Working in Hong Kong

After a two year blip, the seething capitalist haven of Hong Kong is back to its booming ways again. And that means job opportunities and money to be made, as Richard Willsher reports from the Asian business hub

The Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, as it was renamed after the 1997 handover from the UK to China, is on track for 5% growth in 2000, according to the March budget statement from financial secretary Donald Tsang. Unemployment is starting to drop back in the wake of the Asian financial crisis and the 6.9m population is full of renewed optimism.

Hong Kong continues to be the gateway to China with its 1.3bn population – regardless of how open the People’s Republic now is. While manufacturing tends to have moved to mainland China where investment and Labour are relatively cheap, many services are still supplied out of Hong Kong.

In fact, 80% of Hong Kong’s GDP and jobs derive from the service sector. Banking and finance, insurance, legal services, shipping, management, marketing, logistics, accounting and auditing – all provide job opportunities for expatriates.

Local Hong Kong companies still big employers

Long-established local companies are still very influential and hire graduates with good qualifications. These include trading conglomerate Swires, insurance group Jardines, property and communications group Hutchison Whampoa and HSBC, which is still a huge presence in Hong Kong despite moving its headquarters to London some years ago. However, there are plenty of other major multinational accountants, law practices, banks and other firms that maintain significant operations in the province.

However there is also a new, very large opportunity: IT. The entire IT sector including Internet commerce and software development is gearing up for massive investment. Hong Kong wants to lead the Far East in these fields and a year ago announced a series of initiatives to encourage rapid development.

One is the $1.7bn Cyberport on Hong Kong Island that is due for completion by the end of 2003. It is to be a ‘strategic cluster of leading information technology and information services companies’, with the aim of gathering a critical mass of talented IT professionals. IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Oracle and Cisco Systems are among the firms that have signed up to the initiative, while about 100 other companies have registered interest in becoming tenants.

Hong Kong looks to IT opportunities on Chinese mainland

The overall picture is one of tremendous opportunity for IT professionals. Hong Kong wants to be the leader in IT in China, which with the largest single-language population group on the planet has the potential to dwarf the US and European markets. The city’s young and ambitious population is embracing new technologies rapidly and enthusiastically.

The best way to get a job in Hong Kong is to be recruited by a major firm according to editor, journalist and long-term Hong Kong resident Vivien Jones. ‘Get a job before you come. Visas have become more difficult to get since handover.’

She adds that there is a huge need for English speakers with good professional skills and qualifications. The policy though is to only hire an expat when there is no local person who can fill the job.

Brett Free, who moved to Hong Kong from Australia nine years ago and now works for the government, says that despite the high cost of accommodation, the rewards are much higher than he could have expected at home.

Western professionals enjoy liberal tax regime

One reason for this is the taxation regime that will make most western professionals drool. The vast majority of Hong Kong residents do not pay tax at all. The maximum rate is 15%, with deductions for married people and those with children, a mortgage or who support their parents. There is no capital gains tax and no tax on dividends or interest. Corporate taxation is also low at 16% and there is no taxation of global company profits.

Hong Kong is a very business-friendly place. And, according to Jones, the work culture is rather North American – hours are long and working evenings and weekends is commonplace. ‘They tend to work hard and play hard here. You get paid well and once work is over then there’s plenty to do. People tend to go out quite a bit because apartments are small, so most don’t want to stay in at night.’

If all this appeals, it is worth mentioning how convenient a place Hong Kong is for travelling as well as business. You can get to all the major cities in Asia and Australasia in a relatively short flying time. If the intense life of business-orientated Hong Kong gets too much or you need a break from the steamy tropical heat, you can always nip off to an Indonesian island or an Australian surf beach for the weekend.

Hong Kong really is a business place, from the skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island to the thronging streets and markets of Kowloon a short ferry or subway ride across the harbor. If you’ve got the energy and ambition, and seriously want to do business, Hong Kong is the place for you.

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