Hong Kong vs Shanghai
A personal comparison of lifestyle in these two cities.
I have many friends and relatives in Shanghai. Many are enjoying their lives there. No doubt, Shanghai is probably the best city in mainland China for a foreigner.
I have picked Shanghai as a comparison because I have lived there long enough. Also, “officially”, Shanghai is aiming to become the international financial center of China – thus prompting the media to cook up a rivalry between Hong Kong and Shanghai. So picking Shanghai may entice more disagreeing comments. Good fun!
For people who are thinking to relocate, but have not really lived in either of these two cities, I hope this article gives a (clearly biased) perspective.
Hong Kong has Internet
Well, China has internet too. Actually, you can have good access to free movies and music, legal and illegal versions, from local providers.
But you are pretty much cut off from the outside world. No Gmail. No Google Search. No Facebook. No WordPress. If you want to host your own site, you need to be licensed. Many sites are blocked by the Great Chinese Firewall. You may try to set up VPN to bypass the firewall, but international bandwidth you can get is so extremely low that you might as well forget about it.
Try booking a trip on an overseas website. It’s so slow that it simply will not work. You are encouraged to visit a local alternative. From search engine to travel website, overseas sites cannot compete. The domestic scene is dominated by a couple of very large players.
Hong Kong: 3D, Shanghai: 2D
Shanghai is flat, and geographically boring. Hong Kong is a mountainous island. We go hiking up the mountain trails after sunday breakfast, and still have a whole afternoon to do other stuff.
Start from the city, enjoy the view along the way, end your hike at a seafood restaurant or cafe by the beach. Take the bus back. Hiking is the most popular pastime in Hong Kong.
Best Airport in the World
The Hong Kong airport has been voted the best in the world many times. In Hong Kong, people go on overseas holidays all the time. Many exotic destinations are only a short flight away: Bali, Phuket, Taipei, Ho Chi Ming….
And of course, we don’t hear about the famous ATC delays (air traffic control), unless we are going on a business trip to China.
As you may have read or experienced, the worst delayed airports in the world are namely, Beijing and Shanghai. So my Shanghai friends’ usual out-of-town weekend trip is a few hours in the traffic to the Suzhou or Hangzhou.
Life’s a Beach!
Where else in the world can you find a multi-trillion dollar stock exchange that is 15 minutes drive from a beach? The beach is so near that, when I was young, we actually sneaked out during lunch time to go surfing, and could be back in town for a meeting in the afternoon!
Apart from beaches on the south side of Hong Kong island, there are really nice beaches and islands that can only be reached by hiking or by boat. You can water-ski, windsurf, or just have some champagne with a few friends on a rented yacht. The choice is yours.
Let’s not even discuss the level of PM2.5.
OK, Hong Kong summer is hot. It gets to 34 Celsius (93 F) quite often. But we have proper air-conditioning everywhere. Whereas Shanghai can get to 45 C (115 F) in the summer, and close to zero with rain and wind chill in winter. And in most rented flats, heating and air-conditioning are often insufficient.
Winter months in HK are super nice, mostly between 15 to 23 C, equivalent to the pleasant but short spring and autumn in Shanghai.
HK taxmen are cute!
(Personal income tax: max. 15%, no sales tax, no VAT, no capital gains, no inheritance tax.)
In Hong Kong, you pay your salary tax once a year. Every year, you and your employer declare how much you have earned. The taxman then send you a bill a few months later, giving you a few months to pay. The tax amount is based on your current year income, plus an estimate of your taxable income in the following year. That is, you pay your last year’s tax one year late, and your coming year’s tax one year early. Fair enough.
So let’s say you pay your tax accordingly, but then, you move to work somewhere else. Since HK only tax your income earned in HK, you suddenly become not taxable, and have paid too much on your provisional tax (for the coming tax-year).
This has happened to me quite a few times. Each time, the HK tax authority automatically sent me a cheque, refunding the excess. I didn’t even have to ask them.
In China, no way!
HK taxmen, and most other civil servants (yes, that how we call government officials!) are quite nice, and very efficient.
There are a lot of foreigners in Shanghai. You only need to go to Yong Kang Lu on a sunday afternoon to see. But most of them are rather new to Shanghai.
In Hong Kong, we have a significant number of expats who have been here for many years. A good American friend has made Hong Kong his home since 25 years ago. He has built an international environmental protection organization based out of Hong Kong. An English friend has been a talkshow host on local radio for over a decade. A business school classmate, after retiring from her successful investment banking career and selling her house in London, decided to move to Hong Kong. She started a gallery specializing in Latin America art. She has already been here for 6 years now.
From doctors to artists, to scientist and educators, they contribute so much in making Hong Kong a rich and diverse community. I think their contribution really comes from their sense of belonging. Hong Kong is their home. Not just a transit place.
Free Christmas Concert in the Park – an international cast and an international production
This is possible because the policy and environment here are accommodating. I recently attended a prenatal class. All classmates were expats, and all have decided to deliver their babies at Queen Mary Hospital. The cost to them will be the same as to any local residents- HK$50 for registration, and $100 per day of stay and care. All inclusive, even if emergency surgery and NICU are needed. (By the way, Queen Mary Hospital has world class facilities and staff.)
And if you have lived here for 7 years, you can become a permanent resident. In China, I have not heard any ways a foreigner can become a permanent resident. I only know expats take a tax break every 5 years, to avoid becoming a tax resident.
(In Shanghai, there is a group of HK people who have been living there for many years. I know many of them contribute a lot to the local community. From charity to art and cultural involvement. Hats off to them.)
Hong Kong is also truly international in the sense that anyone from anywhere can start a business here. We do not discriminate against foreign investors. Everyone has the same rights and obligations to conduct business here, regardless of nationality.
In Shanghai, things are rather difficult for foreigners. For example, you can’t buy a fast-train ticket online as a foreigner because you do not have the China ID card. It is improving, but the business environment in China is still very restrictive for foreigners.
Hong Kong is a lovely and amazing place. I have only really come to appreciate it after living abroad for many years. If you have not been here before, I encourage you to come for a visit.
I am writing this partly to show my appreciation of this lovely place, and perhaps to remind Hong Kong people how lucky we are to be living in such a wonderful city. There has been quite a bit of political discontent in this city recently.
Every city has its good and bad. This article is obviously personally biased. If you love Hong Kong like I do, please share this and spread the positive energy. If you disagree with the title, please comment below and let me know the good things about Shanghai. I am sure there are many that I don’t know. Next time when I go to Shanghai I’ll make sure I appreciate them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Leroy Yue, currently based in his hometown Hong Kong, is a business advisor focusing on Japan and China. He has held senior positions in large global companies, and has worked and lived in London, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Manila.
Leroy speaks fluent English, Japanese, Putonghua and Cantonese. He has an MBA from London Business School. He also did a program at Sophia University 上智大学 (Tokyo), and an executive program at Shanghai Jiaotong Univsersity 上海交通大学.