Working in Hong Kong
The job market
What are your chances of getting a job?
You will need to be sponsored by an employer to work in Hong Kong unless you are already a citizen. It is therefore usually easier to get a job before you travel there as you'll need to have the correct visa in place.
The best chances of securing a job are through international companies that have offices in Hong Kong. You're most likely to find work in the financial, IT, HR, legal and advertising sectors. The job market is competitive as there are many local well-qualified graduates and companies only tend to recruit international candidates if there is a skills-gap.
Business is often carried out in English but it's a definite advantage to also speak Cantonese.
Where can you work?
- Major industries: the service industry accounts for more than 90% of gross domestic product (GDP). Financial and professional services are particularly important. Other big industries include textiles, clothing, shipping, electronics and other goods.
- Recent growth areas: several industries have experienced growth including cultural and creative, medical services, education services, technology and environmental industries.
- Shortage occupations: opportunities are available in roles such as internal audit, sales and business development, digital marketing, operational risk and brand management.
- Major companies: Citic Pacific (iron and steel), AIA Group (life and health insurance), CK Hutchison (conglomerates), Sun Hung Kai Properties (real estate), CLP Holdings (electric utilities), HSBC (banking), Cathay Pacific Airways (airline), China Mobile (communications).
What’s it like working in Hong Kong?
- Average working hours: the typical working week is Monday to Friday, 9am–5pm (or longer, depending on the business), with an occasional half-day required on Saturday. Workers in Hong Kong do regularly put in long hours though, sometimes 50+ a week.
- Holidays: there are 12 statutory holidays in Hong Kong each year. Employees are entitled to a minimum of seven days annual leave with pay after 12 months of continuous employment. This can progress to a maximum of 14 days according to the length of service.
- Tax rates: rates are progressive and increase as your salary does. The maximum salary tax is 17%. Don't forget to check your UK tax and National Insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to ensure that you are not losing any UK pension rights.
Applying for jobs
It is essential to research companies thoroughly when applying for jobs and it's useful to send speculative applications to employers. Recruitment agencies are widely used, but as an overseas applicant, you will need to be able to convince agencies of your long-term commitment to living and working in Hong Kong.
Advertised vacancies normally require a CV and covering letter. Email applications are increasingly common. Accepted CV styles are very similar to those in the UK and it is important that a CV is full, clear and well organised. It should be no more than two pages long and should usually be in reverse chronological order with your most recent education, employment and experience at the beginning. Academic results are important, and you may be asked to provide degree and other qualification certificates.
You need to state your language abilities (Cantonese and English – written and spoken), and say whether you have residency rights. Include details of referees (or state that references are available upon request).
For more information on applying for jobs see applications and CV advice.
Will your UK qualifications be recognised?
Hong Kong’s education system has strong British roots and the qualifications and degrees are very similar to those awarded in the UK. This means that competition from local applicants is particularly fierce.
UK qualifications are generally well recognised around the world, but check with the employer or the relevant professional body prior to applying for work.
- Career Times – vacancies in banking and finance, engineering, IT and sales
- Interactive Employment Service Labour Department – for jobs within and outside the civil service
- Jobs.ac.uk and individual university websites (for academic vacancies)
- JobsDB Hong Kong
- Some of the larger agencies are Adecco Hong Kong, Gemini Personnel Limited and Manpower Hong Kong.
- Some UK-based employment agencies deal with international vacancies or have branches abroad, including in Hong Kong.
For a directory of newspapers in Hong Kong see Online newspapers.com.
The HKTDC Education and Careers Expo targets students and recent graduates. It is organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and is held annually in February at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Networking is very important in Hong Kong and you should make use of any friends and contacts you have. Speculative applications can be successful but make sure you do your research and target the application appropriately.
Getting work experience
Work placements and internships
Most multinational companies with a branch in Hong Kong let you apply for internships either directly to their Hong Kong office or through a centralised global application process. Check individual company websites (Hong Kong and global) for further details.
If there is no formal internship scheme, you can apply speculatively to companies by post or email, but make sure you include a CV. It is advisable to apply early, as it can take a while for companies to respond. Mention any connections you have with the organisation.
If you are studying science, technology, applied arts or engineering at undergraduate level you can apply for placements through IAESTE (The International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience). Programmes typically last for six to twelve weeks in the summer months.
International traineeship exchanges, providing work experience opportunities from 6 weeks up to 18 months are available through AIESEC (Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales).
Opportunities exist for teachers of English as a foreign language to teach in Hong Kong in private language schools, universities and government schools. The Hong Kong Education Bureau coordinates the Native-speaking English Teacher (NET) Scheme. The scheme is run in public sector primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong and you'll typically need a degree, a teaching qualification and previous teaching experience
A number of casual and short-term positions are advertised in newspapers, temping agencies and university careers services, although competition is usually fierce. Many Chinese jobseekers are willing to take up unskilled work in Hong Kong.
Gap year and volunteering opportunities
Information on volunteering projects, charities and campaigns in Hong Kong can be found at Ho-Sum. More opportunities are available via Volunteer Movement and Hands On Hong Kong. Research any opportunities thoroughly to ensure you are happy with the project and terms and conditions on offer.
Do you need a visa?
British nationals may visit Hong Kong without a visa for up to six months, but visa-free periods vary for other nationalities.
If you want to work in Hong Kong, you will need to make sure you have the correct visa and can apply through the General Employment Policy (GEP). This is quota-free and non-sector specific but you'll need to possess specialist skills, knowledge or experience of value to, and not readily available in, Hong Kong.
You will typically need to have a job offer before you travel to Hong Kong and your employer will sponsor your application. If you find a job when you're in the country you'll have to leave and re-enter on the correct visa.
The other option is to apply under the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme (QMAS). The scheme has a quota and works on a points-based system. It aims to attract highly skilled people to settle in Hong Kong and if you qualify, you don't have to secure a job before travelling to the country. Further details on different types of visa are available from the Hong Kong Immigration Department.
If you are not a UK national, contact the Chinese embassy in the country where you are currently living about how to obtain visas and work permits. If you are living in the UK, go to Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United Kingdom.
How do you become a permanent resident?
Individuals may apply for unconditional leave to remain after living for seven years in Hong Kong. See the Hong Kong Immigration Department website for full details.
Living in Hong Kong
- Cost of living: Hong Kong is considered to be an expensive place to live. Housing can cost a lot due to the high population density and living space comes at a premium. Public transport is reasonably priced.
- Internet domain: .hk
- Currency: Hong Kong dollar
- Health: standards of healthcare are high, but so is the cost of medical care. You should take out comprehensive medical insurance before travelling. See Hong Kong Government: Health and Medical Services for an overview of the healthcare system in Hong Kong and a list of hospitals and clinics.
- Type of government: limited democracy
- Laws and customs: the Hong Kong legal system is based mainly on the UK model and Chinese customary law. On-the-spot fines for littering and spitting apply. Avoid any involvement in drugs. Do not take photos of military installations. Make sure you have a valid ticket for travel on the Mass Transit Railway (MTR).
- Emergency numbers: the telephone number for emergency services (police, fire service and ambulance) is 999.
- People: 93.1% Chinese, 1.9% Indonesian, 1.9% Filipino, 3% other.
- Major religion: Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity.