Is Hong Kong safe for expats?

2020 has been a challenging year for Hong Kong, and this has been down to far more than just COVID-19. Political tensions had been simmering for several months prior to the escalation of the anti-government protests at the end of 2019 and the start of 2020. The protests related to new national security laws imposed on Hong Kong by mainland China and the fear of the impact that they would have on civil liberties in the country.

As one of the most established international schools in Hong Kong, we feel that it is our duty to students, parents and our team to beware of the events in the country as they happen. While thankfully the riots which made the world’s press at the start of the year have subsided, there is still an undercurrent of political unrest and some in some quarters, tensions still run high. However, we believe that at present, and assuming that common sense is applied, Hong Kong is safe for expats.

The Background

Up until 1997, Hong Kong was a British Colony after a 99-year lease expired and the former colony was handed back to China and adopted Hong Kong Basic Law which was first challenged in 2003. Hong Kong continued to be a thriving financial and legal centre with most of the 90,000 expats working in this sector which paid lucratively, and the former colony continued to operate seemingly independently from the mainland with residents enjoying far greater freedoms.

However, the peace was shattered towards the end of 2019 with the proposed implementation of the 2019 Hong Kong Extradition Bill. Other factors were also part of the initial protests, mainly by students, after the disappearance of the Causeway Bay Book and the fear of losing a “high degree of autonomy”. With the demands for democratic reform, the noisy but otherwise peaceful protests turned violent, resulting in hundreds of arrests and some of the central business districts being barricaded off.

Concerns about safety

When the troubles escalated, many businesses asked their workers to work from home, many did, but several expats felt threatened and returned to the home countries. Rumours were rife that Hong Kong wasn’t safe and the concerns were heightened when the US government declared the region unsafe, which caused panic amongst the 25,000 or so US expats living here. Fortunately, the troubles quickly abated, and only a few left the country and the majority who did leave returned later.

Tensions are still boiling under the surface, but on the face of it at least, all parties would appear keen to ensure that the protests remain peaceful as this is seen as beneficial for the short and long term future of Hong Kong. As a school, we were and are still, naturally following developments. Still, we have not been made aware of any new concerns by embassies, the government or any other party and believe that the region is safe for expats.

Keeping things in perspective

The problems which presented themselves earlier in the year must be kept in perspective. While we wouldn’t want to play down their significance, the violent protests were confined to a relatively small area with most areas largely unaffected other than the need to exercise caution and a sensible amount of common sense. In reality, most of Hong Kong’s problems in 2020, like in almost every place in the world, have been caused by the coronavirus rather than a brief period of political unrest. The restrictions imposed due to the pandemic have impacted everyone’s lives, not just expats although there is a belief that things are now starting to return to normal albeit slowly.

Generally

Up until the start of the concerns in late 2019, Hong Kong was regarded as being one of the safest places in Asia. Crime levels were regarded as being “very low” although there were always warnings about petty crime such as pickpockets. The police were generally regarded as being honest and firm but fair, which made Hong Kong an excellent place for expats, especially if they had young families as there were very few safety concerns. It is a situation that still exists.

As well as being safe in terms of crime, the hospitals are also of a superb standard, so should anyone in your family fall ill, you can be confident that they will receive the highest levels of care. It is a place that is generally unaffected by terrorism and has no known enemies, although vigilance is always advisable wherever you are in the world. There are some instances of organised crime, but this is usually targeted against businesses rather expats.

Looking to the future

Although Hong Kong is forging closer links with mainland China as part of the terms of the agreement put in place in 1997, this is still happening relatively slowly. There will be natural concerns amongst expats and locals about the impact that this will have on their day to day lives. In reality, this is something that no one knows the answer to, but we would assume that the country will remain safe and very little will alter in that respect.

Hong Kong has a well established and very proud history as being one of the world’s leading financial centres, and China will not want to jeopardise this. In order to maintain the high levels of confidence that exist, it needs to retain the trust of the markets, and this means being political stable; part of this includes ensuring that it is safe for everyone, not just expats. Hong Kong is safe and will be for the forthcoming years, so if you were considering moving here, we would strongly advise that you continue with those plans.

We can help

If you are an expat family looking to move to Hong Kong, finding a quality international school for your children will no doubt be a priority. At Harrow International School Hong Kong, we offer the highest levels of education as well as having some of the best facilities in Asia to make students learning experience a pleasant one. If you would like more information, please feel free to get in touch.