A vibrant city that boasts of Michelin-starred dim sum, egg tarts and milk tea, Hong Kong is a place where you can live, work and play. Aside from Hong Kong’s homegrown foreigners, there are a large number of foreign expat residents in the city. Official figures record around five percent of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million citizens as being foreign. Rest assured that you will be able to find your community there.
Find out more about Hong Kong and what you have to do to kickstart your move!
Hong Kong, officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (HKSAR), is a metropolitan area and special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China.
The city has one of the world’s most thriving economies, and is a hub for international trade and investment. A place famous for its cosmopolitan lifestyle, diversity, natural parkland and spectacular scenery, Hong Kong weaves Asian and Western influences into a world-class centre of business, culture and trade.
The Basic Law designates a system of governance led by a Chief Executive and an Executive Council, with a two-tiered system of representative government and an independent judiciary.
The Chief Executive is the head of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. He or she is responsible for implementing the Basic Law, signing bills and budgets, promulgating laws, making decisions on government policies and issuing Executive Orders. He or she is assisted in policy making by the Executive Council.
The Executive Council assists the Chief Executive in policy-making and advises the Chief Executive on matters relating to the introduction of bills and subsidiary legislation.
The Legislative Council is the law-making body of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Apart from law-making, the Council debates issues of public interest, examines and approves budgets, receives and debates the Chief Executive’s policy addresses.
The Judiciary is independent from the legislative and executive branches of government, with the courts showing no bias. For the most serious types of criminal offences, a jury decides whether the accused is guilty or not, with a majority vote required. The Court of Final Appeal is the highest appellate court and is headed by the Chief Justice.
As of 2020, Hong Kong has a population of approximately 7.5 million people.
Hong Kong’s climate is subtropical, tending towards temperate for nearly half the year. During November and December there are pleasant breezes, plenty of sunshine and comfortable temperatures.
Cost of Living
It is estimated that monthly expenses for a family of four would amount to HK$30,000, excluding rent.
Monthly expenses for an individual are estimated at HK$8,300, excluding rent.
English and Chinese are the two official languages of Hong Kong. As the majority of the population in Hong Kong are descendants of migrants from China’s Canton Province, most Hong Kongers speak standard Cantonese, with smaller numbers speaking Hakka or Teochew.
The economy of Hong Kong is a highly developed free-market economy characterised by low taxation rates, almost free port trade and well-established international financial market. Its currency, called the Hong Kong dollar, is pegged to the US dollar. There is no officially recognised central banking system, although the Hong Kong Monetary Authority functions as a financial regulatory authority.
Visa & Immigration
The Immigration Department of Hong Kong provides detailed information on visa and immigration matters to the city.
Students who wish to enter Hong Kong for educational purposes, and seek a study visa, must fulfil the eligibility criteria stated by the immigration department.
Should you be visiting Hong Kong for leisure purposes, do take note of the following visa requirements for the different countries. For most countries, a visa is not needed for the first 90 days.
Professionals from overseas who are interested to work in Hong Kong may apply under the General Employment Policy.
Key Requirements include
- Secured a job relevant to his/her academic qualifications or work experience that cannot be readily taken up by the local workforce
- Remuneration package is commensurate with the prevailing market rate
- Good education background, technical qualifications or proven professional experience
Entrepreneurs from overseas who plan to establish a business in Hong Kong may apply under the General Employment Policy.
Key requirements include
- Good education background, technical qualifications or proven professional experience
- In a position to make substantial contribution to the Hong Kong economy
Working in Hong Kong
All foreigners working in Hong Kong are subjected to the Salaries Tax. Salaries Tax is charged based on one’s income earned from employment in Hong Kong.
Profits Tax (for Self-Employed)
If your income is derived from your own business, you are considered as ‘self-employed’.
As a self-employed individual, you are subjected to profits tax on the assessable profits of your sole proprietorship or partnership business. You should keep business records for at least 7 years, and notify the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) in writing about any changes to your business.
There are several ways to find employment in Hong Kong, through public channels provided by the government, through employment agencies, or through job seeker sites. There are also job fairs which you can attend.
Top 10 Job Seeker Sites
Working Hours & Public Holidays
Government office working hours are usually 8:30am – 5.30pm and bank hours are usually 9:00am – 5.00pm. Other businesses’ office hours in Hong Kong are from 9.00am – 6.00pm Some offices will require you to work for half a day on Saturdays.
The legal minimum annual leave 7 days per year.
There are 12 statutory holidays in Hong Kong stipulated by the Labour Department
- The first day of January
- Lunar New Year’s Day
- The third day of Lunar New Year
- The fourth day of Lunar New Year
- Qing Ming Festival
- Labour Day
- Tuen Ng Festival
- Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day
- National Day
- The day following the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival
- Chung Yeung Festival
- Christmas day
Banking in Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s banking system is a three-tier system consisting of licensed banks, banks with a restricted license, and deposit-taking banks. Licensed banks operate current and savings accounts, and serve the public. Restricted licensed banks engage in merchant banking and capital market activities. Deposit-taking banks are owned and operated by other banks, and engage in specialised activities including consumer finance, commercial lending and security business matters.
Top 10 Banks in Hong Kong
Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) | Bank of China (Hong Kong) | Hang Seng Bank | Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) | The Bank of East Asia | Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) | DBS Bank, Hong Kong | OCBC Wing Hang Bank | Nanyang Commercial Bank | CITIC Bank International
Often the most stressful part of any relocation is looking for and finding somewhere to live. If you haven’t arrived in Hong Kong, contact your future employer’s Human Resources for some guidance. Alternatively, contact your friends for advice or browse expat forums.
Real Estate Agencies
Local agencies such as Centaline Agency or Midland Realty specialise in the more affordable residential properties. These agencies provide extensive information on rental rates and property prices on their websites on a district by district basis.
There are also a number of local agencies that can be found when you’re out and about on the streets. These agencies typically occupy small shops.
Pro Tip: You will need to be able to speak Cantonese, or have a Cantonese speaker with you in order to find out what you need.
Flat-Sharing & Co-Living
Alternatively, as property prices and rental costs in Hong Kong are high (accounting for over 25% of a monthly salary), a cheaper option would be to “flat-share” or “co-live”. This means that you share a flat with fellow housemates – people you know or don’t know. Various websites such as Easy Roommate or Craigslist Hong Kong can help you find such accommodation.
Agent or Do-It-Yourself
Almost certainly, you will be working with an agent. Do inform them of your location preference and budget in advance so that your agent can shortlist the properties you may be interested in. Usually, people work with multiple agents at once until they find what they are looking for.
More often than not, the best way to find a reliable agent is through recommendations from your colleagues, friends, or even your company.
Alternatively, should you wish to DIY, you can start searching for homes from the local newspapers or magazines, notice boards in supermarkets, or even through asking your friends and colleagues. You can even book a short-term stay at a hotel before starting the apartment search. Moovaz offers exclusive deals for short-term stays at Grand Hyatt Hong Kong.
Sometimes, landlords may already have their own agents. In this case, you should clarify about commission rates early, so as to ensure that the landlord’s agent does not charge you on the basis that he or she is acting for you as an intermediary with the landlord.
Key Things to Consider
Older buildings tend to come with cheaper rents, but with few or no facilities and maintenance issues. However, if you would like an apartment with facilities, do take note that, for most apartments, facilities are small and usually crowded.
If you would like to purchase a home, be prepared to set aside a minimum of US$1.2 million. After all, Hong Kong has the most expensive property market in the world.
Do ensure that your home is located within a reasonable distance to an MTR station. This is so that getting around can be convenient. There is no need to buy a car as Hong Kong’s Public Transport, such as the underground train service (MTR), minibuses, buses and ferries are very efficient.
Leasing & Tenancy
Typically, tenancies in Hong Kong last for 2 years. The standard commission for an agent is a month’s rent, split 50-50 between the landlord and tenant. On top of that, both parties will also have to pay a small amount of stamp duty.
Provisional Tenancy Agreement
Once you settle on an apartment you like, the agency will prepare a Provisional Tenancy Agreement containing the key terms and conditions which have been agreed upon for you to sign. Take note that, in Hong Kong, speed is of the essence. Until this agreement is signed, and a security deposit (usually equivalent to two months rent) is paid, the apartment is not exclusively reserved for you.
The Tenancy Agreement is signed after the Provisional Tenancy Agreement. Most Tenancy Agreements contain a diplomatic clause (sometimes known as a ‘12+2’) which allows you or your tenant to terminate your tenancy early. However, this clause is only effective after 12 months and requires two months’ written notice before termination.
As part of the agreement, appliances or furniture belonging to the landlord will be checked before you move out. You will be liable for any damages caused.
Most landlords will clean the property, do essential repairs, and check all appliances before handing over the property to you. This will entail the signing of a Handing Over Receipt, at the time you take possession of the property.
In Hong Kong, there are three types of taxis, Red, Green and Blue. Red operates in Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, New Territories and Disneyland. Green operates in New Territories and Disneyland only. Blue operates in Lantau Island only.
All taxis have a taximeter and calculate the fare based on distance, waiting time and tunnel fees. The minimum fare of a taxi is fixed for the first two kilometers and changes based on the taxi colors. The most common way of paying is by cash.
Other than metered taxis, you can also use Uber.
The minimum age to drive is 18 in Hong Kong. It is common for expats to drive. However, the public transportation system is robust and efficient, and is one of the best in the world.
Walking & Cycling
Hong Kong is a pedestrian-friendly city and most of the streets have sidewalks and pavements. Some streets are also designated for pedestrians only. Cycling, on the other hand, is not as convenient as there are no bicycle lanes in the city.
An Octopus can be used for ALL forms of public transportation in Hong Kong. An Octopus can be purchased in any Airport Express and MTR Customer Service centers (except Racecourse station).
Mass Transit Railway MTR
The MTR connects Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and New Territories together. Currently, there are 11-lines in total. Tickets and fares can be found on the MTR website.
The bus services cover most areas of Hong Kong except the outer islands. Most of the buses are air-conditioned. The buses also run very frequently and from 5:00am to 1:00am next day. There are also night buses which operate between midnight and 6:00am.
There are 2 kinds of minibuses, red and green. The green minibuses have a fixed route, schedule, service hours and ticket fare while the red one is flexible.
Ferry is another form of transportation between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. It can also be used to sightsee. Ferries are the only way to get to the outer islands. The most famous ferry destinations include Lamma Island and Cheung Chau Island.
Tramways ( also known as Ding Ding) are one of the oldest and cheapest forms of public transport in Hong Kong. The track only runs in Hong Kong island but it is a nice way to explore and discover the city.
In Hong Kong, you can seek medical treatment from either public or private facilities. The Hong Kong public healthcare system is made up of 41 public hospitals and institutions, 47 specialist clinics, and 73 outpatient clinics, which are split into 7 hospital clusters. There are also a total of 11 registered private hospitals in the city.
Health Insurance Options
There are two types of health insurance which are recommended for expats to purchase: international health insurance or local health insurance. If you already have employer-provided insurance, do check what exactly is being covered in your plan and see if you need top ups for any deficiencies in your employer-provided insurance plan.
International Health Insurance
International Health Insurance, designed with expats in mind offers global coverage. Such a plan allows an expat to visit any hospital in the world if treatment is required. Do note that such plans have much higher premiums compared to local plans.
Local Health Insurance
Local health insurance is health coverage restricted to one region. The premiums for local insurance plans are much lower compared to international health plans. Such plans also have a preferred network of healthcare providers which means you are only able to visit selected providers. Visiting a non-preferred provider might mean having to foot the entire bill which would be very expensive.
Purchasing Health Insurance
A health insurance plan can be purchased directly from a licensed provider or through a licensed insurance broker. Using the latter option, you can enjoy competitive rates from the close relationships between established brokers and insurance providers. Brokers tend to provide value-added services such as in-house renewals and claims teams, so you can benefit from further support.
Public Medical Treatment
Those holding a Hong Kong Identity Card (HKID) enjoy fairly affordable rates at public hospitals. A&E charges can be as low as HK$220 (approx. US$28) per attendance. General outpatient charges cost as little as HK$45 per attendance (approx. US$6).
All non-permanent residents living in Hong Kong for more than 6 months are required to obtain a HKID, which can be registered using valid travel documents and work visa. Expats who are staying for less than 6 months are not required to register for one.
Those without a HKID are considered as part of the non-eligible category and so are subjected to much higher public hospital fees. A&E charges go as high as HK$990 per attendance (approx. US$128), and in-patient fees can go up to HK$4,680 (approx US$604 per day).
Private Medical Treatment
Private medical facilities are preferred by many expats for their superior quality of service and shorter waiting times. Some private facilities come with a whole host of luxurious amenities such as in-patient rooms with private balconies, and 5 star hotel quality meals. As expected, such benefits come with a hefty price tag. For example, first class in-patient treatment costs an average of HK$5,640 per day – that’s around US$730!
The costs advertised on private hospital websites also tend to exclude charges such as medication and meals, which can result in a much higher bill than expected. This is why many expats and even locals opt for private health insurance coverage.
Other Relocation Essentials
Hong Kong allows for homeschooling. However, any family who intends to homeschool their children should inform the Hong Kong Education Bureau.
Tutors in Hong Kong
Hiring is a common practice in Hong Kong. Tutors are beneficial to help expat children transition to the new environment smoothly. Tutors help with anything, from general assistance with school subjects, to learning Mandarin.
It is recommended to always do a thorough research before choosing a tutor for your children. Schools may also be able to recommend tutors if you need one.
Special Needs Education
Most international schools in Hong Kong offer special-needs facilities but vary widely on the level of support provided. Some schools provide support for mild learning difficulties while others offer more extensive support for a range of needs. Some schools try to keep special needs children in mainstream classes as much as possible while other special schools only admit students with special needs.
It is highly recommended for expats to do thorough research on which schools offer the support they need. Schools should have the right amount of experience and resources for the child.
Hong Kong has one of the best education systems in the world. Most students enrol in public schools which have high education standards. However, it is worth noting that the public school curriculum is mostly taught in Cantonese. This might be a concern for expats who are only staying in the country for the short-term or those whose children are past the age where they can pick up the language quickly.
A concern parents might have is that public schools have a reputation of centering their curriculum on rote learning. However, in recent years, reforms have been made to the curriculum to adopt a more holistic approach.
Many expats, however, choose to enrol their children into private international schools for the sake of easing the transition to Hong Kong. For more information, check out our article on finding an international school.
In Hong Kong, public schools are fully government-funded and are free for all children. For non-Chinese speaking students, language and cultural support programmes have been implemented by the government to help them integrate quickly.
Expat families who are staying in Hong Kong for the long-term will benefit from such programmes in public schools. However, most expats will enrol their children into international schools, especially those who are only staying in Hong Kong for the short term.
Hong Kong has a large number of international schools teaching the curriculum of their respective countries. Some schools opt for the International Baccalaureate programme’s curriculum, which is an internationally recognised curriculum. Most schools adopt the British or American curriculum.
International schools fees are generally high. Expats who do not have school fees subsidy as part of their expat package will find the fees to be very expensive. Furthermore, the demand for a place in such schools is high.
Internet Service Providers
Hong Kong has 6 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offering fibre broadband services.
The broadband prices offered by HGC are considered quite satisfactory for the value they offer customers. Online registration is recommended if you wish to claim discount coupons.
i-Cable recently launched a no-contract broadband plan which is only available online. If you do not like to be tied down by contract plans or are only going to stay in Hong Kong for a short time, then this option may be a better choice for you.
Netvigator has a 36-months broadband contract plan. They have promotions such as a 12-month fee waiver which can lower the overall cost of the plan and also offer free installation for online registration.