If you’ve been offered a job here, you’ve no doubt asked yourself this question.
Here are some tips to help you reach an answer.
You probably have a better idea what you’re worth at home, so let’s start with a simple comparison of take-home pay. Let’s say you work in the UK, and earn GBP60K a year. The company in Hong Kong is offering you HK$60K a month.
How many months in a year?
Local salaries are often quoted on a monthly basis, so make sure you know how many months of pay you can expect to receive each year. Many companies pay thirteen months of salary, with the 13th month paid around Chinese New Year. Some will not commit to that, but say they pay an annual bonus to all staff. In that case, ask what the bonus has been for, say, the last three years. If you work in the local office of an international firm, you’ll be more likely to receive a flat 12 months' pay a year.
For this example, assume your new employer pays 13 months' salary per year.
Sterling is currently strong, so we’ll use an exchange rate of GBP1 = HK$15. Then the Hong Kong salary of HK$60K a month is equivalent to 60K x 13 = HK$780K a year, or GBP 52K a year. So at it looks as though you’d be taking a cut in gross salary if you move here.
One of Hong Kong’s attractions is its low tax rate, so it’s worth including that in your calculations. A UK tax calculator shows that if your gross salary is GBP60K, your take-home pay would be about GBP 41K.
If we put the HK$780K annual salary into the Hong Kong tax calculator, our take-home pay would be HK$675K, or GBP 45K. So that makes the Hong Kong offer look better.
Anything left at the end of the month?
You know what you’ll be paid, now what can you expect to pay? To get a feel for how much you’ll spend on the basics, take a look at Mr Tall’s recent survey of local prices. His message is that if you don’t demand to live exactly how you live at home, daily living costs in Hong Kong needn't be more than your current expenses.
Except if you have children.
Then you’ll need to find them places at a local international school, where typical annual fees range from HK$80K to HK$130K (GBP 5K – 9K).
The other big expense will be accommodation.
Hong Kong has a huge range of accommodation available, so in theory you could rent somewhere that costs what you currently pay, or is as big as where you currently live. But not both; e.g. a two-bedroom flat at the Western end of Hong Kong island rents for about HK$12K (GBP 800) a month, and has around 440 sq ft of useable space. If you’re single or a young couple and don’t expect to spend much time in the flat, that’s ok. If you have a family you’ll likely want somewhere bigger, and more expensive.
It used to be that the expenses for schooling and accommodation as well as costs for relocation would be taken care of by the employer. When you added these all up, the value of the total employment package would be much greater than the basic salary. However, it’s hard to justify working in Hong Kong as any sort of ‘hardship posting’ these days.
One of our readers Fiona works in HR, and explains:
Compensation is moving along the lines of 'all cash' in Hong Kong, i.e. pay is determined for the job and there's no real delineation for cash allowances within the total cash approach, though there is still often a packaging breakdown that allows the individual to reduce taxation by offering a housing allowance.
The days of housing/education and so on relating to family size are beginning to be a way of the past....the approach being that a job commands a certain level of compensation and how you spend that is up to you. And in line with this personal family decisions no longer have such an impact on an employee's cost to company -- the basic concept being the job is worth 100k a month and that's what we will pay, in total, leaving the individual to make spending choices. Great for the single guy/gal, not so great for the employee with a family.
By all means raise these costs as part of your negotiations. If the employer has no choice but hire someone from overseas, they are probably already prepared to cover these costs to get you to move. But if they are choosing between you and an equally-qualified local candidate, it’s going to be very difficult for them to justify paying you much in the way of extra expat perks.
All work and no play?
Don’t forget to pay attention to the number of vacation days you’re offered, as local companies typically start at 10 days a year. On the plus side, Hong Kong is generous with public holidays – up to 16 days a year. Still, if you plan to travel home once a year and make trips around the region, you’ll need all the vacation days you can get.
So what’s fair?
Coming back to that original question, what’s a fair salary? It depends whether your main goal is to work in Hong Kong, or to get a better salary.
Maybe you have a burning desire to live overseas, or you see that Asia/China exposure now will be very valuable in your future career. In these cases, getting the job and visa is probably more important to you than the actual salary. First you'll want to follow the advice above to make make sure you can afford to live here. Also make sure you aren’t underselling yourself, by checking the typical current local salaries for your job. Manpower produce annual salary surveys for a range of industries, and are a good starting point. Also check job advertisements to see what is being offered for similar positions. Try The South China Morning Post's classified section, jobsdb.com, recruitonline.com, and hkjobs.com.
But if you’re being headhunted away from a job you like, and there will be lots of upheaval in relocating your family, only you can know how big a jump in salary will make it worthwhile.
If you’ve recently been through the negotiations for a job in Hong Kong, or if you work in HR locally, do you have any advice to share with our readers?