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Shocked by London, bored by Singapore, expats return to Hong Kong

It's a new season in Hong Kong. The scrapping of quarantine rules for locally based airline staff in Hong Kong on September 10 comes as expats bankers are returning to the city.

Hong Kong’s draconian Covid 19 rules prompted thousands of people to leave permanently or to relocate temporarily to more accessible locations, but for many expat bankers the relaxation of rules is proving the catalyst for a return.

Travellers from outside mainland China are still required to quarantine for three days upon arrival, but it’s a vast improvement on the more draconian measures that have been a feature of the last two and half years. “The easing of restrictions is encouraging expat bankers to return.  The authorities listened to the banks when they said they would leave,” reflects a banker at one western firm. 

The pandemic along with geopolitical tensions, has prompted a re-think by banks about how they staff the Asia-Pacific regions. Many have become willing to cast their recruitment net wider, especially as working practices have shifted to a more hybrid model.

Some banks have hired regional heads in other locations like Sydney and Singapore where they have grown their presence.  But long-serving bankers in Hong Kong who have argued that the expat exodus would be temporary are feeling vindicated. “If anything, people are returning now,” said the senior banker, who said that a member of his team had returned with his family to Hong Kong nine months after moving back to London. “The main reason is quality of life. They have club membership and servants in Hong Kong, while in London they had a rude awakening.”

For some who relocated, the move was also intended to be a temporary one, enabling them to travel to see clients and family while China pursued a zero COVID strategy in Hong Kong. Another banker said that a number of his French colleagues had returned, including a neighbour who had relocated to Singapore. “They intended the move to be temporary but even so they came back quickly. Singapore is ridiculously expensive and once you’ve got to know it, it’s boring. You end up eating at the same restaurant every night.”

One HR professional at a western bank said that they are dealing with an increasing number of requests from staff looking to return to Hong Kong. “It’s turned on a sixpence. From dealing with people wanting to move out, we’re now helping people to return,” the person said.  All Hong Kong needs now is the deal-flow to support it.

Photo by Anjana Menon on Unsplash

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AUTHORDavid Rothnie Insider Comment
  • An
    19 September 2022

    Anyone who says you end up eating at the same restaurant every night in Singapore has no clue. Singapore has the most vibrant ever changing restaurant scene with the most diverse offerings of any city in Asia.

  • ma
    18 September 2022

    Boom to bust and back. That's the only Hong Kong I've ever known. Already in the 80s, "everyone was leaving." And the 90s, obviously. And after the dotcom meltdown. Etc. etc. Don't get me wrong, in many ways HK is (or was) a magical place. But for us non-bankers, it was always about spending all your money on ridiculously high rent for a ridiculously small flat. You can do that in your 20s. Afterwards, it's time to face the real economics of life head on. Where I'm based now, mountain-view apartments go for €30 K and real income tax is 6%.

  • da
    david 12345
    16 September 2022

    Huge market big $$ is expat going after. ...

  • Ro
    14 September 2022

    Yes I looked on as many left our wonderful city. Changes sure we went through , but still quality of life is still fantastic. As the dust settles and we all fall in line to new norms , things in general have been quite an improvement for HK. Now we will see HK flourish as never before , along with the GBA Exciting times . Thanks Rory

  • Jo
    Jo Jo Jo Jo Jo
    14 September 2022

    such a sh1t non story with a ridiculous picture. stop it.

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