China is most likely the easiest country to find a job teaching English in, making it attractive to Westerners from all over the world in need of work. However, many Westerners develop a fatigue from living in the People's Republic of China, and end up seeking a new life in Hong Kong.
Technically, Hong Kong is still a part of China, and is under the jurisdiction of the Chinese Communist Party. However, given the city's history and special administrative status, living these is almost like living in a totally different country compared to being in the PRC. Both places have their pros and cons, and while Hong Kong has its appeal, Mainland China might be better for some people. In this article, we will explore some of the differences between the two and help you to decide which one is better suited to your needs.
Visa on Arrival for Americans
Holders of United States passports will be able to stay in Hong Kong for ninety days, provided that they are not in Hong Kong to work or do business. In contrast, Americans have to apply for a tourist visa in order to set foot in Mainland China. Tourist visas can last for up to ten years for the People's Republic of China, but one will have to leave every two months. For this reason, foreigners working without proper working visas often make visa runs to Hong Kong, especially those working in southern China.
Very British Influence
When arriving in Hong Kong, one will notice that British-accented English is quite common. In fact, most of the denizens of the city will have some command of the English language, which is not as common in Mainland. Other British influences that make the “Pearl of the Orient” different from Mainland is driving on the left side of the road, double-decker buses, queues that are respected, food, and pubs. Britain may have transferred Hong Kong over to China in 1997, but their effect on the local culture still goes strong.
While we are on the topic of language, we must also note that people in Hong Kong largely speak Cantonese, a southern Chinese dialect also common in Guangdong Province of Mainland China. Mandarin Chinese is spoken in Most of Mainland, as well as Taiwan, making it a more popular language to learn. Reading is also more complicated since the traditional character set is used in Hong Kong (as well as Macau and Taiwan), but Mainland China uses simplified Chinese characters. Keep these things in mind if you are learning the language.
“Asia's Multicultural City”
Hong Kong has earned the moniker of “Asia's Multicultural City,” and is home to expats from all over the world. Living as an English teacher in China, I saw my share of “laowai”, but there were still days where I could go without seeing a single foreign face. In Hong Kong, this was not the case. In fact, the word “foreigner” is hard to define in Hong Kong since the city has a history of European, Indian, and Southeast Asian residents.
Some people may enjoy multicultural environments, but it was not quite my cup of tea. Traveling to the Far East, I wanted to interact with East Asians, almost exclusively. This is one point that turned me off from Hong Kong compared to Mainland China.
Life in most Asian developed Asian cities is going to be cramped compared to life in America. Living arrangements are often much smaller, and people crowd in on public transportation, ignoring personal space that would be expected in the States. In Hong Kong, personal space is respected more than in China, with people avoiding the shoving matches that are common when embarking upon public transportation vehicles, but the living spaces are horrendous.
I rented a small flat when I was living in Guangdong Province, and I thought that it was small. Visiting the flats of some of my friends in Hong Kong made me thankful for what I had in Mainland, especially when I heard the atrociously high rices that they were paying. Visitors to the city will also find hostels expensive for their small sizes, and hotels almost prohibitively expensive.
Cost of Living
Hong Kong's cost of living rivals Japan in terms of how high it is. Compared to Mainland China, just about everything that you can think of is going to hit your wallet a lot harder. We have already mentioned how expensive lodging is, but food, taxis, and even entertainment are much more expensive as well. Living in Hong Kong on an English teacher's salary will not put one in a position where they can lead an ideal life, whereas teaching in China won't make one rich, but they can live quite comfortably on their salary.
Jobs and Business
Those that are seeking a position as an English teacher are better off hunting in Mainland China. Firstly, the country is vast, allowing much more opportunity to find employment. Secondly, since English is so widely spoken in Hong Kong, it has become difficult to find a job teaching English there, although such jobs do exist. If you want to teach English in HK, you will likely have to be very experienced and backed by numerous credentials.
Professional expats, such as bankers, however, are better suited for Hong Kong. If you want to incorporate a business as well, Hong Kong is the place to do it, since a corporation based in HK will have an easy time entering Mainland and will be protected by Western-style laws.
Both Mainland China and Hong Kong have their perks. China is better for someone looking for a more adventuresome life, or an easier path to finding employment as an English teacher. Hong Kong, on the other hand, is geared more towards the professional expatriate, business owner, or individual that does not want to separate from Western comforts. Personally, I prefer Mainland and had a much better time there, but your mileage may vary.