Fourth in our line up in The Expat Mama meets… mini series, we meet British Doctor, Harriet Stevenson, turned Hong Kong dweller and a fairly recent newcomer to the expat wife life. Another export originally from Merseyside, UK (we’re old school friends) the 28 year old has spent the last ten years living, studying and working in London. As she puts it “Samuel Pepys said when you are tired of London you are tired of life, we weren’t tired of it yet we wanted to see what else was out there“. And so they – her and husband, Jambo – upped sticks and headed to Hong Kong in Summer 2016.
So Harriet, where are you from, where do you live now, and how long do you plan on staying?
Originally from Great Britain. We moved to Hong Kong 6 months ago and have set a tentative timeline of 3-5 years. However my aunt and uncle moved to Hong Kong for 6 months and stayed 15 years and we have met people who are never realistically going to leave after saying the same thing, so who knows.
What made you move?
We had a lovely life in London where we had a beautiful home, brilliant friends and great jobs. I am a doctor but was struggling to find a training post in London in a speciality I was happy with. I was consistently getting offers outside of London but I was not willing to live away from my husband for work and as he works in the insurance industry he needs to work in large financial centre. We got married just over a year ago but we have no little ones to tie us down yet so it was now or never if we wanted to experience a different culture. He had opportunities to transfer to America, Melbourne or Hong Kong. I am not attracted to America, especially with trump having been elected. Australia would have been easier for me to work, half of my Facebook friends from medical school seem to working in Australia at the moment. Hong Kong was slightly closer and just more exciting in the end.
What has your experience been like so far?
Initially it was much harder than I would have believed possible. I joined a knitting group, courted new acquaintances aggressively and formed a study group with other UK doctors and things slowly got better. Because Hong Kong has such a big expat community everyone’s in the same boat when I comes to wanting to make friends.
What has surprised you most about your move?
I never realised how much I was defined my my job and my career. In Hong Kong foreign doctors have to pass a notoriously difficult licensing exam, out of a room of about 140 people in September the pass list only had 12 people on it. To go from a Job I loved in a city where I had any number of friends to hang out with on a day off to a life of unemployment where I had endless time off and very few people to share it with was initially difficult.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Anything to do with the bank feels like an ongoing comedy of errors. HSBC seem to think nothing of ringing to ask personal information and then when you question if it is a genuine call they just cancel your credit card application. We must have applied for my credit card 5 times! The bank cards don’t really work as debit cards only as cash cards so until my credit card came I had to carry around cash. That and seemingly endless trips to IKEA. People in Hong Kong often live in quite small cramped flats so they use IKEA as a place to hang out. Teenagers go there on dates, old men go there to nap and you have to be prepared to throw people off furniture you want to try before you buy.
Would you recommend Hong Kong to someone else?
In a word, yes. Its similar enough to the UK while still being an adventure.
If you plan on moving again, what would you do differently?
When we moved over here my husband supervised the movers, I would defiantly be around because he accidentally left most of our bedding and a painting that I love in our house in London. Fortunately we bought new bedding and my picture is being kept safe by my father in law.
How does Hong Kong compare to your home country in terms of quality of life, family benefits, career prospects, healthcare and opportunities for women?
Quality of life is pretty good. Rent and food are expensive but pay is a little higher when you take into account that the tax rate is around 15%. There seem to be plenty of jobs in finance, insurance and recruiting. In fact sometimes it feels like there are more recruiters than jobs. Public healthcare here is of high quality and most expat jobs have health insurance too. Women who come here on dependent visas are able to work but a lot of professions will have to sit local exams eg. Doctors, lawyers, insurance brokers. LGBT rights here are poor, gay marriage is not recognised by the government for visas etc.
What is your favourite thing about living in Hong Kong?
Taking visitors to a really authentic dim sum restaurant where you have to fight for a seat and then scrum for the best dishes. That and the octopus card (the MTR-Mass transit rail electronic payment card) being accepted virtually everywhere.
What one piece of advice would you give someone who is thinking of moving to Hong Kong?
Join a team, join a class, join a club. Any way to get out there and meet new people.
If you enjoyed reading about Harriet’s Hong Kong adventure why not read more The Expat Mama meets… stories?
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