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Domestic Help for Expats in Hong Kong

Many expats arrive in Hong Kong without ever having had domestic help—especially live-in. And they’ve never held the role of private employer, so they aren’t aware of their legal obligations as employers. While there are many differences of opinion about the benefits and concerns regarding hiring a helper or amah, we’ll focus here on the preparation and requirements so that the hiring process can be done correctly and efficiently and the ongoing relationship will comply with Hong Kong law.

The best way to find a helper is through a referral from another expat family that is leaving Hong Kong and wants to be sure the helper finds another “good family.” It may be possible to do this research long-distance via the Internet and then meet candidates on a househunting trip before your move. The helper you select may need to make a trip to her home before the start of the new contract with you. If this recruiting path isn’t possible, agencies in Hong Kong always have a candidate pool of helpers whose contracts have expired and are looking for placement before they are obligated to leave Hong Kong.The Hong Kong Immigration Office has a standard contract and a very clear set of guidelines for employment of a foreign domestic helper. After all, there are nearly 300,000 helpers in Hong Kong! Before you can hire a helper, you will need to meet the contract requirements and verify your commitment to fulfill financial and ethical responsibilities as an employer. First you must have a Hong Kong identity card and a monthly salary of 15,000 HKD ($1,900 US) and provide housing for the employee.

Basically you will agree to pay at least the required minimum wage, currently a monthly rate of HKD 3,920 ($510 US) for a two-year contract period. You may need to make an additional year-end (generally Lunar Year End, not Gregorian calendar) “13th month” payment of one month’s salary; this may be written in the contract and thus be mandatory, or it may just be an expectation as the norm in Hong Kong. Don’t be surprised; factor it into your planning.

You will also either pay an additional food stipend of 875 HKD per month or provide food in the home. You will provide adequate space for the helper’s bedroom/toilet, fairly easy to do if you’re a company-sponsored expat with a reasonable housing allowance. Be sure to check out the helper quarters for acceptability and compliance with the law when you are on a househunting trip.

You will cover any expenses for the helper’s departure from her home country, including medical exam, visa, and transportation costs. While she is under your employment you also have the financial obligation for health care; it’s best to purchase helper health care and workman’s compensation insurance, which you can do as part of your housing insurance.

You’re required to allow the helper to observe all public holidays and provide seven vacation days and two to four sick days per month. At the end of the two-year contract period you will pay transportation fare plus a per diem allowance for the helper to return home. Naturally you will pay return expenses if you are retaining the helper for another two-year contract.

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The domestic helper works six days a week, with the employer and employee agreeing in advance on the standard workweek. Most helpers choose Sunday as the day off. Many are quite religious, social, or ambitious with church, friendship, or second business commitments on their day off. You cannot legally make your helper work on her day off, including on her return home Sunday night since she’s entitled to a 24-hour period of rest. It’s considerate to avoid heavy duties on Saturday nights too, so she will be able to relax and enjoy the day off.

A quick note on the minimum monthly wage of HKD 3920, which is about $500 US. If you were paying for these services in your home country, you might see monthly costs something like this (all in USD):

· before and after school care for your children – $500 to $1,000 (or more if daytime coverage is provided)
· daily meal preparation and cleanup (six days a week) – $500
· evening babysitting (occasionally) – $300
· home cleaning (daily/weekly) – $300
· carwash (weekly) – $50
· home event catering (labor per event) – $200
· laundry (daily, including ironing!) – $100
· errands/personal shopping – $100
· being on-site to deal with service calls – priceless

All this adds to well over $1,000 per month. Create your own budget in your home country to determine how much you’re paying now for domestic services and how much you would save by having your Hong Kong helper provide these services. This is one area where you may actual save money in Hong Kong! Then be conscientious in following all the legal requirements, generous in paying a fair amount above minimum wage, and appreciative of this lovely person who is becoming so much more than a domestic servant in your household.

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