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GUEST COMMENT: Six bad things about living in Hong Kong that you should know before you move there

The Western trek to Asia started centuries ago. Of course back then it was a national endeavour, centred largely around the economic benefits of international trade, and the patriotic pride obtained from exploring and taming “new” countries.

These days it’s more of a personal (or corporate) decision. The reasons are varied, but money and experience typically feature heavily. However, unlike in the bad old days of colonialism, you need to integrate with the local population.

Hong Kong has a lot to offer for us expats, but don’t expect a walk in the park. I first moved here six years ago and it was quite difficult for the first six months. Here are a few things I’ve learnt that hopefully will give you food for thought if you’re considering a stint in the city.

1. Accommodation

If you’re accustomed to a backyard, adjust your expectations. The cost of accommodation in Hong Kong is one of the highest in the world. Hong Kong is very, very small – it probably would not appear on a world map if it were not labelled. There are several factors contributing to the high cost of living, including hot money from China and ineffective government housing policies. You might consider these costs as a tax, which to some extent offsets the deceptively low income tax rates.

2. Pollution

Given its proximity to the mainland’s economic trade zones (the pollution blows south frequently), this is a battle that the city is not winning. It often swings the decisions for expats towards Singapore.

3. Language

Hong Kong touts itself as an international centre and it has a well-educated professional workforce. But for everyday living, you deal with the mass population. Cantonese and even Mandarin are far more valuable than English (unless you’re in the front office and serve a niche). Those who have been here long enough understand the waning benefits and influence of British colonialism. The language difficulty is felt not only in the street but in the office, too.

4. Work culture

Working here is very different from most Western countries. Naturally your own experience will depend on the industry, the organisation, the department, the boss and so on. But let’s generalise: the hours are longer, there is less social interaction in the office, and morale is low or neutral. (This is from a foreigner’s perspective. For those who grew up in Hong Kong, it is just the norm).

5. Education

Hong Kong has a harsh school system by Western standards. It is common for parents to sign up their unborn babies for a wide array of classes. A child wishing to enter a primary school should have a portfolio showcasing the various courses and classes he or she has attended, including achievements. It is also common for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten-aged children to be coached by a professional for a school interview. If you want your son or daughter to have a less stressful childhood, be prepared to pay several thousands of dollars per month for an international school.

6. Racism

This exists in a subtle way. If you’re not Chinese or Caucasian, expect potential challenges in your career.

I’ve focused only the negatives in this blog. Depending on your personality, you can adapt and adjust like the rest of us have. Once you’ve done this, you’re probably going to really enjoy your time in Hong Kong.

The writer is a Hong Kong-based financial professional. The views expressed are his and not those of eFinancialCareers.


AUTHORAnonymous Insider Comment
  • ho
    5 October 2012

    Every city has its pros and cons. I think the writer was simply pointing out the more extreme cons. I would assume they were pretty obvious to anyone who does any sort of research before they move, but I'm still amazed at how many expats come over with completely unrealistic expectations.
    5 years later, and I'm pretty much used to everything about this crazy place - except the pollution. I should probably see a doctor about the black gunk I cough up at the end of each day.

  • Jo
    4 October 2012

    HK is a great place to work and play according to my expereince. Someone back in UK discretely mentioned it was my birthday and the birthday cake was magically served up.. how cool was that.
    The social scene is great and the advantage of living in a small place is that and most expats know each other (especially those working within the same industry).

    All I could comment is that try to enjoy the ride and if you can find that much wrong with the place, perhaps you should come home - and enjoy the rain, weather, high taxes etc. If you happen to live in a 'wrong' catchment area, then it is just a stressful to find the right school for your kids. A few thousand dollars per month to go to international school is a bargain. Please check out the public school fees - which could be anything from £20k to £30k.

  • HF
    4 October 2012

    Cool guys, thanks.

  • aw
    4 October 2012

    if you relocate it's because you want to leave blighty and have been offered a good deal to do so. so entirely pointless bunch of stuff to say. not least because anyone who has been to HK knows it is awesome!

    clearly a post written by someone offered a job in HK, turned it down, and regrets it and tries to justify it to himself.

  • go
    4 October 2012

    And six good things (when compared to say, London, for example).
    1. Income Tax: 15%. Say no more.
    2. Crime: Pretty much non existent, one of the safest places I've ever worked. Little chance of being stabbed for looking at someone the wrong way here.
    3. Transportation: Phenomenal. Can be in the airport lounge, sipping a beer, having left the comfort of my apartment (admittedly expensive v London - but see point 1 above) in central HK island less than an hour before. The Hong Kong "Tube" (MTR) doesn't tend to stop for leaves on the line, striking disgruntled employees, signal failures etc. They only tend to stop when they are supposed to (i.e. when they come into a station to let passengers on and off). Taxis are very cheap and plentiful.
    4. The outdoors. Beautiful country parks, beaches and strenuous, invigorating hiking literally minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
    5, Social life. Fantastic bars, restaurants and there's always someone to share a beer with and just chill out.
    6. It's a long way from the crisis strewn, miserable placed called Europe.

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