Thinking of moving to Hong Kong? Here’s what you need to know:
Hong Kong: Quick Facts
- Located on China’s southern coast, with a population of around 7.5 million.
- Became a British colony following the victory of the United Kingdom over the Qing Dynasty forces in the 1839-1842 Opium War. Occupied briefly by Japan during World War II, Hong Kong (HK) was taken back by the British and remained a colony until 1997.
- According to China’s promise, Hong Kong will enjoy a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign and defence affairs until 2047.
- One of the leading global financial hubs, Hong Kong is internationally known for its economic/trade freedoms, high quality of life, and superior levels of education.
- Has one of the highest per capita GDP’s in the world, at $52,687. Once a manufacturing city, it is famous today for the financial services sector.
- Often stereotyped as an urban jungle, Hong Kong is actually covered in green spaces. There is an abundance of natural parks, hiking trails, and beaches. There are many islands to visit and explore – many are easily accessible by ferry.
- Due to large amount of expats working in the financial sector, Hong Kong is a truly cultural melting pot – you will find businesspeople from every corner of the world.
- Currency: Hong Kong Dollar (HKD).
- Spoken languages: primarily Cantonese. Mandarin and English are widely understood. Note: Hong Kong is one of Asia’s most accessible cities, and it is entirely possible to get by with just English (most signs are in English and Chinese). Mandarin is becoming increasingly popular as the city finds itself increasingly catering to visitors (and investors) from the mainland.
- Major religions: majority (65%+) non-religious, 21% Buddhist, 11% Christian.
- Major races: 93.5% of Chinese descent.
Why move to Hong Kong
- Income taxes are very low (by international standards). It’s a progressive tax rate, and will depend on your income. Paying 15% income tax is not uncommon. Note: income tax is not automatically withheld – each individual is responsible for paying it back at tax season.
- The “one country, two systems” principle is still in effect – though its part of China, Hong Kong still retains many economic freedoms from the mainland. It’s easy to do business here, and this attracts many multinational companies looking for an Asia HQ. The economy is open, transparent, and free of corruption.
- Hong Kong offers a unique East meets West experience. Considered by many to be a colonial success story, HK has retained its (Chinese) cultural heritage while adopting Western business, economic, and societal practices. There’s no other place quite like it.
- A heaven for food lovers. Featuring cuisines from the world over, Hong Kong has something to suit every taste and budget.
- Hong Kong is very expat-friendly. Locals are used to new arrivals, and are generally receptive. In many ways, HK (just like Singapore) is “Asia on training wheels.”
- Has one of the lowest crime rates in the world – it is hard to find trouble in Hong Kong unless you are really looking for it. There are no real “bad” neighborhoods, especially when considering just Hong Kong Island (the part of the city where most expats end up).
- Contrary to popular belief, Hong Kong is not entirely an urban jungle. There is much to do (and explore) outdoors. The city is replete with hiking trails, and is perfect for water sports (e.g. kiteboarding, windsurfing). There are many outlying islands, perfect for a day trip.
- With a strong network of international schools (including UK and American curricula) and a world-class, affordable healthcare system, Hong Kong is a great place for expat families.
- Excellent public transport and overall city infrastructure. The subway system (MTR) is among the best in the world, and taxis are relatively cheap by Western standards.
- Hong Kong is a shopper’s paradise, for those who are into that sort of thing. If it’s manufactured on this planet, you can probably find it here (and for a good price). Shopping has been (jokingly) dubbed Hong Kong’s national sport.
- It’s a great hub from which to explore the rest of Asia (regional flights and vacation packages can be had for cheap).
Reasons Not to move to Hong Kong
Note: these are common expat complaints, and may not apply to you.
- Largely due to the high cost of real estate, Hong Kong is one of the most expensive cities to live in. With increased interest from foreign (especially mainland Chinese) businesses and investors, prices continue to rise. By any standard, the prices for real estate are absurdly high.
- While English is generally understood everywhere, you will have to learn Mandarin or Cantonese if you want to advance in fields other than finance or law.
- Most expats consider it a temporary place – great to try out, but also easy to leave. With such a high turnover, it can be frustrating to constantly see friends go.
- Flights to North America or Europe are long (and expensive).
- Air pollution is a real problem, and is only getting worse with time. Smog warnings are frequent, and those moving from cleaner cities may have difficulties adjusting.
- The weather can be unbearable in the summers, when it’s hot and humid. To top it off, this is typhoon season.
- It’s a constantly changing city, and the future is uncertain. As evidenced by recent protests, many locals are not pleased with the increased influence from mainland China.
- The excessive consumerism and obsession with luxury goods/services can be off-putting to those seeking a relaxed lifestyle.
- Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and it’s hard to escape the crowd. Whether you’re navigating a popular mall or finding your way through an MTR (metro/subway) station, it can get quite claustrophobic.
Getting a Visa and Finding Work
- IANG: the “Immigration Arrangements for Non-local Graduates” permit is designed for non-local graduates from a Hong Kong university. Potential candidates must apply within six months of completion of their studies (an offer of employment is not required at the time of application, unless the application is made six months or more after graduation). If successful, an applicant’s spouse/partner (and children under age of 18) may also come and work in Hong Kong.
- GEP: the “General Employment Policy” is designed for not non-local graduates that possess special skills, knowledge or experience. This permit must be requested by the employer. Requirements include: technical qualifications (or proof of professional ability), a job offer by an employer that is unable to find a suitable local candidate, and a renumeration package that is similar to one that would be offered to a local professional. A permit holder’s partner/spouse (and children under 18) may come live and work in HK.
- SLS: the “Supplementary Labour Scheme” is for labour at “technician” level or below. The permit must be requested by the employer. SLS holders may not freely change their employer, and while their spouse/children may come to HK with them, they may not work.
- QMAS: This is “Quality Migrant Admission Scheme” designed to attract talented people from the mainland and overseas to develop their careers in Hong Kong. Applicants are not required to secure an offer of local employment beforehand. Requirements include: ability to support him/herself financially, clean criminal record, proficiency in written and spoken Chinese (Putonghua or Cantonese) or English, post-secondary degree. There is also a point-based test and selection exercise, during which government authorities evaluate whether the applicant’s experience matches a need in Hong Kong.
- Working Holiday Scheme (WHS): only for citizens of Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand. Applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 30, and must prove that they have at least HKD $20,000 in funds to support them throughout the stay. The visa allows for stay in Hong Kong for up to 12 months (holders may work, as long as no single job lasts more than 3 months).
- Note: there are usually strict quotas on the number of people that may enter for any category. For more detailed information, please see the official HK Immigration Department website.
Permanent Residency and Citizenship
- Permanent residency is not easy to obtain. One of the most common routes is through capital investment, which at present requires having a net worth of at least $10M HKD (~1.3M USD). There is also a quota set aside for skilled immigrants (evaluated through two tests – the Achievement Based Points Test and General Points Test). In general, foreigners may apply for PR status after living in Hong Kong for 7 years and proving that it is their permanent place of residence.
- Obtaining citizenship (naturalization): for the most part, requirements are the same as for obtaining citizenship in the PRC (People’s Republic of China). In general, those of Chinese descent may be considered Chinese nationals. Most obtain it by means of ancestry.
- Note: many expats do not pursue citizenship in Hong Kong (or the PRC), as Hong Kong Permanent Residency essentially confers the same benefits. Holders of the Hong Kong PR card may freely enter, live, and work in Hong Kong without restriction (and are also eligible for public healthcare benefits).
STARTING A BUSINESS IN HONG KONG
- The low corporate tax rates (17.5% profits tax on profits made within Hong Kong) make the HKSAR an attractive place to start a company. Generally, foreigners elect to establish a limited liability company. One may either register a new one, or purchase an existing unused shell company to speed up the process. Registration generally takes 6 days and costs around HKD $5000 in total (~700 USD). There are many firms that offer company registration services for those wishing to establish a company while abroad.
- Under the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme, those who make capital investments in Hong Kong may reside there (but may not be engaged in the actual running of the business). Applicants must be 18 or above, and have assets of at least HKD $10M to invest.
Note: as of January 15, 2015, this scheme is suspended.
- Note: unless the business will directly take advantage of Hong Kong’s strategic position as a port with access to the manufacturing and trade base of mainland China, foreign entrepreneurs may wish to explore starting a business in Singapore instead (many report that there is less paperwork in Singapore). This is not to downplay Hong Kong, however, as it is still one of the top places in the world in terms of starting (and doing) business.
Links & Resources
- Immigration Department – official government website covering visas, identity cards, and everything else
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