Kids in Hong Kong
Moving to Hong Kong with kids can certainly seem like a daunting enterprise. The city brings to mind images of hurried businesspeople, crowded subways and tall buildings, and it may initially seem like a nightmare to bring children to such a hectic place.
That said, Hong Kong can be an extremely friendly and safe place to raise children. While expat life in Hong Kong can be frenzied, foreigners will be pleasantly surprised by how kindly their children are treated. Strangers always seem to have a minute to help a child tie a shoelace, find a misplaced umbrella, or reach a snack. Seats on public transportation are routinely given up for mothers and children. Public tantrums are often met with a knowing smile and a helping hand.
Add this friendly attitude to the many opportunities the city offers, and it’s hard to deny that Hong Kong is very much a child-friendly city.
Safety for expats with kids in Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s notable safety record is one of its most attractive features for those with kids.
Violent crime is rare, and parents can feel fairly relaxed about letting their children out to play. Older children who are able to navigate the public transportation system independently can do so without excessive safety concerns on the part of parents.
Food is also generally safe to eat in Hong Kong. The tap water is safe when it leaves the city, but may be tainted by old pipes that deliver it to homes and businesses. Some families opt to buy bottled water, while others simply invest in a water filter.
Overall, Hong Kong is one of the healthiest places in the world, in terms of life expectancy and infant mortality rates. Public and private hospitals enjoy low waiting times for emergencies, and patients can expect a level of care similar to that of Europe.
That said, air pollution, particularly that coming from mainland China, can affect visibility, mood and health. Skies can often be clouded for days or weeks at a time. Parents of children with asthma or other similar conditions will want to speak to their doctor about how to best manage their child’s illness while in Hong Kong.
Family-friendly housing in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is very densely populated, and many families live in high-rise apartments that are significantly smaller than the houses they had back home. As a result, expats may find that cramped living quarters affect the quality of their daily lives; a rainy day and a little house is not the best combination.
Housing a family of four in a 700 square foot (65m²) apartment, for example, is not unusual. On the island, it is fairly uncommon for families to have a garden as most living is done vertically, and personal space is sold at a premium.
In the New Territories and outlying islands there is a bit more flexibility in terms of living space. Housing costs tend to be lower in these areas (though there are signs that this is changing), and there are options to buy or rent homes with large gardens and beautiful views of the sea. The New Territories is much more rural than Hong Kong Island, and some expats choose to settle in this area as an escape from the busy city life.
Many families choose to employ house help. For many, this luxury is much easier to afford in Hong Kong than it is back home, and a dutiful “domestic” can go a long way in easing the transition to a new culture.
Education for kids in Hong Kong
Schools in Hong Kong are, generally, very good and there is no shortage of supply. Schools do tend to reach enrolment capacity very early in the year, however, and expat parents should research their education options as soon as they know where they’ll be living.
The same is typically true of kindergartens/preschools. Also, prices of schools vary widely, but most of them are very expensive.
Entertainment for kids in Hong Kong
From rural nature hikes to delicious street food, ferry rides, junk trips, trams up to the peak of Mount Victoria, museums, Ocean Park, Disneyland, and picnicking and camping in the New Territories, expats will be hard-pressed to find a quiet weekend for some time.
And once they've conquered all the most commercial attractions, there are still tons of options for expat kids in Hong Kong. Most parts of the city have youth sports leagues, public (and gorgeous) swimming pools, public playgrounds and mother’s groups.
Should the children eventually tire of what Hong Kong has to offer, international travel is also relatively inexpensive and easy when Hong Kong is an expat's point of departure.
Resources for parents in Hong Kong
For more information regarding kids in Hong Kong, see some of these resources:
- Saikung.com is an online and print magazine for the Sai Kung/Clearwater Bay area. It is packed with articles to help new arrivals orientate themselves in this area.
- Timeout.com.hk is a fantastic resource for checking out entertainment options. Restaurant reviews, movie show times and announcements of live shows make this site an extremely handy reference.
- Hongkong.asiaxpat.com is the most commonly used site for buying used household goods. It’s also a good place for finding household help, employment opportunities and advice.
- Geobaby.com has lots of information on what it is like to have children overseas. Check out the Hong Kong information for local meetups and for child-relevant information.