If you’re like the majority of foreigners heading to Hong Kong, you didn’t come here to live in the middle of nowhere – you want to be where the action is. This means that the first thing to bear in mind about living here is that you’ll almost certainly be living in an apartment, and possibly not that big an apartment either. This is a city where space is at a premium, and premium-priced, and if you’re on Hong Kong Island or Kowloon, even in a high-end apartment you’re unlikely to be anywhere huge. What you get back in return is convenience and a huge range of dining, drinking and entertainment options in the neighbourhood.
That said, if your company is footing the bill and willing to make sure you’re living comfortably, especially if you have a family, there are more spacious (and more expensive) options on Hong Kong Island’s south coast seaside communities, in Kowloon Tong and – if you’re really living the high life – on the Peak. For the vast majority, though, it’s a similar choice to that in any other metropolis: proximity to city centre workplace and all the benefits of urban living, or more space and better value with a daily commute, perhaps from the New Territories. Another option is heading out to the Outlying Islands or the more rural parts of the New Territories, where you can get a decent amount of square footage for far cheaper rents, as well as a quiet life – but you’ll be well off the beaten track. While Hong Kong’s public transport is so good that you’ll certainly be able to commute, and perhaps like the idea of a ferry trip every day, you may not find it that practical if you have kids heading to school or like to regularly go out on the town. It’s a different kind of life out there. See our Neighbourhood Sections to get a better idea of which area of the city is right for you.
When choosing an area to call home, there’s one factor that you happily don’t have to bear in mind: safety is simply not an issue. Hong Kong is an incredibly safe city in terms of violent crime, and you can be out and about any time of day or night without anything to worry about – a particular boon for women who are used to being careful about walking home alone or taking taxis late at night in a Western city. Kids can also roam freely. In part this is because much of the city is so densely populated that it’s pretty hard to find yourself alone on a dark street at any hour of day or night; but mostly it’s a cultural thing, and something to be admired and thankful for.
Apartments at any rent level in Hong Kong usually come furnished including electronics like TV and DVD player, and at the higher end should have cable or satellite already set up, and you can certainly talk to the landlord about replacing or adding furniture before you move in – the higher the rent, the more amicable he’s likely to be about this. Landlords hold all the cards in the Hong Kong market, which means contracts are usually for two years, and can’t be broken until you’ve been there at least one year, so take your time looking around before pulling the trigger. Some people try to negotiate a break clause to give them a chance to get out after a couple of months if problems emerge.
Note that apartment buildings have management fees, and you should clarify with the landlord whether you’ll have to pay them on top of the rent or they’re already included – most contracts are inclusive. Deposit is usually two months’ rent. Landlords have a pretty bad reputation in Hong Kong, and you should certainly make sure you understand every clause in your contract, which they are unlikely to be flexible about. You’re unlikely to be straight-up cheated, but might be disappointed with their attitude if problems come up. Of course, there are plenty of decent, helpful landlords too, like anywhere else.
You’re best to use an agent, who will show you around for free but take one month’s rent as commission once you sign a rental contract. There are high-end agents specialising in expats, and your company will probably have an arrangement with one of them already. If you’re looking independently, your best bet is probably to figure out the area you want to live in and then approach a range of agents in the area. Expect to be whisked around all day once they have your number; it’s a cut-throat business and they fight to earn their pay. If you want to go it solo, www.gohome.com.hk should be your starting point; other options are the South China Morning Post, HK Magazine both print and online, and Craig’s List.
Assuming you won’t be at the low end of the rental scale with tiny kitchens and bathrooms and one bedroom, normal living in places like Mid-Levels means you’re looking at flats with two bedrooms, separate kitchen and usually a combined living and dining room. There may also be a tiny maid’s quarters, or just a maid’s bathroom space. Storage space can be quite ingenious, and you may find yourself discovering secret drawers under beds or hidden alcoves after moving in. If you’re using an agent, they’ll speak English, and often the landlord will speak enough for negotiation purposes anyway.
Life is considerably more comfortable in Hong Kong’s luxury apartments, where you’ve got more, bigger rooms and a chance of getting somewhere with a great view and there’s a host of facilities like swimming pool, gym, concierge service and the like. Depending how high on the hog you go, you can end up in a little community of its own and escape the big city outside your walls.
You can rent a house in Hong Kong, and in fact there are a fair few on the market – then again, this is because the rents are so astronomical due to so much space being allocated compared to the average home. House essentially means luxury in any case, and if your company really wants to keep you sweet you’ll live extremely well, probably in Kowloon Tong or the southern coast of Hong Kong Island. An increasingly popular option is the townhouse, generally in the New Territories or Outlying Islands, generally narrow multi-floor terraced houses that aim to hit the sweet spot between ruinously expensive house and cramped apartment.