Hong Kong is one of my favourite cities in the world. It’s a combination of ultra-modern and traditional at the same time. As an international hub for air travel and the financial industry, Hong Kong offers an amazing diversity of people and experiences. If you love the excitement of huge metropolises, it’s hard to go wrong with Hong Kong.
Your first experiences in the country will be the massive, high tech airport. While it doesn’t offer the same hair-raising close calls of the old downtown airport, it’s a major architectural marvel in itself. One of the key benefits of being based out of Hong Kong are the inexpensive flights to destinations all over the world. This is a fantastic hub city for travel lovers.
From there you will be whisked to the urban center on the modern, high-speed airport train link. This will be your first glimpse into what living conditions are like in Hong Kong. There are endless, towering apartment complexes with little differentiation or character. This is what happens when you squeeze 7 million people into such a small geographic areas. Be forewarned, you are most certainly going to live in much smaller accommodations for much higher prices then what you were used to.
Don’t let this turn you off teaching English in Hong Kong though. Pollution and cramped, expensive apartments are the costs to live in one of the most exciting cities in the world.
The two Chinese characters for Hong Kong mean fragrant harbour. While I wouldn’t describe the city as ‘fragrant’, it’s geographic location as a key harbour has shaped what Hong Kong has been over the millennia and what it is today.
There are few cities in the world where dozens of ferries still form a critical component of the daily commute. The short boat rides create a little distance from the massive skyscrapers, offering a better perspective into the shear size and density of the city. Growing up as a land-locked Canadian, it’s always exciting to get on a ferry in cities like Istanbul or Hong Kong.
Teaching English in Hong Kong
While Hong Kong is probably not the first country to come to mind if you are thinking of teaching English in Asia, there are still many opportunities for prospective teachers. Despite being under British rule for more than a century, Hong Kong is far from being an English speaking region.
As an international business hub, English, as well as Cantonese, speaking skills are essential for career success. In larger corporations, English is the primary language for business communications. However, the large majority of the population lack English fluency.
The Chinese government has mandated that English be taught in public schools with all teachers required to be native English speakers. This has created thousands of English teaching positions, with many schools finding it difficult to attract teachers.
The ratio of salaries to cost-of-living is not as attractive as other Asia countries, so this may also be part of the problem in attracting enough teachers. Nonetheless, a shortage of teachers means more employment opportunities for you. Teaching positions range from from private pre-schools to business classes, and everything in-between.
The harbour made the area a natural settling point for fisherman and even rice farmers more than a thousand years ago. Hong Kong’s strategic geographic location has made it base for all sorts of traders, pirates, warring clans and opium dealers over the centuries.
Hong Kong came under British rule after the First Opium War in 1842, when China’s Qing dynasty was defeated. Over the years, Kowloon (the peninsula directly across from Hong Kong Island) and the many small Islands surrounding Hong Kong, were also leased to Britain.
In 1997, Britain’s 99 year lease ended and Hong Kong was given back to mainland China. Despite the apocalyptic fears of the hand-over, China has left Hong Kong largely under it’s own control. To this day, Hong Kong is still one of the most unregulated business and financial jurisdictions in the world. It’s a great tax haven for all of you international entrepreneurs interested in setting up a company in the region.
Check out more on the History of Hong Kong on Wikipedia.
Visa Requirements to Teach English in Hong Kong
While Hong Kong is a free-wheeling international hub for business, working in the country is not so liberal. Like most countries around the world, you will need a work visa to official teach in the country. Illegal workers, along with their employers, face deportation and possibly even jail time.
Before you start any work, make sure your employer has secured the appropriate work visa on your behalf. With a university degree and a TEFL or TESOL certificate, it is not particularly onerous for your school to apply for a work visa on your behalf. However, you will need to have an employment contract first. You will also need to apply for a Hong Kong Identity Card to reside in the region. You must apply for your identity card within 30 days of arriving in Hong Kong.
Arriving in the country before your work visa is processed will require you to exit the country and return again on the new validated visa. This is as simple as travelling to nearby Macau for a day. These visa runs are quite popular for teachers all over South East Asia.
While it’s a good idea to arrange employment and get the work visa before beginning teaching in Hong Kong, it is possible to search for work in person and later exit the country when your visa is processed.
There are advantages to searching for teaching positions while in Hong Kong. It’s great to be able to meet your future employer, talk to future co-workers and see the English school in advance. However, Hong Kong is an expensive place so it’s probably a good idea to retreat to a cheaper country like Thailand or Vietnam after you get hired and are waiting for your work visa to be processed.