Expat Guide To Living In Hong Kong

Hong Kong illustration

Hong Kong has one of the biggest and best performing financial industries in the world and is a popular destination with UK expats seeking jobs and career opportunities.

While career progression and education standards are high, there are many reasons British nationals choose to make Hong Kong their permanent home – around 34,000 of the city’s 7.5 million residents are UK expats.

Crime rates are low, international travel is easy, and while you might imagine a dense urban jungle, Hong Kong offers an oasis of natural beauty with mountains and beaches just minutes outside of the crowded cities.

You’re likely to want to live on Hong Kong or Lantau Islands, but have plenty of options to travel around by ferry and explore the charm of the outlying islands.

Let’s take a look at what it’s really like to live in Hong Kong, and the essential things to know as a British expat before you travel.

Best Places To Live In Hong Kong

For any Hong Kong residents, their choice of home is about convenience. School places are often in high demand, and the work-driven culture means most expats will look for a place to live within the shortest possible commute of their employer.

Pollution can choke the cities, but as public transport networks are excellent, living a little further out is becoming more popular while still enjoying the perks of the modern metropolitan centres.

Here are some of the most popular residential districts with British expats:

Mid-Levels, Hong Kong Island

Modern location linking the city amenities with outdoor living, within walking distance of public transport. You’ll find colonial apartments, harbour views and a community vibe.

Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island

The centre of the action, full of nightlife, and modern city living apartments.

Tseung Kwan O, New Territories

This is an area under development with lots of green spaces, ocean views and some excellent international schools.

Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island

Bustling, busy historic district with traditional shops. Most properties here are studio or one-bed apartments.

The Peak, Hong Kong Island – one of the most expensive parts of Hong Kong, but with spectacular views, hiking trails, and the tropical Victoria Peak Gardens.

Discovery Bay, Lantau Island – family-friendly, great beaches, high-quality schools and a quieter place to settle down.

Climate and Geography in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is split into mainly three neighbourhoods:

  • Hong Kong Island – one of the main parts of Hong Kong and the second largest island.  Victoria Harbour sits between the island and the Kowloon Peninsula.
  • Kowloon – the other main municipal area of Hong Kong, with commercial business areas, shopping districts and hotel areas.
  • New Territories – the remainder of Hong Kong, including outlying islands.

Hong Kong is technically part of China but has a separate government under the ‘one country, two systems’ rule and most of the population lives on Hong Kong Island or Kowloon.

The weather is warm year-round, with the coldest month being January, dipping down to an average of 16 °C.

Summers are hot, humid and close, with averages of 29 °C. Rain in June to August is a welcome respite from the heat, and also helps to damp down the pollution levels in the city districts, which can become intense.

Most tourists visit Hong Kong from October to December. The weather is still sunny and warm, without being stiflingly hot. January and February are also popular months and coincide with the Spring Festival and Lantern Festival celebrations.

Travel between the islands is easy, with a subway crossing underneath the harbour. Lantau is the largest island in Hong Kong but is mostly rural. However, it is home to theme parks like Disneyland and Big Buddha so is popular with visitors.

Interested in other countries in the same region, read our article about the top 10 Asia Pacific expat destinations.

Jobs And Employment For UK Expats In Hong Kong

Competition for jobs is often fierce, and to secure a Hong Kong work visa, you will need to have a skill or level of experience that means you can fulfil a role that can’t be filled by a local applicant.

Employers must prove that the vacancy requires an expat, although visas for talented individuals are available.

The primary sectors and professionals where UK expats can find jobs in Hong Kong are published on the Talent List. These are roles where there are skills shortages, and foreign nationals are far more likely to find employment and be approved for a visa:

  • Water treatment specialists
  • Asset management professionals
  • Marine insurance professionals
  • Actuaries
  • Fintech professionals
  • Data scientists and cyber security specialists
  • Innovation and technology experts
  • Naval architects
  • Marine engineers and superintendents of ships
  • Creative industries professionals
  • Dispute resolution professionals and transactional lawyers

The average Hong Kong salary is HKD 363,000 a year (about £35,723). If you work in a high-level role within a skills shortage, salaries can stretch significantly higher.

Hong Kong Visas, Passports And Residency

You can visit Hong Kong without a visa for a short stay, usually for up to 180 days depending on the reason for your visit.

For a more extended or permanent move, you will need a permit. The process is notoriously strict but fast. Most expats move for work and will have an employer-sponsored visa application to ease the process.

Work visas

If you have a job offer, then you’ll need to apply for a work visa through the Immigration Department. There are multiple options depending on your profession, including:

  • General Employment Policy Visas – for regular job offers.
  • Technology Talent Admission Scheme – for acknowledged tech specialists.
  • Quality Migrant Admission Scheme – for expats in specific sectors.
  • Immigration Arrangements for Non-Local Graduates – for students who have obtained a degree while in Hong Kong.

Your application must include an employer statement explaining what the role is and why it is being offered to you. The application is more likely to be approved if:

  • You hold a degree and can demonstrate professional experience.
  • The salary and job benefits are consistent with local standards.
  • Your placement will help improve the economy.
  • There are no local applicants who can fill the role.

Most work visas last for a specific period, usually cover your family, and can be extended or renewed when the permit nears its end date.

Lots of UK expats in Hong Kong receive an initial two-year work visa, and then extend it in three-year increments after that. If you marry a Hong Kong citizen, you can also apply for a dependent visa.

Other Hong Kong Visas

You can apply for other types of visa, including investment visas if you wish to open a business in Hong Kong. You will need to submit a business plan, prove you have sufficient capital, and pay the applicable fees.

Capital Investment Entrant Scheme applicants can apply, provided they will invest at least HKD 10 million (about £985,000), excluding real estate investments. Qualifying investments include purchasing equities, securities and deposits.

The typical costs of a Hong Kong Visa application are below – other fees are detailed on the Immigration Department website:

VisaHKD CostGBP Cost
General Visa$230£23
Transit Visa$120£12
Extension Application$230£23
Investment Visa$160£16
Permanent ResidencyFreeN/A

Once you have lived in Hong Kong continuously for seven years, you can apply for permanent residency as a UK national.

Note that any time spent away has to be added to the seven years so, if you visited the UK for one month, your total stay must be seven years and one month.

For Hong Kong citizens looking to get permanent residency in the UK, look at our guide to the Tier 1 Investor Visa.

Cost Of Living In Hong Kong

Hong Kong is one of the most expensive places to live in the world. It is the costliest location for expats throughout Asia and only falls short of Japan and Switzerland for high prices.

Cost of living in total is about 17% higher than in the UK, and rents 145% more expensive than the British average. But if you’re used to London prices, the change isn’t quite so significant.

Hong Kong rent remains 7% higher than London, but the overall cost of living is just 3% lower.

It all depends on where you live, and what sort of income you are earning. The average monthly net salary in Hong Kong is HKD 22,992 (about £2,266), which compares favourably with the UK average of £1,910.

It’s also worth remembering that taxes are lower, with one of the most tax-friendly regimes in the world. Several allowances and deductions mean that many Hong Kong residents have a much higher disposable income as a result.

Property prices are around HKD 159,162 (about £15,700) per square metre, and rent is equally expensive with the average costs of some everyday essentials as below:

CostAverage HKDAverage GBP
Monthly rent – central apartment$17,911£1,765
Monthly rent -three-bed suburban home$24,028£2,368
Litre of fuel$17.50£1.72
Litre of milk$23.25£2.29
Monthly public transport pass$500£49
Monthly utilities$1,750£172
Monthly private tuition fees$11,297£1,113
Monthly gym membership$600£59
Mid-level meal for two$500£49

Healthcare in Hong Kong

Almost everyone in Hong Kong is covered for free or subsidised state healthcare. Unlike a lot of countries, the public health institutions treat citizens, permanent residents and temporary visa holders, provided you have the right to be in the country.

However, state healthcare can mean long waiting times, basic care options, and does not include dental care.

The system does though provide high-quality treatments, is almost free of charge, and you will find an A&E department t most hospitals.

Here are some general state healthcare costs:

TreatmentAverage Cost HKDAverage Cost GBP
Doctor’s appointment$50£5
Specialist consultation$100£10
Overnight stay$100£10
Hospital admission charge$50£5

Many expats choose to take out private health insurance. Larger employers often provide medical insurance for employees and their families. You are more likely to get a visa if you have private medical insurance as it ensures you won’t be a burden on the state healthcare system.

Make sure you get the correct expat healthcare insurance and cover while travelling or living in Hong Kong.

Note that Hong Kong residents don’t make any kind of social security contributions towards public health. So, while services are of a high standard, you’re less likely to find any more specialist facilities or optional treatments.

Private health treatments can be expensive, so you’d be advised to take good care in checking the terms of your insurance policy before seeking treatment.

You can also blend services and might choose to use public health facilities for a routine check-up or vaccination, but use a private practitioner for prenatal services, as an example.

In terms of private health insurance costs, the average charges vary depending on how comprehensive the cover is, and how many people are included.

Average costs are:

  • 6,400 HKD per year per person (about £630).
  • 14,300 HKD per year for a family (about £1,400).

Remember that public health does not include dental care unless in a severe emergency, so nearly all Hong Kong residents take out dental cover, sometimes as an additional policy if you have employer healthcare that doesn’t include it.

You can find some useful lists of the public and private hospitals in Hong Kong through the Hospital Authority.

Hong Kong Schools And Education

Hong Kong education standards are high, and the state provides free education for all resident children from age six through to 18.

Many expats choose an international school or private education. This is expensive, but usually adopts a less academic-focused and results-based learning approach more familiar to expat children.

Another benefit is the English language lessons, as expat children who don’t speak Cantonese can find it extremely hard to adjust to both a new learning style and a different language.

Most Hong Kong public schools teach in Chinese but might offer English language classes in secondary school. Many private schools also teach in Cantonese but support UK kids as they learn the language. International schools teach predominantly English.

Costs depend on the age of the child and the school but can be around HKD 177,591 a year (about £17,500). Classes usually start at around 7:30 am and last until around 2:30 pm or so, so the school day is a similar length to the UK.

If you’re looking for a school you will find many different types to choose from:

Government SchoolFree schools run by the government
Aided SchoolPublic schools run by churches or organisations. Government-funded and free
Direct Subsidy Scheme School (DSS)Private schools with a government subsidy – fees are payable.
Private SchoolNon-funded private schools, often grammar schools with an academic test before admission.
Private International SchoolPrivate schools aimed at expat children, usually with high tuition fees.
English Schools FoundationPrivate schools but partly subsidised. ESF schools are not free but do teach in English.

Taxes For Expats In Hong Kong

If you are a tax resident of Hong Kong or are relocating to the country permanently, you’ll soon find that the tax regimes work differently to those in the UK.

There isn’t a general income tax, but you do pay tax on:

  • Salary – including employment, pensions and offices held.
  • Profit – on profits earned through a business or trade.
  • Property – paid on properties owned in Hong Kong.

You need to register with the Hong Kong Inland Revenue within four months of the end of the first year in which you become liable for taxes. If you’ve already filed an individual tax return, you don’t need to make any other declarations.

The Inland Revenue issues provisional tax returns and asks you to estimate your income until the next period ends on March 31. This estimate is used for a tax assessment for interim salary taxes.

Most working expats will then file an individual return after March 31 declaring their actual income, upon which a final liability is assessed.

Taxes are paid as:

  • 75% paid against the provisional salary tax calculation in January.
  • 25% paid in April after the final assessment has been submitted.

Salary taxes have not increased since 2018-19, and current bands and rates payable are:

Taxable Income HKDTaxable Income GBPTax rateHKD tax dueGBP tax due
Up to $50,000Up to £4,9202%$1,000£98
On the next $50,000On the next £4,9206%$3,000£295
On the next $50,000On the next £4,92010%$5,000£492
On the next $50,000On the next £4,92014%$7,000£689
Above $200,000Above £19,70017%  

Note that salary taxes are charged on the proportion of income. For example, you earn £30,000 a year, which is roughly 305,000 HKD.

You would pay:

  • 2% on the first £4,920 = £98
  • 6% on the next £4,920 = £295
  • 10% on the next £4,920 = £492
  • 14% on the next £4,920 = £689
  • 17% on earnings above £19,700 = £1,751
  • Total tax charge £3,325 or 11%.

There are also several allowances and reductions available, including up to HKD20,000 personal tax allowance on salaries and profits.

Expat Guide To Living In Hong Kong FAQ

Hong Kong may have troubles, but the city is still one of the world’s leading financial centres and a top destination for career hungry British expats.

The city may not be a cheap place to live, but the lifestyle and salaries still attract expats from around the world.

If you are thinking of making the move to Hong Kong, here are some answers to the most asked expat questions.

What language is spoken in Hong Kong?

Most people in Hong Kong speak Cantonese and English – both are official languages.

Where the language is referred to as Chinese, this means Cantonese, which is much more widely spoken than Mandarin, which is the official language of mainland China.

Fluent English is a bonus when it comes to job opportunities, but if you can learn Cantonese for social use, settling in is much more comfortable.

Candidates fluent in both languages will have far more job offers, as this is a valuable skill in international Hong Kong businesses.

Should I get a car when I move to Hong Kong?

You can certainly buy a car in Hong Kong but depending on where you live public transport might be cheaper, and more manageable.

Driving is considered expensive since you’ll need a garage or parking space, and fuel costs are high.

Public transport is reliable and includes trains, buses and ferries, as well as affordable taxis.

Is healthcare good in Hong Kong?

Public healthcare is free or low cost, and you need to take your Hong Kong ID card with you to access services.

Health care is high quality, but a lot of expats choose to take out private healthcare since doctors are more likely to speak English, have much shorter waiting times, and can offer a wider choice of treatments.

Note that public healthcare does not include dental cover, so you should always take out dental insurance so you can afford private treatment should the need arise.

Can I find a job quickly in Hong Kong as a UK expat?

Most expats move to Hong Kong on a work visa, but it is not possible to apply until you have a job offer and an employer who is happy to support your visa application.

Job roles are limited, although skill shortages do apply, and larger companies often hire expats for positions in finance, IT and media.

If you speak Cantonese, you will have a much easier time finding a role.

Is pollution harmful in Hong Kong?

It can be, yes – in the summer months between June and September, the heat and humidity can make city living somewhat uncomfortable, and a lot of people spend as much time as possible indoors.

Air pollution is considered bad around 30% of the year and arises from heavy traffic, power plants and air pollution from industrial production in nearby China.

Most properties and offices will have high-quality air conditioning, and it is advisable to wear a facemask, particularly when commuting.

Other Asia Guides

Make sure you read the guide on moving abroad before you decide. In addition, you can find other Asian related guides following the links below.

Below is a list of some related articles that you may find of interest.

Questions or Comments?

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