China Careers: Living life to the full in the Fragrant Harbour

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This story is sourced from Flight International
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Where in the world can you practise tai chi in the morning, eat dim sum at midday, and wind up with a wild night in Wanchai? The clues are in the names. As the aviation industry blossoms in China, Hong Kong is a logical residence for many expats who are flocking to the Far East to work as pilots and engineers. Heavy pollution and language issues mean that many westerners are electing to live in the "Fragrant Harbour" and commute to China for a couple of weeks at a time.

Hong Kong is a cushy gig for those who have never encountered Asia. A knowledge-based economy, the Special Administrative Region of China (SAR) attracts talent from all over the world. Many people who land there are thousands of miles away from their countries of origin.

Consequently there is a welcoming camaraderie among the expat community. Locals, too, are extremely friendly, used to thousands of transitory workers boosting the local economy for the duration of their stay. Since it was a semi-British outpost between 1945 and 1997 (wartime Japanese occupation having broken British colonial rule since the 19th century), the SAR still retains a flavour of Her Majesty's Empire, and Brits in particular will feel extremely at home.

Potential expats will be interested to know that a study this year by ECA International - a human resources consultancy firm - indicated that Hong Kong is the 45th most expensive city in which to live. Regional rival Singapore comes in at 36th. The data collected to support these findings comprised goods expats purchase, including electronic gadgets or imported wine. However, the study excluded housing as a factor, which would undoubtedly push Hong Kong further up the ranks. Accommodation is pretty pricey. However, a huge appeal is the 15% salaries tax, which offsets a great deal of the pain.

There are several areas to live that are magnets for expats. Discovery Bay, Gold Coast and Tung Chung all draw airline crew, for example. They are all around half an hour away from Central Hong Kong.

Disco Bay and the Gold Coast are by the seaside, and have a real flavour of the beach at the weekend. This is reflected in rental prices. Other areas are comparatively cheaper. Monthly rentals vary hugely. A three bedroom flat in Discovery Bay could go from anything from HK$45,000 (US$5,791) to HK$70,000 per month.

To find a home, the first thing to do is find a property agent in the area in which you intend to stay. These are obvious, and display the property in shop windows. Hong Kong law mandates that a property agent draft the tenancy agreement between the tenant and the owner of the flat.

There are plenty of supermarkets - either the local Wellcome or PARKnSHOP or fancier outlets catering to international tastes, with delicatessens and bakeries offering food from all over the world, such as the Great Food Hall in Pacific Place.

However, dining out during a day's work could cost around HK$45 for breakfast with coffee at one of the many Pacific Coffee or Starbucks outlets. For a takeaway lunch or dinner there are unlimited sandwich, and noodle shops, which would come in at about HK$50.

Hong Kongers take their eating seriously and there are several thousand restaurants in the territory, offering cuisine from all over the world. Bank on around HK$200-300 for dinner and a drink at a mid priced restaurant. Though the sky's the limit at some of the SAR's fancier eateries. It is seriously worth blowing the budget at least once on the taster menu at Felix, at the world-famous Peninsula Hotel.

At home once the rent's out of the way, utilities such as electricity, water, cable charges, gas, broadband connection, land line and mobile phone are reasonably priced. Locals find 20 degrees chilly, so would put on a heater when the temperature drops to that point. Summer means cranking up the aircon to deal with the humidity, so budget for around HK$450 monthly on winter and HK$650 on summer energy prices.

Broadband TV and landline charges are pretty cheap per month, at around HK$150 for the broadband and just HK$330 per quarter for the phone. Mobile phones are much cheaper than in Europe and come in at around HK$210 per month.

Another fiscal draw is that the HK dollar is pegged to the US dollar, and despite its high inflation rate, the weaker Hong Kong dollar means that the SAR has been competitive in 2010/11, since international companies have had greater purchasing power.

Social life

There is plenty of sport on offer - Hong Kong's landscape is a natural playground for outdoorsy types. Weekends see water-skiers, divers, sailors and surfers hit the many beaches around the territory.

The SAR is around 70% rural countryside, so is a hiker's paradise. Often the walk winds up at a remote beach restaurant offering fresh fish (that you get to choose yourself if you're not too squeamish to impose the death sentence).

Other sporting activities on offer come from the many gyms peppered throughout HK. Gym membership starts at around HK$500 per month at some of the larger chains, and there are hundreds of different classes to take, from yoga to boxing.

Children and their parents alike can have fun at Disneyland or Ocean Park, the elderly, yet highly appealing, fairground located on the Southside. Those of a more cultural bent can head to the Arts Centre, or the Tin Tan Buddha on Lantau Island.

He is located near Po Lin Monastery and symbolises the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and religion. It is a major centre of Buddhism in Hong Kong and the statue was the world's largest seated Buddha until 2007 when it was superseded by a Thai example. See him via the cable car service from Tung Chung.

Equally famous is the renowned Peak Tram - a steep ride at 27-degrees-to-the-horizontal trolley service running from the bottom of Garden Road in Central up the hill to Hong Kong's swanky Peak district.

The cheapest way to get around is via public transport. Locals use the Octopus card, which they load up with dollars. Buses can cost HK$3.90 to HK$20.80 depending on distance. Trams and Star Ferry rides are the cheapest.

One of the few downsides to living in Hong Kong is the constant pollution problem. Air quality is not the best. However, that does not seem to deter the thousands of expats who live there for a while, return home and find themselves wandering back again and again to Southeast Asia's most dynamic city.