Expats FAQ in Hong Kong


Q: What are some local Hong Kong banks that expats can consider?

A: Hang Seng Bank and Bank of China are two local banks that are quite popular among expats today, especially those whose banks in their home countries are not represented in Hong Kong. Of course, there is an advantage when their banks at home have branches in HK (for example, Standard Chartered, Citibank and HSBC.) This makes money transfers not just more convenient but also more cost-efficient.

Q: Do Hong Kong banks have English-speaking staff?

A: Not all, but most of them do have English-speaking staff, especially in locations where there are high expat populations like Repulse Bay and Mid-Levels.

Q: Are Hong Kong banks open on weekends?

A: Most of them are open on Saturdays from 8:30am to 12:30 noon but all are closed on Sundays. From Mondays to Fridays, these banks usually open at 8:30 am and close at 5pm.

Q: How is the Internet speed in Hong Kong?

A: Excellent. In fact, according to Bloomberg, Hong Kong has the fastest Internet connection in the world, with an average speed of 63 MBPS.


Q: Are foreigners allowed to own 100% of a business in Hong Kong?

A: Yes. As long as all requirements are duly complied with, foreigners in Hong Kong are allowed to be both the director and shareholder of a business. However, the business owner is obliged to assign a Hong Kong company or individual as a company secretary.

Q: What is the business language in Hong Kong?

A: Although locals mainly speak Cantonese and/or Mandarin, English is the official language used in business transactions in Hong Kong.

Q: Around how much is the fee for setting up a business in Hong Kong?

A: The fee for setting up a business in Hong Kong is around 6,650 HKD (can change anytime), and this covers the costs of incorporation and disbursement, incorporation, annual company secretary parking, annual register address parking, bank account opening and document certification.


Q: Are there language centers in Hong Kong that teach children Mandarin or Cantonese?

A: Yes, and there are plenty. One centre that seems to stand out though is New Concept Mandarin which teaches Mandarin and incorporates games, arts and crafts, and storytelling into the lessons. This makes the classes more interesting to kids. Other centers mostly teach just language.

Q: How much is a typical fee charged by child care centers in Hong Kong?

A: The rates can vary from 10,000 HKD to 100,000 HKD annually, depending on the quality of care providers and facilities and even location. With this wide range of prices, it's best to research and make comparisons first before choosing.

Q: Does the Hong Kong government provide assistance to expats looking for a school for their kids?

A: Not personally, but the Education Bureau does provide tools on its website for everyone to use. Note that waiting lists in international schools can be very long, so it's very important to apply early and consider a number of schools as options.

Cost of living

Q: Is transportation expensive in Hong Kong?

A: Despite Hong Kong's reputation as one of the most expensive expat destinations in the world, public transport is cheap and highly efficient. Even the minimum taxi fare is very modest - 22 HKD - and most trips within the city centre do not exceed 100 HKD.

Q: How much does hiring a domestic helper cost in Hong Kong?

A: It depends on the employer, but domestic help is generally cheap in Hong Kong compared to other key areas of the world such as the US, UK, etc. However, families do provide free board and lodging for these workers.

Q: Is it really expensive to live in Hong Kong?

A: Yes, it can be quite expensive for expats and this is mainly because of the country's highly inflated property market and the fact that most produce and commodities are imported from other countries. Nonetheless, expat salaries are usually high enough to compensate for these costs.


Q: What is the health emergency number to call in Hong Kong?

A: The number to call for health and all other types of emergencies (police, fire, etc.) in Hong Kong is 999.

Q: Do doctors in Hong Kong speak English?

A: Yes, doctors in Hong Kong speak English, considering that most of them finished their medical studies and training in Western institutions. Note though that doctors who have international accreditation tend to charge higher than those who obtained their degrees locally.

Q: How expensive is private health care in Hong Kong?

A: One thing expats love about Hong Kong is that private health care is not too expensive compared to public health care and the costs of similar services in the US, Japan, UK, and other top expat destinations. Moreover, health benefits are often included in their employment contracts.


Q: What types of accommodation are available in Hong Kong?

A: Housing in Hong Kong varies greatly, but there are two general and simple terms people use for differentiation - "old" and "new." Old properties are typically Chinese - no elevators, low-rise, great square footage, few amenities, no modern finish and minimal maintenance. New properties can be described as the exact opposite. Obviously, "old" properties, whether rented or purchased, are less expensive than "new" properties, but location can also factor into the price. The farther the property from the city centre, the cheaper it becomes.

Q: Is it practical for an expat to buy a real estate property in Hong Kong?

A: In most cases, expats would say that renting is more preferable. According to a CNBC report, properties in Hong Kong are the second most expensive in the world next only to Monaco. Expats who plan on actually working and retiring in Hong Kong may find buying a property a good investment, but those who intend to return to their home countries after a few years will find it wiser to simply rent.

Q: Are Hong Kong landlords strict in screening potential tenants?

A: Tenant screening in Hong Kong is basically the same as in any other key expat destination. There will be credit checks, previous tenancy checks and all the rest. However, expats enjoy that fact that HK landlords can be very flexible and practically everything can be negotiated. For example, they may request for repairs or even minor remodeling. Of course, these requests must be made prior to the signing of contracts.


Q: Where do most expats go for nightlife in Hong Kong?

A: There are many nightlife districts in Hong Kong, but most expats flock to Hong Kong Island where Lan Kwai Fong is the most popular. LWK is just small area with a very tight collection of clubs, bars, and restaurants. Street drinking is also common. This is when people buy their drinks from 7-Eleven shops and drink along sidewalks. This practice can make downtown areas noisy and rowdy at night, but drunken aggression is rarely, if at all, a problem.

Q: Are there vegetarian restaurants in Hong Kong?

A: Yes. Bookworm Cafe (Yung She Wan Main Street on Lamma Island) is one of the most popular places where people go to get organic vegetarian dishes right in the middle of a massive book collection. Another is Life Café (at the heart of Central) which offers a huge variety of Yogi organic tea. There's plenty more out there, all just a Google away.

Q: What are the top attractions for kids in Hong Kong?

A: There are plenty of kid attractions in Hong Kong but Disneyland is still, of course, number one for tourist kids. For local kids, however, the real favorite seems to be Ocean Park with all its exciting carnival games, rides and the impressive display of marine creatures in massive aquariums.

Looking for a job

Q: Is it important to know a Chinese language when working in Hong Kong?

A: Not always, but those who have some knowledge of Cantonese or Mandarin will always have an edge. While there are certain industries where only English is required, note that there are also job hunters from Mainland China who can compete for jobs. When looking for work in Hong Kong, it's always safe to check language requirements beforehand.

Q: How long is a typical workday in Hong Kong?

A: A typical workday in Hong Kong is a lot longer than what most expats are used to. Workers are generally expected to put in more than 8 hours a day or more than 50 hours a week. Raising issues against this "expectation" in the workplace is usually frowned upon and may even be an indirect cause for termination.

Q: How do foreigners usually get a job in Hong Kong?

A: In most cases, foreigners come to Hong Kong already with a signed job contract. The big companies are known to use headhunters to search potential candidates overseas and entice them with very attractive remuneration packages. However, it is also possible to come to Hong Kong as a tourist, find a job and work out the necessary visas or permits from there. The careers section of The Standard (the biggest English newspaper in the country) is a very good place to start.


Q: Are there differences among HKD coins having the same denominations but different designs?

A: No, there are no important differences and they can all be used interchangeably. UK banks have the same practice of imprinting different designs on same-denomination coins. In Hong Kong, there are three banks that issue bank notes. HSBC coins have a lion on one side, those made by Standard Chartered Bank have a heritage and technology theme, and Bank of China coins show the Bank of China Tower.

Q: Do ATMs in Hong Kong accept international money systems?

A: Yes, and the most widely accepted are Visa Electron, Plus, Maestro, and Cirrus.

Q: How do expats pay income tax in Hong Kong?

A: In Hong Kong, an expat's citizenship or residency has no bearing on how much tax he has to pay. Also, salary taxes are only based on income generated within Hong Kong, which means income derived from abroad will not be taxed. This is actually one feature of taxation laws that expats appreciate in Hong Kong.


Q: Do Hong Kong expats also have to pay taxes in their home countries?

A: This is more of an issue with the home country's tax laws rather than Hong Kong's. For example, American expats have to continue paying taxes to the IRS while also paying taxes in Hong Kong, while citizens of other countries only pay taxes in Hong Kong. There are also countries with which Hong Kong has existing tax treaties, making expats' tax obligations lighter to a certain extent. This is why taxation should be considered a key issue by expats prior to moving.

Q: What is the dominant religion among people in Hong Kong?

A: Because people in Hong Kong come from different parts of the world, it is natural that religions here are very diverse. Proof to this are around 800 Christian churches, 600 Taoist and Buddhist temples, three synagogues, one Sikh temple and one Hindu temple, all existing today.

Q: Is air pollution a problem in Hong Kong?

A: To some extent, yes. The pollution mainly comes from factories in Southern China and it makes Hong Kong's skyline look quite unattractive. Of course, the health implications make up a more serious concern for expats, particularly those who have respiratory problems.


Q: Are dogs allowed in public transport vehicles in Hong Kong?

A: Dogs and other pets are not allowed in all public vehicles in Hong Kong, except for private taxis and ferries.

Q: Are there pet-friendly apartments in Hong Kong?

A: Apartments in Hong Kong are generally pet-friendly, but the issue is really more about space rather than tenancy rules. Expats who move into modern apartments in the city centre may be allowed to have dogs, for example, but there won't be enough green area for the animals to wander around and exercise. Certain parts of Hong Kong such as Stanley, Repulse Bay, Jardine's Lookout ad Mid-Levels East do have more green space for dogs, but these communities tend to be very expensive to live in.

Q: How much do people pay for a pet import permit in Hong Kong?

A: The permit fee Hong Kong pet imports is around 344 HKD for rabbits, birds, reptiles and rodents, and some 432 HKD for dogs and cats (rates can change anytime). The fee is paid to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department which issues the permit.


Q: Which type of schools do most expats send their kids to in Hong Kong?

A: As in most other parts of the world, state-run schools in Hong Kong are free, even for expat families. However, most foreigners prefer to send their kids to private or international schools which use English as the medium of instruction and follow the Western educational system. These schools can be extremely expensive though, and expats should arrange to have schooling costs included in their salaries before signing an employment contract.

Q: How competitive are schools in Hong Kong?

A: Very competitive. In fact, this has led to families making private tutoring part of their kids' daily routine. It's not unusual for children in Hong Kong to spend additional hours doing school work with their tutors. This is also viewed as preparation for acceptance into international universities or simply as a way to keep up with peers.

Q: Is homeschooling allowed in Hong Kong?

A: Yes, but only for expats. Homeschooling by locals is actually considered illegal in Hong Kong. There is a large homeschooling support network in the region, especially in Discovery Bay where the expat population is high.


Q: Where can shoppers report Hong Kong stores that sell counterfeit merchandise advertised as authentic?

A: Reports (not just on counterfeiting but all kinds of consumer issues) can be filed at the Trade Descript Ordinance Customs and Excise Department (hotline: +852 2545 6182). For tourists, these concerns can also be brought to the attention of the Travel Industry Council which can facilitate a full refund when warranted.

Q: What are some of the best markets in Hong Kong and where are they located?

A: The Ladies Market in Mongkok is usually number one on any female Hong Kong shopper's list. The area practically crawls with all kinds of cheap fashion merchandise like faux designer bags and watches, clothes, artsy jewelry, etc. The Temple Street Night market is also great for those little sundry items, interesting souvenirs, and street food. For Chinese antiques, both faux and authentic, people troop to Cat Street (near Central).

Q: Are there Hong Kong stores that sell grocery items for the expat market?

A: Yes. Almost all familiar homegrown foodies and brands from all over the world can be found in expat specialty stores scattered around Hong Kong. There’s Vegemite for Australians, Ranch dressing for Americans and so on. There are even Japanese supermarkets and lots of stores selling exclusive Filipino or Thai grocery items.


Q: Are social media websites also banned in Hong Kong as they are in Mainland China?

A: No, these sites are not banned in Hong Kong and there is generally very little Internet censorship as opposed to Mainland China. There are, however, serious penalties for the distribution of obscene and/or pirated materials.

Q: What is the period of coverage of a typical mobile phone service contract in Hong Kong?

A: Mobile phone contracts in Hong Kong are not very different from those in the West. Initially, they would be good for two years and can be renewed going forward. It's also easy to get sign one as long as the applicant can provide proof of an HK address and has an HKID. Expats may be able to sign a contract with some companies even without an HKID, as long as they can show their passport and pay a deposit.


Q: Does Hong Kong's Octopus card also work for the tram?

A: Yes, the Octopus card, the cheapest way to pay for public transport in Hong Kong, can also be used for the tram. However, note that the tram only travels around Hong Kong Island, traveling from east to west and also up the Peak. This mode of transport is also very slow, so unless commuters live in areas not reached by the MTR (for example, May Road and Sai Ying Pun), they're probably not going to use the tram everyday.

Q: Are there differences among green, blue and red cabs in Hong Kong?

A: Yes. Green cabs only travel around the New Territories, blue cabs serve the outlying islands, and red cabs are limited to routes within Kowloon or Hong Kong. Green and blue taxis are also much cheaper.

Q: Is it practical to buy one's own car in Hong Kong?

A: Most expats will probably advise otherwise. Hong Kong is small and the costs of purchasing and parking an automobile are high. Nonetheless, those moving with children who have to be shuttled to and from school, or those who intend to live away from the city centre may consider buying their own cars for the sake of convenience.


Q: Are there typhoons in Hong Kong?

A: Yes and it is important to keep this in mind when planning a Hong Kong trip. Typhoons in the country are classified according to a scale, and an eight factor is known to cause flight delays or cancellations, as well as offices and stores closing out of schedule.

Q: Are there in-town airport check-in services in Hong Kong?

A: Yes, there are such services in Hong Kong, specifically at Kowloon and Central stations on the MRT. And these services allow passengers to check-in for their flight, get a boarding pass and check in their bags which they only get to see again when they arrive at their destination airport.

Q: Is it convenient to take public transport from the Hong Kong airport to the city center?

A: The airport is rather far from the city centre but taking public transport is still quite convenient. The Airport Express station is located right within the airport, the train makes a stop halfway to the downtown area and then in Kowloon and Central areas. Travel time is less than thirty minutes and the fare is around 90 HKD.


Q: Do people need an entry visa for Hong Kong travel?

A: As of today, there are at least 165 countries whose citizens do not need a visa in order to enter Hong Kong (unless they are coming for pre-arranged employment or any other qualifying factor that requires them to have a visa). On the other hand, there are also many Eastern European and African nationals who do need an entry visa. When planning a trip, it is best to first check with the Hong Kong Immigration Department website.

Q: Who may be included as “dependents” in an expat’s application for immigration to Hong Kong?

A: According to the Hong Kong Immigration Department, an expat's "dependents" may include any unmarried children below 18, a spouse, and parents who are not older than 60. The principal applicant should also provide proof of his or her relationship with claimed dependents.

Q: How long is the processing time for Hong Kong visas?

A: It depends on the particular type of visa and how satisfied Hong Kong authorities are with the documentation provided. Generally though, processing time can go for about four to six weeks, and all visas must be collected in person.