Well, time certainly flies, doesn’t it?! Suddenly we have been here for almost eighteen months. At this stage, I feel like I can finally write a good post about things that I wish I had known before I got here. Things that would have helped us negotiate a better salary package and things that would have made our adjustment to life here a bit quicker and easier. So if you are looking at the option of moving to HK, or have just moved here, this post could be helpful for you! At least I hope it will be. If you’re not coming or recently arrived to HK, then skip to the end where I will tell you a little bit about the sights we have seen over the past 6 months and have the pretty pictures to look at!
I preface all of these comments with a note that this is based on my personal experience. Everyone will have a different experience based on their own circumstances. I have two kids aged 2 and 5, we wanted to live on HK island in an apartment complex with good facilities for our kids, we don’t have a driver or a car, we do have a live-in helper.
Ohhhh, where to start?! I think I will start with health. This has been a big one for us. The kids and I were quite sick all the time for our first six or seven months. Then we found a few solutions that have helped. First, air purifiers. We just use ours at night and didn’t go with the super expensive, hospital-grade IQ Air, but with a US brand called Alen Air. We have one in each bedroom and just use them at night and for nap times for the kids. We also instituted a rule that as soon as the kids (and us) arrive home, we wash our hands. This was something I always did myself but I am now very strict about it with the kids, too. This has reduced the number of bugs we get and having the air purifiers has allowed us to get better between illnesses, which wasn’t happening for our first 6 months or so. We just went from sickness to sickness. The other thing that has helped me a lot is a zinc supplement. As I said, I already wash my hands a lot so I was still catching just as many bugs but the zinc supplements have made a noticeable difference for me. Lastly, a friend who is a physiotherapist helped with one last issue I had of staying hydrated in the summer time here. You sweat a lot here for about six months of the year. You sweat so much that you don’t smell because the sweat doesn’t have time to sit around and breed bacteria, because more sweat comes through to wash it away! But I had been drinking a lot of water (like, at least 3L a day) and still felt dehydrated. My friend, Katie, noted that you need to be taking electrolytes in the summer here. You can buy sugar free electrolyte tablets to add to a glass of water and doing this every 2-3 days helps stop your body sweating out all the essential salts, etc. Living here in summer is like running a marathon!
On another aspect of health, be aware that to go to a western-trained doctor costs about HK$800-900. Our health insurance is crap, and we only get about a quarter of this back (so yes, that works out at over AUD100 for us to go to the GP – appreciate Medicare!!). We didn’t know that this is how much a doctor/GP visit costs before we came so we didn’t know that the health insurance was this awful. We don’t even have dental coverage so we just have fingers crossed that neither of the kids knocks out a tooth while we are here. This is one thing to really check closely before you sign on the dotted line. A specialist visit will set you back from HK$1000-HK$2000. We spent AUD1,000 on GP visits and flu shots in one month this past winter. I was pissed. So take a look at the dollar amounts that you get back on your health insurance and be aware that the in-network doctors are most likely locals and useless to you as an expat. You will be paying “expat prices” for quality health care here.
Next up, housing. A big one here. Everyone knows about rent in HK (we pay the equivalent of about AUD10,000 a month in rent for a 3 bedroom apartment. ouch.) But the HK rental market is really quite different. We just received notice from our landlord that we need to vacate by the end of September (he sold the apartment). When we looked for places before we moved here we looked a lot at websites like hkhomes.com that allow you to search under different parameters and see pictures of places, etc. Pretty standard. But when we moved here we had a relocation specialist to take us around to these places. What we didn’t realise is that this relocation person was effectively acting as our agent. Now we are looking again but have no relocation specialist to help us. If we use these websites then you have to use one of their agents – which costs you about half a month’s rent (yes, that is AUD5,000ish). And moving in HK is a very regular occurrence. The standard lease here is 2 years, with the first 12 months set in stone but after that, either party can give the other 2 months notice under the break clause. This means that many HK landlords wait until 12 months in, then say they want more rent and if you don’t pay it then you can consider this your two months notice. This puts you in a bind of either staying and paying more when you thought you had a two year contract, or having to move only 14 months after the last move. So if you are moving here, be prepared to move regularly (even if your full lease term is honoured the rent hike at the end of it often makes people move), and be prepared to have 2 -3 months rent as security deposit plus the half month of rent to pay your agent, plus the stamp duty (I think it’s about 5% of a month’s rent?) to split with the landlord. A standard apartment here often doesn’t come with any light fixtures, closets or blinds either. Even using IKEA for these will add up to another $25k for a 3 bedroom apartment for putting these in. It all adds up!
Schooling is another huge cost. I cannot fault the quality of teaching at my kids’ preschool. The teachers are absolutely wonderful and the boys have absolutely blossomed under the tutelage of their teachers. They adore them, I adore them. But we pay a LOT of money for these awesome teachers. Preschool (including a bus to/from school) is about HKD9,500 (AUD2,000 almost) a month. And this is for 5 mornings a week 9am-12pm. Full day is about $12,500 (AUD2,500ish) for 9am – 4pm. The first term of schooling for the two boys is costing us $85,000/AUD15,000 almost. This does include a small amount of additional deposits, but still. It is an eye watering amount of money for ONE TERM of school for two little kids. I am pretty sure I paid less per year for my Engineering degree actually… Negotiate schooling into your package if there is any way possible to do this!!
And now for a few short final bits that are quite specific but are things I have gleaned from my experiences here so I pass them on for what they are worth:
– mobile/cell phones are about the same cost per month as Australia and the US for your average user I have found.
– don’t get Now TV. Get Apple TV, a VPN and stream your shows using Amazon Prime or Netflix. Now TV is crap and expensive. I should note that I don’t watch sports so if you are really into sports then you might need to ask around for how you can get access to games, etc on tv. Or go to a pub and watch them 😉
– Internet packages (at least ours does) go by speed not how much you download. We have unlimited download capacity, but the speed is capped at slower speeds for cheaper packages.
– Some apartments don’t have an oven. It’s not used much for Chinese cooking so we came across a few places that just don’t have them. You can get bench top models to buy but it’s something to be aware of if you are a keen baker.
– Washer/dryer combos suck. Really badly. They sound like a great idea but they are just awful – time consuming and ineffective. The washer is ok (if small) but the dryer is useless. If we had no room for a dryer I would actually just send our large sheets out for washing and drying if it was wet weather. Laundry and dry cleaning are cheap here compared to Australia – much more like US dry cleaning prices – and they pick up and drop off at your house!
Now onto some of the fun stuff. In the last six months we have been to Danang in Vietnam, which was fantastic! One of the best places we have visited and one of my favourite family holidays ever. We had a great villa, there was a Kids Club, the food was delish (and mostly gluten-free friendly!), the beach was lovely and the pool had a swim up bar. Honestly, what more could you want out of life?! We stayed at the Accor Premier Villas in Danang and were happy with it. The only thing I would have liked was a washing machine in the villa. It was just a half hour taxi ride to Hoi An, which we went to twice during our week-long stay – once with the kids and once for dinner sans kids. Hoi An is touristy but adorable. Morning Glory is a much hyped café there and it lived up to its hype – it was delicious food. Here are some pics I took during the visit.
Next up was Cebu a few weeks ago. Also a great resort (the Shangri La), but there is nothing to see outside the resort so I would recommend a max of 4 nights there. The kids fed the fish in the ocean, we made a fish house to assist them build up the local reef, went out on a glass bottomed boat and had a lot of fun at the pool. The boys LOVED the Kids Club there. It had the coolest slides but unfortunately, they only let kids up to 12 year old go on them. (Yes, I was keen….) I did get out of the resort one morning for a short walk to see the memorial to Lapu Lapu, who has the distinction of being the man who killed Ferdinand Magellin in 1521. The low point of this trip was that our two year old had some serious tummy troubles from the food there so we just had enough diapers/nappies to last the trip, and he vomited randomly through out the trip: in the hallway, in the buffet restaurant, in the kids club. And also all over me at the airport right before we had to leave. I managed to find an awful “Cebu” tourist t-shirt to put on but there wasn’t anything I could do about my jeans. So I cleaned them up the best I could with baby wipes and then I went into duty free and weirded out the poor salesman by “testing” some lovely Bulgari perfume by spraying it on the lap area of my jeans! Certainly gave him something to tell his friends about that night… Did the trick though, I made it home without stinking of puke. Here are a few photos of the trip!
Lastly, for my recent birthday, my husband and I spent a night in Macau. I loved the European architecture blended with the Chinese culture. A bizarre mix that I don’t think occurs anywhere else in the world. Without the same population pressure as HK has had, most of the old buildings have remained in the old part of town and it is delightful (even with all the tourists) to wander around the little alleyways. I loved it. We didn’t gamble a single dollar but had a fabulous time!