fruit, sashimi, sushi, oysters, and meat.


Professional Licenses

Certain professions within Hong Kong require mandatory licenses to ensure professional credentials and uphold industry standards. Let’s dive into these type of license.


Establishing and Managing an Employment Agency

Venturing into the domain of employment agencies, which specialize in providing recruitment and placement services to various employers, necessitates obtaining a 'License to Operate an Employment Agency' issued by the Labour Department.

These agencies encompass a wide range of services, including executive search, headhunting, foreign domestic worker placement, local and international staffing, and construction worker placement, among others.


Setting Up and Operating a Travel Agency

For those looking to initiate a travel agency offering comprehensive travel and tour packages, including transportation services, obtaining a 'Travel Agent's License' from the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau is mandatory. This license authorizes the following activities:


  • Facilitating the sale or procurement of transportation tickets
  • Coordinating accommodations in hotels or resorts
  • Arranging group tours or packaged travel experiences


Establishing an Educational Enterprise

Starting an educational institution in Hong Kong can be a lucrative endeavour. Each year, various educational institutes, vocational centres, kindergartens, childcare centres, and nurseries emerge through individual and foreign organizational initiatives. To standardize the education sector, Hong Kong authorities have outlined specific entry requirements. Entities considering the inception of educational facilities must obtain a 'Certificate of Registration of a School' from the Education Bureau of Hong Kong. This certification is a fundamental requirement.


Financial Services Licenses

Companies engaged in financial services, including banking, insurance, and securities trading, require licenses from relevant regulatory entities such as the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) and the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC). The specific licenses needed depend on the scope of financial services offered:

  • Representative License, Authorized Institution Registration, or Corporate License from the Securities and Futures Commission: Essential for providing investment advisory services covering foreign currencies, commodity futures, precious metals, securities, overseas stocks, gold bullion, and fund investments.
  • Money Lenders License issued by the Companies Registry: Required for engaging in money lending activities.
  • Insurance Agents Registration from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance: Necessary for working as an insurance agent.
  • Insurance Brokers Authorization from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance: Obligatory for operating as an insurance broker.
  • Insurance Business Authorization from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance: Indispensable for functioning as an insurer.
  • Pawnbrokers License from the Hong Kong Police Force: Essential for managing a pawnshop.
  • Deposit-Taking Company (DTC) Business Registration for Accepting Deposits from the Hong Kong Monetary Authority: Compulsory for running an enterprise that accepts deposits from clients.
  • Remittance Agents and Money Changers Registration from the Hong Kong Police Force: Crucial for conducting operations as a Money Changer & Foreign Currencies/Exchange Broker or Dealer.


Trading Company

Hong Kong's advantageous free trade policy significantly entices investors. Correspondingly, the proliferation of trading companies in Hong Kong mirrors the growth of its trading economy. For those venturing into this realm, it is paramount to underscore that securing a valid license and permit from the requisite authority is a prerequisite before initiating operations.

 Based on your business's essence, distinct licenses may be imperative for the import and export of goods. The following are typical categories warranting an Import/Export license:


  • Dutiable Goods - This category spans items such as alcoholic liquors, tobacco products, hydrocarbon oils, methyl alcohol, among others. Licenses for importing/exporting dutiable goods are granted by the Customs and Excise Department.
  • Controlled Chemicals - Licenses for importing or exporting controlled chemicals are obtainable through the Customs and Excise Department.
  • Animals or Birds - Importing or exporting animals or birds mandates a license from the Import and Export Division of the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department.
  • Food Items - Importing or exporting food products necessitates a license from the Center of Food Safety, Food, and Environmental Hygiene Department.
  • Textiles - The suitable license for engaging with textiles can be procured through the Trade and Industry Department.
  • Pharmaceutical Products, Medicines, and Dangerous Drugs - Businesses delving into importing or exporting these products must secure a license from the Pharmaceuticals Import/Export Control Unit, within the Department of Health's Pharmaceutical Service.
  • Pesticides - A license granted by the Plant and Pesticides Regulatory Division of the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department is indispensable for importing or exporting pesticides.


eCommerce Company

Whether your pursuit materializes as a trading company or an online enterprise, the nature of products and services is determinative in dictating the necessity for a license. This accentuates the pivotal role of industry-specific licenses.

Upon establishing your registered eCommerce business in Hong Kong, securing pertinent licenses, if applicable, is a requisite akin to other business models.


Entertainment Licenses

Entities in the entertainment sector encompassing bars, clubs, and performance venues often require entertainment licenses to ensure legal operation.

 Licensing prerequisites for event hosting diverge based on the event category specialization. In broad terms, events can be categorized as follows:

  • Exhibitions, Concerts, and Indoor Events
  • Community, Sporting, and Outdoor Events
  • Meetings, Conventions, and Conferences

Your activities within these categories might entail securing the following permits:

  • Amusements with Prizes License from the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority: Essential for conducting amusement games with prize elements.
  • Advertising Materials Certificate from the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority: Required for public display of advertising materials or films.
  • Lottery License from the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority: Mandatory for conducting fundraising lottery ticket sales for charitable and non-profit entities.
  • Approval Certificate from the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority: Compulsory for screening films publicly.
  • Liquor License from the Liquor Licensing Board: Necessary for on-premises liquor sales during events.
  • Food Factory License from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department: A pre-requisite for operating food stalls or kiosks within event premises.



Mastering the intricate web of licensing requisites in Hong Kong is a paramount endeavor for companies, guarding against legal pitfalls and ensuring operations remain compliant with the law. Every industry and activity entails its distinctive licensing prerequisites, emphasizing the importance of thorough research, identification, and acquisition of necessary licenses before business initiation.

Contact us today to learn more and apply for the right license.

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