Business registration for foreign enterprises in Hong Kong part 3: the major characteristics of the three forms of business registration

12 April 2017

Choosing the right form of setup that can best suit a particular situation is important for a business owner. Here, we outline the major characteristics of the three forms of registration that foreign enterprises normally choose when registering a presence in Hong Kong.


In part 1 and 2 of the article series, we have looked at the risks of improper registration and the three common forms of registration that foreign enterprises would choose when registering a presence in Hong Kong. 

To help you better understand the registration requirements, the table below outlines certain major characteristics of the three forms of registration.  


Requirements at Hong Kong level

Hong Kong private company

Non-Hong Kong company

Representative office


Company name

Need not be the same as the foreign enterprise and the name must be ended with the word “Limited” in English or “有限公司” in Chinese

Must be the same as the foreign company, except if a similar name has already been on the Companies Register maintained by the Companies Registry


Business activities

Can conduct all types of legitimate business activities – subject to special licensing requirement if the business is regulated in Hong Kong (such as banking, insurance and money operating business)

Cannot conduct any business activities or earn any profit in Hong Kong


Legal status

Separate legal entity

Extension of the foreign enterprise in its place of incorporation



Ordinarily, shareholders’ liability is limited to the issued share capital of the company

The foreign enterprise in its place of incorporation shall be liable for all debts incurred by the Hong Kong office


Local share capital requirement

Has no minimum requirement but each company must have at least one shareholder with one share issued at any value more than zero

Not applicable


Local director requirement

No local requirement - every private company must have at least one individual (of any nationality) as director

No local requirement - directors will be those appointed by the foreign enterprise at its place of incorporation


Mandatory local appointment

Appointment of named company secretary and auditors (being a practicing member of Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants)

Appointment of authorised representative

Not applicable


Audited financial statements

Every company must arrange for the audit of its financial statements for each financial year.

Audited financial statements are generally not required for filing with the Companies Registry.

Branch accounts are not required to be audited in Hong Kong – published accounts and the annual return of the foreign enterprise must be filed at the Companies Registry

Not applicable


Filing of profits tax return and employer's return

Basically required.

The Inland Revenue Department may decide not to require the Hong Kong entity to file these returns if they have already been notified that the Hong Kong entity does not generate income or profits with a Hong Kong source, or has not engaged any employees.

For a representative office, it is likely that any profits tax return filed will be a "nil" return because the office is not allowed to do business nor generate profits.

Talk to us

TMF Hong Kong offers a wide range of business services for companies seeking to establish themselves in the jurisdiction, including accounting and tax, company secretarial, HR and payroll solutions, and process agent services. Get in touch with our experts in Hong Kong for more information. 

Learn more about how our services can help companies reach new heights. 

Written by

Frances Chan

Director of Corporate Secretarial

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