Standing in the subway in Hong Kong. Photo taken by AIRINC surveyor Philli Wong.
Relocating to Hong Kong in February of 2020
Relocating is already a challenge, but relocating during a pandemic adds a new level of difficulty. After years of surveying based in AIRINC’s Cambridge office, I was honored to accept a position at our Hong Kong branch late last year. From the beginning, I was excited to move to a vibrant global city, but the logistics proved more challenging than anyone expected as a novel coronavirus (at the time still unnamed) spread in January. Even before being declared a pandemic, COVID-19 was having a broad and unpredictable impact across the globe.
In the early stages, infections were concentrated in mainland China, and Hong Kong restricted border crossings from the mainland. My departure from the US was scheduled for early February when global travel restrictions were primarily focused on flights to and from mainland China. My flight from Boston to Hong Kong wasn’t full, and all passengers were instructed to wear masks whenever they were not eating or drinking. I had an empty seat next to me and flight attendants were always wearing gloves and masks when passing anything out.
Hong Kong International Airport: Immigration and temperature checks
Arriving at Hong Kong International Airport was different than the last time I’d been there in late 2017. There were temperature check stations throughout the airport. As I was leaving the main terminal and going to immigration, my temperature was checked by an individual with a temperature gun. He asked where I was coming from. At the time, officials only cared if your origin was Mainland China. Although it was early morning, I noticed that there were considerably fewer people than my previous trips through the airport, and many people were wearing facemasks.
Outside of the airport, taxi drivers were also wearing masks. As I arrived at my hotel in Sheung Wan, I noticed the obvious absence of people or the familiar sounds I associated with the city. It was like a ghost town. Before checking into my hotel, my temperature was checked by staff, and I was asked to use some hand sanitizer before giving the receptionist my documents. It was clear that Hong Kong was taking this virus very seriously.
Before checking into my hotel, my temperature was checked by staff, and I was asked to use some hand sanitizer before giving the receptionist my documents.
Insider Tips: Where to buy sanitizer and don't forget the facemask!
After settling in and spending a few days in isolation, I visited our office. There are temperature checks in the entry of our building, as well as public places like banks and malls. I slowly started to meet my colleagues as some were traveling, working from home, or sitting at home in quarantine. My colleagues shared insider tips like where to buy my own hand sanitizer bottles. Masks are compulsory in our office and in many other businesses, and when in public they’re strongly recommended. The facemask has become one of my essential items like a wallet, cellphone, and keys that I must not forget when leaving my apartment. At first, I’d forget it and have to run back home each time I went out, but now I remember to take it with me when going anywhere.
The facemask has become one of my essential items like a wallet, cellphone, and keys that I must not forget when leaving my apartment.
As I started settling into my new life in Hong Kong, I had to find an apartment that would be my permanent base. There were rumors that housing had dropped in price and that the city had become a renter’s market, but in my experience, this wasn’t the case. During my search in mid-February, there were some landlords willing to give me small discounts on my rent, but it wasn’t common. I found there was plentiful supply of good housing options and many expatriates were leaving the city, but neither had resulted in dramatic price drops. Today, many luxury and high-end places continue coming onto the market as not only are some expatriates leaving, but some locals are downsizing.
Today, many luxury and high-end places continue coming onto the market as not only are some expatriates leaving, but some locals are downsizing.
Dividers in Hong Kong's restaurants. Photo taken by AIRINC's Eugene Kobiako.
COVID-19's impact on restaurants and supermarkets in Hong Kong
In normal times, Hong Kong’s restaurants are packed full, but the city has adapted. Cafes and restaurants in Hong Kong have put up plastic shields/dividers between tables and limited capacity to ensure social distancing. Regardless, very few people are eating at restaurants, as most prefer to get takeaway meals or rely on food delivery services. Many are shopping online for groceries, and several outlets have set up digital queues to handle the online traffic, like this example below:
COVID-19 informational resources
The city government offers a lot of resources to its residents like an online tracker of COVID-19 cases, extra insurance protection, and automatic text messages (like Amber Alerts in the US) for important announcements. Over the last month, I got text messages notifying me that gatherings of more than four people had been banned and that bars would be temporarily closed. Until further notice, Hong Kong has banned non-residents from entry and suspended transit through Hong Kong International Airport. At the time of writing, there are 1,038 confirmed/probable cases and 4 deaths in Hong Kong.
Until further notice, Hong Kong has banned non-residents from entry and suspended transit through Hong Kong International Airport.
I’m settling into my life in Hong Kong, even though it’s not what I had expected last year. Like nearly everyone, I know the future holds one certainty – changed plans. My fiancé was supposed to join me here after our June wedding, but with bans on public gatherings and travel restrictions in both Hong Kong and the United States, we may have to postpone our celebration. In the meantime, life goes on. I will wash my hands thoroughly, wear my facemask, and do my best to discover this magnificent city from my apartment!
This post is part of AIRINC's On-site Insight series. On-site Insight provides readers with an exclusive “behind-the-surveys” perspective of new and existing expatriate locations based on commentary and photos from our global research team. Included is information on general living conditions as well as changing costs for both Goods & Services and Housing & Utilities, along with much, much more.
Listen | Partner | Deliver. For over 60 years, AIRINC has helped clients with the right data, cutting-edge technology, and thought-leading advice needed to effectively deploy talent worldwide. Our industry expertise, solutions, and service enable us to effectively partner with clients to navigate the complexity of today’s global mobility programs. As the market continues to evolve, AIRINC seeks innovative ways to help clients address new workforce globalization challenges, including mobility program assessment metrics and cross-border talent mobility strategy. Our approach is designed with your success in mind. With an understanding of your goals and objectives, we ensure you achieve them. Headquartered in Cambridge, MA, USA, AIRINC has full-service offices in Brussels, London, and Hong Kong. Learn more by clicking here.