How living in Hong Kong ranks as an expat destination

Australian expats living in Hong Kong

Living in Hong Kong offers an enticing mix of Chinese and English culture, with people from all over the world attracted to living in Hong Kong over the decades.  The expat population is particularly drawn from the British commonwealth countries with Australians, Brits, Africans and Indians making up a large portion of the expats.

A bustling metropolis, Hong Kong is a city where opposites meet but never clash. It’s a unique and diverse city with many Aussies living in Hong Kong to work for multinational banks and financial institutions.

Hong Kong is an expat hotspot for the financial sector, but for overall lifestyle it has a middle of the range performance, having ranked 20th out of 46 nations in 2017, according to HSBC’s Expat Explorer Survey. If you’re thinking of relocating, Hong Kong may well be worth a shot for career success, but work-life balance may suffer unless you have the energy to make the most of the boundless opportunities this city has to offer.

Advantages of living in Hong Kong:

Career progression:

Hong Kong is a high ranking destination in terms of career and work opportunities. In 2016, two thirds of expats living in Hong Kong said that it was a good destination for career progression, a figure that remained high in 2017, and has been consistent over the years. Almost two thirds also feel that their job in Hong Kong will translate into improved career prospects when they return to their home country.

Entrepreneurship and business:

Hong Kong’s strong business atmosphere doesn’t just apply to large companies, it also works for people starting new enterprises. 53% of entrepreneurs have reported it as a good place for starting a new business, beating out the global average of 38% and ranking 7th in the world as a location for starting a business. While Hong Kong’s economy has generally been robust, 2017 has seen greater improvement, with two thirds of expats feeling confident about the economy; an important part of living there as the financial sector is the biggest attractor of expats to the city.


Salaries for professionals are higher than average, exceeding those for comparable jobs in Singapore (Hong Kong’s main competitor for expats in the region), by 25%.

Almost two thirds of expats report having more disposable income than in their home countries and over half say that they are able to save more money to put towards future investments and long term savings. Hong Kong also offers expats accessible financial services, with over half saying that it was easy to organize their finances on


While some expats complain that Mandarin and Cantonese are too challenging to learn for use in business life, Aussies can expect an easy time communicating in English. Chinese and English are the two official languages and almost all Hong Kongese are at least moderately proficient in both.  As former British colony and entrepôt, Hong Kong is a true melting pot of East meets West and locals are used to dealing with foreigners and switching between languages.

Social life:

Hong Kong life may demand hard work but expats here can also play hard. The city has a vibrant night life and there’s always something going on. According to expats surveyed, Hong Kong ranks fourth in the world for social life, but this may not mean much since only a third of expats think they have a more active social life since moving there. It seems that work/life balance is tricky to manage no matter where in the world you live, but Hong Kong still offers a great social life if you have the energy.

Australian expats living in Hong Kong

Disadvantages of living in Hong Kong:

Cost of living:

Hong Kong is rated as one of the world’s most expensive city for expats and has overtaken Tokyo as the most expensive city in Asia. Accommodation costs are extremely high for people who don’t have rent included in their work benefits package, with Hong Kong being rents being 47% more expensive than in Singapore. Although luxury items are available everywhere in this wealthy city, everyday goods are also priced higher than other destinations in the region; on average, a cup of coffee costs US$5 to $8 and a litre of milk is around US$4.  Part of this is attributed to the strong HK dollar as opposed to the US dollar, however expats living on the ground in Hong Kong have expressed dissatisfaction about the high cost of living and the fact that their money doesn’t tend to go as far as it would in Singapore or other locations in the region. Education in particular is extremely expensive, with school demanding huge fees or deposits for places.

Long work hours:

Although social occasions abound, you may not have time to make the most of every opportunity. Expats here work an average of 46.7 hours per week, two hours more than the global average of 44.3 hours. Work life balance is tricky to achieve no matter where in the world you live, but business in Hong Kong is demanding and, while great for career progression, may not provide much free time for a personal life.


Perhaps not as bad as mainland China, nevertheless Hong Kong is known for poor air quality as a result of industry and an excess of vehicles. The local government has been taking measures to reduce emissions, which are proving reasonably successful.

Uncertain political future:

While the Chinese government is technically not allowed to make any changes to Hong Kong’s society until the year 2047, some changes are being made already. Government officials pre-approved by the Communist party are being put in place, sparking public protests such as those by the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in 2014. While expats are confident in Hong Kong’s economy and the situation there seems stable, the long term future of the city remains uncertain.

Australian expats living in Hong Kong

Living in Hong Kong Vs. Mainland China

As a former colony of the British Empire, Hong Kong has some significant cultural differences to what you can expect in mainland China. Hong Kong locals are generally more ‘westernized’ and can communicate easily with foreigners, although the city does successfully retain much of its local spice.

The major difference between the destinations is really the language barrier. Although not everyone in Hong Kong speaks great English, it’s generally much easier to communicate and get involved in local activities. Mainland China is a different story, and expats don’t blend in nearly as well.  Many of the locals in Beijing or Shanghai do study English to a high level, but the society overall doesn’t cater to English speakers and it’s easy to get stuck in an expat-only social circle. On the other hand, this spurs many people to study Mandarin in an attempt to make communication easier.

Hong Kong offers far more in terms of public services than China does, such as libraries, public sports grounds, swimming pools and so on. Expats living in Beijing or Shanghai may not notice a huge difference when it comes to these services, but once you leave these tier 1 cities, life changes completely. Pollution is also considerably worse in some areas of China, but again it depends on where you are.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing a new place to live. Hong Kong and China each have something different to offer. China is probably the more adventurous choice, and the further you travel away from the tier 1 cities, the more local flavor you’ll find. If you’re in the financial sector or are looking for a lifestyle that’s different but not ‘too’ different, Hong Kong is a great choice. A bustling, lively city, it presents the best features of both Chinese and Western culture in a free and open society.

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About the author


Craig is an Australian Expat and the founder of The Australian Expat Investor. Craig is passionate about investing, and while Craig cannot give personal financial or tax advice, Craig enjoys sharing investing, tax, and other tips for Australian expats to help them to build their wealth while living abroad and get the most out of their time living overseas. Get his free ebook on 9 Financial Surprises That Could Cost Australian Expats Thousands of Dollars

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