Hong Kong is well established as one of the world’s leading financial centres with low taxes and a highly market driven economy. Its long international trade history ranks it as one of the easiest places in the world to do business. With many global businesses basing their Asian operations in Hong Kong, the expat community is large and active.
If you're thinking of moving to Hong Kong for a job or to set up your own business, then you’ll need the correct visa to do so.
To help prepare yourself, have a look through this easy guide to getting a Hong Kong work visa. Then you can get on with planning the rest of your new life.
Most foreigners will need some form of permit to work in Hong Kong. The exact visa that applies to you will vary according to the circumstances.
It’s worth noting that the visa options available for citizens of mainland China are slightly different for those from outside of China. The guidance below relates primarily to people from outside of the Chinese mainland. If you’re looking for further information on getting a visa as a Chinese national, check out the Hong Kong Government website.
If you have a job offer already, you can apply for a job under the General Employment Policy (GEP). To be eligible under this scheme you must have relevant qualifications for the role and usually at a higher education level. You also must be compensated in line with local market norms.
Alternatively, you can compete for a visa based on your skills and qualifications, and in line with a quota system. In this case you don’t need a specific job offer, but you’ll need to fulfil set criteria and win a place through a points-based system. This visa stream is known as the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme.
To be considered for this visa stream you must be over 18, have the financial means to support yourself and be able to speak and write either Chinese or English. You must also fulfil certain educational requirements.
Assuming you hit all the basic requirements, you can either take a points-based test on which you must meet a minimum benchmark, or qualify under the achievements-based points test.
In the points-based test, you have to acquire a minimum of 80 points (from a potential total of 195) which are calculated according to your age, education level, language proficiency and work background. To qualify under the achievements-based points test, you must have achieved extraordinary recognition in your field - think Nobel Prize, Olympic Medal, or other nationally or internationally recognised achievement. In this case you’re automatically awarded the full 195 points and can proceed with your visa application.
Processing times for visa applications are usually about four weeks from the point that all documents are received. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time!
Fees are payable for all visas. You can pay upon collection if you’re applying directly to the Hong Kong authorities or, if you’re making your application at a local embassy or consulate, you can pay there. Different consulates will have different processes, so check the details when you submit your application. The full immigration fee table is available on the Hong Kong immigration authority website.
There are lots of agencies who’ll help you negotiate the Hong Kong visa processes. This might be a good option for you if you’re willing to pay the fee for the increased convenience. Before you hand over any money, take recommendations and advice from others who’ve used the service so you know exactly what you’re paying for.
If you’re applying for a visa under the General Employment Policy (GEP), you’ll need to provide the following documents to support your application:
- Complete application forms
- Proof of fee payment
- A copy of your valid passport or travel document
- A recent photo
- Proof of professional qualifications
Additionally, your employer will have to provide supporting information to process your application. This includes proof of registration and the financial standing of the company. You can see the full details on the Hong Kong immigration authority website.
If you search online, The Quality Migrant Admission Scheme Guidance Notes includes a checklist of required documents for this visa scheme.
In addition to the documents outlined above for the GEP programme, you’ll have to submit:
- Proof of net worth
- Copies of reference letters from previous employers
- Employment records and future plans
- Detailed proof of academic and professional achievements
You’ll then need to submit your documents by post to the authorities in Hong Kong, either by yourself, your employer or an intermediary. Alternatively, if it’s easier you can send the documents to your nearest Chinese embassy.
If you’re under 30 and coming to Hong Kong for a working holiday, you might be able to get a specific Working Holiday Visa. Your eligibility for this depends on your nationality, and assumes your intention is to holiday in the region, rather than purely work. Employer sponsorship isn’t needed, although the total number of visas offered under the scheme has an annual cap.
Under usual circumstances you aren’t entitled to work under the terms of a student visa. However, if you’ve finished a course of study in Hong Kong, you can apply under the Immigration Arrangements for Non-local Graduates to stay in Hong Kong for up to a year to look for a job.
If you’re coming to Hong Kong to work as a domestic helper, for example as an au pair, there’s a specific visa for your needs. Similarly, if you’re an imported worker coming over for a short-term work contract, you may be able to get a specific visa to cover your time in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Immigration Guidelines has the different options set out for you to choose.
You can work in Hong Kong as an entrepreneur with a visa under the entrepreneur stream of the GEP visa.
Your application will be assessed based on the following factors:
- 2 year business plan and anticipated turnover
- Financial resources and planned investment sum, including documentary proof such as bank statements
- Number of jobs created locally
- Introduction of new technology or skills
- Whether your business idea is supported by a government-backed programme such as InvestHK’s StartmeupHK Venture Programme or the Hong Kong Design Centre’s Design Incubation Programme
Expect a 4 week processing time for this type of visa. If successful, you’ll likely be able to bring your spouse and dependant children to Hong Kong under the terms of this visa.
If you have a visa under the General Employment Policy (GEP), including the entrepreneur stream of this visa type or the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme, you can bring your spouse and dependant children under 18 to Hong Kong with you.
There are various requirements to enter under this policy. Some of which are designed to ensure you can finance your dependants while they’re in Hong Kong. Any family members joining you'll also need to fulfil general immigration requirements, such as having valid documents and clean criminal records.
If you stay in Hong Kong for seven years or more, you and your family can apply for permanent residence.
If you plan to open a bank account in Hong Kong, or know someone there with a bank account, consider using a money conversion company like TransferWise to send money to Hong Kong and avoid unfair exchange rates.
There's a small transparent fee, and when your money is converted from one currency to another, you’ll get the real exchange rate - the same one you can find on Google. Not only that, but TransferWise receives and sends money via local bank transfers instead of internationally, further saving you money by cutting out hefty international transfer fees.
There’s a lot of useful information about life in Hong Kong on the ‘Hong Kong Welcomes U’ website. As a true cosmopolitan city, Hong Kong is well set to support newly arrived migrants from all over the world. You’ll find that most official affairs are dealt with in English, and all the administrative paperwork you’ll need is available online. All you need to do is settle in and enjoy your new challenge.