Edited by Mike Aquino.
Fake designer goods are all the rage in Hong Kong’s markets, never mind that they’re illegal.
Stopping the flow of fakes into Hong Kong may well be a fool’s errand, though. The People’s Republic of China, just over the border, manufactures over 80% of the world’s counterfeit goods, catering to a ravenous local market for fakes.
Despite Hong Kong law imposing a penalty of up to HK$500,000 (around US$64,000) and up to five years in prison for importers of counterfeit goods, business is too good – and law enforcement can hardly keep up!
Business for fakes is consistent in places like the Mongkok Ladies Market and Temple Street Night Market. At these markets, you’ll find street sellers touting imitation goods out in the open. If you’re looking to buy, we’ve got a guide to help you get started.
What are fakes, anyway?
Also known as copies, fakes are basically imitations of high priced designer items sold at cheap prices. Designer handbags, shoes, clothes and watches are all popular buys, as well as imitation iPhones, tablets, and other electronics. They will often be labeled with knockoff names like "Praada" or "Luis Vutton," while the more brazen fakes will actually display the real name.
How realistic are they? It depends. Some are convincing knockoffs that would fool Paris Hilton, others look like they were made by a kindergarten class.
The quality is generally low, although they have been slightly improving. The ones knocked together in a few hours in Shenzhen are made from the cheapest materials available. Such handbags couldn't hold your belongings without bursting their stitches, and watches might stop ticking within the hour after you bought them.
Today, quality has improved and you might get some wear out of a product. (Fake aficionados swear by the goods made in South Korea, of much better manufacture than the shoddy Shenzhen stuff.) Of course, if it does prove to be a dud, then you have no right to return.
Counterfeits’ prices can vary; depending on the quality, expect to pay about five to 20 percent of what you’d expect to pay for the original thing. With the upper figure, the merchandise can be quite close to the original; the lower the price, the likelier you’ll be getting shoddy, one-use-only stuff.
Where Can I Buy Fake Goods in Hong Kong?
There are no shops in Hong Kong selling fake goods – at least not in broad daylight. Instead, most sales are under the counter or via flying market stalls that set up for a few minutes in established markets before melting away again.
The really smart sellers have taken their game online – reaching out to potential buyers through social media, then making the actual sales on Chinese retail websites like AliExpress and Taobao.
You'll usually have no problem finding fake goods around market areas such as the Ladies Market in Mongkok or Temple Street Market, where there will be a constant line of sellers whispering copy watch/handbag/shoes into the ears of wandering tourists.
Only the “class B” and lower merchandise are on display; the better copies are shown to you on iPads by hawkers, then fetched from back rooms once you agree on a price.
For electronics, the Golden Shopping Arcade is the premium hunting ground although police raids have made fakes much harder to find here.
Is buying fake goods legal in Hong Kong?
Yes, it is, although police only go through periodic crackdowns.
A 2016 crackdown codenamed “Torpedo” scooped up some HKD 5 million worth of fake goods at the Ladies’ Market. And a 2018 raid scooped up some HKD 1.5 million worth of counterfeit electronics from Mong Kok’s Mecca Sin Tat Plaza.
Yet the trade in fakes continues. Some say it’s because the chance of getting caught is remote and the penalties light. If you are caught by police on the street or at customs, you'll likely have the product confiscated and be given a slap on the wrist.
Of course this assumes you are buying a single item or two for personal use not a suitcase stuffed full of fake handbag. The penalty for large scale export will be far stiffer.
It's also worth noting that some countries also levy fines on travelers returning with fake goods, so you may face a penalty on your return home.
Many fake products are produced or distributed by triads; in buying such items, you will be funding organized crime. The man you're buying off on the street won't be a triad member, but he will probably know a few somewhere down the line.