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Hong Kong economy

Hong Kong’s dismal display in expat life survey sees it trail Singapore, Myanmar and Mexico

High cost of living, long working hours and scarcity of childcare push the city’s ranking down in a study of 18,000 foreign workers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 September, 2018, 3:52pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 September, 2018, 11:26pm

Hong Kong’s high cost of living, long working hours and scarcity of childcare have made the city one of the least preferred destinations for expats, according to a new survey, which ranked it 56th out of 68 economies worldwide.

Foreigners reported difficulties making friends and staying healthy, but were relatively happy with transport and internet services.

The city trailed Vietnam (14th), Myanmar (53rd) and mainland China (55th).

The findings were published in the latest Expat Insider survey by networking website InterNations, which interviewed about 18,000 expatriates around the world in February and March.

Participants were asked to rate the country or territory they lived in on 48 factors, divided into five categories – quality of life, ease of settling in, working abroad, family life and personal finances.

A minimum of 75 respondents were needed from a place for it to gain a ranking in the study.

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For the second year in a row, Bahrain took the top spot. Foreign workers praised the Gulf state’s friendliness and said it was easy to make a life there. Taiwan, Ecuador, Mexico and Singapore took the second, third, fourth and fifth spots respectively.

Hong Kong on the other hand dropped 17 places, from 39th last year to 56th this year – one place behind mainland China. The city was 10th among 61 economies in the website’s inaugural survey in 2014.

But Hong Kong did well in quality of life compared with other categories, ranking 32nd on aspects including digital life, transport and safety and security.

On personal finances, the city continued to be the most expensive place for expats, even though more than half reported an annual household income of at least US$100,000.

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University of Hong Kong vice-president Andy Hor Tzi-sum earlier said the high cost of living had made it “extremely difficult for [academics] to settle down in Hong Kong, and this is why we are losing our competitiveness”.

The city ranked a dismal 65th on work-life balance. The study described the issue as a “primary concern among expats”.

“At 46.8 hours, the average length of a full-time work week in Hong Kong is noticeably above the global 44-hour average,” the report said.

Expats also complained about a scarcity of childcare and difficulties securing quality education, for which Hong Kong came last among 50 economies included in this sub-ranking.

“As one Spanish expat pointed out, ‘there are very limited housing and education options in Hong Kong unless you are very wealthy’,” the report said.

Among the bottom 10 destinations this year were Britain (59th), India (66th), Saudi Arabia (67th) and Kuwait (68th).

Alexa Chow Yee-ping, managing director of AMAC Human Resources Consultants, said Hong Kong’s ranking was “fair”.

“Because property prices are so high, the living environment for expatriates has deteriorated. They are living in smaller flats ... Foreigners like to bring their families to Hong Kong, but face competition for international school places from local residents and mainland Chinese families,” Chow said.

“To make Hong Kong attractive, the government needs to increase the number of international school places ... and build more sports and cultural facilities to improve quality of life.”

But Chow said Hong Kong’s low tax rate was still attractive to some foreigners, especially those seeking to further their career in China.