Since moving to Hong Kong four years ago, I’ve fielded many questions from friends, associates, and strangers regarding this world city of 7 million plus inhabitants. Here are some interesting facts and finer points of doing business, and living in this magnificent city. I have included a few items that you might not think of immediately, but if doing business in Hong Kong also means living here, then these are things you should know.
Hong Kong is Not China
Technically, Hong Kong is a “Special Administrative Region” (SAR) of China, operating under the aegis of “One Country, Two Systems.” However, don’t be under any misapprehension, the Chinese Government is here, yet is quite invisible, and is likely to remain so. There is plenty of “socialism” to go around in the forms of public health care and public schools, which are of far better quality than you might find in many other countries around the world. Nonetheless, Hong Kong is first and foremost concerned with maintaining a calm, status quo, and that means making sure the wheels of business continued to run, and run smoothly.
Everyone Speaks English
Well, this is certainly not 100% accurate, but if you’re coming here for business then it might as well be. Everyone with whom you wish to conduct serious business will most likely speak English as well as you do. This makes for a “lazy Gweilo”, but what the heck? And what phrases of Cantonese you might find useful on a day-to-day basis you can pick up in a few weeks. If you try to speak Cantonese, then the locals will be a) impressed with your feigned attempt to be local; b) respond as if you are totally fluent and you will be lost in a nanosecond; or c) just laugh at you! In any event, almost always they will respond in English so you are good to go. And, if you tell them you want to learn Cantonese, they’ll tell you that “you’re wasting your time and should be studying Mandarin”, but that’s also not really true, as Cantonese is a rich and ancient language.
Finding Housing is Messy
Okay, let me come clean on this one – I have no idea whether finding housing is messy! I have my own little secret location, so I have no idea whether finding an apartment is difficult or not, but that’s what I hear. However, if you wish to live an “alternative” life style, please let me know and I’ll talk you down.
Everything is Small
Now, this is true! Don’t plan on bringing much with you, because your housing most likely won’t be the kind of space you are used to having. I moved here with two bright red suitcases and, frankly, haven’t moved on much from there. But, in the words of Tyler Durden “You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.”
Office Space is Very Expensive
People tell me that the expense of having an office in the business district of Hong Kong is such that many businesses are foregoing having a “real” office, instead opting to house their employees in co-work spaces or virtual offices. This is probably true, but think smart – find a local business partner or you can just work from Starbucks!
Housing is Not Necessarily Expensive
Well, I already told you that I have a secret location, but there are other alternatives: if you want to live in the middle of the city, then you can expect to pay an outrageous amount of rent; but if you’re willing to have a 30 to 45 minute commute (especially if this involves a ferry), then you can live quite comfortably. Many people live on separate islands from the main city of Hong Kong and pay less in rent than many places around the world. Granted, the quarters are smaller and lack some of the amenities you might normally enjoy, but it’s all perfectly workable and affordable.
It Gets Cold In Hong Kong
Look, I come from Leeds in the North of England, I have skated on canals in Amsterdam, I have skied on the icy slopes the Rockies, so I know what cold is all about, but given that Hong Kong is on the same latitude as Hawaii and the Bahamas, the warmest clothing you might think you need is a pullover – wrong! Hong Kong gets cold and there’s a special law of physics, that states 10°C in HK is like -5°C anywhere else – you can’t argue – it’s a law!
Hong Kong is the Freest Economy in the World
The Heritage Foundation has ranked Hong Kong as the freest economy in the world for 20 years. But that doesn’t mean it’s a libertarian paradise or that it is without its shortcomings. If you want to come here and start a new mega-stores chain, forget it: there aren’t any B&Q or Wal-Mart’s in Hong Kong (although there are a few smaller IKEA outlets), but if you wish to start an innovative business, then you’ll be made very welcome.
Safety and Life Expectancy
Hong Kong is both the safest city in the world and the city with the longest life expectancy. I’m convinced it has something to do with people eating smaller portions of food and walking a lot. I ride a bicycle here, which is officially certifiably insane and can lead to at least one Near Death Experience a day, but if you get off the beaten track and explore some of the amazing countryside with which we are blessed, then you might (just might) realize that this is truly one of the best places in the World to live.