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Hong Kong with kids - would you do it?

(21 Posts)
BluJewel Mon 24-Nov-14 14:24:07

Help! DH has been offered a great opportunity to work in HK but I know very little about what life would be like there with the kids and with me being a full time SAHM.

Can anyone tell me if they've experienced it? His job would be in Kowloon. From very basic research I've noted the following negatives: the pollution and that international school places hard to get. Both of these things are freaking me out right now.

- Where would be good places to live? I'd want to live in as green or suburban an area as you can get.
- Can you recommend any schools I can look at and what are their waiting lists like? DD1 is 6.
- I know nothing about preschools there, structure, availability and cost. DD2 is 3. Would she be able to go to a local English speaking one?
- Is it easy having a car there?
- Is it realistic to expect to drive my kids to school every day or is the traffic a nightmare? Would it be better to find a place within walking distance?
- Is it easy to drive across the border at weekends or for shopping?
- Is the expat community quite spread out or only in certain areas? Not too keen on living in an exclusive expat bubble (or certainly not just with other Brits).
- How do supermarket prices compare to the UK?

Thank you and sorry for random selection of questions, if you can answer any it would be much appreciated smile

addictedtosugar Mon 24-Nov-14 21:40:03

OK, we don't live there, but have spent a reasonable amount of time out there with DH's family.

The city is very densely populated. Green / suburban doesn't really exist. There are loads of well maintained parks, however - noone has a garden. In the city, most live in flats. There are houses if you go up to the New territories. Housing is expensive.

Schools - no idea.
Expat community - no idea.

Car?? No. Public transport is amazing. Cars are expensive.

Getting into China easy? No. You'd need a visa. I'd get the train if you were going (tho most people are coming the other way!). The shopping in HK is amazing.

Food is very cheap - many people eat out at least once a day.

DH would love to go and live out there for a year or 2. I would do it so long as we didn't live with his Grandmother. I would need my own space.

I'd also export a breadmaker, if they weren't available over there. Bread is very very different, and they don't eat much of it - I struggle with breakfasts.

butterfliesinmytummy Mon 24-Nov-14 21:51:08

Definitely, I have friends there with kids, we all lived in singapore before relocating to various places. I know schools can be an issue because the international ones have wait lists but quality of life is good. As with all company-led relocations, check that you have health, dental, rent, school, transport, utilities, trips home, visa and relocation costs. Look on facebook for hk expat groups, there are plenty of them and they will be able to answer specific questions.

Laptopwieldingharpy Tue 25-Nov-14 00:36:54

We live here with DC 10 & 6.
You have both negative absolutelyspot on and add housing costs to that.

"The city is very densely populated. Green / suburban doesn't really exist"
This is the biggest misconception about Hong Kong. It is one giant country park under very strict conservation rules. 3/4 of the territory is countryside. Everyone hikes here and the scenery is shockingly beautiful with huge reservoirs and incredible skylines nudged between sea and mountain.
In between, lots of very densely populated areas of course for those who prefer starbucks on their doorstep. The public transport system is far reaching and runs very efficiently.
Most kids are on school buses so that's not an issue either.
So that's out of the way. Its a fabulous place. None of us would ever want to leave if it wasn't for the pollution. Certainly those with severe allergies/asthma would need to be under the management of a Doctor. It is not constant but the peaks which last up to a week are pretty bad and bring on headaches, nausea. You get used to it.
We suffered much more in Singapore with the constant onslaught of heat and humidity and mold spores developing in the air conditioning system.

- Where would be good places to live? I'd want to live in as green or suburban an area as you can get.

Depends on the schools. You have to start there. For easy access to Kowloon I would recommend Pok Fu Lam in HK island (covers lots of school possibilities)
Or the Gold coast (covers Harrow and a few new campuses) as well as Sai Kung/Clearwater bay (many school and pre-school options there too)
On HK island you'd expect to be in a flat. Most building have great facilities such as pool/gym/playrooms/playground/tennis etc....) They will be expat enclaves for sure.
In the otehr areas you can find communities of townhouses (essentially expats) but also lots of village houses.

- Can you recommend any schools I can look at and what are their waiting lists like? DD1 is 6.

You need to log on to Facebook and find 2 groups: hong kong mums & hong Kong Schools. Every school has a waitlist. You will hear lots of drama stories but you will find a place, everyone does.
Expect pre-school fees to be similar to primary school fees.
I'll come back a bit later for this.
Can you tell me what sort of school? UK system only to slot back into school when you return? would you send her to an independent school at home? how competitive?

- I know nothing about preschools there, structure, availability and cost. DD2 is 3. Would she be able to go to a local English speaking one?

Yes english speaking no problem. Start by having a look at woodlands pre-schools hong kong. its kind of a benchmark There are also waldorf and montessori options if that matters to you

- Is it easy having a car there?

Yes. very easy to convert licence and all pretty straightforward appart from the crazy taxis.

- Is it realistic to expect to drive my kids to school every day or is the traffic a nightmare? Would it be better to find a place within walking distance?

It is but most of the older kids love being on the bus with their friends.

- Is it easy to drive across the border at weekends or for shopping?

You are not allowed to drive ( but can hire a chauffeur with special permit for the day). Easy on the train. 25mn from kowloon station. visa is stamped into your passport (british I assume) in 10mn at the tube station.

- Is the expat community quite spread out or only in certain areas? Not too keen on living in an exclusive expat bubble (or certainly not just with other Brits).

Yes. all over the island & New territories as there are english medium schools all over. The expat community is VERY diverse.

- How do supermarket prices compare to the UK?
Food is NOT cheap. A night out in town can be but supermarket bills are horrendous as we all shy away from local (china) produce and root for organic labels etc.....

TheDogsMissingBollock Tue 25-Nov-14 14:11:49

Hk not green?? Um well as you said, you haven't lived there! As previous poster said, most of it is green but the bits which arent are more densely populated than anywhere else I've seen. Not sure i'd live there with kids, probably in right place with right package & sch places it'd be great though. But not a 20th floor flat- however nice- in the midlevels, for example. Not with kids! Be a pressure cooker.

addictedtosugar Tue 25-Nov-14 15:02:43

I was trying, obviously very bady, to say surburban tree lined streets green doesn't exist, imo. BUT if you read the next part - there are loads of well maintained parks - that is the green outside space. Have I still got this wrong?

TheDogsMissingBollock Tue 25-Nov-14 15:42:44

Sorry, Addicted. Am just bit snappy today.

addictedtosugar Tue 25-Nov-14 15:53:51

No probs, TheDogs, you weren't the only one to pick up on it, so it was very badly worded, and the OP needs to know what she would actually be looking at living there, rather than the inteperation of a badly worded sentance on the web.

Hope you have a better day tomorrow.

InaPuckle Tue 25-Nov-14 23:39:42

My BIL moved to HK with his kids and dog found they had a much more active outdoor lifestyle. They enjoyed hiking and sailing there. Outside in the parks there are barbeque areas and loads of great walks.

Laptopwieldingharpy Wed 26-Nov-14 00:35:05

Good morning!

Back on the subject of schools. I can't stress how important it is to start the application process straight away to enter the waitlist pools and secure appointments for interviews.For 2015 typically application deadlines are looming and interviews take place jan-march.
If you won't be here till after summer 2015, apply anyway and get on the phone to admissions officers to work out a plan. Do ask for place on the waiting list and don't be scared by it. Most families have their names on many lists & most siblings are on there too just in case. Remember its a transient place.

At this age she won't be required to sit formal tests. They want to assess oral proficiency in english and the general demeanor of a child. Probably a very short group guided reading comprehension on the carpet and a 1-1 assessment of letter formation through play.
Make sure your applications are thoroughly completed (you can get around the catchment pb where applicable - ESF schools for instance-) by choosing as your address the serviced apartment where you will likely land for the first few weeks.
Do not mention any hint of Special needs unless you have no choice (ie if full assessments and ongoing plan form part of the school reports.) If that is the case there is a very good school ( The harbour school) that has a SN provision alongside and integrated into the main stream. Other schools provide support too but with different results/attitudes.

You have to look past the obvious top 5-10 schools. It is quite common for newcomers to use a "lesser" "holding school" if you arrive mi-year.
It really is a popularity contest driven by the debenture system. Some of those "lesser" schools are much more nurturing and as academic as some of the "big" ones. Lots of families opt to keep the children there in the end.

I would recommend applying to 3-4 of the majors you are aiming for + finding a good plan B. Make sure human resources are on board here. Applications cost $$$$ a pop. It might very well be worth using an education consultant to secure a place and avoid multiple pointless applications.
There is one single person that everyone uses here. She's on those Facebook forums and always gets a placement for her clients. PM me if you want her details or if you want specifics on a particular school.

AggressiveBunting Wed 26-Nov-14 03:40:19

My take on the greenness would be that Hk is hugely green, but the green isnt always massively accessible with young kids unless they're very good walkers - there are family friendly hikes, but comparatively little that's accessible with a stroller- there's no equivalent of (e.g.) Richmond Park/ Wimbledon Common. The main beneficiaries of the greenness are therefore adults who can hike/ run quite long distances over rough and steep terrain (like me grin).

Other than that, Laptop has pretty much covered it.

My perspective, for what its worth- I've lived here just over 5 yrs, and my DC (now 4 and 2) were born here. We're on a local package- Dh works in front office for an investment bank and I work PT for another finance house. We live in (wait for it) Mid Levels on (almost) the 20th floor and absolutely love it.


- Good schools once you get into them (stds of behaviour/ culture of achievement). Very good pre-schools also.
- Very safe/ low crime level
- Amazing access to trails/ countryside and good beaches
- Access to rest of Asia and lots of long public holidays to take advantage of them
- very welcoming, diverse and friendly expat community. Common misconception that it's Brit-centric. Absolutely not the case.
- "Help"- either childcare or housework is v affordable. Can always get a babysitter.
- Income Tax is 15% and you get loads of deductions.
- School buses- love them!

Downsides/ Considerations

- Pollution.
- House prices, but you just get used to not living in a mansion. We live in a 3-bed appt in a big complex with a kids' playroom and traffic free outside space for bikes/scooters and the kids have a blast. It's a great community.
- Your helper has to live with you which can be hard to adjust to (some people have live out but it's illegal)
- Getting a school place in the first place is a bit stressful
- Cars are expensive. If you live in the city, you can live without. If you live somewhere like Sai Kung or Clearwater bay (nearest to burbs HK has to offer) you do need one (IMO) as you could be a 20 min walk to the main road with the bus stop on it, and there arent as many taxis out there.
- Shopping here is not that great- lots of designer stuff but high street a bit crap compared to UK and supermarket food v expensive if you're not prepared to eat local meat, dairy, veg etc (I do but a lot of people dont).
- If you're used to be a very hands-on SAHM, you may find yourself in the minority. Most SAHM's do also have a helper, and so will have a lot more time to themselves than they would in their home countries. Playdates may, for example , be offered on the assumption that it's a "helper playdate". However, there is a FB group for mums without helpers and they do mum meet ups


Laptopwieldingharpy Sun 30-Nov-14 01:47:17

OO, the south china morning post schools directory is now avalaible and free.

BluJewel Mon 01-Dec-14 03:43:31

Sorry for not returning to the thread since I posted. I've been in a bit head in the sand, I confess. But wow, what comprehensive answers! Thank you Laptop and Aggressive, I'm going to go through all the info in finer detail now because the offer is now official so it all rests on me really, and if I'm happy to go along with it and the short answer is I don't bloody know!
We've decided to go out there for a very short and crazy trip so hopefully just seeing the place will help me decide. The thing I'm most worried about is schools, so although we won't have time to visit any (madly) we will check out the areas you mentioned so I can get a feel for them.
This is mighty strange...can't believe it's just a decision away from becoming real now.
I will be back to quiz you more once I've read again.

butterfliesinmytummy Mon 01-Dec-14 04:00:10

Just remember, any international relocation is an adventure, an amazing learning curve, there will always be stuff you love about it (although there will be stuff you don't like too), it's not forever and you can always come home. I'm a relocaholic, it's been 20 months since our last move and I've got itchy feet ... can you tell?

BluJewel Mon 01-Dec-14 08:56:00

Wise words Butterflies...but it depends on my mood if I fancy the challenge or not. Having said that we ought to go where the opportunity is, and don't want to split the family up if we can help it, even if temporarily. We know couples who have chosen to do it that way instead and while it may work for them, I'm not sure if we could cope with only seeing each other for a week here and a week there.
Where are you now Butterflies out of interest and where would you like to head to next? Have your feet always been itchy or was one expat experience enough to start the ball rolling? I am bit worried that once you leave it's harder to go back. Have massive family guilty.

BluJewel Mon 01-Dec-14 08:58:55

Sorry that last bit was muddled - I meant I have massive guilt about taking the kids away from the family.

Laptopwieldingharpy Mon 01-Dec-14 11:26:30

I'm like you Butterflies, got my eye on the next one although it's not even on the cards and we are happy and settled here!

Laptopwieldingharpy Mon 01-Dec-14 11:34:48

Blu just sent you a PM re: housing tips!

Here are the best go-to websites

the HK hub
little steps hk

And the Hong Kong moms ( note moms not "mums") facebook page. Faster and more reliable than google & baidu!

AggressiveBunting Mon 01-Dec-14 13:46:38

Be warned that Hong Kong Moms does attract some quite odd people, and is also going thru an identity crisis whereby it can't decide if it's a nest of vipers or a snuggly bed of bunnies and rainbows, which makes for some entertaining threads. It is useful for practical advice but everyone will talk their own book so you need to take it all with a pinch of salt. If, for example, you ask if you should live in Discovery Bay, half the replies will be "Yes. You should. It's the best place and if you really love your kids you'll move there". The other half will be "Hell no. It's full of wife swappers and golf buggies".

Laptopwieldingharpy Mon 01-Dec-14 23:49:23

grin true! Good luck OP!

Laptopwieldingharpy Mon 01-Dec-14 23:50:11


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