Visas & Work Permits in Hong Kong

A complete guide to key relocation documents in Hong Kong

From work permit visas to high-tech ID cards, this section covers everything you need to know about the different Hong Kong visa types. Although getting the visa can be a bit tricky, we also break down what you’ll need to do on arrival to get your Hong Kong identity card.

Once you’ve decided to make the move, you’ll need to apply for a Hong Kong visa. While tourists from many countries won’t need a visa for a short stay, most expats will need an employment visa.

Hong Kong visa requirements can be tough: it’s not a point-based system and there’s no medical exam, but you will need to demonstrate that you’re well qualified for the job and that it couldn’t be done by a local.

For those staying longer than six months, you’ll also need to apply for a Hong Kong ID card within 30 days of arriving. This is an easy process, and once you’ve got the card you’ll be able to do everything from flying through security at the airport by using the biometric gates to borrowing library books.

Permanent Residence Visa

Student and Transit Visas

There are a number of well-known universities in Hong Kong. It is a popular destination for studying abroad. If you are planning to attend university there or to take part in an academic exchange, you need to obtain a student visa. For a successful application, you need to hand in the following:

  • the acceptance letter from the university of your choice
  • proof that you are able to pay the tuition fee and your living expenses during your stay

With a student visa, you are not allowed to work as a full-time employee. However, restrictions on part-time work and internships have recently been partially lifted. Internships must be related to your curriculum, and part-time jobs must be on campus and are limited to 20 hours per week during the academic year. In the summer months, there are no restrictions as to the number of hours you may work or the location of your employment. If your student visa is granted, your spouse as well as unmarried dependent children under the age of 18 can come with you. Your spouse is not allowed to take up any kind of paid work, however.

If you transfer directly by air and do not leave the airport transit area, you usually do not need a transit visa. There are a few exceptions to this rule for nationals of countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Angola, and others. Please check the Immigration Department list for further details.

The Visa Application Process

The necessary application forms for all types of visas described in our guide can be found on the website of Hong Kong’s Immigration Department. On the same website, you will also find extensive information on all the various sorts of visas available for Hong Kong, including a list of the documents required for your particular case.

Fill out the appropriate application form and attach all the required documents. If your documents are in a language other than English or Chinese, you need to provide a translation. Also, please remember that you need a valid travel document from your home country in order to obtain a visa for Hong Kong. So, it is high time to check the date when your passport expires.

You can submit your visa application either directly to the Hong Kong Immigration Department or through the nearest Chinese mission. If you are a foreign national and live on the Chinese Mainland, you can submit your visa application to the Immigration Division of the Office of the Hong Kong Government in Beijing.

Visa applications have to be mailed or handed in personally. Unfortunately, applications via email or fax will not be accepted. Alternatively, you can file your application through a local sponsor, for example, your prospective employer. Your application can take up to six weeks to process. However, keep in mind that your visa can only begin to be processed after you have handed in all relevant documents. Therefore, allow some extra time for the immigration authorities to request further documents from you.

Visa Extensions

You can usually apply for an extension of your stay before your visa expires. Make sure that you apply at least four weeks before the expiration date. Of course, if you only have a visitor visa for Hong Kong, it’s usually enough to request an extension seven days or more in advance.

For people who have a student visa, the Immigration Arrangements for Non-Local Graduates can become relevant. If you submit a request to stay in Hong Kong within half a year of your graduation, you have up to 12 months to look for a local job. Expats with an employment visa usually get extensions following a 2-2-3 year pattern. If their job contract runs out before that, their visa extension will be shortened accordingly.

Also, if you are planning on getting married in Hong Kong to a resident with a valid visa, you can apply for a dependent visa that is tied to your spouse’s.

Hong Kong: Expat Circles and Visa Rules

Becoming a Resident in Hong Kong

Once you have entered Hong Kong on a valid visa, there is only one minor step to make you a fully-fledged non-permanent resident: the Hong Kong Identity Card. Without much bureaucratic hassle, both expats and students can get this micro-chipped card after their arrival to this country. In general, every Hong Kong resident over the age of 11 is obligated to register for an identity card which is issued in form of a smart card.

Your personal information is stored on the card’s chip. While it mainly serves as an identification document, it can also be used for fast-lane immigration clearance at Hong Kong’s borders and, if you wish, even as a library card for Hong Kong’s public libraries. You are obligated to take good care of your identity card. If it is stolen, damaged or lost, you need to apply for a new card at the Registration of Persons Office within 14 days.

Work Permit Visa

Once you have decided to start working in Hong Kong as an expat, you should have a close look at the city’s visa regulations. All other preparations will seem a lot less troublesome when you finally hold this document in your hand, which states that you and your family can legally enter the city.

Make sure to apply for a visa well in advance of your planned departure. Depending on your nationality, you may be able to visit Hong Kong without a visa. However, you definitely need one if you want to live, work, or study there. While getting a visa for employment is not as easy as it used to be, it is by no means impossible. In this article, we will also provide information on visa regulations for traveling spouses and children, as well as for student and transit visas.

Visa Exemptions for Visitors

As a general rule, foreign citizens need a visa to enter Hong Kong. The only exceptions to these regulations are for temporary visitors from various countries. Nationals of some countries (e.g. Angola, Iran, or Laos) always require a visa for legal entry. The citizens of many other countries, however, are allowed to stay without a visa, but only for a limited period of time, ranging from seven days to six months. The latter again depends on a person’s specific nationality and type of travel document.

For example, nationals of the United States, Canada, and Australia may come to visit without a visa for up to 90 days; citizens of, say, Russia or India are only allowed a maximum visit of 14 days. Hong Kong’s ties to the United Kingdom are still visible here: As a British national with a UK passport, you are eligible to stay for half a year. To see what applies to your own country of origin, please check the entry permit requirements provided by the Immigration Department.

As a visitor without a visa, you are not allowed to work or go to school in Hong Kong. Moreover, you have to prove that you have sufficient funds to cover your stay without working and that you have a valid return ticket. You also need a valid travel document from your home country. From some countries, only certain kinds of documents are accepted. Please check the aforementioned list for details.

If you would like to work, study, or reside in Hong Kong, you need a visa before entering the country. For most expats, the one for employment is most relevant.

Employment Visas

If you move to Hong Kong for job-related reasons, you need to apply for a visa under the General Employment Policy.

A visa under the GEP scheme is usually issued only for a specified period of time. In order to be eligible, you must already have a confirmedjob offer. (If you do not have an offer yet, check out our article on job opportunities in Hong Kong.)

In your visa application, you’ll include a statement by your potential employer describing the open position. When assessing your application, the Immigration Department is likely to rule in your favor if the following criteria apply:

  • You have a graduate degree as well as the necessary professional experience for the position.
  • Your salary and other working conditions are comparable to local standards.
  • You will contribute to the local economy in general.
  • The company can prove that they have found no local to fill this particular position.

The last criterion is usually the most difficult to prove, especially if you are recruited directly by a Hong Kong company. (It’s obviously easier for intra-company transfers.) Nevertheless, for most applications, the immigration authorities accept the proof they receive. It’s getting the job offer in the first place which can be difficult.

Once you have been approved for a work visa under the GEP scheme, you are allowed to bring your spouse as well as unmarried dependent children under the age of 18. For this purpose, you should be able to prove that your marriage is genuine. You must also be able to support your family financially and guarantee them a certain standard of living and suitable accommodation. Your spouse may also get a job there without an extra work permit.

Work-Related Immigration

If you have obtained a degree in Hong Kong, you fall under the so-called Immigration Arrangements for Non-Local Graduates. With this program, you can apply to stay in the city within six months of your graduation. Then your stay will be extended for up to one year, and you can look for local employment.

Additionally, there are other employment schemes for citizens from the Chinese mainland, foreign domestic helpers, and low-skilled workers. Special visa categories for training and working holidays may be of interest to younger expats.

InterNations GO!
by InterNations GO!
20 February 2019

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