Bureaucracy – Hong Kong style

A headline in today’s South China Morning Post reads “Immigration queues an hour long at airport”. In the UK or the US, this would be a boast and represent a big improvement on the norm. In Hong Kong, the report cautioned that this will hinder their drive to be a “world city”. When you read the actual article, you learn that fewer than 2% of visitors wait longer than 15 minutes and that complaints about queues had fallen to 9 (for the year). It turns out that the hour long wait was something of a rarity.

There is no doubting however that there is a lot of bureaucracy in Hong Kong. However, the bureaucracy which I have experienced so far is broadly efficient. There is no avoiding all of the process steps, but they have at least been designed with the user in mind.

The application process for the Hong Kong identity card was a piece of engineering perfection. You booked a time slot on the web. When you arrived, it set a clear time expectation of 75 minutes for the whole process (we had the whole family to id). You handed in the application form you had downloaded, they scanned the information onto their system. You then waited at the next waiting room for the next stage. You went through the next stages of fingerprinting, photo taking, and interviewing. At the end of all of these stages, we were all given a temporary id card at the place we started 73 minutes later. You could enjoy free wifi during each short wait, so it was not too painful.

We had a similar experience when registering for the library and at getting all the banking accounts set up. Many forms; necessity of having your id card (you can’t get any service without the id card); a bit long; but always good service and free WI-Fi.

Of course, the certainty of contract and even-handedness of treatment is one of the big advantages of doing business in Hong Kong. It’s number two country in the world for doing business, falling behind Singapore only due to the ease of registering property. This won’t worry most of us; who could possibly afford property here anyway?

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