How to move to
Find A Job
The city-state of Hong Kong is one of the most booming urban centres on Earth and has been a major attraction for expats seeking employment for many years, particularly those from the UK, with which Hong Kong obviously has historical ties. There are a very wide range of jobs available but there are also some restrictions, both of which we will look at below.
The government has also been trying to attract Chinese nationals from the mainland, as trade gradually begins to open up in the region, and expats are thus facing more competition than they used to. Salaries can be high, especially in the finance industry, but the cost of living is also high: Hong Kong is an expensive place to live and accommodation in particular can cost a lot in this crowded, highly-populated part of the world.
Experts say that there are two main kinds of expat employees:
• skilled professionals: for example software engineers, doctors and R&D specialists (these will be issued with an Employment Visa)
• semi-skilled professionals: for example, technicians, who will be issued a visa under the Supplementary Labor Scheme
Employers must show that the vacancy in question cannot be filled by a local. You will also need a visa for entry unless you hold a British passport: in that case you will not need to apply for a visa and can stay for 6 months. If you wish to work, however, you will need to apply for an employment visa even though you are a British national.
Under the Employment for Professionals scheme, you and your employer will need to supply:
• proof of your job offer: this must be relevant to your work experience or qualifications
• the company’s financial record and company registration number
• a clean legal record
• relevant qualifications
• proof of salary including income, medical, accommodation and other benefits which must be comparable to salaries paid to locals in Hong Kong
• passport valid for at least 6 months
• completed employment visa application form
• 2-3 passport sized photographs
• proof of travel insurance
• proof of health insurance
Your work permit will last for 12 months and is not transferable to another company if you change your job: you will need to re-apply. Companies may also be held responsible for seeing that you are repatriated once your employment comes to an end, assuming that you are not going into another job in Hong Kong.
Since the state is still English-speaking, you will be at some advantage as a native speaker, but more so if you also speak Cantonese or Mandarin. Having a degree from a highly-regarded Western university is also a plus. You will have an advantage if you are a member of a specialized profession and if you are coming in at the top end of the job market: these jobs command high salaries and may also include attractive employment packages (medical insurance and accommodation, for example).
Teaching English (TEFL) is a popular choice and if you have qualifications and a degree, you should have quite a few options in the private sector.
Hong Kong has a hard-working, intensive business culture. Typical working hours are from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. although government offices and banks may close at 5 p.m. Shops can remain open up until 9 p.m. Legally, you are supposed to work between 40-50 hours per week, for 5 days per week, but in practice may negotiate more with your employer.
You will have a minimum of 7 days’ leave for your first year but this will increase in subsequent years, and you can also negotiate for more. You will also be granted 12 days of public holidays.
Employment legislation in Hong Kong falls under the Employment Ordinance (EO) which guarantees minimum benefits to both Hong Kong natives and expat employees. These include:
• paid annual leave
• paid sick leave
• paid maternity and paternity leave
• minimum notice of termination and a right to make a payment in lieu of notice
With a few restricted exceptions, the EO also applies both to full time and part time employees.
The Hong Kong statutory minimum wage for non-domestic workers is currently HK$37.5 (US$4.83) per hour. Average salaries are around HK$19100 (US$2430) per month for men and HK$14700 (US$1875) per month for women, but this obviously depends on the professional level in which you are engaged.
Maternity leave has recently been extended to 14 weeks, and is due to stand at 4/5 of the employee’s average daily wages, subject to a cap of HK$36,822 per employee. This depends on your having been employed under a continuous contract for not less than 40 weeks immediately before the start of your maternity leave. You will also need to inform your employer and will need to produce a medical certificate (this will also protect you against unfair dismissal). Fathers will be eligible for 5 days’ paternity leave, with a similar condition of 40 weeks’ continuous employment.
If you leave Hong Kong, you will need to undergo tax clearance.
You can bring your spouse with you as a dependent, but they must apply separately for a work visa.
You can make speculative applications and approach companies directly, but it is recommended that you apply through a recruitment agency or a headhunter, particularly if you are aiming at a job in senior management. The local press (particularly the South China Morning Post) and online job boards may also prove helpful.
Applying For A Job
You can either apply directly or via a recruitment agency. You are likely to be offered a phone interview first, followed by an interview in person.
It is illegal under Hong Kong law to discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender, race, family status or disability and the Labour Department has issued strict and extensive guidelines with relation to good practice when hiring and interviewing.
Qualifications And Training
A TESOL/MA in Applied Linguistics is preferable in Hong Kong’s competitive TEFL tertiary market.
Hong Kong is a major banking centre and if you have qualifications and experience in merchant banking there are still highly paid posts eligible for expats.
Apply For A Visa/Permit
For many years, the booming Asian city of Hong Kong has been a popular destination for expats, and this continues, despite recent political unrest. The city is one of the world’s major centres of commerce and finance, and as such is an appealing choice for residence and work. Read on to learn about the visa application process, and for some factors you may want to consider if you are thinking of relocating to Hong Kong.
The type of visa you will need to visit Hong Kong will depend on your nationality. Hong Kong is a former British territory, and is now a part of China, but it remains a Special Administrative Region (SAR) with its own entry regulations. If you are intending to travel into mainland China, you will need additional documentation.
If you have a close connection with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) by birth, or through having lived there for a long time, you may not require a visa or entry permit.
If you hold a British passport, you will not need to apply for an entry visa for Hong Kong, and you can stay for up to six months. If you wish to work, however, you will need to apply for an employment visa, even though you are a British national.
If you are travelling from the USA, the EU/EEA or the Antipodes, you will be granted 90 days visa-free.
If you are coming from India, you may be able to apply for pre-arrival registration, which will allow you to enter the territory without a visa.
Make sure you check the visa regulations for your own nationality, as these will vary. Nationals of around 170 countries can enter the territory for a designated period without the need for a visa.
In order to apply for a visa, whether single- or multiple-entry, you will need to contact your local Chinese consulate or embassy. You can also contact the HKSAR Immigration Department directly.
All visitors to Hong Kong will need to hold a passport that is valid for a minimum of between one and six months, depending on your nationality, after your intended departure date from the region.
You will need to submit the following documentation:
• A completed visa application form
• A recent passport-format photograph
• A photocopy of your passport
• A photocopy of your proof of financial status (e.g. bank statement, savings accounts passbooks, tax payment receipts, employment certificate)
• Proof of accommodation
• A copy of you transportation arrangements (e.g. flight itinerary)
You will also need to submit proof of the purpose of your visit, which could be:
• Leisure – package tour receipt, itinerary
• Family visit – photocopy of proof of your relationship with a local sponsor in HKSAR
• Transit – photocopy of your proposed next destination after visiting Hong Kong, and your itinerary
• Business – an invitation letter issued by a local company or your employer
• Study – an admission notice or a sponsor letter
• Residence on the basis of dependency – the Hong Kong identity card of your family, or a kinship certificate
If you have a company sponsor, they will need to supply:
• A sponsor application form
• A photocopy of their business registration certificate
If your sponsor is an individual, they will need to supply:
• A sponsor application form
• A photocopy of their HK ID card
• A photocopy of their travel document (for non-permanent residents of HK only)
An ordinary entry visa will cost HKD 190 (US$24) from HKSAR Immigration, but will cost around US$30 from your local consulate/embassy.
A transit visa will cost HKD 100 (US$12).
Your visa application will take, on average, four to six weeks to process, if you go via HKSAR Immigration, so make sure you leave plenty of time, in case there are any hitches.
If your application is directly handled by an overseas Chinese embassy or consulate, or the Beijing Office of HKSAR, or the Commissioner Office in Macau, it usually takes four working days to process your visa. A form of expedited service, either a ‘rush service’ (second-day pickup) or an express service (third-day pickup) may be available at extra cost.
There are two main kinds of expat employee in HKSAR:
• Skilled professionals: for example, software engineers, doctors and R&D specialists, who will be issued with an employment visa
• Semi-skilled professionals: for example, technicians, who will be issued a visa under the supplementary labour scheme
Employers must show that the vacancy in question cannot be filled by a local, as citizens of Hong Kong are prioritised.
Your application for a work visa will be easier if you already have a sponsor.
Under the employment for professionals scheme, you and your employer will need to supply:
• Proof of your job offer – this must be relevant to your work experience or qualifications
• The company’s financial record and company registration number
• A clean legal record
• Relevant qualifications
• Proof of your salary – including income, as well as medical, accommodation and other benefits – which must be comparable to salaries paid to locals in Hong Kong
• A passport valid for at least six months
• A completed employment visa application form
• Two or three passport-size photographs
• Proof of travel insurance
• Proof of health insurance
Your work permit will last for 12 months and is not transferable. Therefore, if you want to change jobs, you will need to re-apply. Companies may also be held responsible for seeing that you are repatriated once your employment comes to an end, assuming that you are not going into another job in Hong Kong.
You can also apply for a working holiday visa. For this, you will need all or most of the above documentation.
If you have any queries, you can talk to your local HKSAR mission.
Get Health Insurance
Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.
When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.
Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.
Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.
Important questions to ask the insurance provider:
1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?
2. Does the plan offer "Moratorium" or is it "Full underwriting" and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?
3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.
4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?
5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.
6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.
7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.
8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?
9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.
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Rent Or Buy Property
Hong Kong is densely populated, and property there is expensive. You can find various types of accommodation, from small apartments to luxury serviced villas, but there are comparatively few houses. Historically, expats have favoured the Mid Levels on Hong Kong Island, but they are now seeking cheaper accommodation further afield. Luxury complexes, with gyms, pools and sporting facilities, are found in popular locations, such as Happy Valley, Jardine’s Lookout, Repulse Bay and the Peak.
To rent an apartment in Hong Kong, you will need to provide proof of ID, residency and work permits, and your letter or contract of employment.
Property is advertised online and in the local press. Rent is calculated in square feet, and prices vary according to location; they are between HK$40 and HK$80 on Hong Kong Island, HK$30 and HK$80 in Kowloon, and go down to HK$25 in the New Territories and the outlying islands. As properties do not always live up to their online descriptions, it is strongly recommended that you view them in person. It might be worth getting a short-term let while searching for a more permanent address.
As an expat, you should consider engaging an estate agent to assist in the various aspects of securing a suitable property, especially if you are not fluent in Chinese. However, you should ensure you fully understand their fees prior to entering into any formal arrangement. If you later decide against renting through them, you may still be charged for their services. It is also worthwhile researching local expat blogs and forums to gain an understanding of your chosen area, reputable agencies and potential challenges.
With the exception of serviced apartments, properties are usually let unfurnished, although some landlords will provide furniture and domestic appliances for an additional rent increment. Prior to securing a property, you should verify the standard and condition of the building, together with the extent to which the landlord will cover improvements and alterations. These should be factored into your contract negotiations.
You should establish whether the property is well managed and whether there are additional costs that you might incur during your tenancy. If there is a mortgage on the property, you should find out whether the landlord has permission to rent it out, as otherwise the mortgage lender has the right to terminate the lease and evict you. If permission to rent has not been granted, you should secure an agreement from the landlord to cover any costs incurred if you are forced to vacate the property.
Once everything has been agreed, you may be asked to put down a deposit and sign an offer letter or provisional agreement. You should only do this on the understanding that the deposit is refundable. Formal provisional agreements do not cover the responsibilities of both parties in the contract and may entail waiving your rights to negotiate terms. If you are asked to sign a binding agreement, you should review the tenancy contract carefully before signing, and if necessary seek legal advice.
Tenancies are usually two years with a break period after one year, after which you are entitled to give two to three months’ notice. Proof of identity is required when signing a tenancy agreement. Each party is responsible for their own legal costs, and signatures must be witnessed by a third party. Estate agency fees are paid when the agreement is signed.
As well as the first month’s rent, you will need to pay a security deposit, which is typically equivalent to three months’ rent, and this will be returned at the end of your tenancy, as long as there has been no breach of the agreement and all utility bills have been settled. Unless you are renting a serviced apartment, you are fully responsible for arranging your power, water, telephone and internet services.
The tenancy agreement is subject to stamp duty, which is divided equally between landlord and tenant and must be paid within thirty days of signature. This amounts to a minimum of 0.25% of the average yearly rent.
Expats can only purchase a property once they have been living in Hong Kong for a full year. The Hong Kong government website provides details of the domestic property purchase process and information fact sheets.
Although it is possible to make a direct property purchase, it is advisable to engage an estate agent, who can assist throughout the purchase process and clarify any language issues. Agents only receive commission on completion of the purchase process, so it is in their interests to make sure that the sale goes smoothly. You should ensure you understand their commission and charging structure prior to entering into any signed agreement.
All land is government owned, with property leases usually granted for fifty years. Home owners must pay government rent, typically 3% of the property’s rateable value, which is included in the regular quarterly rate payment.
You should view the property and ascertain the building’s condition, whether fixtures and fittings are included, and if there are any associated management fees. All of these things should be factored into your contract negotiations.
There are no restrictions on expats applying for mortgages, although some lenders may offer as little as 50% of the purchase price. It is recommended that you consult a mortgage adviser to secure the best rates. Lenders focus on your financial status rather than the property value, so you should engage a surveyor to establish the condition of the building and any specific zoning restrictions.
Once negotiations are completed, the estate agent draws up the Provisional Agreement of Sale, and you will be asked to pay an initial non-refundable deposit, which is typically 1% to 3%. This document is legally binding. Therefore, before agreeing the purchase, you should ensure that the vendor has no outstanding liabilities against the property and is entitled to sell it. You should review the agreement with your solicitor, as this will form the basis of the Formal Sale and Purchase Agreement that is drawn up by the vendor’s solicitors.
Once the formal agreement has been agreed, you will pay the balance of the 10% deposit. 15% stamp duty must be paid within thirty days of signing the agreement. On completion, an additional HK$100 stamp duty is payable for change of title, together with land registry fees.
Move Your Belongings
Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.
Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.
If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.
The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).
Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.
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Register For Healthcare
QUICK LINK: Hong Kong health insurance
Health insurance in Hong Kong operates on a co-pay system: it gives universal coverage for everyone, including expats, but you will have to pay a small fee (around HKD 100: £10) for a clinic visit, for instance. You will pay about the same for a night in a hospital ward, with a HKD 50 admission fee, but the Hong Kong government operates a fee-waiver system for people on very low incomes, so if you are not able to afford this, you will still be treated. It is a model which seeks to be as inclusive as possible.
You will need a Hong Kong identity card if you are a resident (staying more than 180 days), but the system is open to tourists, too.
Reforms have been underway, for instance involving the new Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme (VHIS), launched by the Food and Health Bureau in 2019, which encourages more affluent citizens to use private health care facilities. This is halfway between full private cover and comprehensive state insurance, the idea being to take the pressure off the overstretched public system.
Private plans which fall under the aegis of the new VHIS scheme will involve:
• guaranteed renewal up to the age of 100 regardless of change in the health conditions of the insured persons
• no limit on "lifetime benefit"
• coverage extended to cover unknown pre-existing conditions and day case surgical procedures
• tax deduction for taxpayers who purchase Certified Plans for themselves or specified relatives
• transparency on the premiums of Certified Plans
The original policy was designed to attract younger Hong Kong residents with tax incentives to pay into the new system. It replaced a compulsory contributions scheme.
VHIS means that there is now effectively a three-tier health insurance model in place in Hong Kong.
Everyone in Hong Kong is automatically covered under the state health insurance system once they have been issued with an ID card.
Open A Bank Account
The main local banks in Hong Kong are Bank of China, DBS Hong Kong, and Hang Seng Bank.
The local banks listed can offer English speaking staff and guidance in setting up a bank account. If you are uncertain as to the level of English spoken, approach a larger bank in an area such as Tsim Sha Tsui or Central. It is possible to set up an account from your home country by contacting the bank local in the area you are relocating to and sending off an example of a bill from your home address as evidence of current residence, which can help expats have access to a bank account quickly once there and may save money in transfer fees.
Whilst you will not find many of the everyday UK and US banks in Hong Kong, you will find some such as Citibank, HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank with details listed below. There are a good array of ATMs throughout Hong Kong too, though withdrawal costs may apply if you take out money from an ATM other than the one your account is registered with.
Standard Chartered Bank and Citibank are favoured by expats because of their services. SCB allows for customers to buy currency online during internet banking. They also allow for all bank transfers when done online to be free of charge. Citibanks are open until 7pm which is useful when working; they also issue Visa Debit ATM cards which can be used at any bank, including in other countries.
Typical bank opening hours are 9am-4.30pm on normal weekdays and until 5pm on Fridays. Saturdays are usually 9am-12.30pm. Check bank websites for opening times over national holidays. Banks are closed on Sundays.
All banks’ terms and conditions differ, so it is not one size fits all. Additionally, the information below lists standard bank accounts for the everyday person, rather than specialist wealth management or investment accounts.
A basic savings account is where you place money in the account as your ‘opening balance’. The amount depends on the bank account. For example, SCA offer a minimum opening balance of $1000HKD. You will start earning interest on your savings once you have a certain amount in the account.
Multi Currency Savings Account
This account is designed with expats in mind. The account is available in dollars, Euros or British pounds, including a debit card in US dollars or sterling. It may have a mortgage service where you can take out a mortgage on a UK property through this account if you are a UK citizen. You are able to withdraw in foreign currencies and receive foreign currencies into your account.
Standard bank account with cheques and e-cheques, plus a debit card. It will require an opening balance, will have an overdraft facility and may have overdraft protection if a cheque were to bounce.
Credit Card Account
You may need to already have another account with the company you are applying to get a credit card with. Credit cards differ between banks. Free waivers, gifts and sometimes air miles come with credit card accounts.
What documents do you need?
Residents - if you are living in Hong Kong.
• HKID or Passport
• If you are American and opening an American account in Hong Kong, your social security number is required.
• Proof of address in Hong Kong - utility bill or bank statement
• Some banks may wish to see evidence of employment- work Visa/sponsors letter of employment
Non residents - if you are a tourist or are working temporarily.
• Proof of address from country of residence - utility bill/ bank statement
The banking system is generally considered to be very reliable, organised and with clear communication. However, there are still areas of concern. Examples of such are when opening an an account it not being clear to the customer that their account must contain a minimum amount of money as a ‘float’. If this is not present, there are additional charges in ‘relationship banking’. Also if you regularly transfer money to another account it may be worth sending larger, less frequent sums as each transfer can be charged individual amounts, varying in price. Be watchful of some credit card accounts which are free to join but then will begin to charge after a year has passed with no forewarning.
Do check with your bank as to the terms and details of the use of your debit card online. For example, Citibank does not allow for its Citibank Visa Debit ATM card to be used in any other way than in person. Debit cards and their services do not have the same features expats may be used to back home. It can be a confusing system with Octopus, ATM, Debit and EPS cards. Do check with your bank, ask a friend or coworker.
For transport and small confectionary purchases you can use your Octopus card, which is a card you top up and beep when using the MTR and buses. When in retail shops you can pay using the EPS system, which is a swipe and pin method familiar to debit card users. You can pay bills in shops such as Circle K using EPS too. EPS can only be used in Hong Kong and can sometimes be used for online payments. A debit card can be used for online payments where EPS is not available.
Credit cards and international credit cards tend to be accepted; check for the sticker displayed outside the shop. Cheques can also be used.
Banks in Hong Kong generally have a large amount of energy put into customer service. You will be able to contact your bank on the phone or in person, and either of these methods is a great way to talk through your options. There are many types of overdrafts and loans and it may be necessary to talk through several before you can arrange an option which is bespoke to you. However, if you wish first to have a look online, all of the offers are listed and summarised clearly on banks’ sites. You can also apply for overdrafts online if you feel you are ready. A relationship manager will usually be assigned to you to guide you through the procedure for an overdraft.
Generally any person residing in Hong Kong who is not a permanent resident will struggle to get a loan, although it may vary from lender to lender. Credit history will be checked.
When preparing to take out a loan there is certain documentation you must possess:
• Proof of income - salary slips, company pass books
• Document of residence - utility bill, bank statement, tenancy agreement.
Go into the bank which you are banking with and ask to speak about loans. Bring your documentation and an explanation of your plan for the money. They will advise you based on all of these things. Try your bank before you go to personal money lenders, who may rip you off and charge higher rates.
There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.
International Bank Transfers
For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.
Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them "on demand" whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.
You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.
When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic - your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.
As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up - ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.
As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.
Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals
Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution - many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.
You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine - but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.
Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent - many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.
Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.
A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:
1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.
2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.
3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.
Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money - such as the proceeds of a property - a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.
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Learn The Language
The former British colony of Hong Kong is still an attractive destination for expats, not least because it is still English speaking. You will therefore have some advantage as a native speaker, but more so if you also speak Cantonese or Mandarin.
The official languages in the city-state are English and Chinese. However, there are two main versions of Chinese: 96% of the Chinese population of Hong Kong speak Cantonese, a southern dialect of Chinese which has its origins in the Guangdong region and is also spoken in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Macao.
The official dialect of China as a whole is Mandarin, however, and this is thus the official language for communication throughout the country. It is also spoken in Taiwan and Macau. Around 47% of the population of Hong Kong speak the language and it is on the rise, due to its role in official communication in China. It was estimated that when Britain handed over the colony in 1997, only a quarter of the Chinese population spoke Mandarin. Cantonese is the older language, dating back to around 200 AD, whereas Mandarin has its origins in the 13th century.
Although Mandarin and Cantonese share a written language (which also takes slightly different forms), the two dialects are not mutually comprehensible, any more than English and French are.
As an English-speaking expat, you need to be aware that spoken English in the former colony is not as widespread as you might think: only around 46% of the Hong Kong Chinese population speak it. Those in an official capacity (such as the police and immigration officials) will speak English and so will people in tourist areas, such as Wan Chai and Central. In the more rural areas of the islands and the hinterland, however, you may not find that people are fluent in English and may not speak the language very much at all. Signs and official documents will be in English.
Commentators note that the prevalence of English was more marked when Hong Kong was a British colony, but say that it has been declining since the handover. Due to the status of English as a world language, however, the Hong Kong authorities are keen to make sure that it does not decline further.
Thus, if you are intending to spend any length of time in the city-state, it may be a good idea to learn some basic phrases in Cantonese such as those for:
• meet and greet
• days of the week/months of the year
• shopping and food-related vocabulary, including eating out
• some basic medical vocabulary (e.g. asking for a doctor’s appointment)
• some basic banking vocabulary (e.g. opening a bank account)
Neither Cantonese nor Mandarin are easy languages to learn if you are a Westerner. You will have to master at least some of a completely different alphabet and you need to be aware that Chinese, of whichever variety, is a tonal language. This means that one word can have different meanings (up to nine in Cantonese) depending on your tone.
If you are planning on working in China itself for any length of time, Mandarin is a more sensible choice to learn since Cantonese is not so widely spoken on the mainland beyond Guandong. However, if you are relocating to Hong Kong itself and will be staying there, Cantonese will prove to be more useful.
There are many language schools in Hong Kong, which usually offer courses at all different levels in both Cantonese and Mandarin. You can select 1-to-1 courses or group classes, and consult your chosen school regarding language training for specific purposes, such as conversation or business. Some schools offer crash courses for expats who just wish to navigate the city.
If you are seriously interested in mastering the language, then expats recommend learning Cantonese first to communicate with locals in the city-state itself, but then moving on to Mandarin. Hong Kong University, which uses English for many classes, also runs a range of courses in both Cantonese and Mandarin.
Teaching English (TEFL) is a popular choice of occupation and if you have qualifications and a degree, you should have quite a few options in the private sector. It is always easier to get work in international education if you have at least a certificate in either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages). Native speakers are preferred in Hong Kong and you should be aware that, due to the number of British and American expats in the city-state, teaching is a competitive market.
It is also preferable if you have experience in teaching schemes such as the Cambridge English exams or IELTS (International English Language Testing System): the English test for study, migration or work. Some teaching experience in the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will also be helpful. This assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to graduate management programs, such as the MBA. You may also find work more easily if you are experienced in teaching English for particular sectors, such as tourism and hospitality, or in summer schools.
Hong Kong can be an expensive place to live, but your salary as a TEFL teacher can be around US$2300 – 6500 per month, depending on your qualifications and experience. In private language schools as opposed to university level, your salary is likely to be around the lower end of the scale, but this is still higher than the average salary (which is currently in the region of US$1,700).
You may wish to consider applying for the NET scheme: the Native English-speaking Teacher scheme came into operation in 1998 and allows governmental and government subsidised primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong to employ English teachers from overseas. Your salary on the NET scheme will be higher than in private teaching.
Choose A School
Hong Kong spends around 3.3% of its high GDP on education, and its literacy rates, amongst the highest in the world, are stable at around 99%.
State education in Hong Kong, under the control of the Education Bureau, is well funded, and tuition for resident children is provided free of charge up to senior school. The system has been modified in recent years to try and reduce student stress levels, but students are still fiercely competitive, and class sizes are large.
Another issue which needs to be confronted here is the potential language barrier in the education system. Although English is widely taught at public schools here, you will generally find that the lessons, particularly in the earlier years, are conducted in Chinese language. Chinese is not a simple language for an anglophone to learn, but in Hong Kong there is a comprehensive program of immersive learning for English speaking children, who can be given extra tuition in a number of different ways so they can become fluent as quickly as possible.
The Hong Kong education system provides pre-school supervision for up to three years, and compulsory education for nine years:
• primary school: ages 6 - 12
• lower secondary school: ages 13 - 15
• elective upper secondary school: ages 16 – 18
Students entering upper secondary will be offered a choice of academic or commercial schooling. Those continuing their academic studies will attend senior high school for a further three years, while those electing for commerce or vocational college will be offered the chance to train for jobs in finance or technical fields.
After completing the 12-year program and taking the final exam, students are granted a Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE), and the top students may choose to go to one of the twenty degree-awarding universities on the island.
Homeschooling is an option that many expats consider, and that is especially the case here given the language issue, the famous intensity of the public system, and the relatively high cost of private tuition. Homeschooling is permitted in Hong Kong under certain circumstances, and expats on temporary assignment are, in general, treated more leniently than residents in this respect.
It is vital to contact the Education Bureau (EDB) to establish formalities and expectations (for example, children may still have to sit certain exams or tests), and to seek out other expats who have already chosen this route for their children. There are local and international organisations who will be able to offer assistance with lesson structuring and all the issues that arise with this method of education.
Should you require it, day care for infants and pre-school kindergarten (ages 3-6) can be arranged locally. Many of the international schools also have nursery facilities.
The English Schools Foundation has 21 schools in Hong Kong, all offering the full International Baccalaureate Diploma program (IBDP), which makes them an extremely popular choice with expats.
In total there are over seventy international schools in Hong Kong, including:
• Discovery College (English, ESF, CIS accredited, ages 5-18, IBDP)
• Canadian International School (English, nursery – 18, IBDP)
• West Island (English, ESF, Senior school 11-18)
• Christian Alliance International School (Christian, Canadian)
• Kellet School (British curriculum, ages 4 - 18)
• Sha Tin Junior School (English, IB PYP ages 5 – 11)
• King George V School (English, ESF, IBDP, ages 11 - 18)
• International Montessori School (method learning, ages 2 – 12)
• Hong Kong International School (English, American curriculum)
• Han Academy (English, IBDP and Cambridge A-Level curriculum)
• Harrow International School Hong Kong (English, British curriculum)
• Renaissance College (English, IBDP, 5- 18)
• Australian International School (English, Australian curriculum, IBDP)
• Nord-Anglia International School Hong Kong (English, British curriculum, 3 – 18)
• Chinese International School (bi-lingual, Chinese curriculum, IBDP)
It is vital to contact the school of your choice as soon as possible, as competition for places is generally fierce. Fees need to be established with the individual school, and those offering the full IBDP are generally expensive, especially at the senior level. Additionally, you are always advised with private and international schools to read the small print as some may have ‘capital investment’ fees for maintenance/enhancement, and other charges.
On graduation, local and international students may wish to continue their education either at one of the excellent universities here, or across the world. Successful graduation from a Hong Kong school, with A-Levels or the IB, will ensure that your child has the best possible chance of continuing their education wherever they choose.