Welcome! You’ve arrived, navigated immigration, found your temporary accommodation (no doubt smaller than expected), unpacked your bags and are ready to show HK what you’re made of. But there are a few hitches; you have zero contacts in your phone, have no idea where to buy dinner other than 7 Eleven and nothing to do on Friday night. Many of us have been there, but the good news is, it doesn’t take long to feel settled in this little SAR. With this in mind, here are our Top Ten Survival Tips for those new to the city…
1. Keep a healthy body and mind
First and foremost you need to look after yourself. You’re out of your comfort zone, overwhelmed and missing friends and family, but don’t make things worse by staying indoors all day, eating nothing but McDonalds (the only restaurant you recognise right now) and sleeping in until midday. Stay hydrated (the humidity can be a shocker), try to exercise for 30-minutes a day (a breezy walk on Bowen Road or in Kowloon Park should do the trick), and get to know your local area (Sassy has guides aplenty – see here!). There are of course a few practical essentials to tick off for peace of mind:
– Open a bank account (possible with just your passport)
– Purchase and register an Octopus card (so much more than a travel card – many shops accept it too!)
– Start clocking up your air miles with Asia Miles
– Look for an apartment!
2. Get connected
Once accustomed to a world of WiFi and 3G, it can feel pretty disabling without a good phone or tablet. If cost is your priority, make a visit to tech mecca Sham Shui Po in Kowloon for unlocked local Chinese models such as Xiaomi or Huawei. When it comes to contracts, it is worth shopping around and comparing perks such as public WiFi (PCCW’s is widely available), contract length (most are two years) and models available (iPhone 6 anyone?). Some of the cheaper, less constricting options are Smartone’s SIM only GoodCare Plans which start from $6 per month for a 12 month contract. Hello world!
3. Find an apartment sharpish
Many expats are put up in hotels or serviced apartments on arrival, but that first month goes quickly. Prioritise flat hunting above all else! Some people see up to fifty flats before they find the right one, so don’t get stuck paying for an extra month in pricey accommodation. Get an agent recommendation from a colleague or friend, be clear with them about what you want and remember that the rent is negotiable. Flat sharing is another great option for meeting people and keeping costs down (just make sure your name is on the lease if you do decided to flat share though). Check out Asia Expat, Geo Expat and Air B&B or ask your pals at work. Finding and creating a happy home is key to your well-being.
4. Don’t turn down an invitation (unless it’s a Skype date)
Fresh off the boat, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how keen folks are to help you settle in. These people may not turn out to be your best friends, but it will help you discover some of HK’s wonders and keep loneliness at bay. If you’ve promised to call friends from home on a Sunday afternoon but also have a brunch invitation, do the latter. Calls from mates are great but once over, you’re left alone in your apartment with an afternoon’s worth of time to kill. Put yourself first – your pals will understand.
5. Working hard, playing harder
I used to think of myself as a hard grafter, until I moved to HK. In this city, 9-5 can feel like half a day’s work, and with a host of international companies working across multiple markets, late night conference calls and email requests are part and parcel. The good thing is that most people adopt the work hard, play hard mentality, so meeting for dinner at 9pm, going to the gym at 10pm or having a late night foot massage is not uncommon. Long hours there may be, but lunch breaks are a big thing and most spend 1 – 1.5 hours away from their desks. Strenuous weeks make for oh-so-precious weekends, so be sure to check out Sassy’s Weekender to guide your every step.
6. Try something new
As a former Londoner, my weekends in Blighty were spent going to gigs, picnicking in lush green parks and buying cupcakes from hipster markets in East London. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered the music scene in HK was next to nothing, it was too hot to picnic in the summer and the ladies’ market wasn’t exactly teeming with cupcakes. Instead, I soon found myself hiking at weekends, sunbathing on junk boats and checking out new restaurants as I would a new band. Hong Kong is not London, New York, Sydney or wherever you are from, so don’t try to make it so. Be adaptable and embrace the new!
7. Network, network, network
As the old saying goes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know and in HK, this statement is gospel. Within the expat community, you’ll soon find there are two degrees of separation, not six! If you want to make new friends, meet peers in your industry or find someone who shares your passion for knitting, there will be a meet up group for you. If you’re a mum, along with Sassy Mama Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Moms group on Facebook will help answer your every burning question. If you’re a digital guru – pop along to Web Wednesday. In need of some career mentoring? Join the Women’s Foundation, while budding street artists can head down to Secret Walls. Getting familiar with your respective consulate or chamber is also a good way to meet people from your home country and can help you find work as well. Meet Ups is a great website to start exploring options.
8. There will be tears!
You could be anywhere; buying curtains in IKEA, opening an account in HSBC, burning cals on the treadmill, or shuffling past old ladies on the tram. Suddenly it all feels a bit much and… here come the water works. THIS IS TOTALLY NORMAL. We have all had episodes of tears, sometimes lots, sometimes few. You are not going to settle in just like that. It all takes time. What you’ll find is, by sharing this with your colleague, neighbour or personal trainer, you’ll find they were exactly the same. So go on, have a good old cry, treat yourself to a hot chocolate and keep going!
9. Enjoy some quality time
If you’re not working, being a lady of leisure in HK can be both a blessing and a curse. The lazy first few weeks of feeling like you’re on holiday can start to lose their charm and be replaced with feelings of boredom and homesickness. Friends, activities and perhaps a new job will all come and no doubt sooner than expected. However, if you’re finding you have lots of time on your hands, think of it as an opportunity to enjoy some quality time with your kids, your partner, yourself and your new city! Take up tennis, teach your kids how to swim, start running with your other half and get to know the neighbours in your apartment block (they will turn out to be life savers when you’re looking for a kids shoe shop or a good hairdresser). Learn a little Cantonese to help you navigate wet markets and taxi routes and get exploring the key tourist attractions, so that you can show them off to visitors. You’ll probably look back and pine for that free time in a few months.
10. Hong Kong is your oyster
Hong Kong is a vibrant city with a wealth of opportunities. It is a ‘can do’ place where people are creative, driven and make things happen. Many of my friends and family have taken full advantage of this by learning new skills or even starting their own businesses and enterprises. Perhaps now is the time to take that interior design course, or set up the cake decorating company you’ve dreamed of? Furthermore, the Hong Kong government makes it very doable too. Just ask anyone who runs their own business!