Julia comes from Brazil. Following her stay in Colombia, she decided to look for new opportunities abroad. She landed in Hong Kong 6 years ago for an internship. Nowadays, she works for a non profit organization and enjoys the nature during her free time.
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Where are you from, Julia, and what are you doing nowadays?
I am from Brazil. After a few years of working experience in Brazil and Colombia, I decided to have a new international working experience. I came to Hong Kong with AIESEC, the student organization, that arranged me an internship in a consultancy firm. I ended up working there for 4 years. Nowadays, I'm working with a non-profit organization.
Why did you choose to expatriate to Hong Kong?
At that time, I was looking for a working experience abroad, and the economy both in Brazil and China were booming. Hong Kong has an interesting "east meets west" dynamic and it doesn't have the same restrictions as in China, so it felt to me like an exciting destination.
As a Brazilian expat, what where the procedures you had to follow to move there?
I think for a foreigner of any nationality, you need a company that hires you and sponsor your working visa to Hong Kong. The process is not difficult, but your employer needs to provide a series of documents to the Immigration Department to prove that they are a organization with a solid background, and also that they are hiring you because whatever expertise you have cannot be easily found in the local work force. You also need to have good knowledge of English and at least a university degree. But after you/your employer work on these criteria, the process of getting a visa is quite smooth.
How long have you been in the country?
I've been in Hong Kong for 6 years now.
What has surprised you the most at your arrival?
The amount of people! Hong Kong is definitely a crowded city that receives a massive influx of tourists and business people everyday, so you see lots of people everywhere and at any time of the day.
Was it difficult to find accommodation there? What are the types of accommodation which are available there?
Unfortunately accommodation is extremely expensive in Hong Kong, so it's easy to end up paying a lot of money for low-quality accommodation. While there are many options in Hong Kong, many buildings are old and have very small apartments. Many expat friends pay around US$ 1,000 for a room in a small apartment or a small studio with only the basics. For a bigger apartment, for a family with kids, expect to pay at least US$ 3,000 - 4,000 to rent a 700 sq. feet flat. Of course, the further away you move from the city-center, rent prices also tend to go down.
What are the local labor market's features? Is it easy for an expat to find a job there?
Hong Kong's economy is geared towards services, specially in finance. In my opinion, expats can find more opportunities in finance, accounting, IT and business development industries. Many people also come to Hong Kong to teach English at the local and international schools, but they do require native English-speakers for these kind of jobs. Of course, you can always find expats working in all kinds of sectors.
How do you find the local lifestyle?
I come from a big city in Brazil, so I didn't have problems adapting to the local lifestyle. Everything in Hong Kong is very fast-paced and efficient. The public transportation system works very well and covers the whole city, streets are mostly clean, the crime rate is extremely low, so these are great things about Hong Kong! With so many expats coming and going, there is a strong "networking" spirit in Hong Kong and it's easy to meet people with the same interest as you.
Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?
Hong Kong is a very international city. It's easy to live an "expat lifestyle" without the need of learning the local language, going to international restaurants and bars. I think that Hong Kong society really values hard work and it's very family-oriented, while most expats see they experience in Hong Kong as a way to earn some money but also spend it with traveling, wine & dine, etc, and not absorbing much of the local way of life.
What does your every day life look like in Hong Kong?
Pretty standard! Go to work, go to the gym and back home. Sometimes, my husband and I go out with friends for dinner and drinks. I said sometimes...
Any particular experience in the country you would like to share with us?
I think the food and the way people eat can be a big shock when you first arrive in Hong Kong. You see restaurants with whole roast chickens and ducks hanging at the window, head and all! Chinese people are used to eating all parts of the animal, so many dishes are made with intestines, stomach, bladders, liver, tongue and all kinds of organs you can imagine. I was quite shocked about this in the beginning and even after 6 years, I'm still squeamish about some of the food they eat here.
What is your opinion on the cost of living in Hong Kong? Is it easy for an expat to live there?
Hong Kong has been recently appointed as the most expensive city in the world, so this is important for an expat to take that into consideration when negotiating a salary before coming to live here. Or for the same salary that one would have in their home country, it's common to expect a lower living quality when in Hong Kong, especially the cost-benefit you get for accommodation. At the same time, it's easy to find cheap food and entertainment options almost everywhere, so Hong Kong caters for all tastes and budgets.
How do you spend your leisure time?
Hong Kong has great beaches and hiking trails, so there are plenty of things to do in summer and winter. Many people are surprised to know that there are so many things to do in the nature here, as most people imagine Hong Kong as a city filled with skyscrapers.
Your favorite local dishes?
I do enjoy a local meal, the dim sum (dumplings served in small bamboo baskets) and some of the local snacks.
What do you like the most about Hong Kong?
I like the convenience of living here: everything is efficient, you don't need a car and don't get stressed in traffic jams since the public transportation is great. Hong Kong is also a very safe city and has many options of things to see and do! Hong Kong's location makes it also a great place to explore other cities in Asia, and it's possible to find many good deals with low-cost airlines that fly here.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
I do miss the food, especially Brazilian barbecue (churrasco) and some of our traditional food (cakes and snacks mainly). I also miss the friendliness and warmth of the Brazilian people, as Hong Kong people are much more reserved.
Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates in Hong Kong?
In Hong Kong, it is easy to live in an expat bubble: hang out only with other expats, go only to international restaurants and bars. Many people live the exact same way as they would in Europe or North America, for example. So my suggestions for new expats is try to explore and enjoy the local cultural aspects as much as possible. This makes for a much richer experience!
What has motivated you to write your blog "Hong Kong - Docking in a new harbour"? How does it help?
I wanted to have a way to communicate with my family and friends back in Brazil, and at the same time, have a source of information about Hong Kong. Many people in Brazil don't know much about Hong Kong and still imagine it as an exotic Chinese destination. So I hope to inform more people about the differences and similarities between Brazil and Hong Kong and some funny episodes of the daily life here.
What are your plans for the future?
I'm very happy with my job here, but at the same time Hong Kong is very far from Brazil, and I don't have the chance to go back home as much as I'd like. Who knows, maybe in a year or two I'd like to live somewhere between Hong Kong and Brazil. That would be ideal!