Adjusting to Life in Hong Kong

We love Hong Kong, but we understand that for newly arrived expats adjusting to life here can be fraught with frustrations and challenges. Psychologist Dr Hannah Sugarman gave us some tips for making the transition as painless as possible!

busy street with buses

Moving to Hong Kong is an experience like no other. Your arrival in the fragrant harbour brings with it a wealth of new opportunities. You’re likely to be meeting lots of new people and trying various new things as you get used to the sights, sounds and smells of Hong Kong.

In the whirlwind of your first few weeks and months here, it is easy to dismiss the psychological challenges you are presented with in getting used to your new home. Relocating often involves adapting to a new climate, new friends and/or colleagues, learning a new language and experiencing a completely different culture.

No matter what the circumstances of your move are, the time period prior to and after relocation is likely to involve an element of unpredictability and uncertainty, both of which can lead to psychological distress if not handled with care. With this in mind, consider the following tips to give yourself the best possible start to your time in Hong Kong.

Anticipate a few ups and downs

Researchers have historically identified different stages in the adjustment process when relocating to a new country, incorporating a ‘honeymoon’ phase, culture shock, adjustment and eventual adaptation and mastery. In reality, each person’s experience is unique; some people may find the initial few months more challenging, whilst others experience the move a bit more smoothly. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed in the first few weeks and months in Hong Kong, try to remember that this is completely to be expected. You have been wrenched out of your comfort zone and dropped into a completely new environment.

We can forget how much of our psychological wellbeing is linked to our work, our home lives, relationships with family and friends and our familiarity with our surroundings. Moving to a new city usually involves a significant change in most if not all of these domains. Adjusting to a new place means constantly feeling out of your comfort zone and managing a great deal of uncertainty, which psychologists understand to be one of the main factors that feeds anxiety. Allow yourself to expect some bumps in the road, and try not to beat yourself up for feeling worried or sad – these feelings will subside as you get used to your new city, and you will find that many of the unfamiliar aspects become lovable quirks.

It’s OK to say no

Hong Kong is known as one of the most exciting, thriving cities in the world.  In the initial stages of your move, you will likely be presented with lots of opportunities to build new relationships and socialise with new friends and colleagues. This can be a lot of fun, and the ‘work hard, play hard’ reputation of Hong Kong is part of what attracts many people to move here in the first place. The downside of this? A relentless stream of plans and engagements with new friends can limit the opportunities for relaxation and downtime. It can be difficult to turn down an invitation when there are so many opportunities to meet new friends and get to know new people, but there is no harm in making sure you keep some time for yourself. You know yourself best – learn when you are reaching your limits, and have a day or a night off.

This can also be true of performing in a new workplace; you may in a new role or team at work, and feeling the pressure to prove yourself. Hong Kong is not traditionally known for it’s relaxed work culture, and you may feel obliged to put in long hours at the office too as you establish your reputation at work. Although you are probably well aware of this, it never hurts to remind yourself that you can only perform at your best when you are looking after yourself. Within reason, it is far better to be honest with yourself about what you can do than push yourself and burn out. Self-care at work may be as simple as ensuring you get out of the office on your break; a short walk at lunchtime can do wonders for your emotional and physical wellbeing.

Make time for supporting each other

If you have relocated with a partner or family, the initial period following the move involves a torrent of logistical and emotional challenges that you will be expected to handle together, including having to get used to sharing a significantly smaller living space! Commitments with new friends and colleagues can eclipse the quality time that may have occurred more naturally in your home country. Try to retain some of the traditions and activities you have always used to look after your relationships, even if it’s just a cup of tea together in the morning or a regular family dinner.

Whether you relocated with your partner, your family or independently, it is important to seek out support from other people. Although it can be difficult to share your innermost concerns with people you only met recently, every single expat in Hong Kong was once a new arrival, and will remember what it’s like to go through the emotional rollercoaster of the first few months. In addition, social media makes it easier than ever to stay in touch with friends and family back home. Make time for the people who know you best, and reach out to them if you’re having a difficult time.

Look after yourself

In moving across the world, we are tasking our minds and bodies with navigating a significant life event.  When we have been living somewhere for a long time, we have well-established methods of maintaining our emotional health. We may be largely unaware of these methods, to the extent that we do not realise how important they are in maintaining our wellbeing until they are compromised. After relocating, many of these methods are more difficult or no longer possible. Regular contact with supportive friends and family members may be complicated by time differences, and it may take some time to establish a routine of self-care that helps you to feel like yourself.

Remember the things you have always done to keep yourself well – your own unique ways of looking after yourself – and maintain these. For you, it could be keeping up regular exercise, sleeping well, reading, watching Netflix or weekly Facetime calls with loved ones back home. Over time, you might find that Hong Kong offers you new and different ways to exercise self-care – you may discover a penchant for hiking or hidden talents in Cantonese cooking!


The best thing you can do to give yourself a great start to your Hong Kong adventure is to allow yourself the time to adjust. No good experience comes without challenges, and by making the move you will be able to immerse yourself in a fascinating new culture and access travel opportunities that many people will never get to experience. Give it time, and wait for Hong Kong to work its charms on you.

Dr. Hannah Sugarman is a UK-trained clinical psychologist. She offers psychological treatment for adults and older adolescents across two clinics in Central district, Hong Kong. Please see for more information.

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