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Hong Kong: Expat Circles and Visa Rules

You’ll be moving to Hong Kong? Congratulations! This step offers you the chance to explore a buzzing metropolis with a diverse population and an excellent expat infrastructure. The InterNations City Guide introduces you to Hong Kong, its economy, job market, foreign community, and visa regulations.
Hong Kong's recent past shows, for example, in bilingual road signs.

Life in Hong Kong Comes At a Price

Hong Kong’s expat community usually enjoys all kinds of comforts someone working far away from home could ask for. The city boasts a vast array of international schools and kindergartens of all affiliations and teaching philosophies, as well as English-speaking doctors and dentists with world-class medical standards. On the downside, all of this does not come cheap. Hong Kong is regularly listed among the most expensive expat destinations in the world.

Another advantage for most expats is the fact that English is one of the two official languages. Therefore, you don’t have to use your hands and feet to communicate with the authorities. In practice, however, some knowledge of Cantonese, the local Chinese dialect, can still be very valuable, especially if you wish to go beyond the invisible boundaries of the expat community.

Job Market: Prepare to Fight 

While intra-company transfers to the Hong Kong branches of multinational companies are relatively easy, it has become increasingly difficult for expats to find jobs on the regular job market. However, as a self-made expat who can offer a combination of the right hard skills and international experience, you might still stand a chance.

The most sought-after skills are generally those in the banking sector, professional services, and IT. Hong Kong is facing a new drive for employee retention so the job market is becoming tougher and tougher for expats. Keep in mind that as a self-made expat, learning Cantonese and/or Mandarin is essential to be considered for any job in Hong Kong.

For more details on job opportunities in Hong Kong, as well as information on the local business culture, the typical application process and also on self-employment, check out the various articles in our Jobs and Business category.

Visa Applications: Be Prepared

Nationals of over 170 countries may enter Hong Kong without a visa for temporary visits, ranging from one week to as many as 180 days. Chances are therefore high that for your next sightseeing trip or visit to friends or family, there is no need to get immersed in Hong Kong’s visa application procedures.

As an expat, however, your stay will most likely exceed 180 days, and you will be taking up regular employment. Therefore, you do need to apply for a work visa. Authorities can be particularly tough when it comes to the issuance of work permits. Applicants generally need a confirmed offer of employment which is relevant to their academic or professional background.

To make it even more difficult, prospective employers have to convince local authorities that it is impossible for them to fill the position in question with a local. The same procedure holds true for intra-company transfers, although the rules are usually applied less strictly in that case.

Be Aware of Student Visa Restrictions 

Hong Kong also has a number of universities, which are attracting increasing numbers of international students. International students who plan to study in Hong Kong need to apply for a student visa, and, according to recently enacted legislation, are allowed to take up internships or part-time employment under certain conditions. It is important that your internship or part-time job is related to your curriculum. You should keep in mind, however, that the part-time job must be either on campus or during the summer months (from 1 June until 31 August) and you may not work full-time while living in Hong Kong on a student visa.

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.

Our detailed Expat Guide for Hong Kong provides further information on such visa and administration matters.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Ruben Barbosa

"I found all my company's expat employees on this site, and they gave me great tips about life abroad in Hong Kong."

Barbara Richter

"The InterNations Events are the perfect place to meet and get to know like-minded people for a Hong Kong expat such as myself."

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