Business etiquette in Hong Kong

Business etiquette in Hong Kong

6th March, 2012

In my second post in this series, I’d like to take a closer look at business etiquette in Hong Kong. This dynamic Asian city is a fascinating blend of east and west and this is reflected in business culture, as elsewhere in the city.


If you’re going to be working in Hong Kong soon, you can find out more about becoming an Expat in our free eBook The New Expat.

Judging the forum

Hong Kong is a Chinese city, and as such maintains many cultural expectations exercised in the rest of the country. But western culture is also well established. In this city English is the accepted business language and is fluently spoken by the vast majority of the population, international brands fill the glittering shopping arcades and you’re as likely to do business over a latte as over dim sum.

The difficulty can come with judging the strength of Chinese influence on business etiquette in Hong Kong. Will your colleague be using her first name last as on the mainland? Are new premises discussions likely to include a corporate expert in Feng Shui?

I soon learned that there are clues to help determine whether business etiquette in Hong Kong should follow eastern or western principles. In Mainland China, much attention is paid to having premises in auspicious gold and red, and the application of Feng Shui principles to location and interior layout.

Some Hong Kong businesses maintain these traditions and some don’t. So if you see red-gold signage, fish-tanks by the cash register, and birdcages by the entrance (traditionally associated with bringing money and luck), the business will adhere to Chinese-style etiquette.

In contrast, a business that uses none of these overt principles is likely to be styling itself on a ‘western’ business. In this instance the operation is likely to be proud of their international culture, but which ever business you are dealing with however, there will always be an element of local culture so keep this in mind at all times.

Hong Kong culture

It is very common for Hong Kong Chinese people to adopt a western-style first name in addition to their Chinese name so don’t be surprised if you are dealing with people with the same style of names as your own culture. Hong Kong Chinese people are also extremely cultured and value education very highly.  It is highly likely that you will deal with people who have either studied in Australia, Canada, the US or the UK and often having attained multiple qualifications either while overseas or by correspondence.

Business etiquette in Hong Kong also has some cultural nuances all of its own. Well-designed, heavy-weight business cards are a must, but less attention is paid to foiled gold and red in the big city. Instead people will be paying attention to your contemporary design chic.

The Asian custom of handing a card over with two hands is still very much practised. An important part of business etiquette in Hong Kong is to take a card politely using both hands and a slight bow. Then study the card for at least ten seconds, nodding in appreciation at the design. This may seem excessive to westerners who use cards more casually. But believe me, this attention to business cards will win you many points on the Hong Kong circuit.

24-hour business people

Hong Kong islanders are hard working and a six-day week is common in many corporations. But it’s work-hard, play-hard and the city is rightly proud of its glittering nightlife and bar scene. Many business deals are made after-hours and choosing the right venue is another key part of business etiquette in Hong Kong. If a colleague recommends a particular place for cocktails, then they are likely to have taken great care over its selection. In this way, business etiquette in Hong Kong requires the proper admiration be shown for whichever high-end bar you’re being hosted in.

If the roles are reversed and it’s up to you to pick a venue, there are a few sure-fire hits.  The majority will stick to Hong Kong Island and exclusive bars such as Sevva and Café Grey offer stunning views and a cool atmosphere.  If Kowloon is more appropriate, you could try old school favourite The Peninsula Hotel or the breathtakingly high Oxygen at the top of the ICC.  You may find that drinks minimums are often in place to deter tourists swinging by for a single cocktail so make sure you arrive with plenty of funds. Unless your guests come from out of town or have specifically asked, avoid expat traps like Lan Kwai Fong and Wan Chai as the often raucous party atmosphere may not reflect positively on you as a host.

More on making the move abroad

For more on living and working abroad, don’t forget to download our free eBook The New Expat which covers business and family matters, accommodation issues, medical considerations, financial arrangements and much more.

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Alison Massey

Group Marketing Director

Now Health International

Alison Massey is a 15-year digital marketing veteran, who has spent the last seven years using social media to help expats and soon to be expats find out what to expect from a life overseas. An expat living in Hong Kong herself, Alison is the Group Marketing Director of Now Health, the award-winning international health insurance provider.

Contact Alison Massey

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