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Working in Hong Kong

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Your guide on jobs and finding work in Hong Kong

The heart of the global financial industry and a crossroads between East and West, Hong Kong offers many interesting job opportunities. This guide covers everything you need to know about working in Hong Kong, from finding a job to the business culture.

With many global companies choosing Hong Kong as their Asian base, there are lots of different employment opportunities in the Hong Kong job market.

This section covers the different ways to find a job in Hong Kong from the most common way (an inter-company transfer) to striking out on your own by becoming self-employed or starting your own business in Hong Kong.

After you’ve read up on what to include in your CV and how to ace the interview, head to the articles on business culture and etiquette in Hong Kong to make sure you make the best first impression.

We also cover the social security system in Hong Kong and expat eligibility as well as thinking ahead to pension contributions and the different pension schemes.

Finally, we also provide information about the rules and regulations around maternity and paternity leave in Hong Kong, in case you’re thinking of expanding your expat family.

How to get a job in Hong Kong

English being one of the most widespread languages in Hong Kong’s business world, job opportunities in Hong Kong aren’t that rare for expatriates. When trying to find a job in Hong Kong, you can indeed apply in English. In many cases, especially if you want to find a job in Hong Kong with an international company, the interview will be conducted in English too. You should, however, try to learn Cantonese in Hong Kong or to improve your Chinese skills if you seriously consider looking for employment opportunities. Cantonese is gaining importance for those who try to find a job in Hong Kong.

Strive to be thorough and rather formal when aiming to find a job in Hong Kong. Your application should be very similar to European-style job applications. They also consist of a cover letter and a CV. In contrast to job applications in some European countries, you should not attach important documents to your letter / CV. Just bring them to the interview.

Find a Job in Hong Kong: Writing Your Application

You can write your application in English or Cantonese, depending on what works better for you. In most cases, neither will directly influence your chances to find a job in Hong Kong.  In the application, you should follow the same rules that are recommended for European-style job applications. Your personal information, including your name, address, email address and phone number, should be on top of your resume. Companies may not request information concerning your age or marital status, but you can include them in your resume if you want to.

Anyone hoping to find a job in Hong Kong should list details about their education with an emphasis on their studies at college or university. Add an additional section for extracurricular activities, special training, professional memberships as well as honors and awards. These are important because they shed a light on all skills and abilities you have acquired outside of a class room.

When adding information on your professional experience, list the positions you have held in chronological order, highlighting those which relate to the job you are applying for. Don’t forget to add supporting data or illustrative evidence when citing your achievements, and remember to include special skills such as languages or IT.

Make sure you do not go overboard, though. Boasting about your abilities will not help you find a job in Hong Kong. There is nothing wrong with overselling a little bit; but if you add skills you don’t have, you will probably get in trouble sooner or later. You do not have to attach any diplomas or letters of recommendation to your application, but you should bring them to the interview.

Find a Job in Hong Kong: Preparing for the Interview

Begin by collecting information about the company where you’d like to find a job in Hong Kong. You should know who you are dealing with. This also shows that you are committed to the prospective employer. Try to prepare questions about the company and your new position. Make sure, however, that you do not ask questions which you should know the answer to.

Practice any special skills that you have listed in your resume, such as language skills, especially Mandarin or Cantonese. Your prospective boss may test your abilities to find out if your information was correct and how well you fit the position. You should also prepare answers to typical interview questions, e.g. your greatest strengths and weaknesses. Thus you will avoid being caught off guard and still make a professional impression.

If you are invited to an interview, congratulations! You’ve already made a big step forward on your way to find a job in Hong Kong. Remember to bring the following documents, though:

  • Hong Kong ID card (if you have one)
  • CV (original and copies)
  • documents that prove your academic qualification (original and copies)
  • proof of your professional experience

Read on for more tips on how to find a job in Hong Kong, e.g. the interview, dress code, and general etiquette.

Self-employment

Although starting a business in Hong Kong is more complicated than an international assignment, it is by no means impossible. The government offers some advice for those willing to start their own company or invest in an existing one. However, you should not underestimate the time and effort opening a business will take!

While there are visa options if you want to establish a company or join an existing business, you still need a sponsor. You should establish a professional network before trying to start a business in Hong Kong. Get to know the local business world and Hong Kong business culture, and try to improve your Chinese skills.

Despite all the support you may get, running your own business in Hong Kong does take a lot of time, work, and money. Ensure that you have a thorough business plan and local support for your new business. In the following, we offer some first guidelines, however, these cannot replace expert advice! Make sure to hire a local lawyer, accountant, or consultant to help you.

Visa for Self-Employment or Investment

There is an extra category of Hong Kong visa granting entry to international investors who want to join in a company or establish their own business in Hong Kong. Thus you can be your own boss. There is no requirement to prove that your firm will be filling a niche which local entrepreneurs cannot fill. However, your business should make a substantial contribution to the economy. Plus, this visa does not include residents from Mainland China and nationals of Afghanistan, Cambodia, Cuba, Laos, Nepal, North Korea, and Vietnam.

For your application, you have to fulfill the usual criteria of having a good education and professional qualifications. Additionally, you should not have a police record with any serious crimes (jaywalking probably doesn’t count).

As with any other work visa, you require a sponsor to set up a business in Hong Kong. Your sponsor can be a company or an individual who fits the following requirements:

  • at least 18 years of age
  • a Hong Kong resident
  • acquainted with you

You can download the application forms for you (ID 999A) and your sponsor (ID 999B) from the Immigration Department, or you can obtain them at any Chinese mission.

In order to support your visa application for a business in Hong Kong, you also have to hand in a number of documents, e.g. the following:

  • a recent passport photograph
  • a copy of your passport
  • proof of academic qualifications and professional experience
  • detailed two-year business plan
  • copy of business registration (investors)
  • background information on business activities (investors)

Choice of Name

Choosing the name of your business in Hong Kong can be nearly as important as deciding on a legal entity. You can search the Hong Kong Companies Registry to find out whether the name of your choice is already taken. You may still be able to use it, but you should consider if the recognition value is high enough. Once you have made your choice, you need to get the name approved.

Business Entities

The next thing to figure out is the kind of legal entity you’d like to select for your business in Hong Kong. You have the following options:

  • Limited company: Most people who have their own business in Hong Kong choose a private limited liability company. Small and medium-sized enterprises are often set up as private LLCs. You just need a name, one or several directors, one to 50 shareholders, a company secretary, a (physical) address in Hong Kong, and some capital. There is no legal requirement for minimum capital, but one should start out with at least HKD 10,000 in the bank.
  • Branch, Subsidiary, or Representative Office: Foreign companies can establish a branch office in Hong Kong. However, the main company is responsible for all debts and liabilities of the Hong Kong branch office. If you’d like to avoid this, you’d better choose the subsidiary option. This type of business is considered a separate legal entity. Lastly, representative offices are the option for market research. They cannot make any legally binding deals or engage in profit-making activities, though.
  • Sole proprietorships arebest suited for a small-scale business in Hong Kong with only one owner. However, it should be low risk. Unlike the shareholders of a limited company, the sole proprietor is liable for his or her business with all personal assets.
  • Partnerships: As the name implies, a partnership is a business owned and run by at least two people. However, general partnerships have the disadvantage that you are fully liable for the company and responsible for your partner’s actions. You can invest in a limited partnership as a silent partner, but you have no say in the day-to-day running of said company.

Of course, getting a visa, choosing a company name, and settling for a legal entity is not all there is. We’ll deal with registration, banking, taxes et cetera in the second part of our guide to setting up your own business in Hong Kong.

Business culture

There are a few things you need to know about Hong Kong business culture, concerning general behavior, dress code, and etiquette. It may come as a surprise to non-Asian expats when they realize how different Hong Kong business culture is from back home.

Although business in Hong Kong can be frantic and many people are hard-working and career-oriented, business culture in Hong Kong takes some patience. Decisions are not made on a whim. In Hong Kong business culture, impatience and aggressiveness are often perceived as negative character traits. So don’t put too much pressure on your business partners!

Small details such as colors or body language also play a role in Hong Kong business culture. Generally speaking, it is important to remain calm and polite, but also committed to doing business.

Hong Kong Business Culture: Greetings and General Etiquette

Greet your business contacts with a handshake and a slight bow. Remember to respect the hierarchy that influences Hong Kong business culture. When you are introduced to a group of people, greet the most senior member first. Keep in mind that business can only be successful if you treat your partners with courtesy.

Make sure to always address people with their title and surname (e.g. Doctor Yeoh). You will soon realize that a plenty of businesspeople in Hong Kong use a Western name to make it easier for their Western contacts to address them correctly. In Hong Kong business culture, physical contact is rare, and interactions are rather formal. Therefore you should try to avoid physical contact beyond the usual handshake.

Hong Kong Business Culture: Dress Code

In Hong Kong, businesspeople dress fairly conservatively, usually in black suits, shirts, and ties. You should try to stick to your formal attire, even during business dinners. Dark, muted colors are usually the best choice for your clothing.

Remember that, in Hong Kong business culture, colors can have different meanings. Red is considered a lucky color while white is a traditional symbol of mourning. Pay close attention to these meanings when choosing a color scheme for the day. Wearing a red tie, a red blouse, or another red piece of clothing might have a positive effect. If you want to accessorize, a fancy watch or an elegant necklace also help you dress to impress.

Hong Kong Business Culture: Meetings and Negotiations

If you want to arrange a meeting with business contacts in Hong Kong, it is always a good idea to make appointments well in advance. Try to avoid scheduling meetings on Christmas, Easter, or around the Chinese New Year, which are all popular times for vacation in Hong Kong business culture. Don’t forget to call or email your business partners the day before to confirm your appointment.

During the meeting, greet the most senior business partner first and then work your way down the hierarchy. Hand out your business cards. Here you should make sure, just like with your wardrobe, to stick to a positive or neutral color scheme. One side of your business card should be printed in Chinese, the other one in English.

In Hong Kong business culture, it’s key to be well-prepared for the meeting and to support everything you present with some facts and figures. It is just as important to be diplomatic in your choice of words, though.

“Yes” may not necessarily mean “yes”, just “I hear you” or “I understand what you are saying”, and a refusal or disagreement is mostly not phrased as a blunt “no”. Do not say “no” directly, but try to find a different phrasing. Always remain calm, patient, and modest during negotiations. In Hong Kong business culture, negotiations take a while as everything is discussed in detail and considered thoroughly. Don’t pressure your business partners, but give them time to think things through.

Although English is commonly used in Hong Kong business culture, you should try to be respectful of your Chinese business partners. Speak slowly and clearly, and practice or try to learn Cantonese in Hong Kong if you can. If your Cantonese is not quite up to Hong Kong business culture, you may at least try a bit of small talk or a few polite phrases to show your effort.

Social security and benefits

When it comes to social security in Hong Kong, the local government offers residents a variety of welfare programs designed to ensure a minimum standard of living. These schemes provide a safety net for people who aren’t able to take care of themselves anymore. While some benefits are provided by the state, you can get other funds as company benefits.

An important program for social security in Hong Kong, which was introduced in 2000, ensures retirement provisions for more people. This is especially important because Hong Kong’s population is growing older, with a current average life expectancy at birth of over 81 and 86 years respectively for men and women. Previous social security in Hong Kong would not have been sufficient anymore for this aging population.

The selection criteria and application process are different for the various benefits offered by the various social security schemes. Sometimes, it depends on your income and assets if you are eligible to receive welfare in Hong Kong. In other cases, your residence status or the time you’ve been working for one employer determines if you can apply for social security in Hong Kong.

The Social Welfare Department

Monetary assistance for retirees is only one of the programs run by the Hong Kong Social Welfare Department. Their programs include many different kinds of social security in Hong Kong. They are supposed to take care of those suffering financially due to poverty, age, unemployment, disability, death of a family member, or natural disasters. The most common schemes are as follows:

  • The Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme (CSSA) helps people to raise their income to a certain minimum level if they can no longer provide for themselves financially.
  • The Support for Self-Reliance Scheme (SFS) is supposed to assist the unemployed and increase their chances of finding a new job.
  • The Social Security Allowance Scheme (SSA) aims to fulfill the needs of the elderly as well as younger people with disabilities.
  • The Portable Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme (PCSSA) is a sister scheme of the CSSA. However, it’s tailored to the needs of older CSSA recipients who choose to retire in Guangdong or Fujian.
  • The Criminal and Law Enforcement Injuries Compensation Scheme (CLEIC), the Traffic Accident Victims Assistance Scheme (TAVA), and the Emergency Relief (ER) fund support the victims of criminal offenders, police brutality, traffic accidents and natural disasters like typhoons, fire, or flooding.

Other Support Programs

Aside from the public services for social security in Hong Kong, the Welfare Department provides further schemes to support residents. Its Family and Child Welfare branch, for example, aids impoverished families by means of charitable and trust funds. Such funds offer financial help in emergency situations if other forms of support are not available. The department also runs adoption services, organizes foster care, and provides aid to families and women in various difficult situations, e.g. for survivors of domestic violence. Other services of the Social Welfare Department include:

  • clinical and psychological services for residents in need of therapy
  • medical services for patients in public hospitals and outpatient clinics
  • services for the elderly, like community or residential care
  • services for people with disabilities, e.g. transport or health protection
  • services for the young, e.g. social workers at schools or counseling hotlines
  • reintegration services for former offenders

The criteria for eligibility and application procedures differ depending on which social service you need to access. In most cases, you have to meet certain minimum requirements for your period of residence. A valid Hong Kong visa is often not enough: For many schemes you must have lived in Hong Kong for seven years or more. This is, however, no longer the case as of December 2013 for CSSA applicants who now only need a one-year residency to be eligible.

Short-term expats thus do not have access to most kinds of social security in Hong Kong, particularly to financial funds. However, since expats usually have a fairly high salary, they should not need to fall back on social security in Hong Kong anyway – or they simply choose to go home when they are in dire straits. If you need more information on a specific welfare service and whether you qualify, please contact the Social Welfare Department.

In the second part of this guide, we will talk about retirement provisions and working conditions in Hong Kong.

InterNations GO!
by InterNations GO!
02 March 2016
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