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Hong Kong's is a respected economy and, by some measures, one of the most open and transparent in the world, and expats find it easy and painless to business in the city.
Hong Kong's status as a Chinese Special Administrative Region operating on the principle of "one country, two systems" means that Hong Kong is a world apart from mainland China. This is seen in the local government's respect for private property and personal freedom, and its emphasis on non-intervention in the private sphere.
It is hardly surprising that the region is a key financial hub in Asia, acting as a point where Eastern and Western business interests intersect. It continues to be a key business destination and a magnet for global capital and multinational businesses. Although this Asian economic tiger may seem familiar in certain ways, expats should make themselves aware of the nuances of conducting business in Hong Kong if they want to be truly successful and respected in their new business environment.
The ease of doing business in Hong Kong is reflected in its positive rankings in international business surveys. Most notably, in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020, Hong Kong achieved an impressive rank of third worldwide. Its best performing subcategories include ease of paying taxes, dealing with construction permits and getting electricity.
Official hours are usually Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm, sometimes with a half-day on Saturdays from 9am to 1pm. However, workers may often be expected to work beyond these hours, especially those in senior positions.
Cantonese, Mandarin and English. The larger the company one deals with, the more likely that English is spoken.
Conservative dark suits are the usual business attire.
Gifts are expected to be reciprocated and should be given and received with both hands. Gifts are not opened in the presence of the giver.
Women play a significant role in business, but expats may still notice that male colleagues are deferred to in business meetings.
Business culture in Hong Kong
The business culture in Hong Kong tends to be conservative. Business people are expected to dress in formal suits and their conduct should be professional at all times. Punctuality, mutual respect and deference to seniority are all valued principles that are widely practised.
The Asian concept of 'saving face' applies in Hong Kong, so expats should avoid embarrassing, confronting or contradicting business associates at all costs. Bad news should never be presented in the company of others. Containing emotions is also very important as anyone who openly displays anger or irritation is likely to make a bad impression, causing the person losing their temper and those around them to lose face as well.
Westerners aren't necessarily expected to bow when greeting local associates, although if no handshake is offered a bow is appropriate. It should be noted that handshakes in Hong Kong may not be as firm as expats might be used to. Associates may avert their eyes when greeting as a sign of respect and, while this won't necessarily be expected from an expat, it is a good idea not to hold another person's gaze too strongly. Similarly, a moderate amount of eye contact is suggested during conversations.
Expats should pay close attention to their choice of words and the way in which they are conveyed. Using confrontational or vulgar language, especially expletives, is a sure way to lose face. Poor choice of words, or even tone, can be enough to sever a relationship with a business. It may not be evident at the time, but the message will become clear as future efforts to meet or do business are continuously deflected.
On another note, while physical contact, especially between people of the same gender, may be fairly common in a social setting with friends, it should not extend beyond a handshake in the business setting – most locals dislike being touched by strangers. At the same time, people in Hong Kong might hold conversations at a much closer distance than some expats will be used to.
Expats in Hong Kong should expect small talk at the start of meetings before talk turns to business. Similarly, business negotiations will move at a slow pace, which should be respected.
That said, expats can expect to be invited to social occasions by their business associates. These should always be accepted as personal relationships are valued and these events, usually lunch or dinner, are a good way to build business connections.
Attitude towards foreigners
Hong Kong is one of the world’s most international cities and expats are integral to its economy. Foreigners are unlikely to experience prejudice or hostility, although observing cultural etiquette is vital in ensuring equitable treatment.
Dos and don’ts of business in Hong Kong
Do make casual conversation, but not about personal, financial or political matters
Don't expect to get any business done over Chinese New Year
Do get a Chinese-language version of your business details printed on the reverse side of your card
Do have business documents printed in both English and Chinese