Individuals earning income that arises in or is de rived from a Hong Kong office or Hong Kong employment, or from services rendered in Hong Kong during visits of more than 60 days in any tax year, are subject to salaries tax.
Hong Kong observes a territorial basis of taxation; therefore, the concept of tax residency has no significance in determining tax liability, except in limited circumstances.
Income subject to tax. The taxation of various types of income is described below.
Employment income. Taxable income consists of all cash emoluments, including bonuses and gratuities. Benefits in kind are largely non-taxable, unless they are convertible into cash or specifically relate to holiday travel or the education of a child. The provision of accommodation by an employer creates a taxable benefit equal to an amount ranging from 4% to 10% of the employee’s other taxable income, depending on the type of accommodation.
An employee is subject to salaries tax if his or her employment income is sourced in Hong Kong, even if he or she is not ordinarily resident in the territory. However, except for directors’ fees, a specific statutory exemption applies if an employee renders all his or her services outside Hong Kong or if an employee renders services in Hong Kong during visits to Hong Kong not exceeding a total of 60 days in a year of assessment. Conversely, if a nonresident engaged in non-Hong Kong employment renders services in Hong Kong during visits totaling more than 60 days in a year of assessment, he or she is taxed on a pro rata basis.
Self-employment and business income. Anyone carrying on a profession, trade or business in Hong Kong is subject to profits tax on income arising in or derived from Hong Kong from that profession, trade or business. Taxable income is determined in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, as modified by the tax code and principles derived from case law.
If an individual receives rental income but the rental activities do not constitute a business, the income is subject to property tax rather than profits tax (see Rates). Property tax is charged on 80% of rent received from real estate located in Hong Kong at a rate of 15%, resulting in an effective rate of 12%.
Profits tax, salaries tax and property tax are assessed separately. If beneficial, a permanent or temporary Hong Kong resident individual may elect to be assessed under personal assessment (that is, under the salaries tax method; see Rates) on the aggregate of his or her income or losses from all sources.
Investment income. Interest income not derived from investing the funds of a business and all dividend income are exempt from taxation.
No withholding taxes are levied in Hong Kong on dividends or interest paid to nonresidents. However, royalties paid to nonresident individuals for the use of intellectual property rights in Hong Kong are deemed to arise from a Hong Kong business and are subject to an effective 4.5% withholding tax. The withholding tax rate is increased to 15% if the recipient is related to the payer and if the intellectual property rights for which the royalties are paid were previously owned by a person carrying on a profession, trade or business in Hong Kong.
Directors’ fees. Directors’ fees derived from a company that has its central management and control in Hong Kong are subject to salaries tax in Hong Kong. Otherwise, directors’ fees are not taxable.
Taxation of employer-provided stock options. Employer-provided stock options are generally taxable at the time of exercise
However, for an individual who has non-Hong Kong employment and is taxed on a pro rata basis by reference to the number of days of his or her services in Hong Kong only, part or all of the option gain may be excluded from taxable income. The amount excluded depends on various factors including whether the option is granted conditionally or unconditionally, and, if granted conditionally, the number of days on which the individual performed Hong Kong services during the vesting period.
Taxation of employment-related share awards. Employment-related share awards are generally considered to be perquisites from employment and taxed as part of the remuneration. In general, they become taxable when an employee is entitled to the full economic benefit of the shares awarded. If the employee has a non-Hong Kong employment, proration of the income by reference to the number of days of his or her services in Hong Kong that is similar to the proration applicable to stock option benefits may also be allowed.
Capital gains. Hong Kong does not tax capital gains.
Deductible expenses. To be deductible for purposes of salaries tax, expenses must be incurred wholly, exclusively and necessarily in the production of a taxpayer’s assessable income. Depreciation allowances (capital allowances) may also be claimed on plant and machinery used in the production of assessable income.
Personal deductions and allowances. For salaries tax, certain education expenses paid to specified institutions are deductible up to HKD80,000 per year. Approved charitable donations are deductible up to 35% of assessable income. Home mortgage interest is deductible, up to HKD100,000 per year for a maximum of 15 years. Contributions to “recognized retirement schemes,” as defined, are deductible up to HKD18,000 for the 2016-17 tax year and future years.
Personal allowances are also available under salaries tax to individuals with an income level at below the “break-even” point (that is, the point where the standard rate of 15% applies, see Rates). For the 2016-17 tax year, the following are the amounts of personal allowances available.
Personal allowances HKD
Single (a) 132,000
Married (b) 264,000
Child allowance for:
First child to ninth child (each) 100,000
Each child born during the year (additional) 100,000
Dependent parent/grandparent allowance
(each) Aged 60 and above:
Residing with taxpayer 92,000
Not residing with taxpayer 46,000
Aged 55 to 59
Residing with taxpayer 46,000
Not residing with taxpayer 23,000
Elderly residential care expenses (c) Up to 92,000
Disabled dependent allowance 66,000
Dependent brother and sister allowance 33,000
Single-parent allowance 132,000 (d)
a) Granted to a single person or a married person who has not elected joint assessment.
b) Granted to a married person whose spouse does not have assessable income or to a person who, together with his or her spouse, has elected to be jointly assessed.
c) Those claiming this deduction are not eligible for a dependent allowance for the same dependent.
d) Granted to a person who is single, widowed, married but separated from his or her spouse or divorced throughout the year and who is the sole or predominant care provider for a child. The person must be entitled to a child allowance as well.
Business deductions and capital allowances. To be deductible, expenses must be incurred in the production of taxable profits. Certain specified expenses are not deductible, including domestic and private expenses, expenditure of a capital nature or any loss or withdrawal of capital, the cost of improvements and tax paid or payable. The deductibility of interest is determined in accordance with detailed rules.
Subject to the satisfaction of certain conditions, capital expenditure for the acquisition of computer hardware or software, plant and machinery used for manufacturing, eligible environmental protection machinery and environment-friendly vehicles qualifies for an immediate 100% deduction. Capital expenditure for most other plant and machinery qualifies for an initial 60% allowance and an annual allowance on the reduced balance at a rate of 10%, 20% or 30%, depending on the relevant class of the asset. An annual allowance (based on costs) of 20% for five years is allowed for certain environmental protection installation and refurbishment of a building or structure other than a domestic building or structure incurred by all businesses.
An initial allowance of 20% is granted on new industrial buildings in the year in which the expenditure is incurred, and annual depreciation allowances are 4% of qualifying capital expenditure beginning in the year the building is first put into use. No initial allowance is granted on the purchase of used buildings, but annual depreciation allowances may be available. An annual allowance of 4% of the qualifying capital expenditure each year is available on commercial buildings.
All of the above capital allowances may be subject to recapture if the assets are sold for amounts in excess of their tax-depreciated values.
Rates. Three separate income taxes are levied in Hong Kong instead of a single unified income tax. The following rates are the applicable rates for the three taxes for the period from 1 April 2016 through 31 March 2017:
- Profits tax: levied on non-corporate professional, trade or business income at a flat rate of 15%
- Property tax: levied at a flat rate of 15% on rental income, after a standard deduction of 20%
- Salaries tax: levied on net chargeable income (assessable income less personal deductions and allowances) at progressive rates ranging from 2% to 17%, or at a flat rate (maximum rate) of 15% on assessable income less personal deductions, whichever calculation produces the lower tax liability
The following are the progressive rates for salaries tax for the period from 1 April 2016 through 31 March 2017.
|Taxable income||Tax rate||Tax due||Cumulative tax due|
Tax rebate. It was proposed in the 2016-17 financial budget that a one-off tax rebate be granted for the 2015-16 tax year. This rebate would equal 75% of the final tax payable with respect to salaries tax and tax under personal assessment, subject to a ceiling of HKD20,000 in each case.
Relief for losses. Business losses of an individual are calculated in the same manner as profits and may be carried forward indefinitely against future income in the same business or may be offset against the individual’s other sources of income under personal assessment. In both cases, losses cannot be carried back.
Estate duty was abolished, effective from 11 February 2006. Estates of persons who pass away on or after that date are not subject to estate duty.
Hong Kong does not impose any social security taxes. Employers and employees are each required to contribute the lower of 5% of the employees’ salaries or HKD1,500 per month to approved mandatory provident fund schemes unless the employees are covered by other recognized occupation retirement schemes.
Tax filing and payment procedures
The tax year in Hong Kong runs from 1 April to 31 March. Penalties apply for breaches of time limits in filing returns. Individual taxpayers are usually issued composite tax returns and are required to report all income from the various sources subject to profits tax, salaries tax or property tax. Salaries tax is automatically levied separately on the employment income of married couples and is paid separately by each spouse. However, a married couple not wishing to be assessed separately may elect joint assessment on their salaries, or, if beneficial, elect a combined assessment of their income from all sources under personal assessment.
No payroll or withholding tax requirements apply for purposes of salaries tax, except for a taxpayer who is about to leave Hong Kong for over one month (other than in the course of his or her employment). Profits, property and salaries tax all operate under a system of prepaid tax, known as provisional tax. The provisional assessment for a tax year is an estimate, normally based on the preceding year’s assessment, and is payable in two installments: one equal to 75% of the preceding year’s tax liability, usually payable in the final quarter of the relevant tax year, with the remaining 25% payable three months later. When the actual income for the tax year is determined, a final tax assessment is issued, giving credit for provisional tax already paid. The final tax assessment is combined with a provisional tax assessment for the following year. The final tax is payable at the same time as the 75% installment of provisional tax for the following year.
Double tax relief and tax treaties
An employee engaged in Hong Kong employment is exempt from salaries tax on income derived from services performed outside Hong Kong if the income is subject to tax in the foreign jurisdiction and if foreign tax has been paid on the income.
Unless provided for under a double tax agreement, no credit is given in Hong Kong for foreign taxes paid, but in certain circumstances, foreign taxes paid may be deductible for profits tax purposes under the tax code of Hong Kong. A foreign tax credit is available to Hong Kong residents with respect to income that is subject to double tax in all of the double tax agreements entered into by Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has entered into double tax agreements with Austria, Belgium, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Guernsey, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Jersey, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mainland China, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Qatar, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Vietnam. It has also signed the double tax agreements with Italy, Korea (South), South Africa and the United Arab Emirates, but these agreements have not yet been ratified.
Most people may easily enter Hong Kong for visiting purposes with their passports. The length of time one is permitted to stay in Hong Kong under visitor status depends on the country that issued the passport. For example, a US passport holder is allowed to stay in Hong Kong as a visitor for three months. However, for passport holders of some Asian countries, the period may be as short as one week. Visitor status does not permit the passport holder to undertake employment in Hong Kong.
Work and self-employment visas
To work in Hong Kong, a foreign national must obtain an employment visa.
Because of the change of sovereignty on 1 July 1997, the immigration policies relating to British subjects have been revised. Under the new law, British subjects may obtain a six-month visitor visa free period for visiting Hong Kong, and must obtain employment visas to work in Hong Kong. The procedures for obtaining visas are the same for British subjects as for other foreign nationals.
Work visas. The Immigration Department recommends that foreign nationals apply for work visas from their home countries or where they reside prior to their arrival in Hong Kong. The entire process takes four to six weeks. However, an employee urgently needed by his or her employer in Hong Kong may enter Hong Kong with a visitor visa, then apply for a change of status from visitor visa to work visa while in Hong Kong. This method is not encouraged by the Hong Kong Immigration Department. If the applicant is applying for a work visa in Hong Kong while still holding a visitor visa, he or she must extend the visitor visa periodically until his or her work visa is granted. An applicant is not allowed to take up any employment in Hong Kong under a visitor visa.
Work visas are granted for a particular job with a particular em ployer. Generally, the employer must demonstrate that the applicant has recognized professional qualifications, has relevant work experience, and is uniquely qualified for the job.
A work visa is generally valid for an initial period of up to two years and may be renewed. The first extension is granted for a maximum period of three years and followed by a second extension for a maximum period of three years.
If an applicant has been allowed to take up employment as a professional in Hong Kong for not less than two years and had assessable income for salaries tax of not less than HKD2 million in the previous tax year, the applicant may apply at any time for an extension of stay for a maximum period of six years under the top-tier employment stream.
After seven consecutive years of employment in Hong Kong, an individual may apply for permanent residence. This enables him or her to work in Hong Kong without a work visa.
Applying from the home country. A prospective employee should complete application Form ID990A, and send it, with a photograph attached, to the local sponsor in Hong Kong or directly to the Hong Kong Immigration Depart ment. This application should be sent with specified documents, including, but not limited to, the following:
- A photocopy of the applicant’s travel document containing its date of issue, date of expiration and details of the re-entry visa (if applicable).
- The name, contact address and telephone number of the applicant’s local sponsor in Hong Kong.
- An up-to-date résumé of the applicant’s qualifications and work experience. This must be accompanied by certification of the applicant’s academic qualifications by a university, as well as by proof of the applicant’s previous working experience.
- A copy of the applicant’s service contract or letter of appointment with a detailed description of the position, salary and assignment period.
- A letter, with supporting proof from the applicant’s employer (if possible), stating the reason why the post cannot be filled locally.
- The most recent financial statements of the employer.
- Form ID990B completed and signed by the local sponsor.
- A copy of the local sponsor company’s business registration certificate.
- Copies of the marriage certificate and birth certificates of the children, if dependent visas are sought.
Application forms and sponsorship forms can be obtained from the Hong Kong Immigration Department.
If an application is approved, an entry visa is issued to the local sponsor who is asked to send it to the applicant. The applicant must present this visa together with his or her passport or travel document to the immigration officer on arrival in Hong Kong. At the port of entry in Hong Kong, the official work visa is endorsed on the applicant’s passport or travel document with the effective period stated on a landing slip. Extensions of the visa may be obtained subsequently if applied for before the expiration date.
Applying in Hong Kong. If an employee enters Hong Kong initially with a visitor visa and then applies for a change of status from visitor visa to work visa in Hong Kong (this is not encouraged by the Immigration Department), the employee should submit specified documents to the Immigration Department, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Forms ID990A and ID990B (completed by the applicant and local sponsor, respectively)
- Original of certification from the applicant’s employer regarding the terms of his or her employment
- The applicant’s résumé detailing qualifications and work experience
- A company staff list of the local sponsor (optional)
- Copies of the applicant’s academic qualifications, for example, a university diploma
- Photocopies of the applicant’s and the dependents’ passports, if applicable (personal particulars page and page with entry visa landing slip)
- The applicant’s detailed job description from his or her employer
- The most recent annual financial statement of the employer
- A copy of the business registration certificate from the applicant’s local sponsor
- Original of the marriage certificate and the birth certificates of the children if dependent visas are sought
- The local sponsor’s company ordinances listing the directors and the shares of allotment (optional)
- A copy of the local sponsor’s office lease (optional)
The applicant must submit the above documents together with his or her travel document and the dependents’ travel documents to the Hong Kong Immigration Department’s entry visa section. The original travel documents and certificates are required and are generally returned to the applicant within one day. After the Immigration Department approves the work visa and dependent visas, the applicant is notified for endorsement.
Extensions. To obtain an extension of a work visa, a month before the expiration date of the visa, the applicant must obtain an employment letter from his or her employer certifying that the applicant’s employment with that employer will extend beyond the expiration date. The letter, together with Forms I.D. 91, 481A and 481B (if dependent visa extension required), the applicant’s and the dependents’ original travel documents and copies of applicant’s and the dependents’ Hong Kong identity cards must be submitted to the Immigration Department’s extension section approximately one month before the expiration date. Additional documents are required for the applicant under the top-tier employment stream, such as the notice of salaries tax assessment for the preceding tax year, which was issued by the Inland Revenue Department, or relevant tax documents. It normally takes 14 to 21 working days for the Immigration Department to process the visa extension application. This extension is usually valid for an additional three years (or six years if under the top-tier employment stream). If the work visa holder receives an extension, all dependents should also be granted extensions.
Self-employment visas. A foreign national wishing to invest in or start a business in Hong Kong must apply for an employment (investment) visa. To obtain this type of visa, the applicant must demonstrate that the business that he or she proposes to invest in and carry on will benefit the Hong Kong economy. Because the application procedure for the employment (investment) visa is more complicated than for other visas, it generally requires from four to eight weeks for the Immigration Department to process.
Capital Investment Entrant Scheme. In January 2015, the government announced that the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme was suspended, effective from 15 January 2015, until further notice. The Immigration Department will continue to process applications received on or before 14 January 2015, whether already approved (including approval-in-principle and formal approval) or still being processed.
In addition to work visas, other visas permitting residence in Hong Kong include the following:
- Training visas: Issued to foreign nationals coming to Hong Kong for training purposes. This visa is granted for the period of training or for 12 months, whichever is shorter.
- Student visas: Issued to foreign nationals coming to Hong Kong to study. It is granted for the academic year or for up to 12 months, whichever is shorter. The visa generally does not allow its holder to take up employment in Hong Kong.
- Dependent visas: See Section I.
- Admission Scheme for the Second Generation of Chinese Hong Kong Permanent Residents (ASSG): See Section I.
Residence visas and the procedures for obtaining visas are the same for British subjects as for other foreign nationals. All visa applications are subject to being reviewed on a case-by-case basis and are approved by the Immigration Department at its own discretion.
Family and personal considerations Family members
Dependent visas. If an applicant wants to bring his or her family to Hong Kong, the family members (that is a heterosexual spouse and unmarried children under age 18) may apply together with the applicant as his or her dependents for dependent visa status. Dependent visas are normally granted for the same time period as the work visa. A dependent visa holder (except a dependent of a person who has been admitted to study unless prior permission is obtained from the Immigration Department) is allowed to work in Hong Kong without prior approval from the Immigration Department under current Hong Kong immigration policy.
Dependent visas may be granted to other close relatives who are fully supported by the applicant or who are handicapped, subject to the approval of the Immigration Department.
Identity cards. Within one month after the activation of the work visa and residence visas, the applicant and his or her family must apply for Hong Kong identity cards from the Immigration Department if they are 11 years old or older and are permitted to stay in Hong Kong for more than 180 days. All Hong Kong residents are required by law to carry with them at all times identity cards or their passports for identification purposes.
Second Generation of Chinese Hong Kong Permanent Residents. Persons who are the second generation of emigrated Chinese Hong Kong permanent residents from overseas may apply to return to work in Hong Kong under the Admission Scheme for the Second Generation of Chinese Hong Kong Permanent Residents (ASSG). The following are the key requirements:
- Aged 18 to 40 and born overseas
- At least one parent holding a valid Hong Kong permanent identity card at the time of the ASSG application who was a Chinese national settled overseas at the time of the applicant’s birth
- Good educational background, technical qualifications or proven professional experience
- Proficient in written and spoken Chinese (Putonghua or Cantonese) or English
- Sufficient financial means and ability to meet the living expenses for maintenance and accommodation in Hong Kong without recourse to public funds
No quota applies under the ASSG, and applicants are not required to have secured an offer of employment before entry. Persons admitted under the ASSG are normally granted an initial stay of 12 months.
Persons admitted under the ASSG may apply for extension of stay in Hong Kong within four weeks before their visas expire. Although applicants are not required to have secured an offer of employment in Hong Kong on application for entry under ASSG, when applying for extension, applicants are required to have secured an offer of employment (which is at a level commonly taken up by degree holders and has a remuneration package that is at market level). For individuals who have established or joined in business in Hong Kong, they are required to produce proof of their business. Successful applicants for extension of stay are normally permitted to remain in Hong Kong on the 2-2-3 years’ extension pattern.
Marital property regime. No community property or other marital property regime applies in Hong Kong.
Forced heirship. Hong Kong law does not provide for forced heirship.
Driver’s permits. A foreign national may drive legally in Hong Kong using his or her home jurisdiction driver’s license for up to one year or until the approval of his or her Hong Kong work visa, if the individual currently holds a visitor visa and if his or her home jurisdiction is one of the following.
Australia Iceland Nigeria
Austria India Norway
Bangladesh Ireland Pakistan
Belgium Israel Portugal
Canada Italy Singapore
China (Mainland, Japan South Africa
Macau SAR Korea (South) Spain
and Taiwan) Luxembourg Sweden
Denmark Malaysia Switzerland
Finland Netherlands United Kingdom
France New Zealand United States
After a foreign national obtains a work visa from the Immigration Department, his or her home jurisdiction driver’s license becomes in valid in Hong Kong; therefore, he or she must obtain a Hong Kong driver’s license immediately.
A person is eligible for the direct issuance of a Hong Kong driver’s license without a test if all of the following conditions are satisfied:
- The person possesses a driver’s license issued by one of the above jurisdictions (not an international driving permit) during the past three years.
- The person is applying for driving privileges comparable to those authorized by the issuing jurisdiction.
- The license was obtained by passing the relevant driving tests in the issuing jurisdiction.
- The overseas license is valid or has not been expired for more than three years.
- One of the following circumstances exists:
— The driver resided in the issuing jurisdiction for a period of not less than six months and the license was issued during the period of residence.
— The individual has held the license for five years or more preceding the date of the application.
— The driver holds a passport or equivalent travel document of the issuing jurisdiction.
The following documents (both copies and originals) are necessary for the direct issuance of a Hong Kong driver’s license:
- The applicant’s Hong Kong identity card.
- The applicant’s passport.
- The applicant’s home jurisdiction driver’s license (an officially certified translation is essential if the license is in a language other than English or Chinese).
- Application fee of HKD900 for 10 years for applicants between 18 and 60 years of age. The application fee is HKD90 for one year for applicants aged 70 or above, renewable each year or HKD270 for a three-year license.
- A completed and signed Form TD63A.
- If the applicant is 70 years of age or older, a Transport Department medical examination report Form TD256, duly completed by a registered medical practitioner to prove that he or she is medically fit to drive.
The applicant must submit the above documents in person or through authorized personnel to the Transport Department’s Hong Kong Licensing Office. The entire process takes about one to two weeks.