Situated on the southern coast of China, the autonomous territory of Hong Kong is often referred to as the perfect combination of “East Meets West”. Chinese traditions have been strongly affected by a British influence all across the region.On the one hand, this vibrant island boasts all the modern conveniences you can expect in any developed city, like excellent infrastructure, high-rise buildings, education and healthcare. On the other, ancient Chinese customs like Feng Shui and acupuncture are practiced almost everywhere. From its impressive skyline to its colonial past, Hong Kong is one of the biggest melting pots of culture and diversity in Asia. It has a fairly varied population. In the last few decades, this city has become a very popular destination, not just for tourists but also expats who are looking for their next venture.
Hong Kong can be regarded as one of the most affluent countries globally, as its degree of economic freedom is among the highest. Many investors are setting up their businesses in this country because of its policies. Hong Kong has no import tariffs, no quotas and no dumping laws. Its banking and financial industries have a positive effect on the economy. Hong Kong is also promoting start-ups in a big way.
Since many foreign companies are opening offices on the island, there is a fair demand for well qualified and experienced expats. As a result, the earning potential of skilled expatriates is considerably high, consequently increasing their disposable income.
The education system in Hong Kong was set up by the British and it is therefore very easy to find a number of schools that offer the GCSE and IB curricula. You will also find excellent American and Australian schools all across the country.
There is plenty to see and do for people of all ages and nightlife in Hong Kong is among the best in the world. It is also fairly easy to connect with other expatriates and join a forum for better networking. You are therefore very likely to lead an active social life. Moreover, since it is very close to other popular tourist destinations in Asia, you can always take a short trip and visit another country over the weekend.
However, anyone who has spent some amount of time in Hong Kong will admit that it can be a place of extremes. In fact, up until a decade or so ago, people from the US, Canada and the UK were apprehensive about even traveling to Hong Kong because of the rumors of the place being unsafe. Fortunately, the huge expat population on this island will vouch for the fact that it is no more dangerous than any other developing city in Asia or Europe.
There are a few things that you should know about and consider very carefully if you are planning to move to Hong Kong. Read on to find out about the top 10 things to watch out for.
Lack of work-life balance
It is quite a normal occurrence to see commuters sleeping in public, on buses, trains and subways at any given time of the day. Because of the cut-throat competition at the workplace most professionals are known to put in extended hours at the office, without much regard for their personal or family lives. Some of them can’t even afford the services of domestic help and get very little time to rest because of the housework. As a result, they catch up on their sleep while commuting to and from work. Professionals from other Asian countries like the Philippines, Singapore and India are used to similar working conditions.
Most Brits, Canadians and Australians as well as some Americans have the tendency to keep their personal and work lives separate, without compromising on either. They work overtime if required but don’t make a habit of this practice. In some western countries, working for several additional hours a day is regarded as a sign of incompetence. However, in Hong Kong, things are very different and making the adjustment often becomes a challenge for western expatriates.
It is impossible to talk about Hong Kong without mentioning one of the biggest problems faced by the government and health authorities. The air pollution across the entire island can get so bad at times that you may not be able to see the top of the building you are standing at. The haze that covers the city is a combination of car fumes and emissions from power plants, based in the Chinese mainland and New Territories. Around 80% of the smog covering the city comes from other parts of the Pearl River Delta. Unfortunately, this problem is further aggravated during the hot and humid summers. Expats suffering from chronic respiratory diseases like asthma may experience an increase in symptoms and attacks.
When you first visit Hong Kong, you’ll probably notice a large number of people wearing face masks that cover their lips and nose. This is because the nation has seen outbreaks of diseases like SARS, Avian flu and Swine flu. Airborne diseases tend to spread much faster in crowded places. The people therefore wear facemasks for added protection.
The high level of air pollution hasn’t had a negative impact on the lifespan of the residents as Hong Kong still features on the list of countries with the highest life expectancy, which is 85.71 years for women, 80.18 years for men and 82.78 years overall.
On the whole, the weather in Hong Kong is subtropical, with distinct seasons.
May to September is extremely hot and humid, to the point of being uncomfortable. Of course, the locals deal with this problem by ensuring that most offices, homes, buses, cabs, trains, and public locations are air-conditioned. Unfortunately, even the locals complain about the air-conditioning being very strong in public buildings. The temperature indoors is generally around 20ᵒ C cooler than the outside. The stark contrast between the sweltering heat outside and freezing interiors is bound to result in summer colds. This is one of the main reasons why many residents carry a jacket, blazer or a scarf everywhere they go. You may experience the same problem in some places even during the winter.
From October onwards, the weather starts getting more pleasant. During the winter months, the temperature across the country averages 15ᵒ C with sun and clouds.
Since it is located on the western shore of the Pacific Ocean, Hong Kong falls within the typhoon zone, which also includes countries like China, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines. While the residents have learned to cope with this problem to the best of their ability over the years, it can be quite overwhelming for a newcomer. You are likely to see the entire nation come to a stop until the storm blows over.
During the summer and early fall, i.e. between the months of May and October, the authorities warn the residents to be prepared for different levels of cyclones. Level 1 indicates the lowest level of typhoon, which probably won’t affect you. Level 3 typhoons are closer to you and are likely to cause unstable weather. Be prepared to stay indoors and stay away from the sea in case of a Level 8 to 10 warning.
Visit Hongkongfp.com to read about the typhoons expected to hit Hong Kong this year, or get live updates on hko.gov.hk. For tips on being prepared and dealing with the storms, you can log on to China Highlights.
Once you start living in Hong Kong, you will soon get used to dealing with mosquitoes all year round. The problem isn’t so bad in the urban areas, but do keep your skin protected if you plan to visit a park or a garden. The nuisance becomes worse from April, right up until October. Since mosquitoes often carry dangerous diseases, it is important that you follow the necessary steps to sanitize your living quarters, especially if there are any young children around.
Many foreigners are also surprised by the number of cockroaches they see on the streets in Hong Kong, especially during the night time. Some of these insects can fly. As long as you follow regular sanitary guidelines, you aren’t likely to find too many of them indoors.
Many tourists and expats have been duped of their money or other valuables when in Hong Kong. What makes these scams more convincing is that there are foreign nationals involved in some of them.
The time-sharing scam is probably the most popular one, where a very convincing, professional-looking man or woman (probably of western origin) approaches you with a scratch card for answering a few survey questions. Not surprisingly, the prize on the card is be too good to be true it. You will have to sit through a presentation and purchase an expensive package before you can claim your prize. Since they are not doing anything illegal, getting the police involved is of little use.
The local vendors on Nathan Road in Kowloon are also infamous for their electronic scams. Several shops in well-known electronics markets have items on display without any prices listed. When you show interest in a particular product, they will offer you an unbelievably good deal. After they get your money, they won’t hand over the item, saying that they are actually “out of stock”. Other items that they offer you will be at extremely high prices. Others switch items you’ve purchased with inferior products. Several foreigners threaten to call the police but aren’t successful in recovering their money. The locals are aware of these tactics and avoid shopping at such places.
Other visitors have numerous stories of being duped of thousands of dollars by similar types of scams.
As far as possible, avoid exchanging your money at the airport banks or with tour operators, as they are likely to pay you around 10% to 20% less than what you may get elsewhere. The best thing is to get no more than HK$ 200 (US$ 26, £ 18, € 24) at the airport and then convert the rest of your money at a private exchange bureau.
High rents and lack of space
Hong Kong is usually a regular feature in the list of most expensive places across the globe. You will definitely see why when you start paying an exorbitant amount per month for a surprisingly small space.
Apartments in the new buildings of Hong Kong are usually built to cram in as many rooms as possible. You therefore shouldn’t be surprised if your 4-bedroom apartment is much smaller than a 2-bedroom apartment back home. However, the space crunch is a very common problem faced by people living in urban cities across the globe.
For more living space, you could opt for an apartment in the older buildings that were built during the 80s or 90s. You may have to compromise on the amenities and facilities in such cases though.
Companies in Hong Kong are not required to withhold on an employee’s income, so instead of paying a small amount every month, taxpayers end up paying a lump sum. Moreover, the first amount of tax that you pay is bound to be very high, as it includes a provisional amount for the next tax year.
Foreigners who break the law in Hong Kong are dealt with quite harshly by the police. Offences related to narcotics could be liable to pay a fine of HK$ 5,000,000 or attract a life imprisonment sentence. People caught using banned substances may be fined up to HK$ 1,000,000 and be imprisoned for up to 7 years.
When stopped by the police, it is absolutely imperative that you have your local Hong Kong ID card with you. Residents found without the card may be prosecuted.
For more on the law & punishment, visit police.gov.hk.
Despite the factors mentioned above, there is no denying the fact that Hong Kong can be a great place to live in. Once you are aware of the things to watch out for, you are more likely to settle down and enjoy your life on this island.
Have you lived in Hong Kong? Share your experiences in the comments!