Pros and Cons of Moving to Hong Kong
Relocation to any destination has its disadvantages and advantages, and expats will find that Hong Kong is no different. The better prepared a person is for the less appealing aspects of life abroad, the more successfully they’ll be able to adapt. The good news is that Hong Kong is one expat destination where the good seems to outweigh the bad.
Accommodation in Hong Kong
There are two options when it comes to where one lives in Hong Kong: on the island or off. Living on the island means easy access to the centre and all its bars, restaurants and entertainment, but living off the island generally means getting more value for money from one's accommodation.
When it comes to the price of flats, there are three factors that will have a major impact: the size of the apartment, how recently it has been renovated (if at all) and the view. A lot of people find that they have to compromise on at least one of these to stay within budget – if somewhere which has all three can be found, they’ve hit Hong Kong gold.
PRO: Lots of new buildings and lots of options
There’s always a new building being built in Hong Kong, and although that means being treated to the melodious sounds of drills when walking around the street, it also means it’s easy to find new flats. It goes without saying then, that there are a lot of options; so while there is a very high demand for property, there is also a very high supply. When searching for a flat, there won’t be shortage of places to view. In fact, flat hunting in Hong Kong is very much a numbers game; it’s all about viewing as many flats as possible until finding something that fits one's requirements.
CON: Lack of space and high rent
The rent is eye-wateringly high, and the space frustratingly small. Rent will seem exorbitant to most, however, since taxes are so low, expats should just tell themselves that the two balance each other out.
There is also a tendency when flats are being built to cram in as many rooms as possible, especially in the newer buildings. Going for older buildings from the 80s and 90s means that tenants will get more space for their money, and the rooms will be larger, but the flats might be quite tired and old (think a kitchen that hasn’t been updated since the 80s). Additionally, there won’t be much in the way of facilities in the building, such as a gym or pool. Going for a new building means that house hunters will likely have a brand new flat with great clubhouse facilities, but the flat will likely be small with lots of cramped rooms. For example, one might find a three-bedroom flat in a space that would be more suited to a large one-bedroom, or small two-bedroom.
CON: Estate agents
This is just a negative for new expats who aren’t used to dealing with the flat-hunting process. Estate agents will pretty much show everything they have, even if it doesn’t correspond to anything the expat wants. Since it’s a numbers game, potential tenants will have to be very firm and clear with their requirements, or they'll end up viewing flat after flat that they have no interest in. There is also a tendency to show all of the less appealing apartments first, in the hope that the viewer might agree to take one of them. It can be very disheartening at first, but it’s very much worth insisting and persevering, one will eventually see places of interest.
Furnishing a house in Hong Kong
PRO: Custom-made furniture
Pretty much anything can get custom-made in Hong Kong. Any shop will customise their sofas, beds, dining tables etc., so buyers can have the exact style, colour, fabric, shape and size they want. Depending on the supplier, it can take somewhere between one and two months for specially made items to be delivered.
CON: Very little middle ground
There are very few mid-range options in Hong Kong. Furnishings are either quite pricey but very nice, or cheap – both in look and price. For example, either a fortune will be spent on bedding and towels to get something decent, or one can opt for something very cheap and poor quality. It follows that bedding and towels are things that are very much worth bringing.
The only real middle ground option is Ikea. The stores are in central locations that are easy to get to, they deliver on time and confirm this time beforehand, and they even assemble the furniture on arrival.
Lifestyle in Hong Kong
PRO: A friendly expat community
The expat community is incredibly friendly. Hong Kong is a very transient place, and it follows that most people know what it’s like to be new, and are happy to help and befriend the newbies. Unlike most cities where people have established circles of friends, in Hong Kong, people come and go so often that there is a distinct lack of cliques, which is refreshing.
CON: A transient place that people leave
Because it is a transient place, often some of the friends one makes leave to go back home, which can become frustrating after a while.
PRO: Varied night life
Hong Kong has a huge variety of restaurants and bars; there’s always something new to try. It also caters for all types of social preferences; expatriates can "party like it’s 1999", enjoy a relaxed evening or indulge in a simple dinner party.
For those who like to party, Lan Kwai Fong is busy every night of the week, and a Monday night there can seem like a Friday night in most places. There is also the concept of private dining rooms: since flats are so small, a lot of restaurants have private rooms where dinner parties with friends can be hosted and food can be pre-arranged.
PRO: Outdoor pursuits
There is a lot to do in Hong Kong, especially when it comes to outdoor activities. There are many hikes to do, lots of options when it comes to water sports, lots of sports clubs and sports leagues that can be joined, and generally speaking, it is an incredibly active place. And, although it is famous for being a concrete jungle, there are a lot of green spaces. For example, 60 percent of Hong Kong Island isn’t built-up, and the untouched hills make for stunning hikes with sweeping views, utterly devoid of skyscrapers.
CON: Humid summers
When summer approaches the pollution and humidity in Hong Kong make it uncomfortable and unpleasant to do much outdoors. For most of the year though, the weather is pleasant and allows a lot of time to be spent outdoors.
Summer is also the season for typhoons. This may sound frightening, but in fact, Hong Kong is incredibly well-equipped to deal with the extreme weather. Should a typhoon be approaching, signs will be everywhere indicating the level of the typhoon (see the Hong Kong observatory web site for further information), so residents know if they can go on with their day, or if they'll need to head home to wait for it to pass.
Another problem with the summers is the sheer contrast between the sweltering heat and freezing cold of overly air-conditioned buildings. Summer colds are unfortunately to be expected.
Food in Hong Kong
PRO: Great selection
In Hong Kong, every cuisine under the sun can be found, and restaurants range from the cheap and cheerful to the Michelin-starred extravagant. It even has the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, a fantastic little dim sum place.
Supermarkets are overpriced and lacking in selection. The price for certain Western foods will make one's eyes water, and even foods with Australian brand names will be much more expensive than their Chinese counterparts.
For expats wondering if the price difference is justified, it’s worth keeping in mind that the food standards in China are not the same as they may be used to. Hormones, pesticides and MSG are still used very widely.
Supermarkets in Hong Kong also seem to have a distinct lack of selection and an inconsistency of stock (one week a certain product is sold, the next it is no longer there), which makes supermarket food shopping rather frustrating. Like everything else it requires some adjustment, and the plethora of cheap eating options also means that eating out can just be the easier option.
Travelling in Hong Kong
PRO: Fantastic public transport
Hong Kong’s public transport is modern, clean and, most importantly, reliable. The MTR (the local subway or underground) runs at very regular intervals, and delays are a rarity. No one is allowed to eat or drink on public transport, which is why one finds that the MTR and the buses are very clean. There is also a tram which runs along the northern part of the island, and while this isn’t quite as speedy as the MTR, it makes for a very pleasant journey and adds a touch of quaintness to an otherwise thoroughly modern city. But most of all, public transport in Hong Kong is incredibly cheap, especially considering how efficient it is.
PRO: Cheap and abundant taxis
There are taxis everywhere in Hong Kong. They are very cheap by Western standards although they are still much more expensive than public transport. Because Hong Kong is small, travelling by taxi is quick and it is very easy to find a taxi wherever one is - unless of course it is raining, in which case all of them seem to be full.
CON: Expensive flights
Flights out of Hong Kong are incredibly expensive. Although accessing the whole of Asia is easy, flights of a similar distance to Europe will cost much more.
Children in Hong Kong
Helpers are often Filipino women who can be employed to help out at home with the cleaning, cooking, and also to help look after children. These domestic workers generally pick up kids from school, look after them while their parents work, and help look after the house.
This is very much a standard thing in Hong Kong, and most families will have a live-in helper, which is actually very affordable. A lot of expat families think Hong Kong is a fantastic place to have children, as life is made a lot easier than in most other countries, thanks to helpers.
CON: Getting around
Hong Kong is a very hilly and densely populated place, which means that getting around with a pushchair is a challenge at best; taking taxis or getting a car can remedy this. There is also a shortage of parks, and although there are a lot of open spaces that are great for hiking, most of these aren’t too child friendly. There are, however, plenty of sports clubs dotted around Hong Kong with big open spaces and fantastic facilities for children.
Working in Hong Kong
PRO: Very easy to network
It is practically impossible not to network in Hong Kong. The expat community is small, and no matter one's industry, meeting someone who will know someone that can make introductions to the right people is fairly easy. A lot of people, when searching for work, get business cards made up with their name and contact details to hand out when they meet people of interest, which tends to be more often than not in social contexts.
CON: Limitations for English-only speakers
Expats tend to work in finance, property and law. As a result, these are the areas that are easiest to get into for those who don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese. It is, of course, possible to get into other lines of work in Hong Kong, but overall, there is a lack of opportunity for non-Mandarin or non-Cantonese speakers outside these three industries.