An overview of what to expect as an Expat in Hong Kong
Ahead of moving to Hong Kong, I must admit I experienced a kaleidoscope of emotions. Having spent a year in Beijing, which was a great experience, I was not sure that I wanted my next venture to be back in Asia. I honestly thought that while it was everything I hoped for and more – I was pretty much done living in Asia but I would soon find out that you can never truly have enough of Asia…and China. I did know that I wanted a blend of an international experience and the experience of living in a new place immersed with a new culture.
Hong Kong provides exactly that. You will meet people from all around the world and sometimes these short term meetings will be the most exciting ones.
People: What are people like and how do I make friends?
When I first moved to Hong Kong, I had no idea what to expect but thanks to very high rental costs and small living spaces, I had to move into a shared living space. This is where I met my first set of amazing friends a day after I arrived. I moved into a shared living space which consisted of 7 tiny rooms which was a bunk bed on the top and your living and storage area at the bottom. You had to share the kitchen and bathrooms.
This is very common in Hong Kong. Whilst that was not ideal, it allowed us to enjoy the shared spaces together (not the bathrooms of course 🙂 but we enjoyed making dinners together and sharing our experiences of the day and taking our wine glasses up to the rooftop and having some treasured laughs until the sun came up again. It was here in Hong Kong that I met my very good friends from Latvia, Spain, Albania, Russia and Austria. We are currently making plans to do a Euro-trip together.
Another great place to make friends will be at work. I was lucky to be placed at a big Center with many different people and made another good group of friends. Of course, meeting people and forging friendships will be a personal and different experience for every individual. My advice is to be yourself, have no expectations, be open minded as you will be meeting people from different cultures with their own perspectives based on their life experiences and the best way to leave a good impression would be to be open minded and acknowledge this.
Encounters with strangers and locals may be a bit different. Hong Kong is notorious for being an “unfriendly” place and I have certainly had unfriendly encounters with people you will meet at a store for example. You can walk in with the biggest smile and be greeted with well, a blank stare. At first, it can get to you but eventually you learn that it is such a busy place that customer service is not their priority…getting through dealing with a large number of customers and a long work day is what matters so don’t expect the friendliest service at stores or restaurants.
Accommodation: What should I expect when looking for my apartment?
Finding accommodation in Hong Kong can be really difficult at first and you will find that the price of an apartment is shockingly high compared to the space you will get. Hong Kong is densely populated and space is scarce as the numerous vertically growing buildings will attest to. I did eventually get my own cosy apartment on the Hong Kong island which is the area most people would want to stay on as it is close to the social scene and if you work on the island then its just convenient.
My rent is high, my space is very limited but it works for me, for now. It helps that my friend lives in the building next to mine and we have a shared rooftop! There is a mixture of locals and expats in the buildings and also another way to meet people and make new friends. If you’re prepared to pay from 18 000 HKD + for your own 1 bedroom apartment on the island, then you can find a decent place. Anything less than that will mean you are opting for a studio or shared apartment.
If you are willing to stay on other islands like Sai Kung, Lamma or the New Territories then you can get a beautiful place often times with sea views for a low price. This works if you don’t mind a longer commute of taking a ferry to the island and then the MTR. Many expats prefer this and enjoy the beach life on a daily basis but have to compromise on that extra 1 or 2 hours of sleep that some of us enjoy 🙂 Be expected to pay 2 months deposit and 1 month rent upfront as well as an agency fee which varies (most times it is half of the rental amount).
Always double check your rental invoices as there can be discrepancies with the electrical amounts (I was charged 1100 HKD for my electricity for the first month and after querying it, it was corrected to 200 HKD) I was also lucky enough to only pay 1 month’s deposit and no agency fee. My advice would be to get a few agents and compare the offers, ask for what you want and what works for and ALWAYS negotiate and haggle the prices for rent.
Language: Will I survive without knowing Cantonese?
I have been in Hong Kong for 7 months now and whilst learning the local language of Cantonese would be advantageous, it is not a prerequisite or necessary to live a comfortable life here. If you do plan on learning the language, then its a great place to be to practice it or find suitable tutors and if you aren’t keen on it like many of us, then it’s a great place to live an easy life without it as well.
Spending: Can I save in one of the biggest financial hubs?
If saving is one of your goals, you will need to think very carefully about coming to Hong Kong and this will of course depend on your lifestyle and salary package. The factors to consider are:
Rent – it is expensive but utilities are not.
Food – is generally expensive especially if you plan to eat out often. There are cheaper options if you are not a fussy eater and you can also budget by buying and preparing your own food.
Social life – There is always something to do in Hong Kong so if you aren’t buying tickets to attend something, there will be invites for dinners and drinks and night outs are extremely expensive.
Transport – The ferry, trams and MTR in Hong Kong make transport very efficient and cheap. This is not a cost to worry about, however on a night out when you plan on getting home after the MTR closes, taxi fees are generally higher than other Asian countries.
In a nutshell, you can save if that’s your goal…you would just need to have be disciplined with sticking to your own budget. Hong Kong is a great place to meet people but you will soon realize that most people here are passing through and although you will meet people who have decided to build lives here, that is not very often. It is also one of the best places to be located if you are keen on traveling and seeing other parts of Asia and the world. Flying from Hong Kong is really easy, cheap and a must if you plan on working here. I am thoroughly enjoying my experience here and if you are planning on coming soon, do say HI!