What is a British National Overseas (BNO)?

There are a range of different ways in which British citizenship or nationality can be held. For those with a connection to Hong Kong the British National Overseas (BNO) scheme existed as a route by which a type of British citizenship could be obtained. It’s worth noting that the scheme is no longer available to new applicants.

What is a BNO: history and background

British rule of Hong Kong ended in 1997 with a transfer of sovereignty to China. As part of the process, the option of retaining a formal connection with the UK was offered to those living in Hong Kong who had British Dependent Territories Citizen status. BNO status was created to enable this group to retain a relationship with the UK and formerly recognise the association into which many Hong Kong residents had been born into or governed by. The scheme ran from 1987 to 1997 offering those living in Hong Kong a form of British citizenship. Around 3.4 million people were awarded BNO status.

On 31 January 2021, the UK government introduced a new scheme to provide a path to citizenship for eligible Hong Kong residents with BNO status. The scheme allows eligible BNOs and their immediate family members to apply for a special visa that grants them the right to live and work in the UK for up to five years and then a further one year, with a pathway to citizenship at the end of that period.

Who is eligible for a BNO passport and what are the requirements?

If you have BNO status you will hold it for life (unless you choose to revoke it) and you can apply for a BNO passport enabling you to travel internationally. A BNO visa offers access to the right to live, work or study in the UK.

What are the benefits of being a BNO and how does it differ from other types of British nationality?
BNO status means that you are a Commonwealth citizen and can enjoy certain benefits including the right to live and work in the UK and access consular assistance. Other benefits include eligibility to join the Civil Service and vote if you’ve lived in the UK for over six months. You can also become a peer in the House of Lords and be awarded British Honours. BNO status also means you can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain if you’ve lived in the UK for more than five years.

What are the limitations to being a BNO?

Holding BNO status and a passport doesn’t automatically allow you to live or work in the UK, although you can apply for a specific visa. There is also no access available to public funds, including government benefits and, unlike other categories, your BNO status cannot be passed on to any of your children or dependents. It’s also worth noting that China regards BNO passports solely as a travel document and no consular assistance is available in Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China.

Which countries can BNO passport holders travel to visa-free and for how long?

A BNO passport is a document which can make travel to and from the UK, and around the world, much easier. It allows visa-free access to 150 countries throughout the world. A full list is available here.

Rights to work and study in the UK

BNO passport holders can apply to live and work in the UK for up to five years through a BNO visa programme introduced in 2021. However, there is currently no automatic Right of Abode in the UK available through BNO status. You’ll also need to pay the healthcare surcharge to access the NHS.

How to apply for a BNO passport

If you currently hold BNO status, you can apply for a passport here. You’ll need certain documents to provide your details and your Hong Kong permanent identity card.

Being a BNO passport holder and moving to the UK

Ahead of your move to the UK, there will be a range of practical steps you’ll need to take. This might include finding somewhere to live, work or study. You’ll also need to apply for a National Insurance number, register with a GP and set up a bank account. If you have children, you will need to look at schools too. Most importantly you need to consider the impact of entering the UK tax system, the impact on your savings and investments and whether you need to structure your finances differently before you become a UK resident.

Financial planning as a BNO passport holder

Speaking to a tax and financial expert who has specialist knowledge of the UK tax system, residence and domicile will be an extremely important step to ensure that your finances are in good shape ahead of your move. One important aspect to consider is domicile which affects how much UK tax you pay. Everyone has a domicile, and it is possible, although difficult, to change it. Domicile affects how much Inheritance Tax (IHT) you’ll pay in the UK – if you have a UK domicile all your worldwide assets are included, but if you’re domiciled elsewhere, you’ll only pay IHT on any assets in the UK. Most individuals with BNO status who choose to move to the UK won’t typically have a UK domicile. Again, expert advice here can be crucial.

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