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Working in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Business Etiquette

Successful expats have to be flexible, always ready to adapt to new etiquette rules worldwide. We will help you master the transition to Hong Kong business culture. Our guide below covers the key aspects of Hong Kong business etiquette, from greetings over meetings and dinners to gift-giving.

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Hong Kong Business Etiquette: Entertaining

If your business contacts send you an invitation for dining in Hong Kong, it is considered very impolite just to refuse. In case that you can’t make it, suggest a more convenient date, but do try to find the time. According to Hong Kong business etiquette, most invitations only extend to you without including your spouse or partner. If spouses should be present, business is rarely discussed.

During meals, you should pay attention to Hong Kong business etiquette regarding seating. The guest of honor usually sits opposite the host, with the second and third most important guest to his or her left and right. At the same time, the guest of honor is seated furthest away from the entrance while the host sits near the entrance. If in doubt, ask your host politely where to sit or wait for them to offer you a seat.

A business meal may also be an opportunity for your host to make a toast in your honor. Accept it graciously by smiling, raising your glass, taking a sip, and thanking everyone present. In case you are asked for a toast, rise from your seat and express your sincere hope for a successful cooperation or something along these lines.  

During the meal itself, your host may keep refilling your empty plate: Hong Kong business etiquette dictates that a guest should always have enough to eat. So make sure to leave a small rest on your plate once you’re full. Don’t eat too much rice because it’s regarded as filler which you eat if you don’t like the food or think there isn’t enough.

And no matter whether you have mastered the art of handling chopsticks, you should avoid sticking them in a bowl of rice: This gesture is reserved for offerings at ancestral altars.

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Hong Kong Business Etiquette: Gift-Giving

Gift-giving is an important part of Hong Kong business etiquette. It is a good way to establish and maintain important business relationships. The best time for gift-giving is on Christmas or around the Chinese New Year, two of the most important Hong Kong holidays. For non-government staff and children, the most common New Year gift is an even amount of money in a red envelope.

However, you will also make and receive gifts at other times of the year. Don’t be surprised if your gift is refused politely at first. Simply continue to offer it just as politely. The recipient will probably accept it after the second or third refusal because he or she doesn’t want to appear greedy.

You can give away a typical souvenir from your home country, like a certain kind of candy, food, or beverage. There are, however, gifts which are not appropriate according to Hong Kong business etiquette:

  • Clocks and handkerchiefs are associated with death.
  • Anything with a color scheme in white, black, and blue is also associated with mourning.
  • Four is an unlucky number because the Chinese word for “four” is too similar to the word for “death”. So don’t give four things at once, like four boxes of chocolate.
  • Sharp objects represent a severing of relationships.
  • Anything unwrapped looks tacky.
  • Any gifts for civil servants or government employees could be misunderstood as bribes.

In proper Hong Kong business etiquette, always use both hands to give or accept gifts. Upon receiving a gift, thank the giver and set it aside. It is rude to unwrap it in their presence. When you have received a gift, make sure to reciprocate with a gift of equal value. However, the value of a gift should be commensurate with the level of business dealings. Both cheap and extravagant gifts should be avoided.

Hong Kong Business Etiquette: Other Tips

The sections above are a guideline for behaving properly when doing business in Hong Kong. However, this advice is by no means everything to keep in mind. Here are a few more tips concerning Hong Kong business etiquette:

  • Take enough time to get to appointments.The streets in Hong Kong are usually very crowded, and it may take some time to get to your business partner’s office. Make sure you won’t be late. Punctuality is important!
  • Do not blow your nose in public or at a business dinner.
  • If your host offers you tea or drinks, do not refuse.If you usually don’t drink any alcohol, you should at least participate in your host’s toasts.Expat businesswomenshould, however, consume alcohol in moderation.
  • Sucking air in through the teeth quickly and loudly is a sign of dismay or surprise.This may show that your contact is not pleased and you should rethink or rephrase your request.
  • When in doubt, follow your host’s lead, and you’ll easily deal with Hong Kong business etiquette. 
Updated on: March 02, 2016
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