Known as the 'Vegas of China', Macau is indeed a city of blended cultures. Located across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Kong, Macau was an overseas territory of Portugal until 1999. Macau became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China (PRC) on 20 December, 1999. The official languages of Macau are Chinese and Portuguese, and the currency is the Macanese pataca (MOP).
According to the Basic Law (Macau's constitutional document), Macau is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign and defense affairs for the next 50 years after the sovereignty transfer under the 'one country, two systems' policy. The Basic Law ensures that Macau has a legal system that is separate from China, vesting Macau with executive, legislative, and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication.
Macau pursues an open economic policy despite having a relatively small economy. Macau is a free port and has no foreign exchange controls, and the procedures for approval of investments by foreigners are the same as those for local residents. The Macanese pataca is closely linked to the Hong Kong dollar (HKD), which is also accepted in Macau. Macau became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 1 January, 1995. The Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement and its supplements entered into China, offering Macau-made products tariff-free access into China and providing a window of opportunity for Macau businesses to gain greater access to the China market. Macau has the lowest corporate and individual income tax rates among the Asia Pacific region, making it attractive as an investment location.
Over the past decade, Macau has witnessed surging economic development, mainly due to the liberalization of its gaming industry in 2002. By 2006, Macau's gaming revenue had surpassed that of the Las Vegas strip and is now the world's largest gaming destination. Gaming related taxes currently account for more than 75% of the total government revenue. Macau also made tremendous effort to position itself as a world-class tourist venue.
In July 2005, the World Heritage Committee accredited the Historic Centre of Macau as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. Gaming and tourism have led to a massive increase in visitors, especially from Chinese Mainland. As the individual travel scheme continues to extend to new cities and regions in Chinese Mainland, and major new casino/hotel complexes are established in Macau, the flow of visitors and tourist revenues continue to increase.