Want to live in Hong Kong?
Many expats have an affluent lifestyle, enjoying a high income and access to all the conveniences of a modern city. But limited real estate means apartments are smaller and more expensive than you may be used to. And you could find the crowds overwhelming in the densely populated city.
Accommodation in Hong Kong
The standard of housing in Hong Kong is high, but luxury doesn’t come cheap. Apartments are the most common type of accommodation owing to the high population density. Villas are another option, but they’re considerably more expensive and mostly available on outlying islands. Most housing is unfurnished, although a few basic appliances may be provided. Furnished apartments are available short term, but these are more expensive than long term rentals.
Hong Kong’s rental market is divided into ‘old’ and ‘new’. Old accommodation is rough around the edges, but affordable. Newer apartments are usually small, but bright and airy. Many apartments lack storage space. Built-in cupboards are rare, especially in newer buildings, and there isn’t much room for wardrobes, bedside cabinets and TV stands.
Families favour the southern part of Hong Kong Island or Kowloon Peninsula where there’s more space and good schools. The New Territories’ Lantau Island is also popular among expats as it’s quieter than the bustling city centre. Accommodation is cheaper the further you are from the city centre, but you’ll have a lengthy commute if you live on an outlying island.
Local culture in Hong Kong
Culture shock in Hong Kong may not be as dramatic as you’d expect, especially if you’re from an English-speaking country. But the sheer number of people living in close quarters can be daunting. If you’re used to living in a big house with a garden and garage, the size and cost of accommodation in Hong Kong will be a shock. Even the smallest living quarters have a hefty price tag.
Cantonese is notoriously difficult for expats to learn. Mandarin is slightly easier and can be useful if you need to liaise with colleagues from the mainland. Fortunately, most people will insist on speaking English.
Locals eat noisily and belches are considered acceptable, sometimes even a sign of appreciation. At formal dinners, the host or oldest person should start eating before everyone else. The concept of ‘face’ is important when interacting with locals. You can ‘give face’ to locals by complimenting them sincerely, but be careful not to cause them to lose face by embarrassing or contradicting them in public.
Education in Hong Kong
Education is taken seriously in Hong Kong. Teachers are greatly respected, and students are disciplined and well behaved. The school year runs from September to July, with a long break over the summer.
Most children, including many expats, attend government-funded public schools. If you're on a temporary visa, you may have to pay fees for these schools. Children go to schools in their geographic or catchment area, which pushes up property prices in areas with good schools.
Although some public schools advertise in English, most classes are conducted in Cantonese – so do some careful research before committing. Standards are high, but the focus is on learning by repetition. The competitive nature of these schools has made private tutoring common – and children often spend several hours after school at extra lessons known as ‘cram school’.
There are international schools in Hong Kong that follow British, American and Australian curricula. It’s often difficult to get into these schools, especially now that an increasing number of places are taken by the children of affluent locals. Contact schools before you move, and ask your employer to help you secure a place at a good school.
Keeping in touch in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is consistently ranked by various organisations as being one of the world’s top 10 countries for fast internet speeds. There are thousands of public WiFi hotspots and it’s easy to install ADSL or fibre in your home. You needn’t worry about censorship in Hong Kong as social media websites and instant messaging services are freely available.
Phones come free or at a reduced price with a contract. Most providers also offer prepaid options if you don’t want to be tied to the standard two-year plan.
Popular English-language newspapers include The Standard and South China Morning Post. Various imported magazines and other publications are also available.
Healthcare in Hong Kong
Hong Kong has a world-class healthcare system, but medical care is expensive, so make sure you have comprehensive insurance. Hong Kong’s public healthcare system includes hospitals, specialist and general outpatient clinics, Chinese medicine centres and community outreach services. While residents are entitled to subsidies, non-residents have to pay fees similar to those charged by private hospitals. Private hospitals often charge more than public facilities, but they provide a better service and shorter waiting times. There are a number of UK-accredited hospitals in Hong Kong, as well as various private practices and outpatient clinics.
Air quality is a health concern. Despite government efforts, pollution levels consistently fail the World Health Organization’s safety standards. People with asthma and chronic respiratory disease may have aggravated symptoms.
Pharmacies are widespread and open seven days a week. Most hospitals also offer 24-hour pharmacy services. Prescriptions from other countries aren’t accepted, so you’ll need to get one from a local doctor before your supply runs out.
Both government and non-government organisations provide emergency services, which include the Hong Kong Fire Services Department, Auxiliary Medical Services and the St John Ambulance Association.
Getting around in Hong Kong
A superbly efficient public transport system makes it easy to get around Hong Kong. The city’s metro, the MTR, is the most popular mode of transport, covering most areas and crossing onto the mainland. Fares are based on distance and most commuters have a rechargeable Octopus card that can also be used for groceries and other transactions. Hong Kong’s buses aren’t as crowded as the MTR, but they can be slow in peak traffic.
Travelling by boat is essential if you live in areas such as Discovery Bay or Lamma Island. During bad weather, check in advance to see which ferries are running.
Taxis are relatively cheap. Not all drivers speak English, so it’s a good idea to have your destination written down in Chinese. Ride-hailing services are also available in Hong Kong.
Cost of living in Hong Kong
The cost of living in Hong Kong is high. Housing will be your biggest expense, especially if you choose a modern apartment in the city centre. Food and groceries are generally expensive, as much of the produce sold in Hong Kong is imported, but you can save money by buying locally sourced food. Western-style bars and restaurants also tend to be pricey. Public transport is cheap, clean and reliable, so you probably won’t need a car.
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This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.
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