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An import guide to transporting cargo to Hong Kong

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Updated on 21 Nov 202113 min read

Hong Kong SAR, China enjoys many freedoms as a port city. Its government has endorsed the ‘market-driven with minimal government interference' policy to create a business-friendly environment in the nation.

The Chinese mainland guides Hong Kong SAR, China's foreign and defense policies, but the territory maintains its own currency and customs status. The region is a major corporate and banking center as well as an outlet for China's flourishing exports.

If you are considering shipping to Hong Kong, here is everything you need to know about licenses, permits, financing, and more.

What are Your Options for Shipping Freight To Hong Kong?

Shipping freight to Hong Kong can be conducted via ocean or air freight.

Ocean Freight To Hong Kong

The Port of Hong Kong is a deep-water port that deals with high volumes of trade in containerized manufactured products, raw materials, and passengers. It is managed by the Hong Kong Marine Department. The port is able to berth and handle all types of vessels, thanks to the deep waters and natural shelter of Victoria Harbour.

In terms of shipping movements, cargo handled, and passengers, this is one of the world’s busiest ports. It features nine container terminals, situated at Kwai Chung, Stonecutters Island, and Tsing Yi. The River Trade Terminal at Tuen Mun handles substantial container throughput.

Ocean freight to Hong Kong gives you two shipping options: less than container load and full container load. In LCL, your cargo will be consolidated with consignments from other sellers, to be shipped together in one container. In FCL, on the other hand, your goods will be shipped in isolation.

Air Freight to Hong Kong

Despite the global pandemic, air freight continues to remain a viable mode of shipping to Hong Kong. Several direct and indirect flights are operating from Hong Kong International Airport to the United States each week, along with select Middle Eastern destinations.

Air freight is the best choice if you’re looking to ship to Hong Kong in a fast and flexible manner. The only downside is the extra costs as plane travel can be more expensive compared to ocean freight.

How Much Does it Cost to Ship Cargo To Hong Kong?

The cost of your shipment will differ depending on various factors. These include:

  • The type of goods you are shipping
  • Your chosen mode of shipment (ocean freight or air freight)
  • The weight and volume of your cargo
  • The size/ dimensions of your cargo
  • The distance between your origin country and Hong Kong
  • Specific movement types, i.e. door-to-door, port-to-door, door-to-port, port-to-port

Your freight forwarder can provide you with a more accurate estimate of your shipping costs.

How Long Does it Take to Ship Cargo to Hong Kong?

How long your shipment will take will depend on factors such as your chosen mode of shipment, whether the ship or plane is direct or has multiple stops, and the distance between your origin country and Hong Kong. Here are estimated transit times:

Ocean Freight to Hong Kong

Origin Country|Transit Time LCL|Transit Time FCL| ------- | ---------------- | ---------------- |----------: Australia|27 days|19 days Bangladesh||16 days Canada||37 - 42 days China|5 - 7 days|4 - 6 days France||33 - 39 days Germany|38 - 41 days|39 days India|19 days|19 - 22 days Indonesia|19 days|15 - 31 days Italy|41 days|32 - 36 days Japan|9 - 10 days|10 days Korea||10 - 11 days Malaysia|10 - 13 days|13 - 21 days Netherlands |39 days|34 days Philippines|12 days|17 days Poland||47 days Singapore|11 days|11 days Spain|32 days|26 - 34 days Thailand|0 - 21 days|21 days Turkey||24 days UAE||20 days UK||37 - 40 days USA|16 - 48 days|19 days Vietnam|7 days|24 days

Air Freight to Hong Kong

Origin Country|Transit Time| ---------------- | ---------------- |----------: Australia|3 - 8 days Bangladesh|4 days Canada|7 - 8 days China|2 - 3 days France|8 days Germany|2 - 5 days India|3 - 8 days Indonesia|3 - 8 days Italy|4 days Japan|2 - 3 days Korea |2 days Malaysia|3 - 4 days Netherlands|1 day Oman|3 days Philippines|2 - 8 days Poland|6 days Saudi Arabia |3 days Singapore|2 - 8 days Spain|5 - 8 days Switzerland|3 days Thailand|3 - 8 days UAE|2 - 7 days UK|3 days USA|1 - 8 days Vietnam|8 days

Import Licenses and Permits

Depending on the type of goods you intend to import, a valid import license must be obtained from the relevant government departments in Hong Kong.

Import license for dutiable goods

If you plan to import dutiable goods, you should obtain an import license from the Customs and Excise Department of Hong Kong. According to the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance, dutiable goods include:

  • Alcoholic liquors
  • Tobacco products
  • Hydrocarbon oils
  • Methyl alcohol

Import license for optical disc mastering and replication equipment

If you wish to import optical disc mastering and replication equipment, an import license is needed from the Customs and Excise Department of Hong Kong.

Import license for controlled chemicals

If you wish to import controlled chemicals, you must acquire an import license from the Customs and Excise Department of Hong Kong.

Import license for the import of animals or birds

You must get an import license from the Import and Export Division, Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department in order to import animals or birds into Hong Kong. For the import of endangered animals, plants, or species, an import license from the Endangered Species Protection Division, Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department must be garnered.

Furthermore, an import permit must be obtained in order to import live mammals, birds, or reptiles.

Import license for pharmaceutical products, medicines, and dangerous drugs

If you wish to import pharmaceutical products, medicines (including Chinese medicine), and certain dangerous drugs, you must obtain an import license from the Pharmaceuticals Import Control Unit, Pharmaceutical Service, Department of Health.

The common types of dangerous drugs are stimulants, hypnotics, tranquilizers, and sedatives. Some examples include opium, morphine, heroin, cannabis, cocaine, and amphetamines.

For the import of Chinese herbal medicines, the import license must be obtained from the Chinese Medical Council of Hong Kong.

Import license for Food Items

Importing frozen confectionery

In order to import frozen confectionery, you must obtain prior permission from the Center of Food Safety, Food, and Environmental Hygiene Department. Note that importation is allowed only from approved sources of manufacture.

Importing frozen or chilled meat and poultry

Importers of frozen or chilled meat and poultry must apply for an import license from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department’s Import Registration Office.

Import of milk or milk beverages

In order to import milk or milk beverages, you must obtain prior permission from the Center of Food Safety, Food, and Environmental Hygiene Department. Note that importation is allowed only from approved sources of manufacture.

Import license for hazardous chemicals

An import license is required in order to import scheduled chemicals. At present, non-pesticide hazardous chemicals include chemicals that are subject to regulation under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants or the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.

Import license for pesticides

If you wish to import pesticides, you must obtain an import License from the Plant and Pesticides Regulatory Division, Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department.

Import license for plants

If you wish to import plants into Hong Kong, you must first obtain a Plant Import License from the Plant and Pesticides Regulatory Division, Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department.

However, the import of plants produced in mainland China is exempted from the licensing requirement. The exemption also applies to the import of cut flowers, fruits, and vegetables for consumption, from mainland China and other countries.

Import license for rice

Rice is a staple food in Hong Kong and is therefore scheduled as a reserved commodity under the subsidiary regulations of the Reserved Commodities Ordinance. If you wish to import rice into or from Hong Kong, you must apply for an import license under the Trade and Industry Department’s Rice Control Unit.

Import license for rough diamonds

The import of rough diamonds must be covered by valid Kimberley Process Certificates issued by the Director-General of Trade and Industry.

Import license for strategic commodities

Although Hong Kong is a free trade port, certain commodities are subject to control. The import of such controlled commodities requires a specific import license, issued by the Strategic Trade Controls Branch of the Trade and Industry Department.

Controlled goods that are in transit i.e. goods that at all times remain in the vessel or aircraft throughout their passage through Hong Kong are normally not required to be covered by a license, except for particularly sensitive items such as nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

Strategic commodities include arms and ammunition, explosives, high precision machine tools, high-performance computers, sophisticated communication systems, nuclear materials, high speed, and high-density integrated circuits.

Import license for textiles

The import of textiles (including the export of non-Hong Kong origin textiles) must be covered by a valid import license, issued by the Director-General of Trade and Industry unless specifically exempted.

Note that the licensing requirements vary for sensitive markets and non-sensitive markets. Sensitive markets include imports from mainland China.

Import Declaration

According to the Import Regulations, every person who imports any goods or articles (except exempt goods/articles) must file an Import/ Declaration with the Commissioner of Customs and Excise, within 14 days after the goods or articles have been imported. The declaration can be filed electronically via service providers that are appointed by the Government.

Import Clearance Procedures

In order to clear imported goods, the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department will thoroughly inspect all import-related documents. The Customs Department may also undertake a physical examination of the cargo, as and when it deems fit.

In order to clear imported dutiable goods, the importer must submit a ‘Removal Permit’ to the Customs Department. A permit holder should take note of the following points when dealing with dutiable commodities:

  • The goods must be removed within the approved removal date and time;
  • The goods must be removed from the releasing place and conveyed directly to the designated receiving point; and
  • The description, quantity, and packing of the goods must match with what is mentioned in the permit.

Documents required for import clearance

The documents that are required for import clearance include:

  • Manifests,
  • Bill of lading, airway bill, or any other similar document,
  • Invoice or packing list, and
  • Other documents such as import/export license, removal permit, etc.

Import Fees and Taxes

Customs Fees

Hong Kong is a free port and does not impose any customs fees on imports.


Hong Kong does not impose any value-added tax or goods and services tax.

Excise Duty

Hong Kong imposes excise duty on only four types of goods, irrespective of whether they are imported or locally manufactured. The goods that are subject to excise duty are liquors, tobacco, hydrocarbon oil, and methyl alcohol.

For tobacco, hydrocarbon oil, and methyl alcohol, duties are charged at specific rates per unit quantity. For liquors, duty is assessed at different percentages based on the alcoholic strength of the liquor.

Import Financing

With the growth of international trade, the importance of trade finance has also increased. At present, there are a number of financing options available for trading companies in Hong Kong. The major trade finance instruments that facilitate trade in Hong Kong include:

Letters of Credit

The Letter of Credit is the most widely used trade finance instrument and is an effective means for banks to finance import trade. A Letter of Credit is a letter issued by the buyer’s bank and guarantees payment to the exporter.

Short-term finance

Almost all major banks in Hong Kong offer short-term finance options to trading companies. Some of the short-term financial products include term loans, overdrafts, revolving loans, import loans, etc.

Shipping To Hong Kong: FCL or LCL?

If ocean freight is your chosen mode of shipment, you need to select between FCL or LCL. In order to make the best decision, consider your priorities, as well as the particulars of your cargo.

Less than Container Load To Hong Kong

You should choose LCL if your cargo is:

  • Small in size and quantity
  • Suitable for consolidation with cargo from other sellers
  • Not expected in Hong Kong at a specified time
  • Suitable for frequent handling and movement
  • Not perishable, fragile, or delicate

Full Container Load To Hong Kong

On the other hand, FCL may be a better choice if your cargo is:

  • Large, bulky, and oversized
  • Better of shipped in isolation
  • Expected in Hong Kong at a specified time
  • Not suitable for frequent handling and movement
  • Perishable, fragile, or delicate

Port of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is one of several hub ports serving the South-East and East Asia region and is an economic gateway to mainland China. Hong Kong set a record in its container throughput in 2007 by handling 23.9 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent units of containers), maintaining its status as the largest container port serving southern China and one of the busiest ports in the world.

Some 456,000 vessels arrived in and departed from Hong Kong during the year, carrying 243 million tons of cargo and about 25 million passengers. The average turnaround time for container vessels in Hong Kong is about 10 hours. For conventional vessels working in mid-stream at buoys or anchorages, it is 42 and 52 hours respectively.

The Hong Kong Airport

Hong Kong International Airport (IATA: HKG, ICAO: VHHH) is Hong Kong's main airport, built on reclaimed land on the island of Chek Lap Kok. The airport is also referred to as Chek Lap Kok International Airport or Chek Lap Kok Airport, to distinguish it from its predecessor, the former Kai Tak Airport.

Having been operational since 1998, the Hong Kong International Airport is an important regional trans-shipment center, passenger hub, and gateway for destinations in China (with 45 destinations) and the rest of Asia. The airport is the world's busiest cargo gateway and one of the world's busiest passenger airports.

Top Commodities Imported to Hong Kong (2018)

  1. Integrated Circuits - 24.6%
  2. Broadcasting Equipment - 7.66%
  3. Office Machine Parts - 5.62%
  4. Gold - 4.12%
  5. Diamonds - 3.08%%

Top Tradelanes to Hong Kong

  1. China 44.4%
  2. South Korea 7.02%
  3. Chinese Taipei 6.61%
  4. Singapore 6.55%
  5. United States 5.29%

Ocean and Air Shipping From Hong Kong: Why Choose Shipa Freight?

Shipa Freight is a digital-first freight forwarder that offers you all the functionalities of traditional freight forwarding but with the convenience of modern technology. We have a digital platform where you can control and manage the entirety of your shipment with ease. Through a mobile device, you can get:

  • Online quotes
  • Online booking and payment
  • Managed shipping process
  • Helpful customer support
  • Transparent shipping documents
  • And more

Get started with Shipa Freight today.

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