Relocating to any destination has its advantages and disadvantages, and expats will find that Hong Kong is no different. The better prepared expats-to-be are 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 generally outweighs the bad.
Here is a list of our pros and cons of living in Hong Kong.
Accommodation in Hong Kong
+ PRO: Lots of options
There’s always something new being built in Hong Kong, and although that means being treated to the melodious sounds of drills and jackhammers when walking down the street, it also means it’s easy to find new apartments. So, while there is a ceaseless demand for accommodation, there is also a high supply.
When searching for accommodation, there won’t be a shortage of places to view. In fact, apartment hunting in Hong Kong is very much a numbers game; it’s all about viewing as many places as possible until finding something that's the best fit for an expat's requirements.
- CON: Lack of space and high rent
The rent in Hong Kong is eye-wateringly high, and the spaces often frustratingly small. However, since taxes are so low, expats should just placate themselves by the fact that the two balance each other out.
There is also a tendency to cram in as many rooms as possible when apartments are being built, especially in the newer buildings. Buildings from the 80s and 90s afford tenants more space for their money, and the rooms are larger, but the apartments might be quite tired and old. Additionally, there won’t be much in the way of facilities in the building, such as a gym or pool. Opting for a newer building means that house hunters will likely have a brand new apartment with great clubhouse facilities, but it will probably be quite small with lots of cramped rooms.
Furnishing a home in Hong Kong
+ PRO: Custom-made furniture
Pretty much anything can be custom-made in Hong Kong. Most shops will customise their sofas, beds, dining tables and so on, 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 completed.
- CON: Very little middle ground
There are few mid-range options in Hong Kong. Furnishings are either stylish but pricey, or cheap both in look and price. Either a fortune will be spent on bedding and towels, for instance, to get something decent, or one can opt for something dirt cheap and of poor quality. Things such as bedding and towels are therefore 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 they even assemble the furniture on arrival.
Raising children in Hong Kong
+ PRO: Wide variety of high-quality international schools
Parents looking to send their child to one of the many international schools in Hong Kong will be spoilt for choice. Expat families in Hong Kong are often able to to find a school that offers a familiar curriculum or at least an internationally recognised one. Various national curricula are available, including those from the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, France and Germany. Another common curriculum is the globally renowned International Baccalaureate.
+ PRO: Plenty of fun things to see and do
Kid-friendly attractions can be found just about everywhere in Hong Kong, ranging from bustling theme parks such as Disneyland, to calm outdoor activities such as picnicking in one of Hong Kong's many green spaces.
Lifestyle in Hong Kong
+ PRO: A friendly expat community
The expat community in Hong Kong is incredibly friendly. Home to hundreds of thousands of expats, Hong Kong is exceptionally welcoming as most people know what it’s like to be new and are happy to help and befriend newly arrived expats. 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
On the flip side, often some of the friends one makes leave to go back home, which can become frustrating after a while.
+ PRO: Varied nightlife
The lifestyle offered by Hong Kong is enviable. With a huge variety of restaurants and bars; there’s always something new to try. It also caters for all types of social preferences; expats can go for a night out on the town, enjoy a relaxed evening or indulge in a simple dinner party.
+ PRO: Outdoor pursuits
There is a lot to do in Hong Kong, especially when it comes to outdoor activities. Lovely hiking trails abound, and many expats decide to take up a sport and join a club and league, including various watersports. And, although Hong Kong is famous for being a concrete jungle, there are a lot of green spaces.
- CON: Humid summers
When summer approaches, the pollution and humidity in Hong Kong make it uncomfortable to do much outdoors. For most of the year though, the weather is pleasant and allows a lot of time to be spent outside.
Summer is also the season for typhoons. This may sound frightening, but Hong Kong is incredibly well-equipped to deal with the extreme weather. Should a typhoon be approaching, cautionary signs will be displayed everywhere indicating the level of the typhoon, so residents know whether they should batten the hatches at home, or continue their day normally.
Food in Hong Kong
+ PRO: Great selection of restaurants
In Hong Kong, every cuisine under the sun can be found, and restaurants range from the cheap and cheerful to the Michelin-starred and extravagant.
- CON: Supermarkets
Supermarkets are overpriced and lacking in variety. The price for certain Western foods can come as a shock, 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 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 runs at regular intervals, and delays are a rarity. Best of all, public transport in Hong Kong is incredibly cheap, especially considering how effective it is.
+ PRO: Cheap and abundant taxis
There are taxis everywhere in Hong Kong. They are cheap by Western standards but still more expensive than public transport. Because Hong Kong is small, travelling by taxi is quick and it's easy to find one – unless of course, it is raining, in which case all of them will suddenly seem to be occupied.
Working in Hong Kong
+ PRO: Easy to network
Networking in Hong Kong is exceedingly easy. 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.
►Read about our recommended Areas and Suburbs in Hong Kong
"It’s cosmopolitan, friendly and weird. Everything is accessible, culturally fantastic. Biggest adjustment? Everything is so damned expensive!" Read more of Lindsey's expat interview.
"Hong Kong is kind of magical when it comes to convenience, speed and safety. I am always amazed by how easy and convenient life is, such as paying invoices, opening a bank account, applying for a working visa, signing a rental lease… Not much paperwork and it’s quick." For more, see Edouard's interview.
Are you an expat living in Hong Kong?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Hong Kong. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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