September 2021

Hong Kong British National Overseas (BNO) Passport

Nearly half a million Hong Kong residents have been granted a British National Overseas (BNO) passport between 2019 and 2020.

The data from HM Passport Office showed that a total of 463,116 BNO passports were approved for issue in the two-year period, compared with 68,915 during the three years prior.

Applications peaked in autumn and winter 2020 with an average of 50,000 issued each month.

A BNO passport is a type of British nationality created in 1985 for people in Hong Kong before the 1997 handover to China, in order to keep a link with the UK.

The status, however, does not grant the right to live and work in the UK. But on 31 January 2021, the British government opened an additional route under the BNO programme for passport holders and their families. They are able to apply for a BNO visa which allows them to live, work and study in Britain as well as provides a route to gaining full UK citizenship.

Since its introduction, nearly 65,000 applied for the visa scheme, according to statistics from the Home Office.

Planning is paramount

Financial advisors based in Hong Kong have received more queries from clients about offshore investing and relocating in the last 12 months.

The top three countries clients are looking to move to are the UK (91.7%), Canada (50%), and Australia (41.7%).

The surge in BNO and relocation applications also came hand-in-hand with an increase in enquiries from people seeking financial planning and advice specifically related to moving to the UK.

Over the last two to three years, nearly half a million Hong Kong residents have decided to renew or apply for a BNO passport or more recently apply for a BNO visa with the hope of moving to the UK.

For anyone thinking of leaving Hong Kong, it is important to plan ahead especially as the UK is a vastly complex and much higher tax jurisdiction. Careful financial planning is a must to help mitigate significant tax liabilities that also includes wealth held across the world.

For example, the UKs highest income tax band rate is 45%, capital gains on residential property are taxed at 28% and for other chargeable assets is 20%. The UK also uses a different tax year and statutory residence test which can both cause issues unless financial planning should start at least one year before arriving in the UK.

There are planning opportunities to potentially mitigate tax exposure such as holding wealth within a recognised insurance policy, but a comprehensive wealth planning process including implementation of agreed plans take time and therefore it is worth starting discussions with a financial adviser sooner rather than later.

For BNO passport holders there are a couple of lenders who will consider mortgage applications, both for residential and buy to let loans.

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September 2021

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