Hong Kong is well known as a place to come and “get rich” and then go home after a few years of low taxes and even lower expenses (housing aside). But we’ve all heard the story about the banker who was here on an 18-month assignment and then found herself the owner of a boutique investment advisory or design studio… 12 years and permanent residency later.
So with short-term plans dashed, Hong Kong becomes home and brings with it all the issues that come along with raising a family. It begs the question of how the SAR fares as a place to raise children. The city has somewhere in the neighbourhood of 500,000 expatriates, depending on your source and how you define expatriate. As a group their expectations can be separate from native Hongkongers, but when it comes to your kids, most people are of a like mind.
Safe and Sound
According to the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey for 2012, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia rank as the best places to raise kids. That said, “For those looking for a child-friendly safe haven, it seems Hong Kong provides the best peace of mind for expat parents, with 91 percent of expats in Hong Kong indicating that the safety of their children had improved since relocating,” the HSBC report stated. That was far higher than second place and well above the average (60 percent). Canada and Australia ruled the outdoors, but ironically, 39 percent of kids were able to spend more time outdoors, and almost 50 percent spent more time with their parents once they landed in Hong Kong. Good news if you like your kids.
But the other millions in Hong Kong want the best for their kids too. LittleStepsAsia.com co-founder and chief executive insider Shea Stanley has been cataloguing all things parenting for years and has a keen sense of what’s right and what’s wrong in Hong Kong. “You will find that different areas of Hong Kong offer different perks, pros, and cons in respect to family life,” she begins. “For example, many new parents enjoy city life as they can easily walk to coffee shops, brunches, and live basically the same life they did before having kids and in the same neighbourhood. As these kids get older or the parents decide to have multiple kids, space becomes a real issue.” Stanley points to the few remaining pockets in the core where space is relatively ample (like Sai Ying Pun) but adds it’s changing fast and demands parents get creative. Ideally, the “home” provides a mix of space, quality lifestyle and proximity to good schools. “Families then look into those options depending on their budgets. Clear Water Bay, Sai Kung, Discovery Bay, Gold Coast and parts of Southside offer fabulous outdoor space, beaches, and real communities. They are also still relatively easy to access the city. Each community offers something unique so it’s good to understand what you are looking for and dive in.”
There are always shortcomings, though, among them Hong Kong’s notoriously poor environment, lack of green space you can actually walk on and most of all available school spaces. In its leasing research last spring, Jones Lang LaSalle detailed the international schools coming online and Gail Keefe, national director for residential leasing and relocation, commented, “Schooling is still a major issue in Hong Kong though things may be easier… with Harrow having opened last year and Kellett this year.” Hong Kong Academy (Sai Kung) and Harrow (Tuen Mun) are two of the more prominent schools to open or expand campuses in 2012. International schools are perceived as the domain of foreign nationals, but plenty of Hong Kong parents enrol their kids in them too (along with ESF schools). But it’s not insurmountable according to Stanley. “We are seeing a lot of new school placements open up as early as September. HKA is opening a huge campus in Sai Kung, IMS is opening in Stanley, Kellett in Kowloon, and there are pre-schools now offering primary options such as Garden House,” she says. And there are a lot more options are out there for families than many would think. In addition pre-schools are expanding and new ones are launching in all areas of the city. “The Woodlands on Caine Road is doubling their campus, Little Dalton recently launched in Hong Kong, and Blooming Buds in Sai Ying Pun.”
Finally, with rents and prices on a never-ending upward trajectory, the traditional hot spots for homes could shift from pricey Island South and Mid-Levels to more alternative locations. When it comes to locations like Sai Ying Pun and Kowloon East, prices are better — as are urban facilities such as LCSD pools, libraries, movie theatres and activities. To many it’s like something from The Stepford Wives, but given its relative value for money and environment, Discovery Bay is quickly gaining traction as a prime family destination. “A lot of families are moving Discovery Bay, The Southside, and Sai Kung. With the new options for schooling, these hubs for families have become even more interesting in recent months. It all comes down to what you are looking for, the type of community you are seeking, and what you can afford.” Rental prices in DB can run $27 per square foot, compared to $40 in Stanley and $45 in Mid-Levels.
So schools are rare, rents are high and most of Hong Kong is filthy. Is there an upside to having a family here? “There are loads of great points on living in Hong Kong with a family,” enthuses Stanley. “It’s a very safe city, offers diversity, the education … is some of the best in the world, and the city is packed with cultural adventures and activities. Plus we can’t neglect the help you can get here. Our lovely helpers!” Indeed, one of the points Hong Kong trumped Canada and Australia on.