Organise a visa
The first bit of good news is that as an Australian, you don’t need to necessarily need your visa beforehand, as you’ll likely be granted at least a short-term visa upon arrival. However, if you’re looking to work, you’ll need a specific visa and sponsorship from your prospective employer.
Most people should be able to apply under the General Employment Scheme (GEP). To be eligible for this, though, you need to demonstrate that you’ve already been offered a job that's either relevant to your qualifications or that you can offer something the local workforce can’t. This isn’t the place to decide on a totally new career.
Your employer will need to submit the application for you, as they need to confirm your salary, any benefits associated with the role, remuneration package etc. Visas are usually only granted for two years, but can be extended by your employer. Plus, the visas are not transferable to another company: if you leave your job or are made redundant, you’ll need to apply for a new visa when you start somewhere else.
If you arrive without a job offer, but are considered highly skilled or talented, you may able to apply under the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme (QMAS). This is quota-based, and is subject to two points-based tests that scrutinise things like your professional qualifications and achievements.
All successful visa applicants are also entitled to bring their spouse and unmarried dependent children under the age of 18.
To learn more about the types of visa and the paperwork necessary, the best place to go is www.immd.gov.hk which is the government’s official immigration website.
You could also visit www.visaforchina.org. Choose your nearest Australian city for information on the closest Chinese Visa Application Service Centre, as well as for advice on the forms you will need to complete. You’ll need a copy of your passport as well as the original, photos and official documentation that says you’ve been offered a job or are eligible to look for work.
TIP: Make a number of certified copies of passport pages, degree certificates or other qualifications to use for applications.
Have a valid passport
It goes without saying really, but just because you’re only a hop, skip, and a jump from Oz, it doesn’t mean you can turn up without valid documents. If you’re worried your passport is due to run out, don’t leave it until the last minute, head over to the Australian Government passport authority for all the details you’ll need about renewing – or applying for – a passport.
TIP: Have at least six months validity on your passport before you travel. You don’t want to have to leave quickly – or arrange for an emergency replacement – just as you’re getting settled.
Hong Kong ID Card
One of the first things you need to do when you arrive is register for a Hong Kong ID card. Without it, you’ll find it difficult to start your new life here – everything from opening a bank account to registering for electricity requires you show your ID card. The process is simple, and you can read up on it in advance on the government website: www.immd.gov.hk. There’s no fee, but it can take nearly four weeks to process, so use the online booking system to get your appointment sorted as early as possible.
TIP: If you’re coming with the family, everyone over the age of 11 is required to register for an ID card.
Bringing your pooch
Bringing Man’s Best Friend or your favourite feline in to Hong Kong is a fairly straightforward process – and you can do it up to six months in advance, meaning it’s one less thing to worry about in the run up to moving.
First of all, you’ll need to apply for a permit from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. This can even be done online by clicking the following link: www.afcd.gov.hk/english/quarantine.
It will set you back HK$432 (AUD$74) for one animal, and then HK$102 (AUD$18) for each additional pet. The permit only takes five working days to process, and you’ve then got a six-month period to bring over your pooch. What’s more, dogs and cats are usually exempt from quarantine, provided they meet certain criteria such as having a microchip and valid certificates for their vaccinations.
Once you arrive in Hong Kong, all dogs aged over five months must be licensed. This can be done at a number of AFCD centres across Hong Kong.
It’s also worth remembering though, particularly if you have a big dog or more than one pet, that Hong Kong is seriously crowded and not all apartments have the luxury of being spacious.
TIP: Contact King & Wilson to take arrange quarantine and advise you on documentation you may need.
Hong Kong uses dollars. You’ll find the exchange rate means you’ll get a lot of HK$ for your AUD$. Although rates do fluctuate, it’s an idea to keep an eye on currency converters such as; www.hifix.com.au.
TIP: Use a currency converter to see how much the cost of living stacks up compared to Australia.
As you’d expect from one of the biggest commercial hubs in the world, the banking system in Hong Kong is world-class. Most international banks have a presence here, meaning that it should be much easier to open a new account or transfer money.
Some of the Australian banks that have branches in Hong Kong include:
- Commonwealth Bank
- National Australia Bank
It’s also straightforward to open an account – Though you’ll need to be employed or have signed an employment contract as you’ll need to provide proof you have a job, along with photo ID. Depending on the bank, you might need to ask for some assistance from your employer – depending on the type of account you wish to open, some institutions ask for proof of address – up to 3 month’s worth – and in many cases this won't be in Hong Kong.
Most branches in the city centre will also have English-speaking employees and ATMs are everywhere, though it’s likely you’ll be charged a fee to use one that isn’t operated by your own bank.
TIP: Make an appointment with your bank while you’re still in Australia to see what branches, if any, they have in Hong Kong, or if they have a relationship with any banks there.
If the life expectancy of residents is anything to go by, then the standard of healthcare in Hong Kong is amazing! You have the option of public or private healthcare.
The public system in Hong Kong is heavily subsidised and in theory is available to all. That being said, you must have a Hong Kong ID card to get these rates, otherwise you’ll be footed with a bill equivalent to private costs. And you’re potentially looking at around 900% difference: Visit A&E with your ID card and your bill will be around HK$100, go without it and you’re talking HK$990. Obviously this is a basic example, charges will vary depending on the treatment you need, but this should highlight the value of an ID card if nothing else.
Your employer or any insurance you take out might offset these charges, so shop around for a policy. And always check with your employer. To make matters worse, public hospitals often only accept cash payments.
It’s worth noting that dental care isn’t covered under public healthcare. Unfortunately this can be quite evident when many Hong Kongers open their mouths to smile.
TIP: Once you receive your Hong Kong ID card, make sure you always carry it with you to avoid any unpleasant financial surprises.
While taxation may be inevitable the world over, it’s surprisingly low – and infrequent – in Hong Kong.
The main tax to concern yourself with is income or Salaries tax. This starts off at 2% and will rise in line with your income, but is capped at 17%. Keep in mind that some benefits as part of your employment contract might also fall under this tax, such as bonuses or housing allowances.
Hong Kong has what’s called a “territorial principle” of taxation. Basically, this means that you’re only taxed in Hong Kong on earnings made in Hong Kong. However, Australia doesn’t have a tax treaty with Hong Kong, which means there’s a risk of double taxation – as Australia taxes on worldwide income. As long as you can demonstrate you’re a non-resident of Australia, you’ll only be taxed in Australia for any Australian-generated income. This is worth keeping in mind if you’re looking to rent out your Australian home while you’re away.
Also, you’ll need to complete your own tax return as your tax won't come out directly through your employer. The Hong Kong government has a handy tax calculator you can use to keep track of what you are likely to owe: www.gov.hk/en/residents/taxes.
TIP: Make sure you set aside some money each month to be able to pay your tax bill at the end of the year and avoid an unpleasant surprise.
And now for the bad news: according to Mercer’s 2016 Cost of Living Survey, Hong Kong is now the most expensive city in the world for expats.
The main cause of this is the cost of housing. Space is money here. Expect at least a quarter of your salary to go on rent. To put this in perspective, Australia has around 8 people per square mile, which Hong Kong squeezes in around 17,000. And no, I didn’t lean on the zero key too long. They all need a roof over their head. You can expect to pay around 50-130% more than in Australia for housing. Oh and if all this isn’t worrying enough, the average living space is roughly 4 times smaller than here in Oz.
As we’ve said, space is premium in Hong Kong, and most homes are on the smaller side. On saying that, though, they’re generally very modern. If you’ve got a brood of kids, then you might want to consider a larger family home. But keep in mind this means you’re likely to be living in more suburban areas on the outskirts. Oh and you’re looking at even higher prices.
Other things that drive up the price of your new home include onsite gyms and swimming pools. Do you really need these little luxuries and will you really make the most of them?
TIP: Research the commute distance from work to residential areas to get an idea of areas that are off-limits and to get a feel for the size of apartments in those areas.
Hong Kong Island
Whilst many expats choose to live on Hong Kong Island, this is incredibly expensive. This leads others to choosing to live on surrounding islands, and accept a commute into work. If your heart is set on the island itself – and your budget allows – there are a number of neighbourhoods worth considering.
A lot of expats often opt for what’s known as the Mid-Levels. It’s got great nightlife, delicious street food, plus plenty of shops for younger crowds, and if you’ve got a family in tow, it’s also got a number of international schools and hospitals. Oh and it’s also home to the longest escalator in the world, linking to the city centre!
Stanley is another option, particularly for those looking for more western home comforts. There are western supermarkets (this is the place to head to get your supply of Tim Tams) and plenty of western-style restaurants. This does also mean it’s often busy with tourists.
If you’re looking for a bit of green space and a quieter part of town, head for the aptly named Happy Valley. Rentals are of good price – and quality – and it’s not as hectic as other parts of town.
To rent or buy?
Renting is by far the most popular route to go down. Plus, depending on the type of package your employer is offering, you might have no real say in this anyway.
Leases are often for around 2 years, though Hong Kong have something called a ‘diplomatic clause’ which basically means you can break your tenancy early if you’re made redundant or have to return to Oz. We’d definitely recommend using a licensed estate agent, particularly if you don’t speak Cantonese, you’re going to need a lot of help in navigating the paperwork.
Also, confirm what is to be included in the rental. It’s often the case that landlords don’t include appliances. Don’t be surprised if your apartment doesn’t come with an oven – it’s not a common way to cook here as most things are done on the hob.
TIP: Make sure your rental contract includes the ‘diplomatic clause’ allowing you to end the agreement early if you need to leave Hong Kong without too many penalty fees.
Essentials: mobiles and Internet
As you’d expect from one of the leading techy cities, mobile phones are big business in Hong Kong. If you’re planning on bringing your current model from Australia, double check that it’s not locked to a service provider and that it’s compatible with the providers in Hong Kong. Signal and reception is usually excellent – though that may be another story during typhoon season. There are four providers in Hong Kong:
When shopping around for plans, keep in mind that like a lot of Asian countries, some of the providers in Hong Kong will charge you for receiving calls.
Unlike most places in the world, Hong Kong has free WiFi practically everywhere from cafes to buses. This means you’ll not need to worry too much about finding a plan that has a good data allowance.
And then there’s the internet. Very few places are as connected as Hong Kong. As well as the mobile providers who will offer Internet services, you’ve also got:
To sign up, you’ll need your Hong Kong ID card and proof of residence are usually required.
Oh, and it’s worth mentioning the Chinese government does not block access to any websites from Hong Kong.
TIP: When you’re setting up home, most utilities can be set-up online. Make the most of free WiFi across the city before you’re connected at home.
When it comes to connecting your water and energy, you don’t really have a load of choice, which actually makes things fairly simple. Something you definitely want when navigating a move to a new city.
If you’re on Hong Kong Island or Lamma, you’ll use HK Electric and for anywhere else you’ll use CLP. To open account, you’ll need your ID card, or alternatively you can do it online. You’ll also need to pay a deposit, which is usually two months’ usage worth.
Gas is supplied by Towngas. Again, you can open an account online, or pop in to a Customer Centre. They’ll also require a deposit of HK$300 (AUD$51) if you’re in public housing, or HK$600 (AUD$102) if you’re in a private housing development.
Water comes from the government-run Water Supplies Department.
As with other utilities, your account can be opened online or at a Customer Centre – and there’ll be a deposit. Water is really cheap here, and the quality of water is among the best in the world, so you should have no problem drinking it.
In terms of TV, there are a number of free-to-air stations, though TVB Pearl is the only English-language channel. It’s no surprise then, that many expats decide to go for paid subscriptions. The most popular providers are:
Before you sign up to any service, it’s worth checking to see if your apartment block is already connected somehow – you might be surprised that your service fees for your home already includes a cable or satellite subscription. Oh and if you’re thinking of bringing your huge flat-screen from home, Hong Kong also uses the PAL system, so you’ll be able to tune in and switch on straight away albeit with a British converter plug.
TIP: Check with your landlord to see if your apartment block already has a connection to a cable or satellite provider.
It’s all about public transport in Hong Kong. There really is no need to drive or get a car, not just because of the stress of commuting, but the public transport network is among the best in the world. Plus, all street, rail and bus signs are in English.
The MTR or Mass Transit Railway is the centre-point of transportation. With 85 stations across the network, there's one in easy reach of all commercial and residential areas.
Invest in an Octopus card for the best fares, you’ll get discount for having one. It’s a contactless card that you can top up at stations – it’s also accepted in a number of shops and restaurants.
Tip: Get yourself an Octopus card for public transport discounts and contactless payments in shops and restaurants.
Buses are self-service, so make sure you have the correct change to avoid a long line of tutting commuters at rush hour. Or even better, invest in an Octopus card which can be used across the public transport network. They’re all equipped with air-conditioning, which you’ll be thankful for come the humid summer months.
Keep an eye out for Light Buses. They are more minibus-style and can carry up to 16 passengers to a wider range of locations than the main bus network. Green buses have fixed fares (HK$2 – HK$10) and routes; red ones take request stops and routes, making them more like a giant, shared taxi. Similar to taxis, the fares aren’t set and will depend on where you’re going.
Hong Kong is one of only three places in the world that has double-decker trams. The tram system is over 100 years old, though they are more useful when you first arrive or for showing visiting family and friends around the city, as they’re not as quick as other methods of public transport. That being said they are the cheapest – and possibly the most relaxing, too.
Both China and Hong Kong place a huge value on education, so you know your kids are going to receive some of the highest standards of education on offer.
Public schools in Hong Kong are of a good standard, and are free. However, the downside to this is that teaching is mainly or totally conducted in Cantonese.
This means that most expat families opt for international schooling. Due to the high demand for this – and the limited places available – places are seriously competitive. And expensive. It also doesn’t help that many wealthy native families opt to send their kids to English-speaking schools to enable them to go to European or American universities later on. Waiting lists can be well over a year, so where possible, try to plan as far in advance as you can.
Then there’s the extra-curricular schooling. Education is generally a competitive field in Hong Kong and China as a whole, so it’s second nature for kids to have private tutoring. This can be for something specific like to gain a school place, or simply to keep ahead of their classmates. Because of the demand, tutors can command high fees, which on top of the expensive cost of international schools, can see you handing over a lot of money each term.
The benefit to all this, though, is most of these schools teach to the American, Australian and British systems. Check out the Australian International School Hong Kong for an example of what’s on offer.
A far more cost-effective solution is the ESF or English Schools Foundation. This organisation puts priority on students who will benefit from an English-speaking education. They also receive a government subsidy, meaning that fees are lower than private international schools. If you want your kids to go to one of these, you’ll have to get in quick – the government are considering withdrawing this scheme. This is really important to research if the school you’re looking at will be affected because you don’t want to be hit with increased fees a year or so after they’ve enrolled.
The ESF schools are also notoriously strict about catchment areas. This means if your budget doesn’t stretch to exclusive private education, your kids’ school may well be the deciding factor in what neighbourhood you’ll be living in.
If your children are very young, you may consider boosting their bilingual potential by sending them to a Cantonese pre-school. However, pre-school education in Hong Kong is not free.
TIP: Ask your kids’ current school for a detailed academic report and get copies of necessary grades or assessment levels to show potential Hong Kong schools.
If you want to get them ahead of the game, enrol your little ones in a pre-school that’s either wholly Cantonese speaking or at least bilingual. The younger they’re exposed to another language, the quicker they’ll adopt it.
Depending on the age of your toddler, they may be able to attend kindergarten. Usually they need to be at least 2 years of age. Younger than this, you’ll need to enrol them at a day-care centre, or join one of the variety of playgroups where you can play with your youngsters and make friends with other parents.
Nannies are a popular option in Hong Kong for many reasons. Firstly, having a local ‘guide’ to help your kids (and you) adjust to life in Hong Kong from customs to culture, is invaluable in helping them understand their new environment. Secondly, it’s very cost effective. Particularly when you first arrive and you’re looking to make a good impression with your boss a and colleagues, you might work extra hours in the office or at home, so having someone to take care of the kids will be welcomed.
Word of mouth is the best way to find a good nanny. Ask colleagues or the HR department at work for any recommendations, or speak to other parents at playgroup or expat meet ups.
Many large companies who are employing from overseas will still look to entice potential employees with a good remuneration package. These offers can range from offering interest-free loans to allow you to get your family settled in a school/house, to giving allowances towards accommodation and healthcare. Better still, some employers will offer a comprehensive package including all healthcare, rent and school fees. back pocket.
The flip-side to this is that some companies only work on ‘comparable’ packages, meaning you’ll not get anything that local employees don’t get. It’s therefore really important you consider what’s being offered to you. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, but remember to play nice – push your luck or demand too much and they’ll pass on hiring you in favour of someone less demanding. If your company is willing to pay school fees but you’re a young couple with no kids on the horizon, you can ask if that money could go to getting you a plusher apartment or to pay towards your commute.
TIP: Read and re-read the benefits attached to your job offer. Check job boards and local forums to see how it compares to others in the same sector.
Lock down the job
Once you’re happy with the offer, double and triple check any conditions attached. Do you have to provide a copy of your degree or other professional qualifications? Don’t let an offer slide because of something simple you’ve just overlooked. You can’t get much in the way of housing, bank accounts or actually setting up a life without having an offer of employment. Do a bit of internet research to find the location of the office – can you live nearby or will there be a lengthy commute? Is it within easy reach of schools, supermarkets and local/western restaurants depending on your preference?
TIP: Make friends with the internet and do a thorough search of the area around your office to work out how the rest of your move will fall in to place. All follows your job.
Finding a job when you arrive
The benefit of arriving without a job means you can get a feel for the city, scout out where you’d like to live and think about the ‘life’ type stuff without having being dominated by work. You’re taking the chance at an extended commute, but as public transport is so good, that’s only a minor worry.
You're at an advantage when you arrive without a job because you’re already in Hong Kong, showing employers this is where you want to be, and you’ll not have to keep them waiting while you emigrate from Australia. However, you do run the risk of not being offered a comparable remuneration package if you’re already there, as there’s no incentive for you to make the leap and move.
What’s more, the job market in Hong Kong is tough. As a financial trade hub, roles in this area are even more competitive than school places. Plus, government rules mean that all employers have to prove that a local couldn’t do the job being offered to an expat.
Book your flight
The earlier you can book your international flight the better price-wise. If you can travel outside the school holiday peak season, you’ll save money too. This usually means travelling around February to March, May to June, late July to mid-September, or mid-October to mid-December. The sooner that you can lock down your moving date the better so you can plan ahead and save. Check out this Australian Government education resource for school holiday dates.
Cull the clutter
Packing up your life and starting a new one is a good chance to cleanse. Don’t stick everything you own into boxes and transport the lot to your new home. Take the time to cull! There’s a few good reasons for this.
There’s a fair chance that your new appartment in Hong Kong is going to be a considerably smaller dwelling than that big old place you’ve been living in down under. Where are you going to fit all that stuff currently sitting in that spare room that no one ever goes into?
You may have been hanging on to old heirlooms from a previous life that don’t need to make the journey around the world and back. If the planned move is unlikely to be forever, then look into storing a few old boxes with a friend or relative or employing King & Wilson’s long term storage services. You can revisit your old university text books again one day when you resettle back home. Or if the move to Hong Kong might be indefinite, ask yourself whether you need eight boxes of old cassette tapes from the early '90s before you realised that CDs weren’t a passing fad…and while you’re there, how about that CD collection?
For more on minimalist packing check out this interesting perspective from Forbes.com.
Tip: Cull unnecessary belongings and possessions before packing boxes
10 Weeks Before Moving Day
Give yourself plenty of time to plan the logistics of packing. A good international removalist, like King & Wilson will be your best friend in this regard -- they won’t want you leaving this to the last minute either. A few things to think about 2-3 months out from the big day:
- Put together a folder or box for all documents and receipts relevant to the move.
- Start a conversation with an international shipping company such as King & Wilson to get an estimate.
- Create a floor plan for your new home to get a sense of how many of your large sized furniture or appliances you may need to get rid of.
- Your belongings will be arriving by sea, however it only takes a couple of weeks for your boxed up life to arrive in. You may therefore only need to pack some additional clothing, linen, towels and key crockery and key kitchen utensils in your flight luggage. You may also consider pre-arranging excess baggage as it is much cheaper to book in advance than turning up on departure day with more than your baggage allowance. King & Wilson offers a smaller air shipment service to cover off this need as well.
Tip: Start a conversation with international movers now rather than later
6 Weeks Before Moving Day
Now you are edging closer to the big move, you want to start ticking off what will and won’t make it on the journey. For example:
- Take an inventory list of all items around your home that will need to come with you.
- Start selling off large or redundant items via Gumtree or ebay that you don’t want to take with you.
- Hold a garage sale or take advantage of any local market stalls or jumble sales
- Start the process of selling your vehicle on Carsales or a similar online classifieds service
4 Weeks Before Moving Day
With less than a month to the move, you need to start getting your hands dirty and actually packing a few things away, particularly items you are not using day to day:
- Collect moving boxes and packing supplies. Or if you move your home with King & Wilson, simply use the international shipping cartons provided.
- Start by packing things you don't use much currently like extra dining or kitchen utensils and seasonal clothing. Visit this resource from Energy Australia on the right way to pack when moving house or this interesting blog post on the subject by Frugal Mama.
- Donate the things you don't need (or that you haven’t been able to sell off).
- Think about consuming your pantry stocks and frozen goods as well as home cleaning products, shampoos and soaps.
Tip: Start by packing the things you do not use day to day
1-2 Weeks Before Moving Day
Eek! You are merely days away from the move now and need to be thinking about leaving behind a clean, empty home for a new inhabitant. You also need to think about tying up loose ends at home, the flight and what you need for your first days in Hong Kong:
- Confirm all your travel arrangements.
- Finish packing your essentials.
- Clean and defrost your refrigerator 24 hours before you move, turn off all the pipes and make sure you didn't leave any appliances on.
- Cancel the newspaper subscription, contact Australia Post to redirect your mail to your new address in Hong Kong, disconnect your utilities like the electricity, gas and internet.
- Say your goodbyes, provide your new contact details and travel itinerary to your family and friends.
Tip: Don’t forget to redirect the mail to your Hong Kong address.
On Moving Day
You’ve made it to the big day. The job now is mainly to get out of the way of the professionals and focus on your breathing:
- Let the professionals do their thing. A good removalist will take care of packing your belongings carefully and thoroughly.
- A good international shipping mover will also cover off all the necessary shipping documentation to facilitate prompt customs clearance once it arrives in Hong Kong.
- Get to the airport, put on those noise cancelling headphones and relax for 10 hours or so in anticipation of your new adventure! Life in Hong Kong is full of adventure, strange smells and surprises. We’re not even going to try to cover off what you can do for kicks once you arrive in town, and trust you’re going to have a lot more fun finding out for yourself. Good luck!