Hong Kong has a long history of welcoming expats and foreign workers into its rich cultural heritage. It’s seen as an important gateway into world markets for many multinational companies within the tech, finance, advertising and HR industries. Popular job opportunities for expats can be seen within the financial sector, where local expertise is limited.
In this article, we take a look at everything you need to know about moving to Hong Kong as an expat in 2021. We cover the practical details expats should consider before making the move, including upfronts costs, the visa requirements to live and work in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong tax system and where to live.
☐ Do you have an offer of employment?
☐ Have you found a place to live?
☐ If your property is unfurnished, have you found a company that can supply your home with essential furniture ahead of your arrival?
☐ Have you prepaid your property deposit and any other bills?
☐ Have you received your tenancy agreement as proof of address? (You will need this to do many other things like set up a bank account.)
☐ Have you asked your landlord or property manager to set up your home Wi-Fi ahead of your arrival?
☐ Have you calculated a budget that takes into account expenses such as rent, taxes and other bills/fees?
☐ If you are migrating with children, have you arranged a place for them at a local school?
☐ Have you set up a bank account?
☐ Do you have all the necessary payment cards to go with your account?
☐ Have you arranged to get a mobile phone with a local SIM card?
☐ Have you taken out international health insurance to cover you and your family?
☐ Have you checked the COVID-19 situation and made preparations to undergo regular testing?
☐ If you have already been vaccinated for COVID-19, do you have evidence of your evidence such as the batch number of your vaccine? If you have not been vaccinated, have you made arrangements to get a vaccine once you arrive in Hong Kong?
☐ Have you applied for a visa at least 6 weeks before beginning your preparations?
☐ Have you also applied for a visa for your spouse and/or family?
☐ If your spouse will be working too, have you applied for one work visa that will apply to both of you?
☐ Have you checked to see if you can bring your pets? Have you obtained a Special Permit to bring cats or dogs into the country?
☐ Once you have received your visa, have you registered for a smart identity card?
☐ Have you learned some basic Cantonese phrases to help you get by in day-to-day life?
Moving anywhere new is bound to offer some unique challenges, and Hong Kong is no exception.
Here’s a general lowdown of what to expect from life in Hong Kong.
Is it safe to move to Hong Kong as an expat?
In general, yes. Hong Kong is an advanced economy with very low rates of crime across the city. That’s not to say crime doesn’t happen. Thefts, assaults and burglaries occur as in any other city, and organised crime is a wider issue for the city. However, overall, crime levels are comparatively low and decreasing.
How has Hong Kong dealt with COVID-19?
Hong Kong managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic. As of April 2021, Hong Kong had around 11,500 cases and 205 deaths, which is low compared to its population of 7.5 million.
Some scientists believe this is because Hong Kong was quick to implement policies of quarantining, mask-wearing and working from home – lessons that East Asia had already learned during the previous SARS outbreak. Hong Kong did experience a number of severe spikes in cases throughout 2020 and 2021, but was quick to respond to these.
Recently, Hong Kong has implemented free mass testing and vaccinations for all residents. It is likely that Hong Kong will recover well overall from the COVID-19 crisis.
How is the political situation in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China. Although it is officially part of a communist country, it is allowed to operate its own capitalist model under a system the Chinese call “one country, two systems.” It was agreed that this model would be in effect for 50 years after the British handover, meaning it will expire in 2047. However, this unique status has led to some political tension.
Some Hongkongers have argued that the Hong Kong government, under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party, has started to encroach on their democratic freedoms. This has led to widespread protests throughout the city since 2019. In response, the Hong Kong government passed the Hong Kong national security law in 2020, which effectively bans acts of protest and also limits foreign interference within the region. These laws also apply to non-native residents of Hong Kong.
However, following the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions and implementation of The National Security Law, the protests have started to die down. It is becoming increasingly unlikely that protest activity will affect the lives of expats living in the city.
Is Hong Kong a nice place to live for expats?
Hong Kong has taken advantage of its unique history to transform itself into a prosperous and modern environment. It is an extremely wealthy part of the world and home to the seventh-greatest number of billionaires of any region worldwide. For that reason, you can expect to find lots of modern-day luxuries such as high-end shops and malls, world-class restaurants and top-of-the-range apartment complexes.
However, like any city, Hong Kong has two sides. It is also the world’s fourth most densely populated city, with the vast majority of residents living in modest and sometimes impoverished conditions in the city’s numerous, sky-high tower blocks. Before you move to Hong Kong, make sure you shop around the rental property market to find a home that is spacious with all the modern amenities you and your family will need.
Top expat tips
- Ensure you have all essential documents and visas in place before departure
- Early application for school places is advisable
- Have up to three months’ rent available upfront to secure a rental property
- Be aware that you have to submit and pay your own taxes bi-annually
- Look at life insurance and health cover that reflect your location needs
- Stay healthy, immerse yourself in the culture and take language lessons
Where should I live in Hong Kong?
Finding good accommodation at the right price can be a challenge for expats and most people migrating to Hong Kong should expect to pay a sizeable share of their income towards rent and other living costs.
Prices can range quite significantly by area. For example, in the exclusive Peak area, it’s not unusual to pay in excess of $100,000 HKD per month for a three-bedroom apartment. For a more affordable monthly price tag of around $30,000 HKD, head for Kowloon or the New Territories.
Popular expat areas, such as Mid-Levels on Hong Kong Island, or Discovery Bay, are in particularly high demand among expat families with young children, because of their location close to expat schools and high-density expat communities. In these areas, you should expect to pay $40,000- $50,000 HKD per month for a three-bedroom apartment.
Karen Lyons – expat of 15 years in Hong Kong
Except for serviced apartments, most rental accommodation is unfurnished, but often includes appliances.
Rentals are payable monthly in advance and, serviced apartments aside, are generally exclusive of management fees and government taxes, which could add a further 12-15% on top of rental costs. There will also be legal fees for signing tenancy agreements and often an agency introductory fee equivalent to 50% of one month’s rent to take into account. Additionally, it’s wise to factor-in an upfront deposit of two to three months’ rent.
Looking at an example of a three-bed apartment in Mid-Levels on Hong Kong Island at around $45,000 HKD per month, plus management fees of around $2,500 HKD, could mean an initial payment of around $159,500 HKD for the first month plus taxes and additional expenses. This could equate to roughly £14,330/$20,322 USD in upfront costs.
What is the local job market like in Hong Kong?
Because Hong Kong is a hub of industry and commerce, job opportunities are usually in abundance. That said, with so much global talent flowing into this region, competition for the top jobs can be fierce. That’s why it’s always best to agree a contract for a job before moving to Hong Kong.
As the home of many multinational companies, the dominant industries within Hong Kong include banking and finance, IT, advertising and HR. Another industry that is in particularly high demand is teaching. The Native-speaking English Teacher (NET) Scheme offers a wide range of opportunities to expats to teach English professionally.
What is a good expat salary in Hong Kong?
Expats with a few years’ experience in a professional occupation can expect to earn a good wage in Hong Kong.
The minimum wage in Hong Kong is much lower than in the UK and USA, at just $37.5 HKD (roughly £3.51/$4.82 USD). However, the average salary is much higher at $19,100 HKD (£1,787/$2,455 USD) per month for men and $14,700 HKD (£1,375/$1,890 USD) for women.
Finance jobs in Hong Kong offer some of the highest salaries, with many managers in finance firms earning over $500,000 HKD (£46,700/$64,290 USD) per year. Marketing, project management and software engineering jobs also offer good salaries, many of which are in the region you would expect to find in London, New York and other global cities.
Ultimately, if you are looking to grow your career while earning a good salary, Hong Kong could be the perfect place to do it.
Will I need to learn Chinese?
While the local language of Hong Kong is officially Cantonese, English is the de facto second language and employees of international companies will often speak English at work. In fact, many companies will expect you to speak English as a first language.
That’s not to say there is no need to learn Cantonese if you are moving to Hong Kong. You will still need to know a little in order to communicate with people outside of work. However, bear in mind that Cantonese is generally considered to be more difficult than Mandarin. Outside of Hong Kong Mandarin will be more useful to you, especially if you expect to travel around, where English literacy rates are far lower.
Once you’ve arranged your accommodation, job and taxes, it’s time to finalise your application by applying for a visa.
How do I apply for a Hong Kong visa?
Once you have confirmed an offer of employment, the next step is to apply for a visa. This can take up to 6 weeks, so early application is recommended.
Both you and your employer will need to complete the visa application forms. You will also need to apply for your spouse and any children under 18. Only one work visa is needed per household, so, if you have a work visa, your partner will also be able to work in Hong Kong without needing to apply for a separate visa.
It’s also worth noting that there are regulations on bringing family pets, so make sure you visit Hong Kong’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation website before importing any animals.
What is a Hong Kong smart identity card and how do I get one?
Within 30 days of receiving your visa, anyone over the age of 11 must also register for a smart identity card.
As well as carrying important information that confirms your identity, the card can also be used for various non-immigration applications such as e-Certificates, which can be used for online identity verification.
There is no fee to obtain a smart ID card, and you should carry it with you at all times. If your card is lost or damaged you must obtain a replacement within 14 days and pay a fee of $3,708 HKD. You can register and obtain your ID card at any Registration of Persons Office in Hong Kong.
What else might I need?
You will also need to think about your communication essentials. Wi-Fi is freely and widely available in Hong Kong thanks to the public Wi-Fi brand Wi-Fi.HK, however bear in mind some websites are censored. If you would like Wi-Fi in your home, consult with your landlord or property manager ahead of time and ask them to install it.
Once you touch down in Hong Kong, you may also want to make choosing a new mobile phone SIM card a priority. This is because using your foreign SIM card in Hong Kong could end up being very expensive.
What are the costs of moving to Hong Kong?
The cost of your relocation will vary based on your and your family’s requirements, however, as a minimum you should expect to have budgeted these costs up front:
Visas: HK$190 per visa
Accommodation: Expect to pay around $45,000 HKD per month for a three-bed apartment in Mid-Levels on Hong Kong Island, plus two to three months’ rent as deposit, plus management fees and taxes.
School fees: Expect to pay around $106,500 HKD per annum (Primary Year 1-2) plus a $10,000 HKD deposit.
Pet registration: Expect to pay around $432 HKD, and $102 HKD for every additional animal that is part of the same shipment.
Tax: Expect to pay $76,500 HKD per year (before allowances and deductions) based on salary of $450,000 HKD with a progressive rate applied.
Hong Kong operates a relatively low personal tax system, which means you could end up paying much lower taxes than in your own country. However, you will have to do a bit of preparation before you move to Hong Kong in order to make sure you are set up on the tax system.
How do I pay tax in Hong Kong as an expat?
Income tax in Hong Kong is applied on either a progressive rate starting at 2% and up to 17% for salaries over $135,000 HKD for the tax year 2017/18, or at a standard rate of 15%, whichever is lower.
Various allowances and deductions can be applied, and the Hong Kong tax authority operates a handy tax calculator to assess tax payable.
It is your responsibility, rather than your employer’s, to file a tax assessment, and the bill is payable in two lump-sum instalments every January and April.
In your first tax year, you will also be asked to pay provisional tax for the following year, so anticipate paying a larger sum upfront. To help budget, it is possible to opt for regular Electronic Tax Reserve Certificates (TRCs), which allow you to build up funds for your tax payment.
Country Head (Hong Kong), William Russell
It is fair to say that Hong Kong has one of the best healthcare systems worldwide. In the 2018 Bloomberg Health-Efficiency Index, Hong Kong ranked #1 worldwide, meaning it is one of the best regions for ratio of healthcare spending to life expectancy. In other words, if you live in Hong Kong, you can expect to benefit from some of the highest quality healthcare available worldwide.
Is healthcare expensive in Hong Kong?
The good news for expats is that Hong Kong offers a subsidised public healthcare system that is available to anyone with a smart ID card. This means even non-permanent residents can receive treatment through the public healthcare system. Many of these treatments will be either free or available for a small fee. More information is available here.
Is there anything the public healthcare system won’t cover?
Unfortunately, dentistry is not covered by the public healthcare system. You may need private healthcare insurance to cover dental work, as it can be quite expensive. Check out our international health insurance plans.
What are the downsides of a free public healthcare system?
Many expats may find the public healthcare system in Hong Kong to be slow. Patients can expect to wait long periods before being seen at hospitals. Furthermore, there is no guarantee of being matched with an English-speaking doctor, which could make it difficult to communicate healthcare issues.
Is private healthcare available in Hong Kong?
Indeed. Private medical care is a popular option with some expats in Hong Kong who prefer shorter waiting times for treatment and the opportunity to speak to English-speaking doctors. It is also becoming increasingly popular with Hong Kong citizens, with the government incentivising private medical treatment through a Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme. This is designed to reduce the burden on public hospitals.
However, it is important to note that Hong Kong is one of the expensive regions in Asia for private medical care. Expats who intend to make use of the private medical sector are therefore encouraged to take out global health insurance before settling down in the region, as many of the costs associated with healthcare could cause a serious financial burden without the right level of coverage.
Living in Hong Kong in 2021 and beyond is an exciting and rewarding prospect. There’s so much culture to be discovered – and plenty of money to be made, too. To truly make the most of it, make sure you do as much preparation as possible.
We hope this article plus our handy checklist gives you all the information and resources you need for your move.