Leslie Nasr, an American expat formerly living in Hong Kong, is no stranger to relocation; in fact, she's making a living from it. She's moved 16 times and is fluent in Arabic, French, English and Portuguese.
To her, transition is a familiar face; read what insight she has to share about expat life in Hong Kong.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: New York
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Hong Kong, Mid Levels
Q: How long you have you lived here?
A: Four years
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: Establishing an office for a family business
About Hong Kong
Q: What do you enjoy most about Hong Kong, how’s the quality of life?
A: The best thing about Hong Kong is the ease of day-to-day life, from its e-government system to the convenience of so many great restaurants and shopping. People are very efficient in Hong Kong, things get done properly the first time, which alleviates the stress when moving. While expensive, the quality of life is among the best in the world.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: The biggest negative is the pollution, and at times, the small size of Hong Kong. The pace of life can be hectic, making it hard to escape without getting on a plane.
Q: Is Hong Kong safe?
A: Hong Kong is extremely safe. Women can go out late at night without a worry. Personally, I have never felt unsafe in Hong Kong.
About living in Hong Kong
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Hong Kong as an expat?
A: For a single expat or a couple without a family Mid-Levels offers the best balance of lifestyle and access to Central. If you have a family then the south side of Hong Kong Island: Repulse Bay, Deepwater Bay, Tai Tam are all excellent choices.
Both areas have access to good international schools. Keep in mind that the biggest advantage of Mid-Levels is its proximity to Central, making it extremely convenient for work. Living on the South Side would obviously entail a longer commute.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Hong Kong?
A: Housing in Hong Kong can be extremely variable. While inexpensive, small apartments are abundant in most neighbourhoods, they are of a very poor quality.
However, if you have a significant budget you can get some very high-quality housing comparable to the likes of any international city in the western world. The old adage is certainly true though; in Hong Kong, you do get what you pay for!
Q: What’s the cost of living in Hong Kong compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Day to day household items, such as groceries, are comparable to the cost of such in New York City; however dining out, and property is substantially more expensive. Vehicles in particular are more than twice as expensive as New York. You should research this while preparing your move.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I mix with a variety of expats and locals. Locals are generally very polite and welcoming to foreigners. There is also a large community of locals who have been educated abroad, making for a very international community feel.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: People in Hong Kong are very used to people coming and going. The population is very transient, so it is second nature to welcome newcomers in Hong Kong. However, breaking into a social circle can be difficult at times.
About working in Hong Kong
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: Hong Kong Immigration is typically quite efficient and easy to deal with, compared to the likes of the US Immigration system. There can be, however, long wait times for processing, but as long as your papers are prepared correctly obtaining a visa is relatively easy.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Hong Kong, is there plenty of work?
A: Hong Kong seems stronger than ever after the financial crisis of 2008. Patterns of conspicuous consumption reigns again, and there seem to be plenty of work available for locals and expats alike.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: Work hours in Hong Kong are generally longer and it is simply expected you do more. It is also common practice to work a half-day on Saturday as part of your regular work week, which is unheard of in the US.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: Yes, Santa Fe relocation. They were excellent.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: Healthcare in Hong Kong is excellent; the public system is well run and very cheap. There are also a number of private hospitals staffed by foreign doctors who are also world class.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Allow yourself the time and an open mind to adjust to the local culture. While many people speak English, and the city may seem very Western, it is the small cultural nuances that can catch you out and hinder your settling in to your new home. Don’t allow yourself to get frustrated. Have an awareness for and develop an understanding of these differences.
► Interviewed July 2011