Hong Kong’s education market is one of the most vibrant in the region, and the city is seeking to become a hub for training the next generation of regional talent. At the same time, as the city seeks to attract more foreign talent, opportunities for private and international schools may be increasing after a lull during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article, we walk through the steps and requirements for opening a school in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has long been home to a lucrative education market thanks to the high value placed on schooling by the local government and population. With a large and diverse expat population and openness to foreign investment, the city is also home to a range of renowned private and international schools.
The city is now also seeking to transform itself into a regional education hub – a center for educating and training the next generation of high-skilled talent in the Greater Bay Area and beyond. Moreover, with looser regulations on curricula as well as private international schools and private tutoring, Hong Kong continues to present new opportunities for investors in the education field.
In this article, we provide a brief overview of the regulations for setting up a school in Hong Kong and go through the steps and best practices to register and run a school in the city.
There are generally no restrictions on foreign investment in Hong Kong, and foreign investors are permitted to set up wholly foreign-owned private schools and educational institutions.
Schools in Hong Kong, including international schools, are regulated by the Education Ordinance and the Education Regulations. Under the Education Ordinance, a “school” is defined as, “an institution, organization or establishment which provides for 20 or more persons during any one day or 8 or more persons at any one time, any nursery, kindergarten, primary, secondary or post-secondary education or any other educational course by any means, including correspondence delivered by hand or through the postal services”.
The Education Ordinance regulate the registration and management of schools, while the Education Regulations regulate the premises in which schools are based, covering matters such as health and safety requirements for the buildings, the location, and the internal layout of the buildings. The Education Ordinance and Education Regulations do not apply to universities in Hong Kong.
All schools must register or provisionally register with the Permanent Secretary for Education in order to receive a Certificate of Registration of School (a “Certificate”). The Permanent Secretary of Education, who heads the Education Bureau, is responsible for maintaining a register of schools in Hong Kong. If a day school concurrently provides evening classes, the evening classes must be registered as a separate school.
Non-academic schools and training centers, for instance, those providing non-academic extra-curricular or vocational training, such as catering, crafts, beautician training, and so on, do not need to be registered with the Education Bureau and can operate as a normal business. Businesses operating in education-adjacent spaces but who do not provide classes, such as education platforms or learning software, also do not need to register as a school.
The school premises must comply with the following requirements from various government departments:
Ensuring that potential premises for a school are compliant with all of the above regulations can be fairly complex, and it is advisable to hire a professional surveyor to assess whether a given building or location is suitable for a school. It is also advisable that the premises are purpose-built for a school, as premises that are converted from other buildings will have to receive clearance from several government departments to ensure they are compliant with relevant regulations, which complicates the registration process. However, as this may not always be possible, we have detailed the clearance documents required for non-purpose-built school premises in the section below. The full guidelines can also be found here.
In general, in accordance with the regulations of the Fire Services Department, converted school premises may not be located in:
As we will discuss below, the application for registration of a school in Hong Kong requires receiving approval and clearance from the above departments that the premises comply with their respective regulations.
The Education Regulations place a cap on the number of students that are permitted to be taught in a classroom by one teacher. This number varies depending on the type of school, and the maximum number of permitted pupils must be written in a prominent place in each classroom.
The limits on pupil numbers are as follows:
The name of the school must comply with certain provisions of the Education Ordinance. If a name does not comply with these requirements, then the Permanent Secretary for Education may refuse to register the school.
To comply with relevant regulations, the name of a school must not:
All schools must appoint a School Manager, who must be registered with the Permanent Secretary along with the school. The application for School Manager can be submitted along with the application to register a school.
The Education Ordinance specifies that a manager must:
A manager may be refused registration if they:
The first step in setting up a school or educational institution in Hong Kong is to register a business with the Hong Kong Companies Registry and Business Registration Office.
In the table below is the full list of documents required to apply for the Provisional Certificate. Documents 1 to 4 below are required for schools set up in premises that are not purpose-built. These documents must be obtained upon clearance from the relevant government department to ensure that your school premises, building plan, health and safety, and other matters comply with regulations. We have listed the relevant issuing departments and required materials to obtain these documents.
(Fire Services Certificate) with the proposed layout plan of the school premises
Note: Other documents may be required upon request of various departments. See the full list of documents here.
Source: Hong Kong Education Bureau
If complete and accurate documents are submitted, the Education Bureau will generally make decision on the application within 10 working days of the documents being submitted, although more time may be required if the Bureau needs further clarification on certain materials or information.
The Education Bureau may issue a Certificate of Provisional Registration of School (“Provisional Certificate”) if the school premises currently do not fully comply with the relevant regulations. This Provisional Certificate is valid for one year, and the school is permitted to operate during this time. The school must, however, take the necessary steps to become fully compliant with all regulations within this period if they are to receive a permanent Certificate of Registration. To receive a permanent Certificate, schools must prove to the Education Bureau that they comply with:
If a school fails to meet all the necessary requirement within the one-year validity of the Provisional Certificate, it will be unregistered and have to re-apply for a certificate.
The Education Bureau provides a range of general guidelines and best practices for the operation of schools to ensure the health and safety of their staff and students and ensure consistent compliance with regulations.
General best practices include:
Throughout the operation of the school, it is also imperative that schools do not:
Registering and operating a school can be confusing, and any mistakes or oversight may result in delays in the requisite registrations and approvals and potential loss of income. For help with setting up a school or other education-related business in Hong Kong, you can consult our on-the-ground professionals at email@example.com.
China Briefing is written and produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The practice assists foreign investors into China and has done so since 1992 through offices in Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Please contact the firm for assistance in China at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dezan Shira & Associates has offices in Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, United States, Germany, Italy, India, and Russia, in addition to our trade research facilities along the Belt & Road Initiative. We also have partner firms assisting foreign investors in The Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh.
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