Hong Kong’s expatriates are slightly more satisfied with their lives compared with one year ago, but they are still not as content as others living in Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia, according to a new international survey. Expatriates living in the city felt frustrated by the high cost of living, the lack of work-life balance, and the difficulty of trying to learn Cantonese.

In a poll of 13,000 users compiled by expatriate networking website InterNations, Hong Kong ranked 39th out of 65 countries and cities – a small jump from 44th place in 2016.

The website’s Expat Insider survey, which required participants to rate 43 different aspects of life abroad on a scale of one to seven, found that the city continued to attract expatriates primarily because of its competitive economy and job opportunities. However, almost one third – 30 per cent – said they lacked a good work-life balance, namely because they worked an average of 46.7 hours per week, compared with the global average of 44.3 hours. While most Hong Kong expats earned high salaries – 48 per cent had a gross annual household income of US$100,000 (HK$782,500) – the cost of living was cited as a major problem.

One respondent described the cost of accommodation in the city as “absurd”. Rents for an unfurnished three-bedroom flat in the most popular expatriate neighbourhoods near international schools are on average US$10,189 (HK$79,730) a month. Hong Kong also lagged behind many other Asian destinations in the rankings, including Taiwan (4th), Singapore (9th), Vietnam (12th) and Malaysia (15th). Respondents said it was “easier to settle down” in Taiwan than Hong Kong and that language was comparatively less of a barrier there when making friends.

InterNations co-CEO Malte Zeeck said Hong Kong expatriates continued to find it challenging to learn Cantonese, while the city’s cost of living made it less attractive than other areas in Asia such as Taiwan and South Korea. “But the city keeps attracting foreigners with its competitive economy, and although they are often working more than the global average, expatriates say they are generally happy with their jobs and career prospects there,” he said. The survey also saw Hong Kong eclipse mainland China, which was ranked 55th. Some 85 per cent of polled expatriates on the mainland complained about the quality of its environment, especially high levels of air pollution.

Malaysia was the “biggest winner”, according to Zeeck, as it climbed from 38th to 15th place in just one year. “People say it is easy to settle there,” he said. Bahrain was described as the “surprise overall winner” of the survey, jumping from 19th place in 2016 to the number one spot this year. The Gulf state ranked particularly high for job satisfaction and for the friendly attitude of its locals towards expatriates. Nigeria, Kuwait and Greece were ranked the bottom three in the survey.
Top 10 expatriate destinations for 2017:
1. Bahrain
2. Costa Rica
3. Mexico
4. Taiwan
5. Portugal
6. New Zealand
7. Malta
8. Colombia
9. Singapore
10. Spain

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as:
Grumbling expats slightly happier with their lives