Today I talk to Michelle, who has been an expat teacher for the last 7 years, about her life and work in Hong Kong. But before you read this wonderful interview, be sure to join our supportive Empowering Expat Teachers FB group here and follow me on Instagram here @sorchacoyle_eet 

1. How long have you been teaching abroad?

This is my 7th year teaching internationally and my first year in Hong Kong!

2. How did you find your current job in Hong Kong?

An ex-colleague who also works in Hong Kong spotted the vacancy and passed it onto me.

3. Why did you choose that location?

For financial and personal reasons. I had come here for a holiday to scout out Hong Kong before moving and I really enjoyed the vibe I got. In the financial sense, you pay taxes but once a year and not until you’re in your 2nd year of contract. Annual tax should work out about 6/7 weeks of salary. But my monthly take home pay easily allows me to budget for it.

4. What is it like living there as a single female?

I haven’t had any issues being single here. There are plenty of clubs to join to make friends, and unlike the Middle East you can wear what you want and no one bats an eyelid.

5. What are the advantages of Hong Kong?

Advantages are salary, gratuity and my current company also has a pension scheme. On the social scene, I don’t think I’ve been to the same place twice! There is always something to do every night of the week. The cost of renting/buying/maintaining a car is crazy expensive but the public transport system is excellent and taxis are pretty cheap. I also like walking on the streets and popping into all the different shops/markets. 

6. Are there any negatives/ challenges to living in Hong Kong? How do you deal with them?

At the moment, the main disadvantage is the mandatory 2 week hotel quarantine as soon as you arrive. You need to sort out a lot yourself, such as your bank account, accommodation, services (electric/internet etc.), but once it’s sorted, it runs like clockwork. Groceries/socializing can be expensive but you need to shop around for best deals, sometimes I go to 4 different supermarkets to check out best bargains, much like I would at home! Rent will also be a lot more expensive than what you’re used to for a smaller place than the Middle East. Also you need to pay 3 months rent in your first payment to your landlord. My company offered a zero interest loan to help with that cost which I started repaying after 3 months and paid off within 9 months. And don’t convert to your home currency!

Language here is Cantonese, which is a tonal language and has 9 different tones! Even the basics are difficult to master, so Google Translate will be one of your best friends here, even to just show the characters to shop people/taxi drivers/markets. That being said, English is spoken in most places but it is best to be prepared. 

7. What is normally included in a good teaching package in your location?

You will get reimbursed for your expenses rather than have an allowance. You get one flight payment when you first get here and after that you need to budget yourself. My company gives a rent reimbursement payment but it can’t be more than half your salary. The reimbursement will be counted as income and you pay tax on that as well. There is also a pension scheme, which helps too.

8. Is there tax on your salary?

Yep there’s tax. You pay taxes but once a year and not until you’re in your 2nd year of contract. Annual tax should work out about 6/7 weeks of salary.

9. How did you find your accommodation?

I went through an agency called Okay- check it out here. The agent was a native English speaker which helped a lot when I was asking questions.

10. Any insider tips? E.g. when applying for jobs, renting, living and working there?

  • Go to everything you’re invited to, work related or not. A lot of people here are here for the long haul and have a wealth of experience and knowledge of Hong Kong and are only too happy to give advice/tips with socialising or apartment hunting.
  • It makes it easier if you have a few people from work living close by, so find out where your colleagues live. My school is in New Territories but I live on HK island, so a school friend and I taxi share in the mornings.
  • You will need some savings behind you when you’re setting yourself up, but after a few months all those big expenses are out of the way so you can focus on saving and having a good time!

Hong Kong sounds great! Don’t forget to check out my other interviews with expat teachers around the world, including Oman, Vietnam, and Bahrain!

My name is Sorcha Coyle and I’ve been teaching in the Gulf (Qatar and Dubai) for the past 9 years. I also run Empowering Expat Teachers, whose mission is to empower future and current expat teachers to lead personally, professionally, and financially rewarding lives. If you haven’t already, join the supportive EET FB group here and follow me on IG @sorchacoyle_eet for lots of research, CV, and cover letter tips! Last but not least, I also provide CV and cover letter support to future and current expat teachers with my Teach Abroad Transformation service, which has three different packages (Essential, Extra, and Elite) to suit all needs and budgets. Great to have you with us!

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