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Where to Live, for Expats in Hong Kong

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: July 2013

Finding the right place to live in Hong Kong depends on many factors. There are practical considerations such as house prices, the cost of living and availability of local amenities. Then there are emotional criteria, such as the desirability of a place – whether what you desire is happiness, safety, friendly locals or an active social life.

Hong Kong is a small territory with a population of more than 7 million. Hong Kong has a very low crime rate, and though people are often pushed for time, they will usually help you if you are in need. It is one of the best cities in the world to eat in, has a clement if humid climate and has an expat popuation of around 5% of the total.

Though Hong Kong has a reputation of being extremely busy, the busiest areas, northern Hong Kong Island and downtown Kowloon are not the whole story. There are considerably more sedate residential areas elsewhere, and almost unpopulated mountainous areas, with nature reserves that offer respite from the hubbub.

Hong Kong Island is the heart of the territory. The island is densely populated and there is little land that hasn’t already been developed. Accommodation is cramped and expensive, especially in Central, which contains the famous central business district (CBD). Rental prices in this area average around HK$35,000 per month.

Younger expats often choose areas nearby such as Midlevels, which is both near the CBD and the area with the best nightlife. Other areas on Hong Kong Island, such as Aberdeen and Stanley, are less frenetic and also relatively close to the CBD. Many expat families choose to live in areas such as these.

North across Victoria Harbour lies Kowloon, which is even more densely populated than Central. In fact, Mongkok District has one of the highest population densities in the world at 130,000 people per km2. However, flats are roomier and prices are cheaper in Kowloon than on Hong Kong Island. Flat rentals average at around HK$19,000 per month . There is plenty of commercial activity and therefore plenty of work available in this city as well.

In the 1970s, to combat the overcrowding in the commercially successful areas, the Hong Kong government started development in more sparsely populated areas in the New Territories. Examples of these new towns include Tung Chun near Chek Lap Kok Airport on Lantau Island, and Tuen Wan and Tin Shui Wai to the north of Kowloon. There is a lot of new accommodation available in these areas. Tung Chun’s current population is 121,000, but the projected population is 250,000.

Air and noise pollution, considerable problems in Central Hong Kong and Kowloon, are much less noticeable in these new towns. However, the residential buildings in these towns mostly consist of rather unattractive high-rise flats. Furthermore, the Hong Kong government’s attempts to create independent business districts in the new towns have not generally been successful. This is particularly true in the case of Tin Shui Wai, or “the City of Sadness”, which has experienced significant social problems. Hong Kong’s new towns are largely residential suburbs of Central and Kowloon, often isolated and with a rather long commute, albeit using Hong Kong’s excellent public transport system.

 

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