Densely populated and dominated by an ever-expanding forest of skyscrapers, the autonomous territory of Hong Kong is nothing if not spectacular. It’s also a desirable destination for those looking to work abroad; indeed, in amongst the neon lights and the seasonal smog that drifts across from mainland China, lies one of the most significant financial hubs in the world.
So, if you’re looking to move your corporate career overseas, Hong Kong could be the place to relocate to; after all, if you’ve got the right skills and experience, there are plenty of employment opportunities waiting to be explored. This is what you need to know…
Formerly a British colony, Hong Kong was ceded back to China in 1997 under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, although it enjoys a large amount of autonomy from the Chinese government under its guise as a Special Administrative Region (SAR). As a result, it retains its own judiciary and law-making powers, as well as operates a separate political and economic system from the mainland; consequently, it has blossomed into a major financial player on the world stage.
With a population of over 7.3 million people crammed into just 2,750km2 of land, it is the fourth most densely populated territory in the world; only a small percentage of these tightly packed workers are from foreign climes, though. In 2016, there were just over 23,000 expats from the US, while the UK accounted for just over 10,500 – both a significant drop from the previous year’s total. Indeed, the majority of Hong Kong’s expat workforce is made up of Indonesians and, in recent years, Filipinos who take on the majority of domestic jobs.
The unemployment rate is notably low at just 2.9%, too, while youth unemployment sits at around 5.3% - an indication, perhaps, of Hong Kong’s graduates starting to catch up with their foreign counterparts.
As mentioned, the primary driving force of Hong Kong’s economy is the financial sector, and the most active industries in the enclave are the corporate, marketing and compliance services that support it.
It’s not just about money, though: many multinational companies are based or headquartered in the region, meaning there are opportunities in administrative and support roles, too.
Areas of expertise that are in demand include:
- Financial services (including compliance, anti-money laundering, regulatory reporting and internal audit)
- Accounting and finance (including treasury, audit and professional services)
- Sales and marketing (including business development and brand management)
- Investment banking and equity
- IT and tech
- Digital advertising
- Human resources
Hong Kong is consistently recognised as one of the freest and, therefore, most productive economies in the world, which is reflected in the region’s average monthly salary. Indeed, the median salary is at its highest point since the region was returned to China in 1997. Currently, this stands at just under HK$16,000 (£1,470/$2,045) per month, although critics argue this figure is slanted by the high salaries of the many senior executives working in Hong Kong and that a very tangible income disparity exists in the territory.
Cost of Living
Depending on which list you prefer to consult, Hong Kong regularly ranks as the second most expensive city in the world (after Singapore), as well as the second most expensive for expats (after Luanda in Angola). Either way, one thing is clear: Hong Kong is not a cheap place to live.
According to Numbeo, a one-bedroom apartment in one of the city’s many high-rises would set you back around HK$17,300 (£1,590/$2,210) per month, eclipsing the average monthly salary. Away from the more fanciful central districts, prices are slightly more reasonable (although still very high) at HK$11,370 (£1,040/$1,450) per month.
On the plus side, the region has one of the best public infrastructures in the world and its public transport system is highly advanced; a monthly pass costs around HK$460 (£42/$60). Hong Kong International Airport, meanwhile, is regularly voted as one of the best airports in the world.
Officially, standard business hours in Hong Kong are between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, although overtime is very common and it’s quite normal to regularly work 50+ hour weeks. Like many cities in Asia, there is a strong focus on work ethic and productivity and, as a foreigner, this may initially come as a small culture shock.
There are 11 public holidays, with paid annual leave at the discretion of your employer (make sure you clarify this figure in any job offers you receive), while mothers are entitled to 10 weeks of maternity leave (pay is subject to how long the mother has been an employee).
Additionally, recent media coverage of the conditions endured by low-skilled workers has drawn huge criticism, with employers manipulating contracts and forcing staff to work long hours without days off. Although various trade unions have drawn attention to these issues, the Hong Kong government has been slow to react, and it remains to be seen what legislation (if any) will be put in place to protect worker’s rights.
Finding a Job
Although in recent years it may have been relatively simple to find a job in Hong Kong, increased competition from local and Chinese graduates in the last 10 years has made the employment market a lot more crowded. That said, there are a lot of niche roles that require foreign expertise, as well as a much wider variety of industries in the market in general. Therefore, if you possess the right blend of skills and experience for a certain position, then you should be encouraged to apply for it.
Language is not necessarily a showstopper, either. In the corporate and financial sectors, where business is conducted in English, it’s not compulsory to be able to speak Cantonese or Mandarin; however, it is worth remembering that employers are far more likely to favour bilingual candidates unless you can demonstrate a truly unique skillset.
As always, when conducting a job search abroad, one of the easiest ways to find a position is if you’re already at a multinational organisation that has offices in the region (and most global firms do). Check regularly for internal vacancies and secondment opportunities and discuss your intentions seriously with your management chain.
Don’t forget to utilise your contacts, either. In such a crowded and corporate-focused city, networking will always play a major part in the recruiting of personnel, so ensure you’re connecting with the right people; alternatively, hire a headhunter or register with a recruitment agency to help identify positions that could be suitable for you.
Due to the high number of expats working in the city, there is always a demand for English-speaking teachers to take up postings in international schools. Teach Away and Asia Teaching Jobs are established resources for finding teaching work.
Visas and Work Permits
Unlike many countries, the Hong Kong government does not impose a quota on the number of skilled workers granted entry into the country every year. This means that if you meet the requirements of the job description and you are offered a position by a company in Hong Kong, then you should have no issues obtaining a work permit – applications are reviewed on their merits alone.
It’s worth noting that the country has several immigration policy schemes depending on the nationality of the applicant; Chinese mainlanders are subject to a different scheme, for instance, than other overseas graduates, while residents of certain countries are subject to a completely different process. All in all, though, your visa will generally be valid for two years before you are required to renew, while those who work continuously in Hong Kong for seven years are even eligible to apply for citizenship.
Life in Hong Kong is not for everyone; crowded, fast-paced and full of colour, it’s not the ideal locale for those who prefer the quiet life. You’ll also be expected to regularly work long hours without complaint. However, the trade-off is clear for all to see: a dynamic, exciting and luxurious lifestyle in a city that truly doesn’t sleep, and which offers its citizens the very best in nightlife, high-class restaurants and first-rate culture. If you have the same ambitions for your career, then Hong Kong could very well be the place to go.
Are you considering making the move to Hong Kong? Let us know in the comments!
Currency conversions are based on rates supplied by XE.com on 22 February 2018.