Setting up in Hong Kong as English teachers

If you follow us on social media, you will know that at the end of August 2022 we moved to Hong Kong to start new jobs with the British Council here. As I write this (this was back in late 2022), I am sitting in our new flat that we furnished ourselves, batch cooking food for the week in our new kitchen appliances while Kris does some marking of writing from his weekend teenage classes, looking out at the effects of our first T3 typhoon. Getting to this stage has been both exciting and a bit stressful. We thought we’d record what happened for our own memories and to share with you, so out of interest, or because you are moving abroad, you can see our journey to becoming English teachers in Hong Kong.

Setting up in Hong Kong as English teachers pin

If you haven’t read about how we left our previous jobs in Ukraine in February 2022, please see our post We Need to Talk About Ukraine

Accepting the job in Hong Kong

To see how we got here, we need to go back to June, when we were working at Sheffield University for the summer. We were teaching Chinese students who wanted to come to do their Masters’ degrees at Sheffield, but who couldn’t leave China until they got the visa. Since these students didn’t get the precise English level they needed with their IELTS test (an international exam that tests their academic English level), they had to do a 10-week course to improve all of their English skills. We taught online from student halls at Sheffield University, sharing a flat with other teachers.

Sheffield pre sessional
One of our work station bedrooms at Sheffield University

Kris did his BSc degree at Sheffield University, so it was a summer of memories and reminiscing about places he used to hang out. Spending the summer in the UK meant we could catch up with lots of friends and family and, for a change, the British summer weather was amazing, with sunny days spent in beer gardens and on country walks.

Sheffield summer beer garden drinks
Enjoying some beers in a country pub near Sheffield

While we were there, we were thinking about where to go next. We applied for jobs in Mexico, Malaysia and Hong Kong to start. We got interviews with all three schools and after being made a good offer from the British Council Hong Kong, we decided to take it. It was an interesting decision to make because while the offer was good, and we liked Hong Kong when we visited back in 2012, there were/are still lots of Covid restrictions. Masks have to be worn both inside and outside, there is a lot of testing and if you test positive for Covid, you can be put in an isolation facility. On top of that, there was a 7-day compulsory hotel quarantine period on arrival, which could make visiting home expensive and tricky. More on that later.

We decided to take a gamble that restrictions would begin to be lifted, as they have in the rest of the World. Other places in Asia like Thailand and South Korea were opening up, so we just had to hope that Hong Kong would follow suit. So we accepted. We were off to become English teachers in Hong Kong.

Have you met us before? If you are new to our blog, check out Our Story

Lots and lots of paperwork

Thus began the preparation period to go to Hong Kong, at the same time as working full-time for Sheffield University. There was paperwork to complete to apply for the work visa, which we would need to enter the country. We also had to go through the background check to work for the British Council, including recording the companies we had worked for the past 10 years, and our addresses for the past seven. Hum…..we have lived in several countries in that period – China, Vietnam, Thailand, Ukraine….and in several flats, most of which we couldn’t remember the addresses of. On top of this, a lot of our paperwork was left behind in Ukraine when we left in February. We got the important stuff back, but we hadn’t seen information about jobs we did 6 years ago as a priority. We found ourselves on Googlemaps, as that little yellow man in the ‘street view’ version, walking around the neighbourhoods where we lived until we recognised our addresses. The school we worked for in Bangkok has closed down, so we needed to find other ways to prove we had worked there…..

If we have learned something from this process, it’s to keep a record of where you live and work. Keep evidence like payslips and contracts from jobs and apartments.

For more advice on teaching English abroad, including country guides and interviews with other teachers, see our Teaching English page

Arrival in Hong Kong and quarantine

Everything was sorted by the time we finished the contracts at Sheffield on the 20th August. We packed our stuff into the car we had borrowed from Kate’s mum, and spent a week visiting family. One week later, on the 28th August, we were at Manchester Airport for a one-way flight to Hong Kong.

As I said earlier, when we accepted the job, Hong Kong had a 7-day compulsory hotel quarantine period. This meant that when people wanted to go there, they had to not only book the flight but also a quarantine hotel package. You were locked in a hotel room for a week, with food being delivered outside your door. Only once you had tested negative on several PCR tests were you allowed out.

Luckily, about two weeks before we flew, Hong Kong announced that they were reducing the quarantine to 3+4, which meant three days in a quarantine hotel and then four days where you were restricted on where you could go – no eating or drinking in restaurants or going anywhere where you would need to remove your masks. Only three days stuck inside, rather than seven, which was a relief. There had also been a policy where flights were cancelled if too many positive cases were found on incoming flights, which was a bit stressful, and luckily that had been stopped as well.

There was still the risk of testing positive before the flight, meaning we couldn’t fly, or during one of the many Covid tests on arrival, meaning we would be taken to an isolation facility until we tested negative. Coming from the UK, where there are no Covid restrictions anymore, no mask-wearing etc. it was a bit concerning…..

Forty-eight hours prior to the flight, we had to have a PCR test, for which we drove to Birmingham Airport to use ExpressTest. Our results were back within a few hours, negative. We then had to complete the online health declaration from the Hong Kong government, which meant uploading all our documents including the quarantine hotel booking, flight details and visa and all of our Covid vaccine details. This got us a green QR code to use at the airport. We uploaded all of this to the Cathay Pacific website in advance, which should have reduced what we needed at the airport

On Saturday morning we got to the airport 4 hours before the flight, as recommended by Cathay Pacific. The line to check in was massive. It curled around in front of the desks, and tailed back through the airport. It took us about 2 hours to get to the front, seemingly because everyone was in the same queue, those who had uploaded their documents in advance and those that hadn’t.

The bags we were carrying to move to another country

Finally we got through security, into the lounge for a quick sandwich and onto the flight. 12 hours of film-watching later, and we landed in Hong Kong. We were met by many staff in hazmat suits, face shields and masks who coraled us through to have both PCR and RAT tests. We were given a green lanyard to wear, to indicate that our paperwork was in order and had to download the compulsory testing order to our phones. After immigration and collecting our bags, we were coraled into a specific queue for the bus to our quarantine hotel, which was next to the airport and a very short hop away.

More staff in hazmat suits met us at the hotel and checked us in, making sure we stood in zoned-off boxes to keep us 1.5 meters from other ‘guests’ and giving us lists of rules for our stay. They also gave us a bag full of RAT tests, which we were to take every morning, and a form to record our health each day for 10 days. We were directed to the lift, which we had to take alone, and to our room. The keycard would only allow us to open the door once. After that we were not allowed to leave. Trying to get all of our bags down the hotel corridors to our room was quite the Crystal Maze-style challenge. Get all the bags to the door, then one person go inside and have the bags passed in, for the other person to follow. The door closed behind us and there we were for the next three days.

Hong Kong quarantine room
Our quarantine hotel room. There wasn’t much room for the bags

Our room was small, with two single beds and a bathroom, but very little room to move about once our bags were in there with us. We had a big window looking at the sea beyond and overlooking the Hong Kong Expocentre, so we could see people coming and going. Outside of the room was a stool, where our meals were left three times a day. At about 7.30-8am, at 12-1 and 7pm the doorbell rang, and there was a bag of meals waiting outside. We had read some horror stories about quarantine hotel meals, but actually they were quite tasty and varied. Or maybe we just aren’t that picky.

quarantine food
One of the quarantine breakfast meals

The room opposite was blocked off with tape with the words ‘Danger, do not enter’ on. Apparently that meant the person in that room had tested positive for Covid either at the airport or in the Day 2 test. They would have got taken to an isolation hotel for 7 days instead. It was there every time we opened the door as a warning of the consequence of having Covid.

Fire alarm – do we break the quarantine?

Time passed quite quickly since we were doing our work induction online during the daytimes. We started to feel a little like Pavlov’s dog, reacting when the doorbell rang because we knew food would be outside. One the second night, at about 10pm just as we were nodding off, the fire alarm went off. Erm…..what now? There was a something like $5000 fine for leaving your room. We weren’t going to risk that. But then, what about the risk of burning to death in a hotel bedroom. The windows didn’t open…..

We peered out of the door to see other ‘guests’ peering out as well…..what was happening? What should we do? We were all confused. There were locals there who tried to call the hotel reception and find out. After a very confusing few minutes, the alarm went off. So we went back to sleep.

quarantine hotel corridor
Empty hotel corridor that we looked out of. The stools are where the staff left your meals

Freedom? +4 quarantine

On day two, two staff in hazmat suits came to our room to do another PCR test. And then on Day three, since those tests came back negative, we uploaded our Leave Home Safe app, where our QR code had become Amber. We were allowed out.

The question was where to spend the +4 days when we were restricted on where to go. We headed to Causeway Bay, to the Regis Hotel, which had a special deal for people in our situation. We got a room, and three meals a day. Since we weren’t allowed to go anywhere where we would take our masks off, we couldn’t eat in their restaurants. Instead, we picked up meals three times a day (no more siliva-inducing doorbells) to eat in our rooms. Again, the food was fine, but they did love cabbage – serving it for both lunch and dinner as a side dish. And there were a LOT of mushrooms.

Hotel room 2, this one we could leave

We were allowed to wander around outside though, so we could start to explore Hong Kong. It was a bit sad to have to go back to the room for dinner at 7pm each night, and we looked in the windows of the many eating establishments around, dreaming of when we were allowed to go in and experience local food that didn’t involve cabbage.

Along with the daily RAT tests, there were more PCR tests. On Days 4 and 6 we headed to one of the local Community Testing Centres, where we had our nose and mouth swabbed. It was quick and efficient and the results were texted to us. More negative tests.

covid test hong kong
Waiting to get our nose and mouth swabbed

On day 7 we checked out of the Regis Hotel, said goodbye to the cabbage and headed to hotel number 3 – The Harbourview in Wanchai. Our room really had a harbourview. It was spectacular. Now we had to fend for ourselves with food. We were allowed into bars and restaurants, so our first stop was a local pub for our first Hong Kong pub beer. Now, with quarantine over, it was time to get ourselves sorted.

Working as English teachers in Hong Kong

Finding our new home

We had two weeks in the final hotel, while we found our own flat. Unlike Ukraine, we had to look for and rent a flat on our own. We had done lots of research before arriving, and spoken to different people in Hong Kong about the best areas to live in. We didn’t want to be in the centre of the city, as that means less space for your money and often views of concrete jungle. We had ideas of complexes at the end of one of the MTR lines (metros) for an easy commute but more space. Public transport in Hong Kong is cheap and efficient, so we decided that a 30-40m commute was fine.

After looking at a few areas, we chose Tseung Kwan O, a relatively new area of the city with many huge apartment towers, but wide roads and open space. In the New Territories, there are mountains all around and it’s next to the sea.

Tseung Kwan O
The waterfront of TKO

Finding somewhere to live there meant finding an agent. Or two. Or three. We talked to three different agents we found on one of the property websites, telling them what we wanted. Our requirements were:

  • At least two bedrooms
  • A balcony or terrace
  • Space nearby for Kris to go running
  • A kitchen with storage space
  • A gym and swimming pool in the complex

One weekend, each agent showed us several apartments. We probably saw about 10. We chose one we liked, but the landlord didn’t want to negotiate on the price, so we left that. For the next one we chose, the landlord decided to rent to someone else…..

So we were back to square one.

flat hunting in Hong Kong
Look at possible flat number 20001

Weekend two, and we narrowed it down to two agents and saw about 16 different apartments. We chose one of the last ones we saw, because it had a lot of space, and a stunning view. The following day we met the landlord to sign the contract and pay the deposit.

Apartments in Hong Kong generally come with a two-month deposit and one month rent payment. On top of that, you pay 50% of the rental cost to the agent and a small percentage as stamp duty. It’s quite the outlay.

On top of this, our flat was unfurnished. It had a fridge and a washing machine and microwave, but no bed, sofa etc. Luckily, Facebook Marketplace in Hong Kong is amazing. Lots of people are moving or leaving and either selling their furniture cheaply, or giving it away. You just need to transport it. Someone let us have a sofa, bed frame, chest of drawers and wardrobe for free. Another person gave us a mattress. There are people you can pay to dismantle furniture, transport it and rebuild it for you. We used Lalamove to rent ‘a man with a van’ to transport the smaller stuff.

Picking up a TV from a factory building
Happy to finally have a sofa to sit on after a week on the floor

For the rest, there is Ikea. Conveniently, unlike the UK, there’s an Ikea in the city centre, so you can get there easily by MTR.

You can read more of our experiences living abroad in our Expat Life posts

Experiments in a tiny kitchen

Our kitchen is tiny. Like really small. It’s quite normal here, as it was in both China and Thailand. We have a microwave and a double electric hob, but not much else for cooking. Over the years we have found ways around this. We have a rice cooker which also makes soups and stews, curries and rice dishes. This time we bought an air fryer, which seem to be all the rage back home. As it’s basically a tiny oven, we can make roast, grilled and baked food in it. We’ve tried baked potatoes so far, which worked well, and fish fingers and roasted veg. If you follow us on Instagram we’ll post more things we try to cook in our tiny kitchen.

More paperwork

While finding somewhere to live and moving, we were also trotting around to various places to sort out the paperwork we need to live in Hong Kong. Firstly, you need Hong Kong ID from immigration. We tried to book an appointment online, but it was for three week’s time, and without the ID we couldn’t get bank accounts and thus couldn’t get paid. Hum….Turns out, you can turn up at the office and there is a number of walk-in appointments. Turning up when the office opened, we were given a time in two hours to go back. We went, submitted our passport and work permit letter, had our fingerprints taken and were given temporary ID. We had to go back two weeks later to get the card version.

Hong Kong ID in hand, we went to Citibank to open bank accounts. While there was a lot of paperwork required for those, it was done efficiently, accounts were opened and apps set up and a couple of days later, we had our debit cards.

This is the view from our apartment. We can watch black kites flying overhead

And finally, work

At the same time all this was happening, we were, of course, working as English teachers in Hong Kong. Our working week is Wednesday to Sunday, as the busiest days are Saturday and Sunday when loads of kids and teenagers come for extra English lessons. As many kids here go to English medium schools, some of our groups are basically fluent, at a higher level than most of even our highest level students in Ukraine. Their lessons include a lot of project work to get them applying the language and developing their 21st century skills. Other students study most lessons in Chinese and need more support in improving and practicing their language skills. They can be really quiet and worried about speaking. It’s an interesting contract.

We have several groups of adults as well, through whom we are learning lots about Hong Kong. Many of the adults are from mainland China, as well as South Korea, Japan, Thailand and beyond.

Preparing a lesson

As you’ll remember, in Ukraine our roles involved lots of management, materials development and teacher training, so it’s been nice to really focus on being in the classroom again and applying all the techniques we have been training teachers in to our own classes. Moving to a new company is always a steep learning curve with new systems and procedures to learn, new materials, courses and products.

Which brings me back to now, where it is still raining. Kris has finished marking and we are going to pick up a second hand breadmaker to add to our collection of small kitchen appliances. Tomorrow we are back at work for a new week. There is a lot to explore, do, see and eat…..people to get to know and places to visit. If you follow us on Facebook, or Instagram you’ll be able to see what we get up to through updates and stories.

We live up there. Wave
Setting up in Hong Kong as English teachers pin

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