Hong Kong Immigration, How To Make The HK Relocation Process Smooth

Michael MicheliniBlog, Immigration, Lifestyle2 Comments

Many have the exotic dream of relocating to Hong Kong. Almost anyone who has done any business travel in Asia has at least spent some time in the amazing Hong Kong airport (read our extensive HK airport guide here) and hopefully ventured into downtown Hong Kong for an afternoon on a layover. It is a fast paced, dynamic, and amazing city.

As the banking has tightened and businesses are more and more encouraged to have a “real” office in Hong Kong, I have had GFAVIP members asking many questions about the process of “investing in Hong Kong for the long term”.

Hey Mike,

Got a blog post with good information about moving to HK (long-term visas and stuff?)

Like visas when you have a company in HK, finding living space etc.

Know any good apartment rental sites, too?

Not a whole lot comes up. Mostly too generic stuff.Karl, entrepreneur

So today, let’s lay it all out there and give my advice and tips on the steps I would take on making a long term business move to a fully operational Hong Kong fixed operation.

#TLDR Too Long Didn’t Read Summary

This is an extensive article, and I can imagine those going through this process are overloaded with information. The main points to keep in mind are:

  • Getting a HK company setup for this local operation. May be different than you online empire business.
  • Find a place to live. Get a short term stay flat to get started, then once on the ground and comfortable, pick a long term flat (apartment).
  • Talk to the local government – InvestHK and others will love you choosing HK for your “real” office and staff. They have many programs to support you.
  • Find an office for your operations. You could also consider some of the many coworking choices in HK. The big question is how many staff you plan to hire and manage.
  • Prepare for your long term immigration. Most likely if you are an owner/director you’ll go for the investment (entrepreneur) visa. Its a ton of paperwork, while you can do yourself, you’ll probably find an agency.
  • Get settled into a long term apartment (flat) – once you have more confidence on your office, staff, immigration situation, as well as know what district of Hong Kong you enjoy spending time in (as well as where your office is) you can get a longer term lease contract.

Each of these points will be covered in today’s article, so let’s get going!

First – Why You Should Consider Having a Physical Company Base In Hong Kong

This blog has always accommodated more the “digital nomad” living on the beaches of Thailand or the temples of Inner China. Yet there are strategic business reasons to “level up” and invest in a real office in a major metropolitan city such as Hong Kong. Here’s a list of supporting reasons:

  • Hong Kong local market is a great market – you can charge premium rates for your products and services in Hong Kong. There are major MNCs (Multi National Corporations) more than willing to pay top dollar for internet marketing, e-commerce, and other professional business consulting services. I know a host of freelancers in Hong Kong doing really well with just a small handful of local Hong Kong businesses.
  • Plenty of Local HK Government Support for “real” Hong Kong companies – I put “real” in quotes, as I know a ton of our members at GFAVIP and readers in general are using a HK company but rarely stepping foot here – so “real” means physically here with an office and living here. The Hong Kong government, specifically InvestHK (check out one of our earlier podcasts with Charles Ng from Invest HK here), have dedicated people who can assist you with opening your company in Hong Kong. They are focused on getting jobs for local HK citizens, and if you are bringing this metric, they have plenty of incentives. From just “a concierge” service of helping you get setup, to government grants and

Related podcasts – if you’re looking for Hong Kong government grants and incubator programs – I suggest you listen to a couple of podcasts we have done:

Cyberport – a massive tech center with a wide range of programs for technology and innovative companies and startups. Listen in Now

Science Park – another massive tech center in North Hong Kong surrounded by universities. Listen in Now

  • Fulfill your “image” dream – we all see the desktop background on computers of the Hong Kong skyline. Now you can fulfill your fantasy with an amazing office overlooking Victoria Harbor. You’ll definitely pay top dollar (Hong Kong has some of the highest real estate in the world), but if you’re trying to impress high end clients on a global scale, it can be done here.

So the main trend in the benefits of locally setting up in Hong Kong is similar to many other major cities around the world – you’ll pay more, but you stand to make much more. I have a friend who told me – if you live off 1 dollar noodles each day and live in the cheapest area you can find, you won’t motivate yourself to really shine. There are arguments we have about the other side of that coin, but living and working in Hong Kong will definitely give you the pressure (motivation) to make it, or break it.

Incorporate in Hong Kong (Planning to Have a “Onshore” Taxed Company)

We have talked in the Global From Asia blog many times about the offshore election for a HK limited (read more here) – but if you are planning to come to Hong Kong and open up an office, hire staff, and apply for an investment visa, you should prepare the pay the “outrageously high tax of 16.5%” (for those who don’t get my sarcasm, that is one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the world).

If you don’t yet have a Hong Kong company that is setup, you can get this going fairly easily without having to step foot in Hong Kong (our equity partner CPA agency, Unipro Consulting can help you with a long list of services here). So we recommend doing that before you fly over and start making bigger moves. It will only take a week or so to get (even faster if required). If you don’t have a physical office yet and want to register the company with the office address – don’t worry, you can use your CPA’s address for the short term and then switch it with the HK tax department later, no stress.

Main point here is – if you have been running an offshore HK limited for some years, I suggest keeping that separate and now opening a new limited for this physical Hong Kong office operation.

Find a Short Term Living Solution While Abroad

Housing is extremely expensive in Hong Kong. In this article as well as anywhere on the web it just takes a few minutes to find that out. Members have asked me how to find a good apartment while abroad – and I simply say – don’t! Find a short term place, or even an extended hotel, while you’re living overseas and then plan to go on the real estate hunt once on the ground.

Airbnb can work for shorter term solutions. I have a friend Lucian who runs a short term stay arrangement. Main point is, while it is more costly than a 1 year lease, its cheaper than hotels, and can allow you to get on the ground in Hong Kong while you go to local real estate agencies.

Another option is a local HK startup Spacious which has rental listings.

You should also remember they don’t use the word “apartment” in Hong Kong as commonly as the British influenced keyword “flat” – so when doing your research online, add in Hong Kong flat to your Google search query. Here are a couple other top places friends of mine go to search:

Asia Xpat Apartment Listings

Good Ol’ Craigslist

Start Preparing Your Hong Kong Visa Application

As we all know, Hong Kong is a very open SAR (Special Administrative Region) and we can all (most of us) get a 1 to 3 month stamp allowing us to stay in Hong Kong as a visitor. But if you really plan to stay here and work – bouncing in and out of Hong Kong to renew your visitor visa length is not a long term strategy. So what are your options?

We have a few great podcasts where we give options: Steven Barnes from Hong Kong Visa Geeza who talks about investment visas on the podcast and Sam Chan talking specifically on the new Entrepreneur visa here.

To boil it down, there are 3, well really 2, options:

  • Student Visa

    If you’re planning to go to school – which, as this is a business blog post, I assume you’re not.

  • Employment Visa

    If you’re planning to work for someone else (which I assume isn’t the case, as you’re starting your own HK local company)

  • Investor (or Entrepreneur) Visa

    If you want to hire yourself as a owner/director of a HK limited and prove to the Hong Kong immigration department that you are adding value to the Hong Kong economy enough to let you stay in Hong Kong.

So most likely you will apply for option 3. You can walk down to Immigration Tower in Wan Chai and talk to them for free, or go to Steven Barnes or Sam or many other agencies who can listen to your case and decide if they can guarantee it for you. The main point is – if you are showing the Hong Kong government that you are:

  • Rent "Real" HK Office (Lease)

    A lease contract is probably best. And size of office matters (to show how serious you are)

  • Hiring Local Hong Kong People

    They don’t want you to come to Hong Kong and hire a bunch of foreigners. Like any government, they want to see you helping the local people. So hiring local Hong Kong talent is a surefire way to help add value to the economy.

  • Paying HK Taxes

    Again, I know a ton of you want to always inquire about the offshore tax status, but if you’re willing to pay the “high” (joke) corporate tax rate of 16.5% and also the salary taxes and other reasonable fees, the Hong Kong government will love you.

  • Show You’re A Capable And Qualified Business Person

    Do you have a college degree? Do you have industry experience in the business you are opening in Hong Kong? Is it high tech and innovative? Hong Kong wants more quality businesses and innovation here (as does every economy). Show them this, and they’ll love you.

So while I know many entrepreneurs are paranoid about getting approved or not – if you’re serious about investing your time, expertise, and money into the local Hong Kong ecosystem, I believe you should have a strong case. Comparing that with those who are t trying to get a visa without the intention of hiring locals or renting a “real” office, those people should be the ones who are worried.

The Benefits of Immigrating “Properly”

Many of my hustling entrepreneurs think, well, I can just leave Hong Kong every few months and stamp in and stamp out as a tourist. While that is going to eventually (or potentially) get you in hot water with the HK Immigration Bureau, even if it doesn’t – if you’re really here in HK for the long term and will be opening and office and hiring, get the proper HKID. It is very powerful, with a few perks being:

  • Local Healthcare – you can go to local Hong Kong hospitals and other medical centers and pay little to free for treatment.
  • Educational system – you can also get free education for your kids in the local school system.
  • No longer a resident of your home country – sure, many think they can get out of being a resident (say in Europe) and not pay personal income tax there, as well as not needing to pay tax anywhere – but the system really requires you to pay taxes somewhere in order to get out of paying taxes where you are from. And Hong Kong personal taxes are as attractive (low) as the corporate taxes. So its a great place to choose to pay your personal taxes (and legitimately get out of your home country’s tax). That is, of course, unless you’re a US citizen where you have global tax there regardless of where you’re a resident.

Remember – 7 Years Later You’re a Permanent Resident

Keep in mind, once you get a “proper” visa (I.e. not here in HK on visitor stamp), start counting. After 7 years of renewing your visa and maintaining your HKID (Hong Kong ID) you will become a permanent resident (PR) and your HKID will reflect that. This will take the “load off” of needing to renew your visa each year, and give you lifelong benefits of being a Hong Kong resident (healthcare in HK, educational systems, etc).

Finding An Office in Hong Kong

Similar to an apartment, Hong Kong offices are some of the highest prices in the world. This has created a massive influx of services offices and coworking spaces. We have a section on our resources listing out some of the many HK office spaces, and that may be a good way to at least get started.

Related Post: Guide to Hong Kong Tech Scene + Coworking

Podcast to listen to: Rapid HK office growth with Rob Green.

The main question when choosing an office is the location. And when deciding a location, you need to think about attracting the talent. Some cool startups such as 9gag.com got started in the outskirts of Hong Kong (in New Territories) – if you’re willing to venture out there your rent will be much lower, but you may have more trouble attracting staff.

It seems crazy to me, but proximity is so essential in Hong Kong. People even complain to travel into Kowloon side (about 20 minutes) from the Hong Kong Island side. So if you are trying to invite clients to your office, as well as attract expats to work for your company, you may have to bite the bullet and pick a very expensive and small office in the Sheung Wan to Causeway bay range of MTR stops.

Factors to consider:

  • Where your clients are based? Do you need to invite them to your office? Or maybe you can meet them at coffee shops instead and get a cheaper office further away.
  • Where are your potential staff living? Many local Hong Kong people live further away from downtown and may appreciate having one closer to them. But most expect to commute into downtown (Central, Hong Kong Island District) so if yo want to show you are a “premium image” company, you may need a HK Island office. Especially if you want foreigners to work for you – almost all of them are in the downtown area.
  • Your budget – but also how much you plan to earn from local visits and workers in the office.
  • Your interest in commuting to office – do you want to walk to the office? Or are you willing to do a 45 minute commute yourself?

Of course we all have our personal preference. And in Hong Kong, address is a definite status symbol – which affects your brand in the local market.

Hiring Staff

Now, any local operation needs people in seats. What kind of people are you looking for, and what is their skill level? Here are some criteria to consider:

  • Languages they need to speak

    Hong Kong is a trilingual location (English, Cantonese, and Mandarin) – read our blog post about dealing with 3 languages in HK. If you are doing local business, you should have someone on the team able to speak in Cantonese. If you are doing retail or Mainland China related business, you’ll need a Mandarin speaker. And since you’re reading my English blog post, you probably need someone who can bridge all these languages for your business needs. Most younger Hong Kong people speak all 3, but it is worth asking them during the job application process.

  • Experience level

    Tech talent is hard to find anywhere. I feel it is especially true in Hong Kong. My hypothesis is because the massive financial institutions hire them all up to work on algorithms for their trading systems. That combined with the more conservative nature of Hong Kong people to work in a larger and more stable company. Younger HK people are more open and willing to work for an up and coming business such as yours, and I think a lot of recent college graduates are hungry to prove themselves.

  • Mainland Chinese Also Need To Immigrate

    Many foreign business owners think they can hire a Mainland Chinese person they met at the Canton Fair and have them move to Hong Kong and work for them. While this individual may be a highly qualified staff candidate, it is not so easy to immigrate a Mainland Chinese to work in HK. If you are a new company, I would strongly advise you consider hiring local Hong Kong people (who have a HKID – Hong Kong ID). This is going to be much easier for you, and also help your own visa immigration application process.

  • How Many Westerners Do You Want To Hire?

    Again, similar to the point above about hiring Mainland Chinese – this is not seen as “adding value” to the Hong Kong economy as much as hiring a local Hong Kong resident. So while you may feel more comfortable hiring a person from your home country or with a similar culture as you, keep in mind you’d need to also get them through an immigration process (employment visa instead of your entrepreneur / investor visa). Rule of thumb would be to balance (or at least keep a running tab) of how many locals you are hiring vs foreigners (Mainland Chinese are foreigner in this calculation).

So the more you can hire local, the stronger your case in building a truly scalable and long term business in Hong Kong. If you plan to sell locally, hiring locally is also a must do as well.

We also have a great couple podcasts about HR in Hong Kong

* Anna Wong sharing on hiring interns
* Dealing with Recruiting agencies

Places To Hire / Post Job Openings

Jobs DB – The big site is www.jobsdb.com which has been around forever. You’ll get a windfall of job applicants.
51Job – a Mainland Chinese site, but also a strong footprint in Hong Kong – 51job.com
Our GFA Job board – our up and coming job board, its free and your job posts are welcome – https://jobs.globalfromasia.com
Hong Kong government – they would love to help you find new employees. (link under research)

Word of mouth – Hong Kong is a pretty densely populated place, and word travels fast. Share on social media, specifically facebook, and friends will pass this job opportunity around.

Long Term Flats (Apartments)

Now that we are getting to the close of this article today on long term relocation and business setup in Hong Kong – let’s talk about long term stay. Hopefully you took me up on my advice to do a shorter term flat to get started. Now that you have found an office, have some staff, feel comfortable about your visa immigration case, time to make some investments in your living.

Related post – If I Were To Move To Hong Kong Today

While I wish I would say buy real estate- Hong Kong real estate is some of the most expensive in the world. Yet, if you are planning for long term, even with a crash in the market in a short term, HK will always be a premium spot to base in. So if you’re looking to be here for decades, make those long term investments.

But most likely you’ll get into a 1 year lease. The market seems to see no top, so expect your lease to go up each year!

Stay Hungry, Keep Learning

Hong Kong is a fast paced and dynamic city. If you are serious about growing a global empire and want a true Asia headquarters, making a permanent base in Hong Kong is a wise choice.

I’d love to hear how the process of relocating to Hong Kong has been for you. Leave a question, topic, or feedback (love) for me in the comment section below!

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