Hong Kong is one of the most vibrant, prosperous and exciting places on earth. It is also one of the most densely populated, and it’s a location that embodies such stark contrasts that many see it as a physical representation of yin and yang.
This special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China acts as an irresistible force, drawing in thousands of new expats every single year. People are drawn to its affluence, its business and job opportunities, they are lured to Hong Kong to teach or study or just because they want to explore Asia and enter through this fascinating gateway.
If you’re contemplating Hong Kong, it really has to be seen and experienced to be believed and understood. Consider a reconnaissance trip before you commit to the move, if only to prepare yourself for the breathtaking experience of actually living in Hong Kong. Whilst nothing can prepare you for your first impressions of this most dynamic of destinations, at least if you’ve visited it before you will be less daunted and more excited about your move.
When you touch down you arrive at an airport that, on the surface at least, could be like any busy airport anywhere in Asia or even the world with its international brands of shops and eateries, and its air-conditioned yet humid and artificial atmosphere. However, the minute you step outside you enter a brand new and thrilling world.
To see the most in the shortest time possible, and to get perhaps the biggest impact and yet least stressful first impression of Hong Kong, consider taking a taxi to your final destination. You will see majestic mountains, beautiful fishing boats, a sea of foreign faces and then layer upon layer of high-rise buildings that seem to defy the horizon and go on forever. No other city has a skyline comparable and a backdrop as breathtaking.
Unlike many global cities where the pace of life is so fast and no one has the time of day to bother with pleasantries and where you can feel lonely and isolated, Hong Kong is a welcome and direct contrast. Faces are friendlier naturally, and the sheer volume of expatriates and foreign visitors means that many people are happy to reach out and make friends if you approach them.
You won’t find unfriendly street vendors to ruin your day, and whilst people do rush through their busy lives around you, you can wind down and settle in to the point at which you’ll feel right at home in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a series of villages and communities within a city within an expansive region; on the cusp of China and with one foot firmly planted in the west! You cannot easily define it, and yet you cannot resist it.
Newly arrived expatriates may wonder how they’re ever going to get to grips with all the region has to offer them however – and one of the most important tips to pass on is learn Cantonese! Even armed with just the basics you will find you’ll go far, and by attempting to converse with local people in their own tongue you will be far better received and begin to make friends with your neighbours and colleagues. In this way you will learn more about the people who make Hong Kong everything that it is, and from these people you will see a new side to your new home.
Some may introduce you to their own friends and their families and slowly your new network will build and grow until you feel right at home in Hong Kong as well.
Another way to formally reach out and meet people, to find friends and share experiences, is through joining a formal or informal expatriate club or business networking association. The American Club of Hong Kong (www.americanclubhk.com) and the American Women’s Association of Hong Kong (www.awa.org.hk) are an example of two formal organisations where you will certainly meet fellow expatriates, and enjoy social contact with like-minded people.
If you prefer less structured clubs and meetings then you will find everything from informal mother and toddler coffee mornings to sports clubs and even sports supporters’ clubs. If you’re not sure where to begin looking, or you want to reach out and make contact with people before you even move to Hong Kong, get online. There are many forums dedicated to the region where you can ask questions from those who have already made the move, and arrange to meet up with friendly expats once you have made the move.
(Small safety note: if you do arrange to meet anyone you have exchanged messages with on a forum, ensure you meet them in a crowded and public environment just in case, and make sure you let someone else know who you’re meeting, when and where! The same goes for any location in the world, not just Hong Kong…)
Making friends is a great way in to getting the most out of expat life…you will be able to learn so much from those who have already spent time in Hong Kong, and you will have people you can share new experiences with. You will also be able to connect with other expats on a deeper level because you have the shared experience of being a stranger in a strange country – and having this support network of likeminded people with similar life experiences is important to help you really settle in.
Whilst a great deal of your time in the region may be taken up with work or study, depending on your reasons for relocation, you must make time to explore Hong Kong to get the very most out of your time abroad. With your newfound friends, this can be a lot of fun. For some inexplicable reason expats often feel reluctant to behave like tourists – but lose your inhibitions otherwise you’ll lose your chance to see so much of Hong Kong and also mainland China.
In terms of where to start exploring, since arriving at the airport on Lantau Island you may not have returned – but you really must in order to experience the largest Buddhist Monastery in Hong Kong and to experience the stunning views from the island. You should also consider a temple tour and take in at least the Man Mo temple and the Wong Tai Sin temple. The feelings of peace and the beauty of the temples cannot be described – and you’ll probably find your own favourite away from the tourism crowds after you’ve lived in Hong Kong for some time.
You can also get right away from the hustle and bustle of the city by escaping to Aberdeen Country Park and Pat Sing Leng Park and going for a stroll or a full on hike. Many people believe that Hong Kong is just a city of skyscrapers until they arrive and come to understand the variety of landscapes the entire region offers. For the ultimate shopping experience if you prefer browsing and haggling go to Stanley Market, or for a real tourism trip head to Aberdeen Harbour!
Finally, if you want to know what it’s really like living in Hong Kong it’s time to hear from those who have already made the move from their own home nation to call this special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China their new home:
Kelly (originally from the US): “I came to Hong Kong for 5 days on a tourist visa originally – but I couldn’t get this place out of my head! I returned as soon as I could and I work as a teacher now. I consider Hong Kong to be my home now, and whilst I do miss my family, I have so many long-term friends around me that nothing could drag me away from my new life.
“My number one tip for anyone considering moving to Hong Kong is come with an open mind and an open heart. Prepare to be stunned by this place and to fall in love with your new surroundings!”
Peter (originally from the UK): “I would say that I was aggressively headhunted by an IT company in Hong Kong – they’d suggest that they just pursued me and persuaded me that their offer was the best I would ever get!
“I had honestly never thought of living anywhere other than the South-East of England, and when I first heard about the offer I completely dismissed it. My wife persuaded me to fly out for a look around, and my first feeling of complete and utter alienation was soon swept aside when I found so many ways in which Hong Kong was also familiar.
“It’s a region of contrasts – you cannot define or label Hong Kong. I was almost mesmerized and I really did fall in love with this place! I took the job because the offer was excellent – that was 7 years ago now! My whole family have relocated and settled in, my children attend international school here and my wife has found work too.
“My Cantonese is coming along finally and I’m catching up with my family, and my number one tip would really be to learn the language, it makes you feel so much more at home.”
Emma (originally from Australia): “I grew up in Sydney so I really thought I knew all about living in a big city which is a tourism Mecca – but when I arrived in Hong Kong I really had my eyes opened for me!
“My Australian passport made it very easy for me to get a visa to work in Hong Kong – which was a good thing because I relocated to follow my boyfriend and had no formal job offer before I arrived. I found it really easy to make friends with other expats, and it was through this extended network of friends that I heard about both the hospitality jobs I now work.
“I’ve only been here for 18 months but I want to stay for at least another 2 years to get the most out of my time in this region. From Hong Kong you can explore mainland China so easily – and because there is just so much to see I don’t want to return to Australia or move on before I’ve done it all!
“I feel like a permanent tourist here because I experience and witness new things every day. I have to admit I don’t have many local friends but that has more to do with the work I do and the people I meet and socialise with. If you want to make Hong Kong your home permanently you easily can – you just need to make more of an effort than I have to integrate.
“If on the other hand you want to have a long working holiday, you can come here and have such fun with other expats that it never feels like you’re working just to meet the bills. I love Hong Kong, I know I’ll never forget my time here.”
If you’re serious about relocating, there are many different visa types and entry permits to explore. What’s more, Hong Kong remains a prosperous region with strong business and employment prospects. In our first article in this series about expatriate life in Hong Kong we touched upon the main types of visas available to international citizens hoping to live, work or travel around Hong Kong…consider that first article your starting point for your brand new life in Hong Kong.
About the author: Susan Beverley is a writer and editor for Escape From America Magazine and also writes for and maintains Expat Daily News – the expat news blog for EscapeArtist.com. She traveled extensively before becoming an expat herself having found a place to call home in South America where she has lived since 2005. She understands the concerns, needs and difficulties that expats face from first-hand experience and is dedicated to supporting and encouraging anyone who is looking for a new nation to call home.