Living Abroad Spotlight: Hong Kong/Mainland China

Posted on November 28, 2016 at 12:11 AM

As the global economy becomes more interconnected, and working abroad becomes more desirable, many attorneys have looked to Hong Kong as an attractive location to work in China. In 2014, Hong Kong increased the number of work visas issued to foreign professionals to 31,676.  Hong Kong is one of the world’s largest financial centers, and right on the doorstep of the rapidly expanding China.  A recent survey this February, 2016 conducted by HSBC found that China has the largest share of high-earning expats with 29% of expatriates in China make more than $250,000 USD, and many expats believe that the country offered them a higher quality of life.  Hong Kong ranks 10th in a list of top destinations by expatriates, Singapore is the top destination in Asia and six of the top ten locations are in Asia according to HSBC.  “This reflects the good schooling, housing, transport connections and availability of goods and services that the territory offers,” says Lee Quane, regional director, Asia, of ECA International. This high standard of living has attracted top-tier law firms like New York-based Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Davis Polk & Wardwell. Hong Kong possesses a number of features that makes it popular for expatriates. 


English is the language of commerce in Hong Kong, helping explain its popularity amongst U.S. and U.K. expatriates.  Most establishments conduct business in English, and English is also employed by the service industry (i.e. in restaurants).  The local language is Cantonese, making it different than mainland China where Mandarin is spoken.  While most locals in Hong Kong will understand and speak English, knowing basic Cantonese is considered a sign of respect and is recommended.

Standard of Living

The standard of living in Hong Kong is quite high with crime rates lower than most European countries, ample access to internet and public transportation, and a thriving cosmopolitan area.  Because it is an international center, Hong Kong has over 9,000 restaurants specializing in a diverse selection of cuisine including everything from French and Italian to Cantonese and Korean.  British-style pubs and watering holes remain popular and are littered throughout the city.  Popular tourist destinations include Victoria Peak which overlooks the city and nearby Kowloon Bay, former pirate-haven and now-seafood market Aberdeen, and the famous Taoist Wong Tai Sin Temple.  Hong Kong also has multiple attractions for expatriates with children that provide a family-friendly environment.  Hong Kong Disenyland has recently grown in size and prominence, while Ocean Park boasts one of, if not the, largest aquariums in the world.    

Cost of Living

While the cost of living in Honk Kong is significant, it is comparatively cheaper than other popular expatriate destinations in Asia such as Singapore and Tokyo.  Hong Kong ranks sixth for finances due to higher salaries and greater disposable incomes.  The cost of rent, childcare and schooling has increased in recent years, as has the cost of health care.  One factor about Hong Kong that is frequently overlooked is the tax structure. Expatriates in Hong Kong  pay a salary tax, which is only placed on income earn in Hong Kong.  Overseas income and assets are not affected.   Otherwise, Hong Kong tax rates are some of the lowest in the world and sales tax, capital gains tax, and VAT are not charged.

As mentioned, Hong Kong is on the rise and a popular expatriate destination.  It boasts a unique culture that offers opportunity, excitement, and a thriving metropolis for expatriates looking to work in China and seventy percent of expats in Hong Kong reported that they travelled more since arriving in the city and thirty-eight percent said luxury vacations were a "major perk" of moving according to the HSBC report.  

For more information on other popular expatriate destinations abroad, check out our article on living in Singapore.


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