Welcome to Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), a dynamic city of about seven million people! Most people in Hong Kong live on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula, with the New Territories and numerous smaller islands making up the majority of the area of Hong Kong. The Chinese dialect of Cantonese is the language most widely spoken, although English is common in business areas. Putonghua, the official language of China, is becoming more popular since the Handover in 1997.
The official website about Hong Kong is http://www.gov.hk/en/residents/. You can find more general information there.
Hong Kong experiences a wide variety of weather, which tends to fluctuate in a short period of time. Your arrival, if in the summer months, will greet you with hot and very humid weather. It takes a while to get used to the heat (which hovers around 30℃), but almost every shop, restaurant and flat is air-conditioned. The summer season (May to September) brings frequent rain showers, and the possibility of typhoons. These tropical storms may cause typhoon signals (1,3,8,9 and 10) to be hoisted, and the more severe signals (8, 9 & 10) will cause a shutdown of schools, offices and possibly even public transportation. From October to December, the weather is usually sunny and warm, with lower humidity. The Winter (January to March) brings overcast weather with frequent drizzle and light rain. There can be several weeks of cool weather (about 10℃), which feels colder due to the dampness and absence of central heating.
There is a wide variety of restaurants in Hong Kong, with almost any kind of food you can imagine. The prices range from very cheap to very expensive, but on average, you will pay more for “Western” type meals. For the at-home chef, the local supermarkets provide a wider Western selection, depending on what area you live in. They also offer free home delivery. The larger shops in Central, Tsim Sha Tsui, Causeway Bay, South Horizons and Admiralty provide a good variety. If you can’t find what you want there, check out Oliver’s in Central, Great in Pacific Place, Admiralty or City Super in Causeway Bay, Central IFC and Tsim Sha Tsui. Threesixty in Kowloon Elements and Landmark, Central is yet another option. These large, Western-style specialty stores will likely fill all your grocery needs.
Housing in Hong Kong is expensive, and finding a flat can be a tiresome experience. However, a little bit of information may help you immensely.
Flats in general are much smaller and more expensive by comparison perhaps to those in your home country. Rental costs in different districts within Hong Kong vary greatly in price. The monthly rent of an apartment of 700 ft2 varies from HK$10,000 to HK$20,000 excluding outgoing expenses such as power bills, and water charges, etc. Should you wish to know more about the rental costs in different districts, you may search through some of the popular search engines for property web sites for Hong Kong properties. Some web sites also include maps and schools of different districts for your easy reference.
Midland Realty – www.midland.com.hk
Centaline Property Agency – www.centanet.com
Squarefoot – www.squarefoot.com.hk
Rent: At the time of writing (2015), a two-bedroom flat, of about 700 square feet, in Aberdeen, Southern District or Wan Chai will cost about HK $15,000 to HK $20,000 per month. It is possible to live on your own if you look carefully, but most teachers opt to share with others to save money. Rental rates in the outlying islands are usually cheaper, and the flats larger, but you must take into account the daily commute.
Furnishings: Fully-furnished apartments may include a washing machine, fridge, gas burner (and oven if you are lucky), living room furniture, beds, dining room set, television, and an air-conditioner in each room. Storage space tends to be very limited. Contents of the flats may vary, so it is important to consider this when negotiating the rent with the landlord. Dishes, pots, bedding, towels and cutlery are not usually included. It is also possible to rent an unfurnished flat and furnish it yourself. Ikea is a popular furniture store used by many of our teachers.
Finding a Flat: There are two ways of finding a flat. One is to look through the ads in the local English language newspaper (The South China Morning Post). This may allow you to deal directly with the landlord, and therefore avoid paying fees (=half of one month’s rent) to a property agent. However, most landlords only rent their flats through an agent. Property agents have offices in all residential areas. If you are interested in seeing flats in a particular area, simply walk into one of the many offices (identifiable by their windows covered with numbered signs), and make your inquiries. It is usually good to arrive with an idea of what you are looking for (i.e. price range, size, number of bedrooms, furnishings, etc.) to allow the agent to check their listings for appropriate accommodations. Finally, it is possible to find flat-sharing arrangements; check publications such as HK Magazine and BC Magazine for listings.
Costs: There are other initial costs you should be aware of. Most property agents charge half a month’s rent for finding you an apartment. You must also pay the registration fees (also known as stamp duty, a few hundred dollars) for your flat, and make a deposit to your landlord of two months’ rent. Finally, you may have to make deposits to get your gas, electric and telephone line connected, as well as investing in bedding and other necessities.
Helpful Hints: Look for well maintained buildings and general safety standards (such as well-maintained lifts and fire exits that are kept clear). Most buildings are quite secure, and have at least a part-time guard. Another option would be to rent a serviced apartment or studio for a month or two, until you get your bearings and know the various options better. There are many, but usually 1 month minimum occupancy is required.
Very few expatriates in Hong Kong own private vehicles; it is expensive to drive and park, and the traffic can be terrible. But public transportation in Hong Kong is so cheap, efficient and safe, that you will not miss your car. The MTR (Mass Transit Railway) is the underground subway system, and is an excellent way of getting around. A number of bus companies run bus routes to anywhere you need to go, and mini-buses, though intimidating at first to the non-Chinese speaker are also a good way to travel short distances. Taxis are relatively inexpensive, and most drivers speak enough English to get you where you need to go; watch out however for extra charges such as tunnel fees and extra baggage, particularly on the way from the airport. In general, when you first arrive, you will probably find that the MTR is the easiest way to go. Purchase a multi-use ticket (called an Octopus card) at any station, and collect maps from the ticket office of the stations that you frequently visit.
Octopus cards can be ‘topped up’ via your bank account automatically so it saves you the frustration of it running out and having to queue up to renew.
Teachers are assisted to open a bank account at either Hongkong Shanghai Bank or Hang Seng Bank. Branches of both these banks are within walking distance from the HK Immigration. To open an account, take your passport, a copy of your contract and statement to proof your oversea residential address. The school will directly deposit your pay into your account; check to see if they require you to go to a particular bank branch. Bank cards, check books and credit cards may take a few days to process, but on the whole the banking system is quite efficient.
Bank machines are everywhere, and most can operate on several networks, such as Cirrus and Global Access, so it is possible to use your cards. Credit cards are widely accepted, and many stores also have direct debit services available.
Generally, all medical services and drugs are available in Hong Kong. Drugstores are well stocked with over-the-counter supplies such as cold medicines and pain relievers.
Holders of Hong Kong I.D cards are entitled to medical treatment at government clinics and hospitals for minimal charge. Expect crowds and long waits. Doctors who speak English are usually available. Staff have received satisfactory treatment at Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai and Queen Mary Hospital in Pokfulam. Check with a travel medicine specialist for the vaccines recommended for this area.
VSA provides a health insurance policy. Details of this insurance will be provided to you upon your arrival, along with helpful lists of doctors who can be approached as part of the medical scheme.
Leisure: A variety of sports and recreation activities are available in Hong Kong.
There is an enormous number of sports clubs and fitness centers. These include the Hong Kong Cricket Club, Hong Kong Football Club, Jockey Club, Yacht Club and various gyms. A more economical route to consider is the various Urban Council centers, some of which offer gyms, courts and classes in yoga, dance, etc. Finally, some buildings offer Residents Clubs; Kornhill and South Horizons both offer swimming pools and tennis courts.
Another option is to take advantage of the natural environment. There are quite a number of good walking trails with great scenery on Hong Kong Island, Kowloon side and in the New Territories. Some of the outlying islands also have pleasant walks. Check out the walking maps from the Government Maps Office or the Post Office.
There are many developed beaches, although some can be very crowded on summer weekends and holidays. Visit the Hong Kong Tourist Association (HKTA) in Central for more information on tours around Hong Kong. They also offer a number of publications, such as booklets and maps of the area.
There are many cinemas in Hong Kong (advertised in the local papers), which show both Chinese and Western films. You can book seats in advance with a credit card by calling Cityline. There is a large number of art galleries and cultural facilities, including the Hong Kong Cultural Center, the Arts Center and Fringe Club, as well as a plethora of bars providing entertainment to suit all tastes. Check HK Magazine (Fridays) or BC Magazine for more details.
Hong Kong has a thriving social scene. For those who enjoy the night life, check out districts such as Wanchai, Lan Kwai Fong or Causeway Bay; there are many bars and restaurants, many of which cater to Westerners. Some people enjoy events organised by the Canadian Club and the Australian Club.
There are some English-language television stations in Hong Kong. They play fairly recent movies nightly.
Travel: One of the most important things to remember is to BOOK EARLY! Christmas and Chinese New Year are very busy times, so don’t be surprised if your first choice of travel destination is booked up five or six months in advance. Book a few trips ahead of time, and then choose one as the holiday approaches.
Some destinations frequented are: Thailand, Bali, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, Singapore, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.
Call around to different travel agencies to find a good price, as well as to find an agent that can meet your travel needs. Ask at school for some reputable agencies.
Low cost airlines also operate out of HK, eg HK Express, Air Asia or Tiger Airways who offer substantial savings to the “brand names”. It linked with accommodation sourced through the “last minute” hotel and apartment websites of which there are many, then you can have a very reasonably priced holiday.
A good rule of thumb is that you can buy almost anything you need here in Hong Kong. But when you are packing, keep these tips in mind:
You will need originals of documents such as your university transcripts and degrees.
A few momentoes from home can make your new flat feel cozier.
Not all brands of personal products and medicines are available; bring an ample supply if you cannot do without.
Electrical converters can be useful, but Hong Kong flats and appliances tend to be fitted for a number of different electrical supplies.
Hong Kong is expensive, particularly for the newcomer. Refer to the contract for how VSA may help in relieving your financial burden. Bring your credit cards, and some traveler’s cheques. Please also exchange some cash in HKD with you.
See below for some suggestions for teaching resources. In general, if you feel that you can’t live without something, bring it.
VSA are very well supplied with paper, pencils, manipulative, art supplies and crayons etc. Libraries of story books and collections of posters and other resources are constantly being added to. Probably the most important things to bring are resource books, books containing phonics activities and card games, flash cards etc. Ready letters, pre-made calendar sets and puzzle collections may also make your life much easier. Theme-related books may come in useful, and it is sometimes difficult to find books on particular themes such as multiculturalism and environmental awareness.
Lonely Planet City Guide to Hong Kong (updated annually) This is a useful book that will give you a sense of the city before you arrive, but you will find it useful when you first arrive and much later, since it contains useful maps, transportation advice and even some Cantonese phrases.
Living in Hong Kong (The American Chamber of Commerce)
Books on culture shock may help you make an adjustment to life in Hong Kong, by preparing you for the changes you will have to make living in a new culture.
Cantonese phrasebooks (Lonely Planet publishes one) can help you feel more prepared for the language barriers you may encounter. Cantonese is a tonal language, and difficult for English-speakers to learn quickly, but some phrases may come in useful.
Once here, a good book to purchase is the “Hong Kong Guidebook” by Universal Publications, available in larger bookstores. It provides detailed maps of Hong Kong and shows hiking trails, bus and MTR routes. An added benefit is that it is bi-lingual, so if you’re stuck somewhere you can just hop in a Taxi and point to a spot on the map.
Remember you are –
Embarking on an exciting journey that many have traveled and survived before you.
Adding to your life and professional experiences.
Opening up the possibility for meeting new colleagues, making new friends and will be on the door-step/launch pad of so many opportunities to travel and explore the surrounding areas.