So you want to (or are imminently about to) move to Hong Kong. Making the move as an adult or as a couple can be daunting enough, but what if you’ve got kids to take into account as well?
You’ll be likely to have a multitude of questions that you need to find definitive answers to – and that’s before you’ll even be considering the logistics of actually moving overseas.
But – and here’s a sobering thought – the person (or people) that the move is most likely to stress out is going to be you (and your partner/wife/husband if that’s part of your family unit).
The thing is, kids are uber-resiliant. They might complain that you’re about to move them away from all things familiar: their friends, their school, their clubs, even their boyfriend or girlfriend… But you know what? Kids adapt – and they adapt really well.
So let’s get down to the practicalities of what living in Hong Kong with kids is really like, because as with virtually everything in life, knowledge is king.
No place in the world is every going to be perfect, but knowing not only the good things about your planned new home, but the bad things as well, puts you and your family in the strongest position possible to ensure that the move is a success.
1. Safety – a real plus point
This is likely to be the highest priority for anyone moving abroad with kids: am I taking them to live in a safe environment? And we all know that there are certainly some places in the world that you wouldn’t consider taking your loved ones anywhere near.
But thankfully, Hong Kong isn’t one of these places. In fact, Hong Kong ranks highly in the world (according to the latest HSBC Expat Survey) regarding safety for kids – and the safer you know your children are, the more peace of mind you get.
Crime is low, the police presence is high, drug use is on the decline (according to the Central Registry of Drug Abuse Hong Kong), and violent crime in the city is rare. The latest Hong Kong Police Report shows the decline in crime involving violence – although crimes such as deception seem to be on the rise.
However, compared to other countries and cities, Hong Kong really does score well in these respects.
2. Room to move – a bit of a moot subject
Now, Hong Kong is busy – crazy in fact. It’s a melting pot of locals and expats from all over the world crammed into a tiny corner of the planet. And because of this, space really is at a premium. The reason Hong Kong has so many high rise buildings is because they’ve run out of area to build – so the only option was to conquer the skies and build upwards.
And this, we’re afraid, transpires into the necessity of smaller than average living accommodation. Living in or close to the city centre means that unless you’re able to spend a massive amount on accommodation costs (and by massive, we mean in relation to Hong Kong accommodation costs, which are decidedly high by other standards around the world), you’re going to have to put up with a “snug” home life.
Because of this, many expats with families choose to live outside of the city limits simply to ensure that the family has enough of their own space. The downside of this is a longer commute to work.
However, the MTR has train lines that reach out far and wide, making living in some of the popular expat communities such as Stanley and Repulse Bay a pleasure, but accommodation prices in such areas are high.
As of February 2016, areas such as Sai Kung offer cheaper living options with space, but are already becoming popular with expats, so it’s unlikely that they’ll remain this way for long. The MTR doesn’t reach out to such areas, so you’ll be forced to rely on buses or taxis to aid your daily commute.
3. A matter of schooling
However, the problem is that not only expat kids go to such schools: Hong Kong parents have recognised the excellent education they provide, and are wanting to enroll their children as well. This is leading to the lack of enough spaces for all the kids that are being brought up in Hong Kong.
Thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom, as many of the schools are expanding, and therefore more places are becoming available – but it’s still a case of needing to get your kids enrolled as soon as possible, and not leaving it until the last minute.
4. The air quality
So, according to the WHO Air Quality Index, Hong Kong ranks pretty poorly when it comes to pollution. There’s a reason you see so many people wearing facemasks here. You can check out the air quality and get health advice on the Hong Kong Government website.
If you read various discussions from expat mums on Mum’s Net, you’ll see that some folk say it’s something you learn to live with. Others say it’s one of the major reasons they left.
5. Help is the normal here – including live-ins
One thing that Hong Kong has in common with many other countries in South East Asia is that it’s pretty normal to have domestic help. This can be live-in or live-out help, but for those of you who are bringing up a family, this can be a godsend.
Work life in Hong Kong doesn’t tend to be particularly flexible – you’ll be expect to work the hours you’re contracted to without being given much leeway when it comes to childcare. Having help at home and knowing that there’s going to be someone there when the kids get home from school really does provide peace of mind.
So there you have it in a nutshell – some of the major differences you can expect when bringing the kids with you for a life in Hong Kong. As with anywhere in the world, there are good and bad points, but most expats who’ve taken the plunge say that the city and surrounding area really is a great place to bring up children.