Your guide to expat life in Hong Kong

Working in Hong Kong

Originally a fishing and trading port, Hong Kong has evolved into a global financial centre with one of the world’s highest per capita GDP. Multinational companies flourish in this laissez-faire capitalist economy, and there are countless opportunities for ambitious expats.

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Doing business

Despite its proximity to communist China, Hong Kong is a world apart from the mainland. Local government respects personal freedom and the business culture resembles that of the UK, with similar company and trust laws.

Hong Kong has an excellent infrastructure, refined financial networks, a well-educated workforce and a focus on free and fair competition.

A magnet for global capital and multinational businesses, the Asian Tiger is a key financial hub where Eastern and Western interests intersect. A good understanding of its business and cultural nuances will help you win respect in your new environment.

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Business culture

Hong Kong is conservative, and you’re expected to dress formally and be professional. Locals value punctuality, mutual respect and deference to seniority. Expect associates to invite you to social events – and always accept as they’re a good way to build connections.

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Punctuality is key. If you’re late, make an effusive and repeated apology, even if it wasn’t your fault.

Saving face

The Asian concept of saving face applies, so avoid embarrassing or confronting anyone. Never present bad news in front of others. And make an effort to contain your emotions. Open displays of anger or irritation create a bad impression.

Personal space

While physical contact is common in social gatherings, it shouldn’t extend beyond a handshake in business settings. On the other hand, locals will hold conversations standing much closer than you’re used to.

Food and drink

Business meetings often involve generous servings of tea. It’s impolite to take a sip until the host or most senior person has drunk from their cup. You’ll also be asked frequently if you’ve eaten, which is a subtle greeting and not an invitation to speak at length about your most recent meal.

Fast facts

Business language

Cantonese, Mandarin and English. The larger the company, the more likely English will be spoken. In many cases, a translator is required.

Business hours

Usually from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, sometimes with a half-day on Saturdays.


Men should wear dark suits and avoid bright colours. A woman’s choice of clothing isn’t as restricted, but anything too casual may raise a few eyebrows.


Shake hands, then immediately exchange business cards using both hands as a sign of respect.


Gifts are given at first meetings and on important anniversaries. Receive a gift with both hands, but don’t open it in the presence of the giver. Avoid giving timepieces, which are associated with death, and blankets, which represent a decline in future prosperity.

Gender equality

Women play a significant role in business, but male colleagues are deferred to in meetings. Conservative attitudes towards women are common in smaller companies.

Expat salaries

Salaries are high, especially for people in finance or executive positions. Some packages include a housing allowance and medical insurance.

There are excellent career development opportunities in a safe and interesting region with a lot of scope to save money and to travel.

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

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Making life easier for expats

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All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in October 2020. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you are aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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