A L L Y O U N E E D T O N A V I G A T E L I F E I N T H E 8 5 2



Hong Kong is a city of extremes and contrasts. It’s either hot and wet or dry and cold, and rarely in between. It’s fast paced and modern with a very firm grip on old traditions, customs and superstitions – hence all the public holidays! It’s a city that never sleeps, unless you’re on public transport where someone is bound to be nodding off. Then there are the ubiquitous skyscrapers and chaotic streets amidst the rampant jungle, towering hills and some simply stunning beaches. I like to think this means there’s something here for everyone. It can be noisy and dirty, and overcrowded at times, but it can also be really beautiful, and I hope you get the chance to explore every part of it and immerse yourself fully in all that the city has to offer. Before you know it, it will feel like home for you too. We’re here to point you in the right direction as you settle in and build a life here, starting with our annual City Guide. Our monthly magazine and our website ( also cover all aspects of life here, from food to furniture, and we continually keep you up to date with what’s on and where to go, and with recommendations from real people. We wish you all the best with your new life here and hope you’ll keep in touch!




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Interior style tips from

15 HONG KONG HACKS Your basic survival guide

Indigo Living

Learn everything you need to know about your new home, from some of the challenges facing newcomers, to transport options, networking, finding friends, hiring a helper, and looking for work

71 MOVING IN Neighbourhood tips and design inspo

Discover your favourite area of Hong Kong – and your perfect property; then spruce it up and make it your own with

our interior design tips and furniture recommendations


Trivia time! Some things you mightn’t know about HK

LEARN & PLAY A guide to schools, plus activities for all Explore Hong Kong’s world- class range of preschools, schools and other educational institutions so you can make the right choice; plus, go beyond the classroom with our fun ideas for things to do – for kids and grownups alike!





Stay well, inside and out Hong Kong not only offers state-of-the-art hospitals and health services, from dentists to fertility experts to psychologists, it’s also a great place for keeping fit and looking your best! ESCAPES Awesome ideas for your next getaway Hong Kong is brilliantly placed for exploring some of the world’s best destinations, and we have a raft of tantalising travel ideas for planning your next break


Top Asia picks for your travel bucket list



Hot cafes, restaurants and bars There are some amazing foods to try in Hong Kong, from dim sum to champagne brunches. Go here for restaurant recommendations, foodie tips and other advice for the curious or just the plain hungry!

Eats for all occasions 214


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Uniform Red by Eleanor McColl


We could wax lyrical about the amazing reasons to live in Hong Kong, but why just take our word for it? Meet our six expat readers who make up our City Guide panel – their pearls of wisdom and recommendat ions will be found across the pages that follow.

Trilby White Trilby has been living in Hong Kong since moving here from Australia in 2000. Trilby and her husband David established their first veterinary business, Creature Comforts, in 2002, and she has been busy expanding the business ever since. Trilby and David have two young daughters and three dogs, and she enjoys travelling, running and cycling in her spare time.




Renu Malani Renu knows Hong Kong like the back of her hand. Raised in the 852 and educated at ESF schools, Renu lived all over Hong Kong before settling in Discovery Bay 10 years ago. She set up her own business in 2009, AvonInDB, and is

Lachie Fry After spending part of his childhood here, Lachie returned to Hong Kong 10 years ago to work as a pilot. When he first arrived he lived in a remote village on Lantau where he became well-acquainted with the local wildlife and the local taxis.

a go-to font of information for her friends and clients.

Stephen Davison Stephen is managing director for a global financial services company. He’s an Australian, born and raised in Hong Kong, and has spent 23 years living here over two stints. Though he currently resides in Sai Kung with his young family, he has spent the majority of his time in HK on the Island.

When he i s not working he loves to travel and spend time with friends in the city. He currently lives in Mid-Levels.

Brooke Spiller Brooke arrived in Hong Kong 17 years ago and, two children later, she considers herself very lucky to be living here, and loves her HK life. She

Melita Law After growing up in Hong Kong, Melita went to high school and college in the US. She always tells people her childhood was in Hong Kong but her adulthood was in America. A trained CPA, Melita worked in public accounting for about 15 years and moved

back to HK with her husband nine years ago to work in the family business. She is now a stay-at-home mom to their five- year-old daughter. She’s equally at home in the busy streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, where the family lives, or on the hiking trails of the New Territories.

enjoys meeting and chatting to people, and she runs two successful businesses – 13th Element, a company specialising in Hong Kong-related photographic gifts, and a fashion jewellery company, Fifth Avenue Jewellery. When she’s not working, Brooke supports her kids at their sports and social events, and spends time with her much-loved group of friends.




We asked our panellists what advice they would give to an expat moving to Hong Kong

#1 Come with an open mind. Hong Kong will assail all five of your senses! It can be smelly, visually it’s spectacular (from the high-rises, to the many, many country parks), and oh my word is it loud! There are over 65,000 restaurants – so don’t be shy about letting your taste buds do some experimenting! #2 You can buy anything here, but the first year or two it’s difficult to find what you need (or it can be expensive to get something that is readily and cheaply available in your home country); so, bring any weird thing you can think of that you can’t live without until you find your feet! #3 Don’t live in an isolated area – try to be in a complex with lots of expats and families, at least at the beginning. You’ll make your first and best friends in Hong Kong this way and find out lots of useful tips. Then, when you’re ready, feel free to spread your wings. #4 Listen to the advice of the long-timers here – we give it out freely and willingly! We want you to love HK as much as we do. #5 Explore, explore, explore – it’s terribly difficult to get lost, and, if it all goes pear- shaped, just have your address written in English and Cantonese tucked into your wallet. Taxis are cheap. My mum has a habit of hopping on and off public transportation “just to see where it goes…” She is deaf (and until recently didn’t have a phone) and we haven’t lost her yet!

Finally, join social media groups like Hong Kong Moms, Mamas & Papas and a local one or two in the area you decide to live in. If you have school-age children, pick themup or drop themoff every so often, if only tomeet themums, and to seewho your children are interacting with. Most schools have a very vibrant social network!




I would advise themto comewith an openmind, ready toembrace thediversityof HongKong life. I would reassure themthat, at some price, pretty much everything is available in HK, so don’t panic. Be prepared for house guests as people want to visit as soon as they find out you’re moving here. Take regular short breaks from Hong Kong; it’s so well placed that you can get away for a long weekend fairly easily, and there are so many amazing places on our doorstep to visit. Seebeyond the concrete jungle andexplore the country parks, walking trails, beaches and so on; there is somuchmorehere thanmanypeople realise and it’s very easy to get stuck in a routine of only going to the main areas. #1 Get outdoors: Hong Kong has some of the most stunning hikes in the region and the islands offer great beaches, restaurants and an amazing trip down memory lane to experience old fishing-village life. If you live on the island, try to get off it every now and then! #2 Travel in Asia: HK is a gateway to so many parts of Asia, so make the most of it by travelling around both with kids and occasionally without. #3 Be very open tomaking new friends: it’s like stepping back into university at times, but you’ve got to put yourself out there and be open to meeting new people; most people living here are willing and that makes for a great environment. #4 Home should be your oasis: given the extreme hustle and bustle of life in HK, having a home where you can relax and escape from the pace of the city is important. #5 Encourage family and friends to come and visit frequently: this is a fantastic city for visitors and their visits keep you connected to home, wherever that may be.

Do your homework before you make the final decision! I’ve seen many people get so excited about the move to Hong Kong that they somehow miss out investigating the basics: so, keep in mind where you will live and how much it will cost; what your job will actually involve and the hours you’ll have to work; what schools your children will attend and the cost of that as well; and what extra- circular activities you like to participate in, andwhether or not they’re available in HK.

#1 Give it at least six months to settle in – these first six months are the hardest, but after that time you’re going to love it. #2 Don’t be afraid to spend a little bit of money doing up your rental apartment tomake it more liveable. Paint the walls a colour you like, buy some artwork – if you treat your apartment as temporary accommodation it won’t feel like a sanctuary to come home to every day. #3 Get out into the countryside! One of themost difficult things I foundwhenmoving to Hong Kongwas being in the city 24/7. Taking the time to discover HK’s beaches and country parks made a huge difference. #4 Hong Kong is amazingly close to so many great destinations in Asia. Don’t miss this opportunity to discover as many of themas possible – you can see a lot in a three-day weekend and there are some really good value deals out there. #5 Don’t be afraid of trying out the wet markets – the fruit and veg are much fresher (and cheaper) than the supermarket, and it’s always an interesting experience. Be open-minded. Be prepared to be frustrated with the cultural shock due to the language barrier and miscommunication – things get lost in translation often. Get out of your comfort zone and explore when you are ready. And become a member of Hong Kong Moms on Facebook.






The social scene inHKcanbe as involvedor reserved as you want it to be. There are always other expats and locals willing to go out for drinks and a meal with you. It can be overwhelming at times, especially for newcomers. You’ll have no shortage of social engagements on the calendar – to the point where, after awhile, you’ll need to start saying no for your own health and wellbeing. Hong Kong is small – everything is accessible and at your fingertips. Depending on where you live, you can be in the heart of the city in Central andwithinminutes be at the top of the Peak hiking in the bush. It’s a great contrast and ideal for those who like convenience. Also, HK is a great hub for the rest of Asia and beyond. If you like to travel, you’ll be only a few hours away from every major city in Asia; from beaches in Thailand to the hills of the Himalayas in Nepal, there is everything to choose from. As for negatives, depending what country you’re arriving from, you will most likely find Hong Kong expensive – for everything! Accommodation, in particular, is a real salary sapper for most who arrive. – Lachie It’s easy to get around – public transportation is relatively inexpensive and super easy – which means you can multi-task and do lots of things in one day. Also, the food is great! One negative is that people can assume that all your expenses are paid for and charge you higher rent than normal. – Melita The people you meet here are amazing – very dynamic, high achievers, welcoming; it’s a great place to do business. The negative: pollution! – Trilby Positive aspects: it’s a relatively safe place for your family, with low taxation and a chance to build up savings forwhen youdo leave; and there’s an incredibly international environment for your kids to grow up in surrounded by diversity. The negative aspect for me is the air quality. – Renu Positives include the uniqueness of the lifestyle, the proximity and efficiency of everything, the cultural

diversity and the international outlook of the city. For many people, Hong Kong creates a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity toget ahead financiallydue to the taxation situation. So, save, save and save while you’re here. Domestic helpers enable most people, particularly thosewith kids, to have freedoms that very fewpeople outside Asia can enjoy – make the most of it. People often take for granted just how good the access to healthcare is in HK for the majority of expats. One negative is the pace of life – peoplework and play very hard here, and the frenetic pace of life can take its toll; you can forget how to relax or unwind. It’s not really the city to come to if you’re seeking an ideal work/life balance. – Stephen The first positive is that it’s vibrant, colourful and completely its own unique blend of East and West! Hong Kong is 80 percent country parks, and there are lovely beaches and boat trips for those inclined to outdoor activities. My family goes hiking and camping whenever possible. (And I do love a junk trip!) Also, it’s completely social – there’s no reason to ever feel lonely in HK. Social networking is very active here with most people willing to answer any random question that comes up; the same goes for the school environments. My one negative? You are going to have the occasional “Hong Kong-itis” day (it’s part and parcel of living here), when every single shopkeeper or sales attendantwill annoy you! Everythingwill be a “cannot”, no matter how logical you feel you are being. You will disgrace yourself by yelling at said people (remember, they are only following the rules). – Brooke



NEW TO HONG KONG? HERE’S HOWTO NAIL THE BASICS While it’s not the most glamourous part of life in a new city, there are some admin basics that need to be taken care of. If you’re new to Hong Kong or thinking of moving here, we have some advice on key areas you’ll need to have sorted.

VISAS & HK ID CARDS About the working visa

Applying for a HKID Anyone residing inHong Kong aged 11 or over is required to hold a Hong Kong Identification card, and an application must be made within 30 days of landing if you are planning to stay longer than six months. Details of the process are found on the HK SAR government Immigration Department website; it’s possible to make online bookings for an appointment, but be prepared to spend some time in person at the Immigration office when making your application. There are five locations where applications can be processed. Immigration Tower in Wan Chai is the busiest but most frequented by expats. On the day, you’ll need: • Photos are taken during the application, and no fee is required. HKID applications are usually processed and ready for collection within 10 days. More: general_info.html • Passport • Valid visa • Completed application form

Unless you have a Hong Kong “right of abode” or “right to land”, a visa is required to work in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR). Having your company sponsor and issue your visa (and any dependent

visas for your family) before you arrive is the most efficient way of entering Hong Kong.

Most companies hiring foreign staff are familiar with the process and should get the ball rolling before you travel. That said, arriving as a visitor allows stays of between 14 to 180 days depending on what passport you hold. You are not legally entitled to work without a visa but you can land and then set about getting your documents if necessary. Expect the visa process to take up to four weeks. More: visa-entry-permit.html Working on a dependent visa If one of you has obtained a working visa, then dependent visas can be issued (and are necessary) for your spouse and children under the age of 18. Holding a dependent visa gives a wide berth for spousal work opportunities since no additional working visa is needed, and the dependent is not tied to one company. More:




BANKS Opening a local bank account in Hong Kong can seem slow and old-fashioned for many expats, as a visit to a branch is usually required. Which bank should I choose? Hong Kong has a mix of international and local players. If you need to shift funds between countries, choosing a bank that also operates in your home country can reduce costs associated Using your card You should keep your ID on you at all times, and it’s a good idea to have the number memorised, since it’s routinely used as an identifier when calling banks or arranging services. Cards are fitted with a smart chip and as such can be used in place of a library card, as well as ensuring a swift exit through automatic gates at Hong Kong Airport and in Macau.

with transfers and exchange rates. Popular banks among expats are: • HSBC • Standard Chartered • Citibank You might also like to consider: • Hang Seng Bank • Bank of China (Hong Kong) • DBS What account?

What should I bring? While you should check with the bank you’re applying with, as each has slightly different requirements, it’s likely you will need: • Passport: Both are needed for joint accounts. • Letter of employment, issued by your employer: If you’re in Hong Kong on a spousal visa, you should apply at the same time as your partner. • Hong Kong ID or temporary ID: If you plan to open a joint account, you must both hold ID. • Proof of address in Hong Kong: A copy of your rental agreement or a utility bill. • Copy of a permanent address in your home country: Use your last address, or a relative’s who is still resident there. • Social security number: Required for American citizens opening accounts with American banks.

Most common personal banking accounts in Hong Kong include checking, savings and multi-currency accounts. Credit cards can be linked to an account, as can an EPS card, which acts like a debit card. View the charges on credit cards, which can be high, and do not neglect to order a chequebook, since these are still frequently requested forms of payment in Hong Kong.



OCTOPUS CARD One of Hong Kong’s great innovations is the Octopus card and you should get one if you plan on spending any length of time in the city. The card is micro-chipped, allowing you to make cashless payments on the public transport system – but it has many, many other uses. You can buy groceries at the supermarket with it, pay for parking, buy things from vending machines, and even pay for services at public hospitals. A standard Octopus card comes with a refundable HK$50 deposit, which covers the cost of the card and ensures uninterrupted service up to a negative value of HK$35 on a single trip. Children must have an Octopus card from the age of three, and everyone must have their own cards – they can’t be shared or used multiple times at one stop. You can get an Octopus card at authorised distribution outlets: • MTR Customer Service Centres: all stations (except Racecourse station) • Light Rail Customer Service Centres: Ferry Pier Terminus, Leung King, Town Centre, Yuen Long Terminus and Tin Yat stations • First Ferry Customer and Octopus Service Centres: Cheung Chau, Mui Wo Pier, Central Pier 5 & Central Pier 6 • KMB Lok Ma Chau Ticketing Office More:

The process At the branch, take a ticket and wait to be called. This can take 30 minutes or more in busy locations. A bank representative will check your documents and guide you through the set-up. Do double check that you’ve brought all requested documentation or your application will probably be rejected and you will need to return at another time to begin the process again. Funds You need a nominal amount to open the account, around HK$1,000 in most cases. Check bank charges on minimal monthly balances and consider having your wage paid into the account to avoid additional costs. If you bank with the same bank as your company, you may be paid quicker.



UTILITIES Unless you’re staying in a serviced apartment, as a tenant it’s your responsibility to sign up for water, gas and electricity. Do ask your agent about any existing supply when you sign the lease, and then use this nifty resource to make connections. Water Supplier: Water Supplies Department of the Water Authority Signing up: index.html Documents: Applications should be sent with a copy of your Hong Kong ID, and take about a week to process. Bills: Sent quarterly Enquiries: 2824 5000 (Press 3 for English) Gas Supplier: Towngas, unless you are living in remote areas that use bottled gas Signing up: eng/VCCFormOpenTGAccount.aspx Documents: For homes with a previous gas supply you should make note of the meter reading when you move in. A HK$600 deposit is taken for registration, which is used against any outstanding balance when you close the

Electricity Supplier: Hong Kong Electric (For Hong Kong Island and Lamma Island) Signing up: service-connections Transferring your account from a previous address takes one working day; new connections can take up to two weeks. Documents: Hong Kong ID or passport, and deposit (equal to 60 days estimated consumption) Bills: Monthly Enquiries: 2887 3411, 9am-6pm, Monday-Sunday Supplier: CLP Power (For Kowloon and the New Territories, including Lantau, Cheung Chau and most other outlying islands aside from Lamma) Signing Up: Documents: Hong Kong ID or passport, and a deposit (equal to 60 days estimated consumption) Bills: Every two months Enquiries: 2678 2678 Payments Making payments is fast and efficient and may be done via a number of channels. Bills can be paid through your bank’s ATM machines, as well as by phone and online, and at most convenience stores including 7Eleven and Circle K, or your local post office if you have the bill present. Direct debits are often called “Autopay” in Hong Kong and require a trip to your bank to set up.

account. If a gas meter is installed but has not been connected previously (as with a new build) you will also need a copy of your lease. Bills: Sent every two months, with a breakdown of monthly use. Enquiries: 2880 6988




It was easy for us because our company set up the initial bank account; many larger companies will use a relocation expert to help with these day-to-day inconveniences. I find that nothing is too difficult in Hong Kong if you exercise a bit of patienceandspeak slowly; if you findagoodperson to help – for example, at the bank – hold onto their details for next time (there is always a next time!). Gas, water and electric companies are very easy to deal with, but internet/phone is a nightmare … good luck! – Brooke Until you get your Hong Kong Identification Card (HKID), everything is hard, so make that the number-one priority. Also, try and get at least one utility bill in your personal name as it will serve as a proof of address for anything you else you apply for. It’s not complicated and the online systems are good. – Renu For such an efficient place, setting up basic services in HK can be quite bureaucratic, with lots of forms to complete and proof required – plus, language can be a challenge. In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have gone with one of the larger HK banks to ensure a more personalised service. – Stephen Weneverhadanyproblemswithanyofthese.The bank account was done at work and was painless. Internet and phone can be difficult if you’re trying to do it over the phone. My suggestion is to go into the shop and have all your questions prepared; I’ve found that, unless you ask, information isn’t freely given away. One ‘rookie mistake’ is purchasing a package that wasn’t really what you wanted because you didn’t know or weren’t told there was another more suitable one. – Lachie It was fairly easy to set up bank account. We bank with smaller banks here so we weren’t asked as many questions as the other bigger banks. However, don’t expect the internet banking to be easy; it sucks! – Melita

DID YOU BRING ANY PETS TO HONG KONG OR HAVE YOU BOUGHT OR ADOPTED HERE? We’ve only had rescue pets; we have two rabbits and a hamster (andwe had a red slider terrapin and fostered a kitty once). – Brooke We adopted a Hong Kong village dog when we moved out to Sai Kung; it was originally a rescue dog, and it keeps us safe out in the country. – Stephen We adopted our dogs from the SAA (Society for Abandoned Animals). They’re brother and sister and have been a great asset to the family. – Trilby



Looking for a unique gift, or a new investment? Kitco has a wide range of limited edition gifts and collectibles, as well as bullion (bars and coins) from some of the world’s most prestigious government mints. Here’s what you need to know before you buy.

Bullion Bullion, in coins or bars, is seen as a good investment in uncertain economic times. It keeps its value in those weaker periods for stock markets, shares and bonds, and so is a good way to diversify your portfolio – especially if you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket! Kitco sells gold, silver, platinum and palladium coins and bars. Its high-quality bullion, in various weights and sizes, can even be bought online. Collectibles Collectibles, like silver coins, are also available from Kitco. They are often limited mintage, and made from fine 999+ silver. Covering every theme and occasion imaginable, whether you’re after a gift or you’re a serious collector, Kitco’s range includes Disney princesses, superheroes, royalty, birthdays, graduation, weddings, Christmas, the Chinese zodiac, birthstones, animals and more. Each coin comes in elegant packaging, and Kitco offers free local delivery services. How to Buy If you’re ready to buy or want to know more, all products are available online. You can also visit the Kitco office, or call the hotline.

Floor 5L, Centre Mark II 305-313 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan 2827 7800



Appy Days! Must-haveHongKong smartphone apps

Smartphone apps can be a fantastic resource to help you navigate the city if you’re new to Hong Kong. Here’s a list of our faves.

GENERAL CSL Wi-Fi – There is an abundance of free Wi-Fi in Hong Kong. This app lets you locate the thousands of CSL hotspots around the city. Wi-Fi.HK – This app details hotspots in the city where Wi-Fi is offered free of charge or free for a set time by participating organisations. MyObservatory – Get location-specific weather information as well as push notification services; useful for typhoon and rainstorm updates.

HK AQHI – This app lists air-quality ratings at various sites around the city, based on the Government’s Environmental Protection Department data. Hong Kong Immigration Department – This handy app has heaps of information, such as visa information and other frequently asked questions. Toilet Rush – For anyone with small children, this app letting you know the location of the nearest public toilets is weirdly useful. Nemo Cantonese – It’s definitely not the easiest language, but this app will help you learn some basic expressions and allow you to test your accent.



TRANSPORT HkeTRansport – Developed by the HK Transport Department, the app will give you information of how to get where you want to go using public transport, from taxis to ferries. Citymapper – This is another good app for navigating the city. Enter your destination and it will give you a guide on what public transport to use, as well as a street map for walking. MTR Mobile – This app details recommended routes, fare information and estimated journey times. It also has info on station exits, and you can even buy tickets online. HKTaxi – This is a basic ride-hailing app where you enter your pickup location and contact number and wait for a driver to contact you. Hong Kong Taxi Cards – This app provides flash cards with your destination address in Cantonese to show your driver. CitybusNWFB – Hong Kong has an excellent public bus system, and this app has details of bus routes and timetables. LIFESTYLE BloomMe – This beauty booking app gives you the nearest spas to your location if you need to get a haircut or treatment, stat. There are also discounts and specials. Hong Kong Movie – Take the hassle out of finding what movie is on and where with this app, which lets you check show times, view seat plans and make bookings. TrailWatch – Track your hikes in real-time using GPS, as well as share your trails and check out routes used by other users. Created by the WYNG Foundation, the app also lets you report unusual incidents on your hikes. Enjoy Hiking – This convenient app lists hikes according to region and lets you select a route suitable to your interests and physical fitness.

Hong Kong CityWalks – This app contains a series of two-hour neighbourhood walks, perfect for getting acquainted with some of the city’s captivating districts. Klook – A particularly useful deals app if you have kids, as it can offer discount entry to places like Ocean Park, and using it to book means you can also skip the queues. Groupon – An app that offers up to 70 percent off at a range of businesses from restaurants to spas. MeetUp – This networking app can be found in many cities and is a great way to find interest groups to make new friends and enjoy a hobby in a new city. DINING Beanhunter – There are some seriously good cafes in Hong Kong but you need to know where to find them; this app will help you hunt them down. Chope – The Chope app lets you book tables at a resto of your choice and earn Chope dollars. BistroChat – this new app lets you chat directly with a restaurant to book online. HK Food Truck – The food truck scheme is being tested at eight locations around Hong Kong, and this app lets you know where and when to find them. Deliveroo/Food Panda – If you don’t feel like heading out, these apps let you order home delivery from a selection of some of the city’s restaurants.



HIRING A HELPER ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW To find out everything about hiring domestic help in Hong Kong,we turnedtoLAURENCE FAUCHON, co-founder and CEO of , a social impact start-up eradicating illegal agency placementfeesbyconnecting employers and domestic helpers directly. Laurence started her entrepreneurial adventure while she was pregnant with her first daughter, and she believes

that the employer-helper dynamic benefits froman ethical and open hiring process.



Holidays In Hong Kong, employers must give their helper a rest day, at least 24 hours continuously, every week. In case you need your helper to work on her rest day, you must give her a substitute day as this cannot be settled by payment. Like every employee in Hong Kong, helpers are entitled to enjoy 12 statutory holidays as well as annual leave (seven days in their first two years of contract). But most expat employers grant their helper all general public holidays – six extra days on top of the statutory holidays. Hiring In Hong Kong, there are various ways to find a helper. The traditional way is through employment agencies, but in recent years many of these have been heavily criticised for unethical practices and overcharging of helpers. A better solution is to find a helper yourself through ethical online platforms or by personal recommendation, which has many benefits. Be aware that the hiring procedures of a helper and the agency prices depend on her country of origin and current visa status. An employment agency must be used for paperwork, except for finished-contract Filipino helpers.

Many expats moving to Hong Kong are pleasantly surprised by the readily available and affordable domestic help. Life in Hong Kong is fast-paced and busy, leaving little time for household tasks, and while some expats prefer to hire a part-time helper who comes once or twice per week, for others (especially those families with young children) a full-time helper to cook, clean and handle childcare can be a blessing. Most of these helpers in Hong Kong are from the Philippines or Indonesia and are assiduous, earnest women who are working abroad to provide for their families back home. Options Hiring a helper may be attractive, but it can also be daunting. In Hong Kong, there is a distinction between local and foreign domestic helpers. Local helpers can be hired at any moment for either part-time or full-time duties, but their English is limited. Foreign helpers can legally only be employed on two-year, full- time, live-in contracts. Cost Part-time local helpers are available between $65 and $120 an hour, and can be hired independently or through the Smart Living government programme. Foreign part-time helpers charge between $60 and $110 an hour, but be aware that this is illegal. For full-time, live-in maids you need to budget at least the minimum wage of $4,310 per month (as of September 2016), but many expats pay $5,000 or more, depending on the years of duty and the level of experience, plus a Christmas and/or Chinese New Year bonus. Employers must also provide free food or a food allowance of not less than $1,037 per month. You must also offer suitable accommodation, insurance and free medical care, as well as pay all hiring-related costs and airfares for the bi-annual home leave. Requirements Only residents who hold a Hong Kong Identity Card are able to hire a foreign domestic helper, and you must have a household income of more than $15,000 per month. When hiring a helper, the Standard Employment Contract (ID407) is the only legally binding document. Note that the helper must work and live at the contractual address and that she may only perform domestic duties – special permission needs to be obtained for driving duties.




Helper Lingo There are various costs and timeframes involved when you hire a helper, depending on her employment history. Sometimes the processing will need to be done by an agency (and their fees are highly variable), while other times the helper can do the paperwork herself. The timeframe also varies depending on whether she will need to return to her home country before starting with you. “Finished contract”: Helper has completed her two-year contract and can start as soon as she receives her new visa. Approximate fees and timeframe: $1,800- $3,000 and 4-6 weeks with agency; less than $800 and 2-4 weeks without agency “Terminated for relocation/financial reasons or deathof employer”: Employer has dismissed the helper before the end of the two-year contract for the listed reasons. If these reasons are declared to immigration, it will be handled as a finished contract. Approximate fees and timeframe: Same as for finished contract “Terminated for other reasons or break contract”: Employer has dismissed the helper or the helper has quit before the end of the two-year contract. The helper will have to leave Hong Kong before starting a new contract. Approximate fees and timeframe: $3,500- $9,000 and 8-12 weeks “First timer or overseas hire”: Helper is not currently in Hong Kong and has either never worked abroad or has worked in countries other than Hong Kong. Approximate fees and timeframe: $4,000- $10,000 and 10-12 weeks

Interview hacks • Plan enough time for the interview, as both you and the helper need to get to know each other in order to decide whether or not you’re the right fit. • Introduce your family to the helper so they can get to know her as well. Your helper will live with you 24/7 so it’s important that you and your family feel comfortable with her. • Explain your expectations and requirements in detail so that your helper is aware of what you’re looking for. Let her know what you’d like her to do from the outset and be specific. Childcare can include anything from handling the baby during the night, supervising homework and play dates, to cooking meals for the children. • Good questions include scenarios and real-life “what would you do if this happened?”-type questions so that you can evaluate the experience, response and capability of your potential helper.



Successfully managing your helper • Don’t expect your helper to know everything immediately, but train and guide her patiently in the first months – every employer is different and she will have to learn your way of doing things. • Be considerate and give your helper time to adjust, especially if she comes straight from her home country. She will have left her children and family behind and may experience homesickness. Support her as much as you can. • Lay down your detailed house rules. They can change, but it is good to state them clearly from the start. Also provide your helper with a clear monthly or weekly schedule of tasks. • Give straightforward instructions that are easy to understand. Your helper is not a native English speaker and you may not be either. Avoid vague words and be precise with tasks, timing and expectations. It can help to write things down or make lists. • Set up monthly reviewmeetings where both you and the helper can voice your opinions and discuss what can be improved. Be open- minded and non-confrontational so that the helper feels comfortable sharing, and mutual trust is built. • Treat your helper with respect – nobody is perfect. Accept your helper’s flaws and work on improving her skills if necessary. • Let your helper know that she should come to you if she needs money or is in financial trouble. Many helpers are taken to loan sharks by agencies so let her know you are there for her – together you can work out a plan. For more information, email inquiry@ helperchoice.comor visit




I don’t have any set questions – I just try to get to know the person I’m interviewing. I usuallyhave aprettygood idea after a general chat if they’ll be a good fit with our family. – Trilby It’s hard to ask the right questions and get the right person just from an interview – that’s why I go with my gut instinct, and my children’s response to the person. I just want someone kind and honest, whowill love and look after my children. Hours are long at my place, but I pay above the award wage, and I allow for a nap in the day for the early start and late finish. I also like a self-starter who can independently “run the household”. I do think you should ask if they are on a finished contract or were dismissed, and why. Sometimes there’s a perfectly legitimate reason why they’ve been let go. The most important thing, I think, is to know your own expectations. Write a list of your priorities and what you expect the primary responsibilities to be – the chores you want done and on what day, and any extra tasks you can think of. We also gave our helper a recipe book and lessons to cook food the way we like it prepared. – Brooke

It’s vital to ask specific questions about how they would react in an emergency situation. I had a client once ask a helper in an interview, “What would you do if my child was choking?” The responsewas, “I would start to pray for her.” Be upfront and honest with expectations of what the role will entail so there are no surprises later. Some people like the helper to become part of their family; others insist it’s a purely working relationship. It’s important to ask what environment your helper is looking for and see if it matches what you have in mind. – Renu Do you have any debts in Hong Kong or at home? How many dependants are you supporting?What do you like to do in your time off? – Stephen Are you comfortable shopping at a wet market? How would you manage your time between the cleaning and taking care of kids? – Melita




A public transport network that i nc l udes fer r i es , trams and even outdoor escalators means it really is all about the journey, not the destination. Hong Kong’s public transport system is fast, efficient and usually very cheap! Hong Kong’s taxis are cheap compared to many other major cities. They’re also generally reliable, though keep Google Maps and a Cantonese translation on hand. Lantau’s blue taxis are only permitted to travel on the island – similar to green taxis that don’t leave the New Territories. Red taxis operate on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, but be aware that if Kowloon cabbies drop someone off on Hong Kong Island, they can only pick up customers heading back to Kowloon and vice versa. You can work out if a taxi can take you by doing a wave-like gesture with your hand to let the driver know you want to cross the harbour. Also note that morning and evening rush hours, rain, and a daily shift change at around 4pm are difficult times to get a cab. ROAD TAXI

BUS A strong bus network makes getting from A to B and anywhere in between fairly easy – although buses can get crowded. In addition, more than 4,350 minibuses are in service across the city, carrying up to 16 passengers. Green minibuses have set stops, but red minibuses will stop anywhere along their route. Once the bus is full, the driver will not accept new passengers. You need to pay when you get on the bus with either cash or an Octopus card. Shouting “yauh lohk” tells your driver in Cantonese that you want to get off if you can’t see a bell.




The MTR network consists of 11 lines, including the South Island line, which opened in December 2016. It also includes a service to Disneyland and the Airport Express. A light rail system runs between Yuen Long and Tuen Mun in the New Territories and you can also take a train to the mainland, crossing the border at Lok Ma Chau and Lo Wu. TRAM Hong Kong trams, known affectionately as ding dings , may not be the fastest way to travel, but sitting on the top deck provides a great view. You board at the back and pay at the front as you exit at the end of your journey. Trams operate between Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan from about 5.30am to midnight. THE REST BOAT Ferries remain an active and necessary form of transport in Hong Kong. Aside from Hong Kong’s famous Star Ferry, which still shuttles commuters and tourists from Central and Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui’s Clock Tower, other vessels provide regular services for residents of the outlying islands. Lamma, Cheung Chau, Discovery Bay, Ma Wan’s Park Island, Mui Wo and Peng Chau have dedicated daily services leaving from the Central Ferry Piers. Other ferries shunt from Aberdeen, Wan Chai, Hung Hom and North Point. ESCALATORS The outdoor escalator in Mid-Levels is the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. And while it may be a tourist destination in its own right, it’s also a functional method of traversing a very hilly part of Central. While this particular escalator gets all the glory, there are others in Hong Kong, such as on Centre Street in Sai Ying Pun. The escalators are free to use.





I have a love-hate relationship with Hong Kong taxis. Some drivers are so good; I recently had one that sang along to “Hotel California” in perfect English and was so charming and polite. I’ve had others that were cutting their toenailswhile stopped at traffic lights. If my destination is more than about 10 minutes away, I tend to use Uber; it works out cheaper and the experience is almost always excellent. – Renu Always check all your belongings before getting out. I pay attention to the driver’s card too, aswell as the license number (you cangive it aquick scan after you get out of the taxi, if needed). – Melita Living in the New Territories it’s becoming more and more difficult to get taxis to come out to our place in Clearwater Bay. When calling to book a taxi, it always helps to offer a bit of extra cash on top (say HK$30 to $50), which will usually increase the odds of getting a taxi to come the extra distance. There’s also a great app called HKTaxi that is pretty effective. – Trilby

My only tip is to be aware that if you put a bag in the trunk of the taxi they add HK$6 to the fee. Don’t do what I did in the beginning and argue with the driver because you think he’s ripping you off! Note, too, that taxis change shift at around 3.30 or 4pm every day, and from experience it can be almost impossible to find one around that time. – Lachie I generally like the taxis here and tend to use one if I’m not driving myself (though Google Maps has made driving a lot easier!). Taxis are comparatively cheap compared to the rest of the world; I also use a taxi team to get a 20 percent discount. Like everywhere, some drivers are fantastic and some are grouches; try not to give them a $500 note (especially at the beginning of their shift). – Brooke Try to learn enough Cantonese to be able to explain where you are going and basic directions – it makes a difference. Always wear a seat belt, and always tip (unless you’ve had a bad experience, which happens occasionally!). More recently, I’ve become a big fan of Uber. – Stephen


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