Have you been offered a chance to relocate to Hong Kong for work? Are you a bit apprehensive about the life-changing journey you are about to embark on? You needn’t be, for Hong Kong is one of the most-accommodating and exciting cities in Asia. Most expatriates who arrive in Hong Kong from around the world get ‘settled in’ relatively easily.
As Asia’s world city, Hong Kong has an all-pervading international feel to it owing its well-developed infrastructure and plentiful amenities like an efficient and inexpensive public transport network, a world-renowned education system, an adept healthcare standard as well as a safe and amenable habitat. All these factors help to smoothen the transition process for an expat greatly. So much so that many expatriates are, in fact, reluctant to leave at the end of their assignments in this bustling ‘Pearl of the Orient.’
However, if you are just about to begin a stint in Hong Kong, here are some useful tips to help you along.
Hong Kong is made up of four diverse regions, Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories and the Outlying Islands. While the New Territories region of Hong Kong is attached to the Chinese Mainland, the Kowloon Peninsula is separated from Hong Kong Island by the historic and scenic Victoria Harbor, one of the world’s busiest deep-water ports.
Hong Kong’s dynamic business, financial and historical epicenter, Central is located on Hong Kong Island and is inarguably its most-international locale. The Kowloon Peninsula is similarly an energetic mix of commercial and residential areas, while the New Territories region is quite rural and quaint, as much of it is reserved as parkland. In recent times, however, the New Territories it has seen much development in the form of establishment of bustling townships like Tai Po, Shatin and Tuen Mun, which are rapidly expanding.
The boundaries of Hong Kong also encompass 262 outlying islands. Some of these islands like Discovery Bay Lantau, Lamma, Cheng Chau and Peng Chau are inhabited and host residential communities whose members commute by ferry for work and other pursuits.
Demographics & Languages
Densely populated Hong Kong is home to more than seven million people according to latest figures released by the Census and Statistics Department. The majority of Hong Kong’s population is of Chinese descent though the city also has a significant ‘foreign’ population made up of South Asians who migrated to Hong Kong after World War II. Added to this mix is the city’s transient expat population made up of all nationalities and its population of Foreign Domestic Helpers, who mainly hail from countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and even Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The British colonized Hong Kong in the mid-nineteenth century, and they ruled it for more than a century, except for the period of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during the Second World War. On July 1st 1997, the British handed back Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China. However, rather than change the intrinsic capitalistic character of Hong Kong, the Chinese have continued to administer Hong Kong under a ‘One Country, Two System’ policy.
This framework ensures that Hong Kong’s unique identity endures, and it continues to be a global epicenter for free trade and commerce. Beijing controls the territory’s matters of Defense and Foreign Affairs. Hong Kong continues to have its own judiciary, police, immigration and customs and excise departments along with its own currency and the low tax-system, which was introduced by the British after World War II.
The British and the Chinese jointly drafted the Hong Kong’s constitutional document, the Basic Law in 1984, and it is under this document that Hong Kong deemed as a Special Administrative Region of China is administered. The Basic Law has allowed Hong Kong to follow its capitalist way of life all the while protecting the rights and freedoms of its people.
English used to be the primary language of Hong Kong during the British rule of the Hong Kong. However, now Article 9 of the Basic Law of Hong Kong stipulates that both English and Chinese shall serve as the official languages of Hong Kong. The majority of the population in Hong Kong speaks Cantonese, a dialect of Chinese, which originated in the Guangdong province of Southern China. The Chinese government uses Mandarin, which is widely spoken on the Mainland for all official communications. Cantonese continues to be the language of instruction in Hong Kong’s local school system and is widely used in Hong Kong’s local business, government and media worlds.
Most expats in Hong Kong, in fact, get by quite easily with their English-speaking skills as the language continues to prevail in Hong Kong’s main business and tourist districts. Further most signage around Hong Kong including on modes of public transport is in both Chinese and English.
Our agents at Engel and Voelkers Hong Kong speak a variety of different languages so please don’t let language concerns hold you back from contacting us with your real estate requirements.
The Hong Kong Dollar is the legal tender in Hong Kong. It differs from the Renminbi, which serves China’s official currency. The Hong Kong dollar exists in denominations of HK$10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000. Unlike in other countries, where the Central Banks issue currency notes, in Hong Kong, the issue of Hong Kong $ notes is handled by its three main commercial banks, namely the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, the Bank of China and Standard Chartered Bank. The Hong Kong dollar since 1983 has been pegged to the US $ at the fixed rate of HK$7.80 to 1 US $.
Hong Kong’s weather can be described as sub-tropical, and the SAR experiences four main seasons. While the seasons of spring and autumn are rather pleasant and feature occasional rain showers, the territory experiences lengthy hot, humid summers, which usually extend from the months of June to October. During the scorching Hong Kong summers, temperatures often rise to over 35C(95F) while humidity levels are close to 100%. Typhoons and black rainstorms are other prominent features of Hong Kong summers.
The winter season in Hong Kong commences in December and lasts until March. Hong Kong winters are usually dull, grey and cold, and though Hong Kong doesn’t receive any snowfall, temperatures do dip below 10C(57F) usually around Chinese New Year at the end of January or the beginning of February. Most Hong Kong homes don’t have central heating, though small; fan heaters are usually readily available at the onset of winter and are quickly snapped up by residents.
Unless you have the right of abode or right to land status in Hong Kong, you require a visa in order to relocate to Hong Kong for study or work. The Hong Kong immigration department expects you to have the appropriate visa before you arrive in HKSAR though some expats first arrive in the HKSAR as tourists to look for work or to attend interviews. Once they have succeeded in their endeavors, the hiring companies then arrange for the appropriate visas and the prospective expat then has to leave and re-enter the HKSAR in order to activate his/her visa.
Jobs for expats
Most expatriates in Hong Kong are professionals who are employed in industries like banking and finance, law, hospitality, teaching, logistics, media and fashion. However, it is not uncommon for expats to move to Hong Kong to set up businesses, given that Hong Kong is one of the most business-friendly locales in the world and also the HKSAR is also renowned as the primary gateway to the ‘factory of the world,’ Mainland China.
Finding suitable accommodation is one of the first challenges, a new arrival has to face when moving to the HKSAR. Hong Kong has one of the highest population densities in the world, and it always seems busy and crowded. Land for housing in Hong Kong is also quite limited in supply; as a result Hong Kong is home to some of the priciest real estate in the world.
Most expats in Hong Kong prefer to live on Hong Kong island in areas like the Peak, Central, the Mid-Levels, SheungWan and on the gorgeous Southside within proximity to the region’s best beaches. In recent times have even begun to move in into hitherto ‘ local’ neighborhoods like Sai Ying Pun, Aberdeen, Ap Lei Chau and Kowloon station and others.
Expats who tend to love nature and the outdoors choose to find homes in verdant, scenic areas of the New Territories like Discovery Bay, Clear Water Bay, Sai Kung and Lamma Island.
Our portfolio, in fact, currently includes some stunningly, gorgeous expansive homes in Clear Water Bay and Sai Kung, which would be perfect abodes for nature-loving families who relish active pursuits. Do contact our team to discover these one of a kind properties.
Hong Kong offers a wide range of housing choices which range for modern apartments loaded with facilities, older more spacious apartments often referred to as ‘colonial apartments,’ serviced apartments, stand-alone houses and villas, village houses and even houseboats.
Your choice of location and accommodation is governed by various factors including your budget and whether you want to be within easy access to work and your children’s schools. While some expats are fortunate enough to receive a generous housing allowance from their employers others have to finance their own accommodation.
No matter where you or how you wish to live in Hong Kong, our agents at Engel and Voelkers are happy to accede to your requests and will work hard to find suitable accommodation for you and your family.
For expatriates relocating to Hong Kong with children, schooling is a matter of concern. Hong Kong boasts of an advanced schooling standard though lately the demand for quality schooling has not kept pace with the supply, and there is a shortage of school places at the much-coveted international and ESF schools in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Education Bureau oversees the education system in Hong Kong, and this system features three types of schools; government schools, subsidized schools and private international schools.
The Hong Kong government fully funds the Government (local) schools. These schools use Cantonese and English as their medium of instruction though it is left up to the school to decide how each language is used as the medium of instructions. Government schools in Hong Kong are free and open to all, but admissions are made on the basis of residency zones.
The Hong Kong government subsidizes the schools belonging to the English Schools Foundation. These schools were set up during the colonial era in order to impart English-language education to students who don’t speak Chinese. The ESF schools initially featured the British curriculum, but they have recently switched over to the widely acceptable International Baccalaureate system. The ESF schools only accept students who reside in the zones that they serve. An application and interviews also feature as part of the admission process.
Hong Kong also has several private international schools, which either follow various international curriculums (American, French, Australian, British, Canadian) or then adopt the International Baccalaureate System. Many of these schools also offer students the chance to acquire a bilingual education. Admission to these international schools is extremely competitive, and most schools have long wait lists at all times. Tuition at these schools is also quite high and can easily top 20,000 USD a year. Additional costs include application fees, reservation fees and an annual capital levy.
Most-international schools also sell monetary debentures (non-interest bearing deposits) to give priority in the admission process. These debentures are issued to individuals as well as corporations.
Schooling choices are a source of much stress for many expats, and it is advisable to start exploring your choices as soon as you firm up your relocation plans to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong ID card
The Registration of Persons Ordinance stipulates that anyone who wants to reside in Hong Kong needs to register for a Hong Kong identity card. All residents of Hong Kong who are aged over 11 are required to have a Hong Kong ID card for it serves as a resident’s primary form of identification.
An individual’s Hong Kong identity card is a temporary document, linked to his/her condition of stay in Hong Kong. The acquisition of a Hong Kong Identity greatly facilitates the process of settling down in Hong Kong, for once you have your HKID you can go about availing of various necessary services like setting up a bank account, setting up a cell phone account, renting a property and setting up utilities, etc.
Once you have lived in Hong Kong for a period of seven years you are eligible to apply for permanent residence in Hong Kong, and you then can acquire a permanent Hong Kong identity card. Given the importance of an HKID in everyday Hong Kong life, it is prudent to make your HKID application even before you get to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong boasts of an extensive, efficient and inexpensive public transport system. This world-renowned transport network is made up of public buses, mini buses, underground and over ground trains, ferries and taxis and covers each corner of the territory.
The cornerstone of Hong Kong’s public transport system is a stored value card known as the Octopus card which can be used not only on modes of transport, but also in shops, restaurants and to avail of myriad services.
As one of the world’s leading duty-free ports, Hong Kong imports much of its food supply. Markets, supermarkets and specialty food stores are plentiful in Hong Kong. Most local Hong Kongers visit their local ‘wet markets’ for their daily needs. Hong Kong’s abundant ‘wet markets’ are bustling centers of commerce and usually feature several vendors of fresh produce, meat and fish and various knick-knacks. Many Hong Kong ‘wet markets’ also host canteens, which serve inexpensive cooked food. If you enjoy visiting markets, you are bound to relish exploring Hong Kong’s many ‘wet markets’ though at first the sights and smells of a typical Hong Kong market do take some getting used to.
The main supermarket chains in Hong Kong include Park N Shop, Wellcome, Marketplace by Jason’s and City Super. These supermarket chains offer both in-store and online shopping choices and offer a wide array of international and regional foods catering to a variety of choices and preferences.
Besides these supermarkets, Hong Kong also has numerous specialty and fine food retailers who source products like meat, organic produce and prepared foods from around the world. These specialist purveyors of fine foods are extremely popular with Hong Kong’s expat community and include well-known names like Pacific Gourmet, Meat Market, South Stream Seafoods, Butchers Club, Homegrown foods, Jett Foods, Golden Goose Gourmet, amongst others.
Dining and Nightlife
Hong Kong is a leading gastronomic capital of the world. A dining-out culture prevails in Hong Kong, and the territory is littered with restaurants, cafes and eating houses of every type that cater to all budgets. Almost every cuisine in the world can be found at the many restaurants of Hong Kong, and if you rather not cook at home, you can easily and even inexpensively eat out every day. Numerous blogs and dining guides keep abreast of the changing culinary landscape in Hong Kong some of the best ones include Openrice.com, Foodie World and the DimSum Diaries.
Similarly, Hong Kong’s nightlife scene is legendary and features numerous bars and clubs. The city hosts multiple nightlife epicenters though enclaves like Lan Kwai Fong and Wan Chai are well known for their many exciting nightlife options throughout the world.