Thinking of moving to Hong Kong? Formerly, commonly known as the “Fragrant Harbour”; currently being promoted by the Hong Kong Government as “Asia’s World City”, the territory of Hong Kong has an amazing ability to reinvent itself: from a trading outpost to a manufacturing base, to a centre of service excellence to a financial hub—all in the space of just over a century or so….
So, your basic decision has been made to relocate here, your preparations are underway; you might already have a job offer, or are being transferred by your current company; on the other hand, maybe it’s a trip just to look and see the employment prospects—in any event, it’ll soon be time for you to head off to one of Asia’s most liveable cities.
What key issues do you need to consider (visa/entry permit) before you embark on your journey, what are the main things you need to sort out quickly when you arrive (endorsement of your visa/entry permit, accommodation)? What type of clothing should you be taking with you (tee shirts, shorts and rubber shoes, sun tan cream….but, hold on, Hong Kong also has coldish winters doesn’t it…?)?
Endless questions…, with answers to many of them to be found within in our helpful suggestions and guidance notes; so read on… and on…, and enjoy getting ready for your foray into the exotic East.
Like any major move, though, there are bound to be some challenges but, hopefully, the information we’ve assembled will give you enough pointers and tips to help smooth the transition from wherever you live now.
Before you arrive
Carefully review the following sections to help you plan your move efficiently and effectively:
- Visa or entry permit: requirements to be a legal resident
- Hong Kong Identity Card: basic requirements
- Accommodation: how to go about finding a place to live
- Cost of living indexes: how does the cost of living compare with your home country or other cities you’ve lived in?
- Salary levels: will you earn enough to be able to live comfortably?
- Local and home country taxation issues: what are the local income tax rates and do you still need to pay taxes in my home country?
- Education: if you have children, what about the standards of education, and how much will it all cost you?
- Removal companies: which companies can deliver your treasured belongings undamaged, on time and at a reasonable cost?
- Pets: not very one brings their pets but, if you plan to, how do you do it?
Review the following sections to help ensure everything goes smoothly:
- Visa, entry or other permit: approvals or endorsements required to legalise your stay
- Hong Kong Identity Card: a necessity to open bank accounts, arrange utilities and so on
- Looking for accommodation: now it’s time to put into practice all you researched before you arrived
- Bank account(s) and credit card(s): providing all of your documentation is in order, these will be easy to arrange/obtain
- Mobile phone, telephone and internet: necessities of daily life, but find out how do you arrange the services, and get the best deals
- Getting around: now that you’re in the city, how do you find all of the different places you need to visit
- Government and other services: there are a myriad of Government Departments, organisations and the like, so getting familiar with them will take some time
- Miscellaneous issues to look out for
Now for more details….
The preparation: prepare thoroughly, prepare well and you’ll find it all a lot easier…
It goes without saying that getting ready for what, for some, can be a life changing experience needs a lot of preparation; plenty of patience, flexibility and adaptability.
For those who haven’t travelled much outside their home country or lived somewhere overseas before, moving to a new city, country (or continent for that matter!) can be a daunting experience, especially if you are doing it all by yourself. Any move always has its “moments” and there will certainly be something to tax your resolve.
Of course, if you have lived in Asia previously, or your relocation is supported by your multi-national employer, the whole process might well be easier, perhaps with company personnel dedicated to facilitating an easier move available to you. Still it always helps to know what to expect, mainly the differences in local customs and cultures, language and, of course, dining habits…
In any event, don’t worry too much, the useful information on our web site is sure to help! So, read on and find out what you should be focusing on in the exciting times ahead.
a. Visa/Entry Permit
As with most Hong Kong Government Departments, the services and responses provided are efficient and courteous, so the best place to start is searching the Hong Kong Immigration Department’s website for relevant information.
Generally speaking, all non-Hong Kong residents wishing to enter Hong Kong will require a a visa or entry permit to work, study, establish or join in any business or to take up residence in the HKSAR. Otherwise, you are taking the risk of being refused admission on arrival. If you are not being sponsored by an employer, being relocated or moving inter-company it is wise to have a job offer (or at the very least a number of promising interviews lined up) before you uproot from your current country of residence and set off to Hong Kong.
Although there is no documented qualifying criterion, when considering an application, the Immigration Department will usually examine several key areas:
- Relevant experience which is deemed to be in short supply in Hong Kong
- How beneficial the individual is to Hong Kong’s economy, trade and industry
- Whether a local or already resident foreigner can fill the position
- Your educational level background: a graduate degree and above is preferable
- Reasonable salary level requirements
- How the applicant can benefit the local business environment (ie training, impartation of knowledge)
The processing time from the submission of an application can take 6-8 weeks although, if Immigration Department needs to make further enquiries, it may take longer. Typically, you’ll need to provide a certified true copy of your tertiary academic qualifications, plus details of your professional qualifications; a copy of your passport particulars page and a recent passport photograph taken within the past three months.
As mentioned, to secure an employment visa you must have a job offer from a sponsoring company that is willing to employ you and carry out the application process for your permit, as it is your future employer who must do this. The company has to submit a confirmed offer of employment, and proof that the remuneration package includes salary, accommodation (or is deemed to include accommodation), medical and educational provisions, as well as other benefits appropriate for professionals in Hong Kong.
Once an entry visa has been issued to your employer, they will forward it to you; thereafter, you can apply for residency for your spouse and children as well, if appropriate.
Work visas are normally granted for the duration of your employment contract. However, they are not generally for more than 2 years although, if your company wants to employ you for longer, towards the end of your visa period it has to apply for a renewal.
A Hong Kong employment visa is not transferable from one company to another so, if you resign or are dismissed, you will need to apply for another visa and restart the process as your sponsoring employer is obliged to notify the Immigration Department if you leave their employ. Intra-company transfers are possible for employees who have worked in an overseas office for over twelve (12).
Other visa types which can be obtained are as follows:
Investment visas are issued to self-employed people in Hong Kong and, in order to apply for such visa, you will need to complete paperwork detailing your educational background, professional experience, your proposed business activities, capital to be invested and details of the activity and the jobs it will create. Detailed information is available on the Hong Kong Immigration Department’s website and at Invest Hong Kong.
Legal spouses and children (up to the age of 18) of an employment visa holder may be issued with dependent visas. As dependents, spouses are currently allowed to take up work when sponsored by their married or de facto partner, although these arrangements are subject to change. However, if you lose your employment status, they also lose their visa rights.
To apply for a dependant visa you will need to present the passports and birth certificates of your spouse and children and a marriage certificate (if applicable). The Immigration Department will also require proof you can support your family and that the sponsored family members have no criminal record.
A detailed training programme must accompany an application for a Training Visa, which is usually valid for a period of up to 12 months.
Student visas are handled very much like work visas and, to get such a visa, your sponsoring educational institution will need to apply on your behalf.
Other Types of Visas
- Capital Investment Entrant Scheme: This scheme applies to individuals who have had net assets exceeding HK$6.5 million for at least two years before the date of application
- Domestic Help Visa: Domestic help visas are valid for a two-year domestic work contract. Domestic helpers must live in their employer’s home and cannot become permanent residents; see the section below on Domestic Helpers
- Freelancers’ Visa: For this you will need a sponsor and will have to explain to the Immigration Department what you will be doing in Hong Kong; valid for up to 12 months
- Working Holiday Scheme: This scheme applies to nationals of New Zealand, Australia and Ireland. It is based on a quota system so a limited number of visas are granted per year; such visa is valid for twelve (12) months and this visa can only be obtained once
A Hong Kong identity card is a necessity and it’s best to go to the Immigration Department in Wanchai on Hong Kong Island with originals and copies of all required documents as soon as practical after arrival.
If, at this stage, you don’t have a job lined up, start now and have a look at some of the sites below, as well as looking in certain international, regional and local newspapers.
South China Morning Post Classifieds SCMP
c. Accommodation in the city
After actually getting approval to work in Hong Kong, finding satisfactory accommodation will be the next big challenge and a this is worthy of a separate section below.
Hong Kong is ranked as the 3rd most expensive city in Asia after Tokyo and Seoul with the costs of accommodation, food and schooling (if you have children) being the three primary items of expenditure; again, this is another aspect which is worthy of a separate section below.
Many Hong Kong companies rely on the Mercer Guide for comparative living (and salary/package) costs.
e. Salary levels and remuneration packages
Salary levels in Hong Kong for senior people within large companies compare more than favourably with those in other countries, and many MNC’s still provide “all-in” packages for their employees (ie accommodation and school fees paid, travel allowances to and from home countries etc—maybe even tax paid if you are senior enough). Yet, many company’s also only offer “local terms” which means that expats are on terms commensurate with those of local staff, with no housing allowances or other key perks.
As with the cost of living indexes above, many companies rely on the Mercer Guide for comparisons of salary/package costs.
f. Local and home country taxation
All tax matters fall under the purview of the Hong Kong Inland Revenue Department.
Hong Kong has a relatively low, progressive rates income tax regime based on Net Chargeable Income i.e. assessable income after deductions and allowances, with the maximum amount of tax being paid generously low, and this will give some comfort to lower salary earners.
The amount of Hong Kong tax charged shall not exceed the amount charged by applying the standard rate to the net total income, i.e. assessable income after deductions but before allowances. If you can negotiate the appropriate provision in your lease agreement, your apartment rent may be used to offset some of your salaries tax providing the lease is in your name.
Individuals earning income that is derived in Hong Kong via employment or from services rendered in Hong Kong for visits longer than 60 days in any fiscal year are subject to salaries tax.
This rule applies even if the individual is not ordinarily resident in Hong Kong. A specific statutory Hong Kong tax exemption applies if the employee (not including a director) renders all services outside Hong Kong or if the visits to Hong Kong do not exceed 60 days in the year of assessment.
There are no Corporation withholding taxes for monies remitted out of Hong Kong to non-residents.
Home Country Taxation Considerations
It is wise to check ongoing liabilities for income and other tax in your home country as some countries have a “double taxation” system in place; questions which need to be considered include:
- Will you still considered a tax resident of your home country (e.g. if you are coming from the UK you will only be non-resident for tax purposes if you are out of the UK for a full tax year)?
- Will you be required to file tax returns on worldwide income?
- Will your social security contributions cease or is there a voluntary contribution which can be made?
- Will rental income of any property in your home country which is rented out be subject to tax or is there an exemption which can be applied for?
Prudence suggests a high degree of financial planning should be undertaken before arrival to ensure no unpleasant surprises, especially if you’re planning on maintaining home country accommodation, bank accounts and credit cards (the latter two which need to have on-line access in your absence to effect payments and transfers online).
Also worthy of checking is whether your home bank might classify your account(s) as “inactive” after a certain period of time, thereby risking that the said accounts might be frozen or even in an extreme situation, lost.
If you need to be remitting money back to your home country regularly for mortgage payments or the like research is necessary to find the most cost-effective way to send such money.
At the end of the day it might be worth taking professional financial advice on the possibility of double taxation (local and country of origin) and the impact of non (country of origin) residency on pension contributions/entitlement, share options, repatriation of earnings and disposal of assets whilst abroad.
g. Schools and Admission Processes
It is essential that anyone relocating to Hong Kong with children starts researching Hong Kong schools before arrival. School places for children of overseas employees are at a premium and many schools have long waiting lists, or even no vacancies, for the foreseeable future.
Basically, there are three types of schools, local schools where the primary medium of tuition is Chinese (Cantonese), English Schools Foundation (“ESF”) schools originally set up for children of foreign residents, with lessons in English, and schools such as the German-Swiss, American International or French International schools.
Obviously, all relevant information on your children’s background and current education level needs to be collated in advance of any relocation.
Further along the way, for those with older children, there are nine public universities in Hong Kong with the University of Hong Kong (HKU) being the oldest one; there is also the renowned Chinese University of Hong Kong. As with primary and secondary level schooling, competition for undergraduate places is fierce.
There are also a number of private higher institutions which offer higher diplomas and associate degree courses such as the Open University of Hong Kong which offers a multitude of courses.
h. Removal companies
Relocation can be an expensive business and finding a reliable international removals company can also be a challenge. Again, in the absence of your company arranging all such procedures, it’s well worthwhile researching removers and their costs as soon as practical; two of the more well known companies are Allied Pickford and Santé Fe although there are other, smaller companies who can do the job as well and may better equipped if you are moving from elsewhere in Asia or, in future, to somewhere such as The Philippines
An international move can typically take 7-12 days (by air) or 3-7 weeks (by sea) depending on which country you are coming from and it is best to start at least a few weeks (if not a couple of months) in advance of your move with a pre-move survey, at which time a consultant will visit your home and measure the size of your shipment; the consultant will also make a note of any special packing requirements such as the need for tailor made wooden crates for large or fragile items.
It is also wise to research the customs requirements at your end as most removers require a copy of your passport and a letter from you giving them authorisation to clear your shipment through customs; together with a copy of the inventory list which was prepared by the moving company at origin. Normal household goods such as furniture, electronics and personal effects can be imported duty free into Hong Kong whereas other items such as alcohol and tobacco are dutiable.
There are some key main factors which determine the cost of a move. For example, obviously, an air shipment is typically more expensive than a sea shipment although other factors such as size of the shipment, country of origin, and the value you attach to your goods for insurance purposes (the insurance cost of a move is a percentage of the value you place on the items shipped) all can impact the costs.
For those planning on bringing a pet into Hong Kong, it’s best to check out the quarantine requirements issued by the Agriculture and Fisheries Department before arrival. Some pets may need an import permit and will need to meet veterinary and quarantine requirements.
There are restrictions on some dog breeds which will need to be noted and, as some airlines don’t accept certain types of pets, it is wise to check well in advance which type of animals can and cannot enter the city.
a. Visa/entry permit
After arrival follow through directly with Immigration, or submit your passport and immigration card to your company’s HR Department for their processing; if in doubt, again review the section on Visa Policy in Hong Kong prepared by the Immigration Department or the FAQ section.
b. Hong Kong identity card
Under the Registration of Persons Ordinance, all Hong Kong residents (including children over 11) require a Hong Kong Identity Card. This card contains a micro chip with some relevant information and a photograph, and the card must be carried at all times and will be required when you wish to open accounts with banks, utility companies etc.
To register for a card, you can make an appointment by phone or via the website www.esd.gov.hk or you can go in person to one of the five ‘Registration of Persons’ offices and join the queue to wait although, if you decide to visit one of the offices without an appointment, make sure you arrive early as each office has a daily quota of people they will see and they could reach this before you are seen. The whole process may take an hour; all you need to take is your passport with a valid visa.
You do not have to pay a fee for your ID card (unless it is a replacement for a lost original). Once you have completed the forms, have been photographed and fingerprinted, you are issued a temporary identity receipt and a date on which the final card can be collected.
Your Hong Kong ID card will be valid for as long as you are resident in Hong Kong, and you should carry it with you when you go out. If you lose your card or it gets damaged, a replacement fee is payable.
For longer term residents (over 7 years) who quality for a Permanent Identity Card, such “smart’’ cards can be used as travel documents in and out of Hong Kong, as they have a state of the art finger print recognition system being deployed at the airport and other points of entry/exit to facilitate easy egress/ingress into the city. Card holders are able to live and work in Hong Kong visa free.
Permanent residence status may only be granted to people who have lived continuously in Hong Kong for seven years. In addition, you need to fulfil certain requirements which include proficiency in Cantonese. If you have such residency status you can live in Hong Kong and work at any company without a visa although, if you later leave Hong Kong for longer than 3 years you will lose such right.
If you are being relocated with the same company or have a job lined up before you arrive in Hong Kong your employer or prospective employer will usually begin and handle the process for you.
c. Looking for Accommodation
After arriving and actually getting approval to work in Hong Kong, finding satisfactory accommodation is the next big challenge and some suggestions and tips on how to do this are in a separate section below.
d. Bank account(s) and credit card(s)
Once you have your work permit endorsed and HKID obtained, you can open a bank account. Many people use either HSBC or Hang Seng Bank (HSBC’s sister bank) but there are other major banks such as Bank of China or international banks such as Citibank or Standard Chartered Bank in the city. The usual type of documentation such as passport originals, copy of identity card and, of course, enough cash to open the account(s).
You may need some help from your employer as many banks require proof of address for the last three (3) months, and clearly if this address is not in Hong Kong there may be some issues to resolve.
Without company assistance this will have to be dealt with on a case by case basis.
Applying for a credit card
Once your bank account has been established, a typical next step is to apply for a credit card with the chosen bank—and this should be relatively straightforward with banks and other lenders keen to provide credit. Usually, there is a minimum income requirement and a maximum credit limit, as is typical in other countries
There is a wide variety of choice in Hong Kong almost every card offers some kind of reward, points system or rebate.
Visa, Mastercard and American Express credit cards are widely accepted in Hong Kong, at least at most large shops and restaurants. Card incentives often include annual fee waivers and free gifts and those cards offered by major banks generally charge a very low rate of interest. Many credit cards have tie-ins with bonus point schemes, such as ‘Asia Miles’, or can give discounts on major Hong Kong brands – HSBC is notable in this respect.
An EPS card works as a debit card when you go shopping. Government departments, supermarkets, convenience stores, chain stores and department stores take EPS cards, but restaurants, small shops and travel companies often do not.
Bank charges can vary significantly between different banks and also depend on the type of account and service package you order, so it is worth shopping around and comparing carefully.
Many Hong Kong banks charge customers for the following:
- closing an account within three (3) months of opening it
- inactivity for a year with less than HK$2,000 in it (charged every six months)
- telegraphic transfer (outward remittances)
A number of credit card plans are free to join but then start to charge you (without notice) after the first year for custody of your money or the like and there are also ‘relationship banking’ plans that impose hefty charges if your balance drops below a fixed level.
These days, all banks in Hong Kong are encouraging their customers to manage as many of their transactions as possible directly online and such banking is a free addition to normal bank services.
Telephone banking in Hong Kong
Most Hong Kong banks also offer free telephone or phone banking services in addition to normal bank services when setting up your account. Telephone banking offers a time-efficient alternative to effect transactions, money transfers between accounts, checking account balances, reporting lost credit cards, ordering a cheque book, checking deposit interest rates or obtaining information from bank staff.
Paying your bills in Hong Kong
Tax, water, electricity and gas bills can all be paid via the Jetco payment terminals at banks or directly to the concerned parties through internet banking or via direct debit. PCCW phone bills can also be paid at Hong Kong Post Offices, 7-Eleven shops or via cheque.
PPS is a new service which allows automatic payments from your bank account to more than 150 merchants, including credit card companies, universities, charities and telecom services, through phone or Internet.
e. Telephones – mobile phones, landlines and internet
Some thoughts on those vital pre-requisites of modern life—telephones and the internet!
Mobile phones and internet
If you are not bringing your mobile with you from your current country of residence and need to buy one in Hong Kong, you should note that buying a phone is usually independent of the service contract and, in some cases, the phone is provided ”free” provided you commit to a two (2) year service contract (with fairly strict compliance penalties for early termination).
PCCW and China Mobile are two of the more well know service provided and terms vary depending upon the period and the promotions available—as competition is fierce between providers, every contract renewal rate seems to be cheaper than the last! Yet roaming charges remain relatively expensive if you are travelling to other countries and use your phone, so many people now have dual SIM cards with two numbers, or even two phones with separate SIM cards, for use in the country they are in.
Main Service Providers
Before you opt for a mobile plan, shop around for available service packages and take into account individual calling habits when choosing so as to avoid obtaining an unnecessarily expensive package options with items you don’t need.
Some of the main mobile service providers in Hong Kong are:
- China Mobile (China Telecom)
- CSL (Telstra)
- New World Mobility (Telstra)
- 3 (Hutchison Whampoa)
- SmarTone-Vodafone (Vodafone)
- PCCW Mobile (PCCW)
A copy of your HKID card and/or passport plus proof of employment will be required to obtain a phone service contract.
In some cases employers provide both mobile phones and packages or at least reimburse the cost of usage for company business.
Most of the foregoing applies also to obtaining broadband wireless internet at home and service providers include PCCW but some of the other established providers of internet and satellite and cable TV include:
Most telephone landlines in Hong Kong are managed by PCCW who need to activate the line so you can use it (independent of your phone provider). PCCW charges a fee for using the line, which has to be paid quarterly and, if you don’t pay, your connection will be terminated and you will need to pay the bill in full, plus a reactivation charge to get reconnected.
Local landline calls are normally free and telephone numbers are mostly eight-digit. Fixed land line numbers start with 2 or 3, cellular (mobile) phone numbers with 6 or 9, pager numbers with 7 and forwarding services with 8.
To call Hong Kong from abroad, dial your international calling number, the Hong Kong country code +852 and then the number.
You should note that in Hong Kong some mobile operators will charge you for incoming calls as well (similar to the US). However, these charges are still a lot lower than international roaming fees for incoming calls.
An alternative to a mobile phone package is to acquire a prepaid, often discounted from the face value, phone card for both local and international calls. This can work well if you don’t make too many calls or are only in Hong Kong for a short time.
Prepaid SIM cards are available everywhere and cards are normally sold a certain number of minutes and cost around HK$ 100-200. Most companies charge per minute, so if you make a call of 1 minute and 1 second, you will be charged for two minutes. However, many cards are normally only valid for 180 days after the last recharge and, after this period the card expires with no refund available and you lose the number.
Using your phone from home in Hong Kong
If you want to use your mobile phone from home in Hong Kong, you must check whether it supports the GSM network first. If it does, you then need to check whether the phone has been locked by your old mobile service provider and, if it has, you will need to get it unlocked (many telecommunications stores can do this for you).
f. Getting around the city
A separate section on getting around is below but, suffice to say here, most people using public transport in Hong Kong buy an Octopus card, which is a stored value card, available in various monetary denominations from MTR stations. It can be used on the MTR, buses, trams, ferries and even for purchases in supermarkets or the ubiquitous 7-Eleven’s. Top them up at the automatic top up machines or in MTR stations or, again 7-Eleven’s.
Cash is, of course still widely used!
If driving, it’s possible to check traffic conditions either through your I-phone App or via one of the dedicated channels on the TV which displays images beamed live from cameras at various vantage points around the city: see the section below which lists some things you can view via such webcams.
g. Government/other services
Most key Government services such as those provided by, for example, the Immigration, the Inland Revenue, Water Supplies Department and so on are available online but generally if you have to use such services, you’ll find that most departments are efficient and courteous in their dealings with the public.
h. Miscellaneous – Useful other sites