Possibly relocating to Hong Kong

(17 Posts)
Jenni363 Mon 23-Jan-12 22:06:14


DH is starting an interview process for a role in Hong Kong.. And being the good wife that I am I promised we'd go should he be offered the job..

We have one DD who is 14 months.

Was just really curious to hear from others who have relocated to HK. DH is hoping to get a good enough "package" so that I don't have to work.. But I love my job and ideally would like to carry on working in HK too!

What are the nurseries like? Or do people in general have nannies? Is it quite easy to get to know other expats?

What worries me is that I'll get really lonely.. DH would be required to do quite a lot of travelling in the first 6 months at least..

I am used of living abroad as I am originally from Finland (in the UK for over 10 years) and DH from NZ.. But we wouldn't know anybody in HK!

Also the plan is to start trying for DC number 2 next year.. Now my hospital experience in London was far from pleasant.. But I'm worried about the standards of the health care, and possible language barrier.

Would love to hear from you already living in HK - or planning a move!

OP’s posts: |
sleepdodger Mon 23-Jan-12 22:31:20

Hk is wicked
Have you ever been on holiday etc there?
Big ex pat community to ease transition- global not just Brits
Safe place
Varied areas eg green urban beach etc
Down side is usually space- move out a bit or to islands and you'll be fine
Most westerners (& locals tbh) have maids usually phillapino
Weather is mixed, Warner that here, but tornado/ wet season can be interesting!
Fwiw I have DS & dh & with right offer would defo go!

Mimishimi Tue 24-Jan-12 04:49:32

My husband relocated there last year. We've been over once since then and plan to visit again in two months. One major issue we have had is with schools. My daughter was accepted by many places immediately for their waiting lists but virtually all of them said that the likelihood of her getting a spot this year was close to nil. My son has special needs (a severe speech delay) and only one school, the Australian school, accepted him - again for a long waiting list spot. However, since your DD is only 14 months, it should not be too much of an issue for you. That said, as soon as you get there, make sure that you put her name down for schools ....really smile

Health care standards are excellent and if your husband is on a package where he receives health insurance, I would not worry about it at all. Language could possibly be an issue - despite the claim that most Hong Kongers understand and speak English, I think things have changed a lot since the handover and that most young people (who will be working in the shops etc) do not very well. I would really, really recommend buying Pimsleur's Cantonese Level One (they only have one level) online from Amazon - much cheaper to buy their Audiobook edition at US$130 for the 30 lessons. I found it made a huge difference when we visited, especially when I took the taxis. People really like it when you can speak a little too - my husband hasn't done the lessons and he often gets frustrated by some little things which wouldn't be a problem if he did.

Getting childcare is relatively easy but daycare centers are few and far between. Most working parents have what are called 'helpers' who are imported workers mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia. Their average monthly wage is about HK$4000. If you do hire someone, start them out on that for the first couple of months and then raise it to a level that you feel is appropriate compensation. It's very easy to go over there with a 'missionary' attitude and think that you will not be like the locals - that you will pay more from the start but you do have to be rather careful during the interview process. There are have been many instances of theft, false accusations, and 'loose' behaviour from the helpers. It is illegal for domestic help to work part-time and to live out of your home so make sure you're aware of all the regulations before hiring.

Rents are somewhat expensive, particularly in some areas popular with expatriates. If your husband is on a package where the rent is included, I would choose somewhere like Discovery Bay or Clearwater Bay. If not, and budget is an issue, then somewhere like Tsing Yi or Po Lam.

The Geoexpat forums are generally excellent for finding out more. It is definitely a very safe place. Their transport system is awesome. 3/4 of it is national park so lots of places to get away to if you feel the city is too much sometimes. You will easily find lots of expatriate wives to make friends with over there.

RealLifeIsForWimps Tue 24-Jan-12 05:32:34

Hi Jenni. I am British and have lived in Hong Kong since August 2009. I have one DS (16mo) who was born here, and another on the way, who will also be born here. We are here on an indefinite stay (local, not expat package).

So this post will be long but I'll try to answer your questions

First of all, re your work, what do you do? Depending on your skills, it may be really quite easy to get a job, or it may be next to impossible. The visa is not the problem (as a dependent you have the right to work). The problem is the language. If you can do something in the English speaking economy (banker, Big 4 accountant, lawyer, teacher, high management position in an international company etc) it's not that hard to find work. However, if you do something that involves contact with the whole population (eg nurse, police, social worker, lower level management etc) it's almost impossible because you need to be fluent in Cantonese.

Nurseries dont really exist. Everyone who works (and most people who don't) have helpers, who are live in nannies/housekeepers. They are usually from the Philippines or Indonesia (expats tend to favour Filipinas as their English is usually better). They have to live with you and work only for you (6 day week). In practice people do have live out or PT help but it's not legal. Helpers usually don't have any formal childcare qualifications, but many do an excellent job. Some of the younger ones are qualified nurses/teachers but IMO, this doesn't always translate to them being better nannies. The minimum wage is now around $3900 per month, plus either a food allowance of c $800 or you let them buy their food out of the housekeeping money. Most experienced helpers earn closer to $5000pm plus food. You also need to provide them with a room (most apartments have a designated helper room), and are responsible for their medical bills (can get insurance) and a flight home every year. Most expats give a month's salary at either Christmas or Chinese NY as a bonus. One issue in HK is that it almost becomes hard not to have a helper because there is no other source of babysitting so if you want to go out in the evening, you're a bit screwed unless you have a helper.

I knew no-one when I came to HK and I made friends easily, despite not having any children at that point. People are very friendly and open to making new friends/ talk to their neighbours. There are tonnes of activities for pre-schoolers and people are usually keen to arrange meet ups and playdates. You will find a high helper ratio at many of these activities, but often playgroups will have designated "parent" sessions, and there are a few parent only playgroups, especially on the south side of the island. I would say that from my experience, the vast majority of local (HK CHinese) mums work. Amongst the expats it's about 50/50.

Re having kids in HK. Well, as I said, my son was born here and I had a very positive experience. I went private as we had insurance through my DH's employer, so you'd need to check if that's included in your healthcare package. A private delivery (incl all antenatal care, an obstetrician led delivery and a private room at Matilda/Aventist/ Sanatorium) comes in at around HK$80-100,000. You can get this down to around $60,000 by opting for a shared room. Most people who don't have insurance use the public system which is adequate but not amazing. The usual hospital for expats is the Queen Mary on HK island (but you go to your nearest one- it's like a catchment system). QM is about as good as NHS to be honest. The medical care is very good- nothing bad will happen to you - but it is extreme "no frills" (take your own loo roll grin) and they are behind the times re birthing positions and there are no waterbirths/home births etc and bf support is terrible. The wards are busy and noisy and visiting hours very limited (2 hrs a day or something). The nurses in the public hospitals on the island do speak good English. In the New Territories/ Kowloon maybe not so well. One option some of my friends have gone for is to hire a private midwife to act as a doula when they give birth in the public hospital.

Other things: Rents are astronomical. They currently run around 2-3x Central London, so apartments are small. What sounds like a really generous housing allowance may not be all that much in reality. The island is most expensive. Kowloon and the New Territories are much more affordable, but there are fewer expats. Off HK island, the expat hubs are Discovery Bay, Sai Kung and Clearwater Bay.

Offsetting rents is tax- 15% flat rate, so very low compared to the UK. You have to pay a year in advance though so painful the first year.

It's a lot greener than most people think. Lots of hiking trails, beaches etc. However, there's also bad air pollution.


Jenni363 Tue 24-Jan-12 12:27:31

Ladies - thanks ever so much for your replies!

real I do PA/ Secretarial work. For last 3 1/2 years I've worked for one of the big rating agencies and before that investment banking. My company does actually have an office in HK and I am trying to find out if I could work from there. If not, I am hoping to find work in one of the banks or multinationals as my current boss is a global head and very well known - and would happily recommend me (and he better after everything that I've done for him!!) hmm

The (cheeky) reason I am so keen on getting a job soonish is that I then plan to go on mat leave end of 2013 - beg 2014 (if everything was to go as planned) but obviously I am clueless when it comes to these kind of benefits over there!

I would love to have a "helper" as we currently pay £65 a day for nursery that is only open 8-6 and is not flexible what so ever! The idea of somebody living with us is alien, but when in Rome hey!?

We would really first need to find out what kind of package would be on offer for DH! As said he hasn't even started first round of interviews - but his boss is really keen on DH to apply for the job, and the new role would be reporting to him also, so I have a strong gut feeling he has pretty good chances of getting it... We would be allocated relocation person, and they would fly us over for a week to see some properties.

We're both pretty social so am sure we'd make some friends! Having a toddler helps to meet like minded people!

This whole "long waiting lists for schools" is so new to us as in Finland your kid would automatically go to the nearest local school which are all great! I don't think we even have public schools for little ones.. You can imagine it has been a shock to us to find out the nurseries in our area (SW London) charge from £65 a day and have a years waiting list! (In Finland they are ALL government run and cost about 250 euro a month)

And now we're supposed to start planning for school already! Madness! shock

OP’s posts: |
Jenni363 Tue 24-Jan-12 12:28:42

sleep no never been there, and never thought I would go until now!

I have committed to moving to NZ in the future but that might be on a hold for now.... heh..

OP’s posts: |
RealLifeIsForWimps Tue 24-Jan-12 13:33:28

Tbh, although you're bang on the money in terms of sector experience, you may have a problem with PA/secretarial if you don't speak Cantonese and/or Mandarin because ideally you need to be able to speak to people who don't speak good/any English (eg some Mainland clients and company personnel don't) and read emails/understand voicemails written/spoken in Chinese. Just asked DH if there are any non-local PA's that he can think of (he's in IB), and he said he can think of one or two, but it's not common. A transfer with your current company or on a recommendation is probably your best bet. You'd be unlikely to be successful through formal applications because they will all specify Cantonese, Mandarin and English and you wont get past the CV stage (really frustrating- I've been there.)

The other thing you need to check is mat leave. Mat leave in HK is 45 working days and you have to go off at 38 weeks so you get 7 weeks after the baby is born if it's born on time. You'd be very very unlikely to be transferred on your UK terms as would create far too many problems. You may be able to get unpaid leave, but that's at their discretion. Most expat mums I know managed to scrape together 4 months max from mat leave, all holiday and a bit of unpaid. Pay varies from company to company but is usually less generous than the UK.

Not trying to put you off, but once your Dh gets further along in the process, these things are worth checking out.

re schools, the international schools are crazy in terms of waiting list. However, there is another option- the ESF system, which is an English medium state subsidised network of schools. It was put in place after the handover, when all state schooling went overnight from being english medium to Cantonese medium. The ESF schools were then set up to provide an option for non-Cantonese speaking children who couldn't afford the International school fees. Class sizes are larger (on a par with UK state schools) but the primary schools in particular have a good reputation. Critically, there's no waiting list. You just apply the year before you're due to go. No guarantee of a place, but if you dont have another option, you;re usually prioritised.

Btw, if you don't get any more responses, I'd bump this thread at the weekend because this week is the CHinese NY holiday so a lot of people are away.


RealLifeIsForWimps Tue 24-Jan-12 13:36:00

Also, just to say that the international school waiting lists look worse than they are because most parents put their child down on multiple lists. Obviously, the child can only go to one school, so once places start being allocated, places free up quite quickly. Then the school also discover kids on the lists who've left HK and not told them etc.

laptopwieldingharpy Thu 26-Jan-12 07:22:37

Hello all and may you ride the gragon's back with health and success this year!

Its shockingly cold these days, wish we'd escaped to thailand like half of the expats! Dont know what to do with the kids!

Second what others have said re: jobs. Camtonese and mandarin seems like a pre-requisite for this kind of job.
That said, there might be openings if you look into the Vip concierge scene (the likes of quintescentially etc....), the event management industry, or arts world ( christies, sotheby's etc....), especially if you speak other european languages.

Rents are tear inducing but considering the banks are laying off significantly ( know personnally many people who have moved back home over xmas) rents are slowly but steadily coming down. There will be more on offer in the coming months and with more scope for negotiation.
I would recommend a look see quickly to be able to lock your allowance on the basis of the highest published rents, before mercer update their rankings.

It seems there are nurseries that will take kids from 18 months onward. However its usually just half day sessions morning or 12-3pm.
You need a helper for all the reasons laid above ( part time is outlawed, no babysitting service) and just because its the norm here. You'd be mad not to do it. Considering you are planning another baby, you might as well have a head start training your helper and getting your DD fully secure around her before baby comes.

No experience of maternity here, but have not ever heard of any bad experience.
The level of care here is good. Public hospitals are clean and efficient too.
No frills is an apt description.
Although there will be no water births here, nurses are quite nurturing and i heard very pro co-sleeping and breadtfeeding.

Last but not least, schools. It is a nightmare. Apply as soon as you know your coming.
For ESF especially as they have feeder pre-schools for which you'd just about be eligible to register on the waitlist to start in 2014.
Same for kellet(for which i hope your husband's company has a debenture).
The woodlands group of pre-schools should be solidly on top of your list right now as that's always the highest intake into any international school for reception/year1.

Fingers crossed for the interview. Its a great place to live. Vibrant urban life but equally breathtaking landscape.

Mummysaysno Thu 26-Jan-12 08:20:42

Agree with all the above. We pay much (much much) more rent here than we get for our house in London, and our apartment here is nowhere near as nice!
Prepare yourself for the high cost of living, which means grocery shopping, books, as well as rent.
However, on the school front, depending on how long you plan to be here, it may be that you miss all that, but certainly get down on all wait lists. If you're here for three years, then you may not need to bother yourself.
Regarding your husband traveling, you won't be alone - I think the location of HK within Asia, and the roles that many husbands do means that they travel a lot, so you won't feel like you're the only one!
Enjoy the decision!

Jenni363 Sat 28-Jan-12 08:19:29

Thanks all!

It is so nice to hear your experiences - and the truth! Of course hubby's boss is selling the package so well and he's got a great answer to all DH's concerns... lots of travel required.. hmm not sure.. "Well hey Jenni and DD can always travel with you and we'll pay"... Hmm Jenni would have to give up her job "Well of course we'd take that into consideration in the package".

TBH it never crossed my mind I might have trouble finding a job cause of the language barrier! Naive hey!

I emailed the head of APAC for my division (I know her and am in monthly dealings with her). She was very helpful and said she'd help in anyway she can.. BUT she said it would be hard to find a job! Shame she is based in Singapore (as an expat!)! And so is the rest of the Asia team for my division! So I don't actually know anybody in HK office. My boss actually left the company a month a go but we're very friendly so I dropped him an email to see if he could put me in touch with somebody internally in HK.

We're still waiting for the first round of interviews to kick off.. But they know we'll be in AUS / NZ for 4 weeks from beg of March so apparently will try to offer somebody by then. And they would require him / somebody to start in June! So really we wouldn't have so much time to sort everything out!

OP’s posts: |
mungojerrie Mon 30-Jan-12 14:49:50

Everyone seems to have covered the basics and more - I just wanted to add my two cents to say that if you are planning baby no 2 fairly soon you may want to check the health insurance policies - in order to deliver in a private hospital (popular with expats and very very expensive!) most policies have a 'wait' period after you take up the policy for maternity bills - so you would only be covered after around 10 months of having the policy. I would recommend the www.geobaby.com forum - have a browse through people's experiences. If you were pregnant during the 'wait' period then you would have to foot your own bills - or use the public system which is okay but not great. It's something to think about anyway.

Fingers crossed the package is a good one - it's a great opportunity and HK is a fantastic city, there's nowhere like it!

iluvkids Wed 01-Feb-12 15:16:35

i'm currently considering a move to HK for work so watching this thread with interest smile

Jenni363 Wed 01-Feb-12 20:39:25

Hi Mungo oh thanks so much for that! Will have to read the small print to see if the insurance even covers childbirth..

My BUPA here in the UK doesn't but my midwife said I might qualify for private now I had emergency c section!

OP’s posts: |
hackneyzoo Wed 01-Feb-12 21:33:21

Hi Jennie, I had my Dd at a public hospital when I was living in hk a few years ago. It was good, the nurses were great and supportive. It was quite traditional in terms of no water births etc but care was excellent and I think our hospital bill came to $110hk... A bargain! I got lots of support with breast feeding too, so all round a very positive experience smile

Jenni363 Thu 02-Feb-12 14:41:17

Thanks Hackney I guess you never know! I had a rubbish birth and still feeling traumatized by it.

What are the views of ECS in HK? Suppose if you go private then that should be your choice?

OP’s posts: |
hackneyzoo Thu 02-Feb-12 17:04:07

From friends who have gone private I think ecs was not a problem. A friend of mine had her three children by ecs at queen mary which is the hospital i gave birth in.It might worth posting in geoxpat or asiaxpat websites to see if anyone had an ECs in the public system, but I would have thought it would be standard after a cs the first time. The care I received really does mirror Uk practice.

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