Advice on moving to Hong Kong

(14 Posts)
Ifkip Mon 29-Apr-19 10:09:40

Hi. Can anyone advise about living in Hong Kong with a family? My husband has an opportunity to move there with his work for 1 - 2 years. Our children are aged 12, 8 and 6. We need to figure out if it is feasible to move - so we're considering the cost of living there, where to live and how the schooling might work.
In terms of where to live a lot of internet sites suggest Repulse Bay/Stanley is a good option for families. I've taken a look at schools and they seem very expensive, particularly with having to pay a debenture. And also very difficult to get a place. Not really sure where to start with all this, so any insights would be helpful. Thanks in advance.

OP’s posts: |
ShanghaiDiva Tue 30-Apr-19 09:16:20

I live in mainland China, not HK, but agree with your research - getting a place in a school can be tricky. Is the company prepared to pay a debenture?

soulrunner Tue 30-Apr-19 17:48:48

Hi there. We're in our 10th year in HK and I have 2 DC who are in school here in Years 3&2. Tbh for a year, I would not move the caravan. For 2 (school) years I would but I'd want a good package - not necessarily money-wise but in terms of them facilitating schools etc because chances of three places coming up in a British Curriculum school at the same time are low- the 12 year old will probably not be a problem (expat population thins out a lot at secondary age) but there would probably be wait lists for the other two. You can look at IB schools as well but not sure if you'd want to given you'd be doing a fairly short stint and then trying to get your eldest back into UK curriculum.

Repulse Bay and Stanley are popular areas for expats- on the south of HK island. They are pretty expensive - absolute minimum of HK$90k a month for a 4 bed apartment. Off the island is cheaper and opens up other schooling options but for 2 years I'd (personally) want to be on the island.

HundredMilesAnHour Tue 30-Apr-19 18:02:23

I used to live in HK. Everyone will give the same advice. School places will dictate where you live rather than the other way round. Focus on sorting out the school places before worrying about where to live (HK isn't that big).

You'll get the best and most current advice on the HK expat forum Geoexpat:
geoexpat.com/

HK is a great experience. But school can be VERY intense there so it may be a real culture shock for your kids. I know quite a few expats who left HK when their kids hit school age as they didn't want to put them through the HK school system (due to the sheer volume of work demanded from kids).

Ifkip Tue 30-Apr-19 21:57:36

Thanks for the advice. My husband spoke to a colleague in HK today and they said similar. Definitely no point going for 1 year. We should be thinking longer term. He also said the working culture is long working days. Plus what @hundred said about the intense schoolschooling system. Not sure it would be the right lifestyle move for the family. Suspect the company will not offer any help with schooling arrangements either. Hmm.

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HundredMilesAnHour Tue 30-Apr-19 22:19:59

Yes. the working culture is long hours and being available pretty much 24/7 may be expected if you work for a global organisation like I did. Although start time is later than London. In HK I'd be at the office from 9am (compared to 7.30-8am in London) and would never leave before 8pm apart from occasional Fridays (when we'd try and bunk off at 6pm or 7pm unless we had meetings). We were allowed to decline meetings after 8pm on Fri only. My average work finishing time was 9pm-10pm though. Latest I was ever in the office was midnight although I did plenty of emails at home until 2am or later.

There is also a massive party lifestyle for expats in HK. Everyone gets sucked in to some extent (partly due to the stress of working long hours) for a while at least. I remember us being out until 4am one Tues night and then having a conversation a few hours later in the office about how it wasn't "a big night" i.e. 4am on a school night wasn't considered to be particularly outrageous. Made me realise how warped our judgement had become. Obviously this can cause conflict at home if half of the couple is a trailing spouse. HK has a reputation for being a marriage graveyard. It's not a place to move to if there are cracks in your marriage already. Of my expat married friends/colleagues in HK, it was a 50:50 split between making it and splitting up after a few years in HK.

Living and working in HK can be amazing but it is definitely an intense experience for many reasons. I'm not sure the disruption is worth it for a family if you'd only be there for 12 months-ish.

HundredMilesAnHour Tue 30-Apr-19 22:24:39

Sorry OP, not trying to freak you out. Just trying to make sure you go into this with your eyes fully open.

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Ifkip Tue 30-Apr-19 22:33:59

Wow. Thats pretty intense. Talk about work hard, play hard. Sounds like it would be good fun - 15 years ago, pre kids. The more I'm hearing the more I think it's not right for us.

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citychick Wed 01-May-19 02:19:39

Hi OP.
I'm living in HK with my family.

As PP said it's a great experience.
However, like living in any major city, you'll need plenty of money. Lots of low cost / free experiences also, though. And many here are price sensitive. It's not all about throwing cash about.

However. We came back a few years ago. With one DC. Having lived here before I had a good idea what was expected. I put my foot down about what a company should be prepared to offer a moving family.
I wanted any one, or all of the following..
School fees paid - it's expensive
Rent paid - it's massively expensive
Club membership - where many expats make friends
Flight home each year - because we're away from family.

What did we get? Flights home each year.
Big packages are mostly gone.
For such a short period of time I wouldn't even consider coming to HK without some serious benefits.

You'll also have a 12 yr old heading towards GCSEs. I wouldn't be moving a 12 year old now unless absolutely necessary.

Not forgetting any SEN is expensive here. Way behind that of UK. It's improving, but it's all done privately.

3kids, 3 school fees, flat big enough for everyone, food, entertainment, lifestyle etc isn't going to come cheap here. HK will put your relationship with your whole family under pressure like you've never known.

I don't know what your expectations are. Maybe you are used to luxe living, and repulse bay is where you expect to be. Maybe you'd prefer a less manicured existence.

Good luck!

soulrunner Wed 01-May-19 03:55:14

Look, hundreds experience hasn't been mine but I suspect she lived in HK a while ago (geoexpat hasn't been mainstream since 2010), and it's also a matter of different life stages (I only had 4 months of party time in HK before becoming pregnant with DC1). So the following is my experience of living here as a parent and working in banking (as does DH)

HK has changed a lot even in the time I've been here. The expat population has diversified and aged (far fewer 20 something bankers/lawyers now as grad hires are predominantly local), massive crackdown on corporate entertainment post 2008, and HK hasn't been immune to insta culture whereby falling out of bars is no longer in line with one's personal brand grin. A lot of the millennials I work with are more likely to be heading off to yoga than Lan Kwai Fong after work. The crazy social life is still there if you want it (and the helper culture means you always have babysitting) but most people with young kids don't have crazy party lifestyles and there's plenty of other stuff going on so you can find your tribe. I know as many vegan, tee total trail runners as coke heads (more actually- ha ha). I'd agree that if the only thing standing between you and alcoholism is childcare restrictions, then don't come, but otherwise, you'll have a few more big nights per year than you might have in the UK and a lot more low key dinners with mates where you all look at your watches at 11pm and say "shall we get the bill- got to take the kids to rugby at 7:30".

Marriage graveyard? Not the experience of my circle - the few couples I know who split, split very soon after arriving meaning that maybe they moved for a fresh start and it didn't help. There are also men people who let the whole thing go to their heads and can't keep a check on their white privilege (that twenty five year old hot Chinese chick likes fat balding me for my sparkling personality) and that tends to end badly, but on the whole, I wouldn't say HK is bad for marriages.

School is only intense if you're in the local system but vanishingly few expat children are as you need to commit to that system from birth (or at least pre-school) so that they have the language skills to cope by the time they're six. The preferred British curriculum school, Kellett, is very laid back and inclusive, as is the main IB school network, the ESF franchise. A few of the newer "international" schools have a high intake of local students which can impact educational culture and there are a few other international schools that are hothouses or are academically selective but they're not ones you would probably look at as nationally specific or require mandarin proficiency. The pressure on school places is far less than it was, and critically I forgot about Nord Anglia which is also British Curriculum. That might actually have 3 places as they have recently expanded. It is less popular than Kellett but that's largely as its less established so not the "go to" name. My friends with Dc there are very happy with it. Harrow is also British curriculum, but debentures are eye watering. I would give admissions at Kellett and Nord Anglia a call and just ask them what the situation is.

Work - depends where you're coming from and who you work for. If you're working a regional job so work mainly within your own time zone it's fine but if you're in a global role then the regular evening calls can suck big time. This seems especially true if you work for a US bank in Asia as they seem to consider their time zone "the" time zone that everyone else has to cater for. My company is "centred" in the UK but we also have quite good policies about how early or late "regular" meetings can be for non-UK time zones and all my clients are in Asia.

Sorry- this has turned into an essay - I guess what I'm trying to say is that HK is many things to many people, depending on life stage and lifestyle, just like London or NY. You can live in the thick of it or you can opt for a more laid back life somewhere like Sai Kung or Discovery Bay. You can party every night or you can never go near Lan Kwai Fong/ Soho (pilots and tourists) and still have a really good social life. You can have fun on a variety of budgets but you don't want to be financially disadvantaged by being here so do the math carefully on rent, schools, tax etc.

If possible I would come over and have a look for a few days.

Ifkip Wed 01-May-19 08:33:33

Thanks everyone for the different viewpoinys. Its good ti get a more roundes picture. I'llshare this with my husband and we'll go from there.

OP’s posts: |
Ifkip Wed 01-May-19 08:35:22

Argh please ignore typos. On train to work!

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HundredMilesAnHour Wed 01-May-19 10:00:21

hundreds experience hasn't been mine but I suspect she lived in HK a while ago (geoexpat hasn't been mainstream since 2010)

Just FYI I left HK in 2016 so not that long ago.

Good luck with your decision-making OP.

BorisBadunov Sat 04-May-19 16:22:29

Hi, I live in HK and have children aged 10 and 8. I mostly agree with soulrunner, I think she’s pretty spot on about work culture and schools.

I love HK but would think carefully about moving with a 12 YO, or moving with any kids for only 2 years. It takes a while to adapt and you wouldn’t have much of a chance to enjoy it before you’d move back. You also have to think about reentry in the UK schools, which can be complicated especially if you have 3 kids and they wouldn’t be coming back at natural entry points (eg 11+, 13+ etc).

It’s true that Harrow is expensive, but they have a priority system for expat kids who are not currently in education in HK, so you might get places. You may not need a debenture- check with the school. I don’t think it’s a highly pressured environment, certainly no more than good independent schools in SW London.

Moneywise I would not consider moving to HK with 3 kids for under $2m (honkies) a year as a minimum, unless you can generate significant extra income by renting your house in the UK. Of course everyone is different, you may want to do it for the experience/as an adventure, but you wouldn’t be setting aside loads of money (which let’s be honest, is usually a consideration in an expat move).

You could save a lot on rent by living in NT (DB, Sai Kung or Gold Coast), much cheaper than Repulse or mid levels, but perhaps not ideal if you’re only planning to be here a year or two.

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