Travel almost anywhere in the world— London, Sydney, San Francisco, Auckland, Berlin— and chances of meeting a Hongkonger are fairly high. Hong Kong people have a long tradition of migrating overseas for reasons ranging from education to retirement. For better or for worse, immigration enquiries are spiking and outward movement has been creeping up for some time.

In September the US News & World Report noted that the Security Bureau’s data indicated 7,600 Hongkongers emigrated in 2018—up from 6,500, or 15%, the year before. Elsewhere, a December 2018 survey by the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies discovered over one-third of respondents would consider moving given the chance, with that rate climbing to half among under 30s and the highly educated. Education has always played a big role in Hong Kong life. “I’ve all along disliked the spoon-feeding and examination-oriented education system in Hong Kong,” a recent emigrant to Toronto told Cannix Yau of the SCMP last August. “I hope my child can be exposed to the multifaceted Western education so he can learn to think freely and embrace universal values.” And almost anyone will point to sky-high property prices as another incentive. When HK$10 million can easily buy several bedrooms, up to three bathrooms, a backyard and car parking space, emigration becomes even more appealing if home ownership is important.

Unlike the case in the past, however, the options are wider and the rules have become more complex. Or have they? Where are Hongkongers going, why and how much work will that entail for them? Let’s look at the main players and what makes them so popular.

Close to home

Needless to say a familiar culture and a shared language can go a long way to deciding where to relocate to, and as such regional destinations high on the list include Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan, where food, social norms and weather (yes, weather) can also play a part in that decision.

It should come as no surprise Malaysian immigration specialists in Hong Kong are reporting an uptick in business, much of that about accelerating enquiries and applications that have already been submitted because of the appeal of the Malaysia My Second Home retirement programme—which is no longer restricted to retirees. The programme has enough flexibility to cater for over- and under-50s alike, and entry costs of approximately MYR1 million—HK$2 million—for (in some cases) 1,800-square-foot flats has made the programme a star. Thailand has been a retirement destination for decades, and it has well-established healthcare facilities to show for it. Now it also features education and business infrastructure as the country, particularly Bangkok, has added financial services and high-end manufacturing to its economic foundation to go with hospitality and medical tourism. As a bonus, the cost of living in both is relatively low. Taiwan is the pricey outlier among the three—in recent years it flirted with unaffordability that rivalled the SAR’s—but it’s still a better buy for Hongkongers than Hong Kong, the two islands share a comfortable social affinity, and at just 90 minutes away it’s among the closest options for those whom maintaining contact with friends and family is crucial.

Away from it all

The familiar can be comforting, but for many potential emigrants access to schools, the ease of doing business and job prospects are just as, if not more, important. For decades, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States have topped the list of ideal destinations and that shows no sign of changing any time soon. In all four locations, educational opportunities and a progressive lifestyle are among the factors that demand attention; between them they are home to most of The Economist’s 10 most liveable cities in the world (Adelaide, Calgary, Melbourne, Sydney, Toronto and Vancouver), and the globe’s most prestigious universities (Cambridge, Harvard, MIT and Oxford). True, compared to Thailand all four are considerably more expensive, but with a little work they’re still more affordable than Hong Kong, and residents who are taxpayers are entitled to much more in the way of services than they are in the SAR (with the exception of the US).

Off the beaten path

For the more creative or adventurous, New Zealand, Germany, Malta and Cyprus are demanding attention for a variety of reasons. New Zealand offers the same quality of life, education, language and property prospects of its Commonwealth brethren. For some, however, that extra few hours past Sydney (three to four direct) is a bit too far to travel. Regardless, for those considering cutting ties completely, cities like Auckland and Wellington offer some of the best value for real estate. Overseas buyer rules are a concern, but permanent emigrants will see many of those rules waived. Germany is slowly and surely becoming a European financial centre and the country has one of the world’s most consistently robust economies. The rule of law is strong, the standard of living is high, and access to the EU comes with German residency and Europe is a large, stable economic block with easy mobility and plenty of opportunity. Malta and Cyprus also boast EU membership, and the laid-back lifestyle and nearly year-round sunshine have rightly made them magnets for retirement. On the downside for all four is a higher cost of living than what can be found in parts of Asia.

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