Money and tax
As of early June 2013, there are HK$11.92 to the British pound. While a pint of milk costs roughly 90p in Hong Kong (compared to 49p in the UK), an average three-course meal for two will come to just £25.
Whether you rent or buy, the property market in Hong Kong favours the buyer/tenant, and new residential complexes appear regularly. The fiercely competitive market means that sellers and landlords advertise with as many agents as they can, and every estate agent in the same area will show you the same houses. So, for an easier life, just stick with one agent. When researching a neighbourhood, it’s also a good idea to look at the cost of home/contents insurance.
Every family member aged 11 or older must register for a Hong Kong identity card within 180 days. You can book an appointment online up to 24 working days in advance so it’s one thing to do before you set off. The documents you’ll need to apply for are handily listed on the Hong Kong Government website.
One of your first priorities, after obtaining your identity card, is to open a bank account. All you need is your passport or identity card and proof of address. Plan ahead financially and keep money aside to meet the costs you’ll pay upfront on arrival, as well as your typical bills (deposits and rent, connection fees and monthly bills, and your children’s education). The ‘Moving with your family’ section below indicates typical school fees.
Generally, tax in Hong Kong is lower than the UK. As a working resident or non-resident, you’ll pay salaries tax (Hong Kong’s income tax) and the highest rate is 20 percent. There’s no capital gains tax and no VAT. Hong Kong and the UK have a ‘double taxation treaty’ for expats: if you’re a resident of both, you’re only liable for income tax in one.
Culture and settling in
Hong Kong is one of Asia’s most Westernised cities, with British values firmly entrenched. But it still has a Chinese heart, and there’s been a renewed focus on traditional culture since the UK’s handover of Hong Kong in 1997.
The city is the ‘gateway to China’ with fewer restrictions than the mainland, and the strong British influence lessens the culture shock. Drive on the left as you do in the UK, and in an emergency call 999. It’s details like these that can make adjusting easier.
Chinese and English are official languages, with English widely used in business. Children at most public schools learn in Cantonese, with English primarily used by teachers at international schools.
Around four percent of the population speaks English, and the expat community in Hong Kong is incredibly welcoming. The New Territories region, especially Discovery Bay, has a higher population of non-native residents.
Hong Kong’s law is based on the UK’s and is strictly enforced. It’s reassuring to know that crime in Hong Kong is low, with punishment acting as an effective deterrent. Even misdemeanours, such as not having a valid ticket on public transport, are handled with zero tolerance.
Health in Hong Kong
You’re at no more risk of illness in Hong Kong than you would be in the UK and while no vaccinations are required for travel, typhoid and hepatitis A are strongly recommended. Visit the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for up-to-date health advice.
One British institution you won’t find in Hong Kong is the NHS. Charges for routine and emergency care are high, so taking out health insurance before you set off is essential. At public hospitals, Hong Kong ID card holders pay less than tourists for care, whereas at more expensive private hospitals everyone is charged at the same rate.
Living, working and travelling
Space is at a premium, meaning rent prices are equivalent to or higher than those in London. As with every major city, prices are lower further out, such as off the main island in Kowloon or Happy Valley. The Mass Transit Railway (MTR) covers every region; travel time into central Hong Kong is an hour or less from most outlying residential areas. The city centre is also as walkable as London’s Zone 1.
If your commute is by train or bus, an Octopus card – available at MTR stations – is the cost-effective way to pay. The number of Octopus cards used in Hong Kong is greater than the population and its popularity is in its versatility – it can also be used in shops and restaurants, for parking, and at vending machines.
Moving with your family
Upheaval is always stressful, particularly when adding a new culture to the pot. Keeping children involved with books, videos and stories about their new home is one way to reduce the impact.
International schooling is likely to combat the potential culture shock too. Harrow School in Hong Kong, for example, follows an altered version of the UK curriculum for International GSCEs and A-Levels. Competition for places is always tough in private schools and your children will need to prepare for tests and interviews for all of them.
The attractive alternative (particularly for younger children) is to encourage them to become bilingual. Children pick up languages quicker than adults can, and understanding Chinese could open more doors when your children are older and job-hunting. Local schools teach in Cantonese and are largely of an excellent standard. And they’re free, while subsidised and private international schools charge yearly fees of around £8,000. Boarding at international schools will cost more than for day pupils.
- Plan, and plan well. Start your preparations at least six months in advance – the removals process alone will take six to eight weeks.
- It’s likely that you’ll be downsizing, so make a careful evaluation of your possessions.
- Unless your company stipulates that a vehicle is necessary, the public transport network is such that buying a car is not advised.
- Try to get out and meet new people as soon as you arrive. You’ll find clubs and activities for every age group (adults included).
- Children tend to adjust fairly quickly but it’s important to be proactive. Invite classmates for sleepovers while you socialise with parents, for example.
- Starting life in a new country shouldn’t mean leaving your old life behind. Bring family traditions and little rituals with you to help you settle in your new home.
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