A few weeks ago permanent traveler Ian Oliver shared his insights with us in "The Top 10 Lessons of a Grizzled PT". One reader responded to the article, asking which countries had he lived in? So, today, Ian begins answering that question with the first stop along his PT Journey - The Pearl of the Orient - Hong Kong.
When leaving your high tax, big government place of birth, one of the biggest challenges you will face is finding a place to go. Many of the countries that first come to mind will be very similar to where you are, and thus offer little or no benefit in relocating there. When you look harder, a lot of countries will pop up, but you will find you have minimal knowledge about them apart from what you will read on tourist sites.
With that in mind, I would like to offer some insights into Hong Kong - the first place that my spouse and I settled after deciding to expatriate.
Hong Kong is a special autonomous region of China, not a country (as many believe), although it is treated as a separate country by most of the world (including China in most cases). It is located in the southern coastal region of China and has a subtropical climate. The winters are mild (no snow) and the summers are very hot and very humid.
Hong Kong has very strong banking, business and investment infrastructure - the rival of any place in the world. It is rated by many as on par with New York and London as a financial centre. It is easy and quick to open a company and/or bank accounts, although you will need a local address for either. This is quite simple to arrange, as there are a plethora of businesses offering real or virtual offices for rent.
Immigration is similarly easy if you would like to stay (rather than just using it for a banking and business haven.) Hong Kong Airport is rated in the top Airports of the world and your trip through immigration and customs will be a breeze compared with what you are used to in western countries. You are welcomed into the country with brisk efficiency and courteous service, rather than being treated like a passenger off Con-Air. I have never been patted down, x-rayed, sniffed by a dog, or asked to open my bags at Hong Kong Airport and I am appropriately friendly and courteous in return. When we return to the west, it is quite insulting the way everyday travelers are treated.
If you would like to stay in Hong Kong on a permanent basis, there are some very important things you need to know.
How NOT to Get Into a Country
Let me outline a case for example: An acquaintance of mine purchased a (ridiculously expensive) Caribbean passport and jumped on a plane to Thailand where he was going to settle down and ride out the financial crisis. On arrival in Bangkok (also one of the friendliest airports in the world) he was asked why his passport had no exit stamp in it. He gave the worst possible answer: "I just paid Three Hundred Thousand Dollars for it and it arrived by courier last week. That's how I got it." He was refused entry and arrived in Hong Kong a few hours later. This time he went through immigration on his US passport and had no problems. He then went to a high-priced lawyer and told his story. He was charged a starting fee of $20,000 USD to commence his residence application in Hong Kong.
As it happens, an acquaintance of mine had very comparable experiences in two countries with very different results. Arriving in Singapore, he was questioned as to why his new (moderately priced) second passport had no exit stamp. He was aware of this question, gave the officer a truthful answer that did not involve "I bought it for $$$" and was allowed to enter without problems. After visiting another few countries and some more sage advice, he used a Hong Kong immigration lawyer and had his residence completed and approved for less than $3,500 USD. He was a difficult case (defacto marriage, step children, self employed) and yet was still able to achieve his goals for less than one fifth the price that high end lawyers charge to "begin work on your case."
So the lesson here is to shop around for an immigration lawyer.
Travel & Safety
Hong Kong is a very easy place to reside and do business. It has easy access to China by train or ferry. As a Hong Kong Resident you can get a six-month, multiple-entry visa to China with no difficulty at all. There are multiple flights per day to all major centers in the northern hemisphere - USA, Europe, Middle East, Africa and of course all of Asia. The only place that I have had difficulty getting to is South America and that can be achieved by transiting through LAX or Johannesburg.
Much of the population speaks English and are very friendly and helpful to foreigners. Hong Kong is very safe - children walk to school unaccompanied. And even after a night of drinking and dancing you are unlikely to encounter trouble. Drugs and crime do exist, but at a much lower level than most places in the world (and if you do not look for either, you will not even know they are there.)
The two worst things about Hong Kong are:
1. The size of the apartments. By western standards they are ridiculously small and, even then, the sizes quoted are not "actual size." A 2-bedroom apartment that is advertised as 60m2 (app 600sq ft) may actually be 48m2 or less and cost $1,500.00 per month to rent. There are cheaper and better apartments in outer suburbs, but be prepared for this culture shock.
2. The heat. If you are not used to a subtropical climate, the summers will bring you to your knees. It is very hot and the humidity makes it exponentially worse. Options: you can stay indoors and turn the aircon on high, find your way to one of the cities' cool drinking spots, or head down to deepwater bay and embrace the heat while tanning yourself to the shade of a well roasted chicken.
As an acting practitioner of the "Five Flags Theory" I can highly recommend Hong Kong as a place to:
- Open Overseas Bank Accounts
- Open Overseas Brokerage Accounts
- Privately Store Gold, Precious items, or Private Documents.
- Open an Overseas Corporation
- Maintain Official Residency
- Maintain Tax Residency
- Have a Drop Box
- Operate an international business of any kind
- Have a damn good time! (Saturday nights on Hong Kong Island are legendary)
There are many places that you could go as a PT (permanent traveler) but you will be hard pressed to find a better all round solution than Hong Kong and as a starting point, I highly recommend it.
See you there!