Thinking of teaching English abroad? Tantalised by asian culture? Hong Kong is a pretty amazing place to live and teaching English is a great way to experience the city. If you're considering TEFL in Hong Kong, here are a few things to consider when making your choice.
1. The Wages. As far as TEFL jobs go, Hong Kong is certainly one of the highest paid countries in Asia. A wage between HK$21,000-26,000 (£1,800-£2,400) per month is around average. (If you have a formal teaching qualification it will be a little higher). Don't forget, tax in Hong Kong is really low. (I paid less than £400 in tax for my entire three years in Hong Kong and I was earning a little above the average TEFL pay for the best part of this).
If you get onto the government ran NET scheme you are looking at a wage between $25,000 - $50,000 (about £2000 - £4500) per month as well as $19,500 (£1,700) monthly housing allowance (which even in Hong Kong will get you a very decent place) and if you complete a two year contract you get 15% of your accumulated wage as a bonus. There is also a high demand for private tutors, the average pay is around HKD$300-500/hour (about £25-45), doing this a couple of times a week will quickly boost your earnings.
2. The Lifestyle. Earning a good wage, nearly all the comforts of home available (sometimes just at a higher cost) and you can jet off to exotic destinations during the school holidays. Weekends can be filled with tropical beaches, hiking, Hong Kong infamous 'junk boat' parties and brunches. It really is hard to find fault.
3. For Travelling. If you want to travel around Asia, Hong Kong really is one of the best locations to be centred. Perfect for exploring South East Asia, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, China and India in the school holidays.
4. The Food. With tiny kitchens and ovens being a rarity in the standard household, eating out is a huge part of Hong Kong culture. So long as you're eating asian food, it costs little more to eat out than to eat in. Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Taiwanese and Indian are all very popular cuisines.
5. The Transportation System. The MTR system is very efficient, trains run every couple of minutes and there are very rarely delays. It's super cheap too. If the MTR doesn't get you to your destination then there will surely be a bus that will, an individual journey rarely costs more than $10 (80p). Look out for the red minibuses, if you find one going to your destination then you will have the time of your journey halved (not for the faint hearted).
6. East meets West Culture. Hong Kong is heavily influenced by the western world, yet still has strong roots in Chinese tradition.
7. It's not all big city. Live the big city lifestyle but thanks to the wonderful transportation system, you can be hiking through the wilderness, swimming in waterfalls or chilling on tropical beaches in less than an hour from the heart of the city.
8. It's very safe. Hong Kong has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Despite the fact it's definitely one of the most crazy busy places I've ever been, I always feel very safe. I have on more than one occasion had people stop me to tell me my bag has come open.
9. No major language barrier. The level of English in Hong Kong is very high, most locals will at least have a basic grasp. The only times i've had difficulties are with taxi drivers.
10. Diversity. Hong Kong is one of the most diverse cities I've ever been to. You can do something different every weekend and never run out of things to do. From shopping in the city to hiking in the wilderness. Trying out all the different asian dishes or splashing out on champagne brunches. Weekend trips can include crossing the border to Shenzhen for cheap shopping and spa weekends. Or hop on the ferry to Macau and catch a show or gamble in some of the biggest casinos in the world. If your feeling adventurous you can even do the highest bungee jump in the world. The list is seemingly endless. You can never be bored in Hong Kong.
Of course, every place comes with its up and downs, if you are considering moving to Hong Kong be prepared for the following;
- Saturday is a working day. Hong Kong is a very hard working city. The working hours are long and most jobs (especially teaching jobs) will expect you to be available to work on Saturday mornings (yes, after a full Monday-Friday week).
- Pollution. Hong Kong suffers with a high air pollution index, although it's not as bad as Beijing and the big cities in mainland China. You may find respiratory problems aggravated.
- Learning the language is difficult. If you are looking to TEFL somewhere where you can pick up the language in a year, Hong Kong is not the easiest place to do so. This is a downside of English been so widely spoken, plus Cantonese is particularly difficult to learn. Saying that it certainly isn't impossible and is a great challenge if you are determined to learn Cantonese.
- It's busy. Hong Kong is probably the busiest place I've ever been, if you're not into crowds the city is going to be pretty stressful for you. However, peace and quiet is attainable, you could consider living out in the New Territories or on one of the islands (Lamma or Lantau) if you can find a teaching job out there or are willing to commute into the city. Although I do find that the big crowds in Hong Kong don't feel quite as chaotic as places like London, people are much less rushed here.
- Chicken feet.. ..and other strange parts of animals may find their way onto your dinner plate at school or in Chinese restaurants. Sometimes it's best not to ask.
- Music. Compared to Europe the music scene in Hong Kong is still lagging. There are music events going on and a couple of festivals, the underground music scene is also beginning to thrive. But still it has a long way to go to catch up with Europe in the music stakes.
- Small living spaces. Hong Kong is home to the most expensive accommodation rate per square metre in the world. You get a lot less apartment for your money here then at home. The kitchen and bathroom space in particular are usually sacrificed.
HOW TO DO IT
HKEDU is the company I got my first job in Hong Kong with. You will be placed in a Kindergarten, which means you get all the school holidays. Downside, you have to work a 5.5day week most weeks. Very social and great for meeting fellow English teachers.
Monkey Tree is the other big agency that most get their first English Teaching job through. Plus side, you get a five day week (although few get two days in a row off). Great for the social side. Downside - not so much holiday time.
tefl.com is great for finding TEFL jobs across the world. Just type 'Hong Kong' into the search bar.
Once you've got a year's experience teaching with agencies such as these, you can apply directly with a school which will usually means more money for less hours. The agencies are a great starting point though. Many people use the great networking opportunities available in HK to embark upon a different career path, if you wish to continue living in Hong Kong but do something different work-wise.