Returning to Canada from Hong Kong can be a smooth and easy transition or a more complicated one, depending on how long you have been away from Canada and whether your life conditions have changed dramatically. Given the long history between Hong Kong and Vancouver, particularly, it is no surprise that many people are moving back and forth. Some stay in Hong Kong for only a couple of years and others live there for decades before deciding to return and take up residence in Canada again.
There is currently a strong push for many of the more than 200,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong, and non-Canadians residents of Hong Kong as well, to move to Canada: "A third of Hong Kong’s population wants to leave, says a survey released by the Chinese University of Hong Kong earlier this month – and Canada was cited as the most desired destination" (The Globe and Mail). As Hong Kong has a population of 7.5 million, one-third is a lot of people wanting to come to Canada!
Before you, the Canadian citizen living in Hong Kong, decide to move back to Canada it is likely a good idea to really consider why you want to move back. Life in Canada is quite different from life in Hong Kong, and not just because of taxes and real estate!
Unless you can ship by air freight a few suitcases and boxes, a 20' or 40' sea container is likely your best option for shipping things from Hong Kong. The more or less direct path to Vancouver makes this the most reasonable option for medium and large households.
Patrick W. shares his tips on shipping your belongings back after living in Hong Kong for over 20 years:
I have been living in Hong Kong most of the time, and am shipping the household stuff from there. Make sure you compare prices and services there when you are choosing the shipper. Our apartment is less than 400 sqft net, but was first quoted by Baltrans with a 20' container (~1050 cuft) costing HK$42K. As we have stuff in a separate warehouse, they charge additional HK$3.5K for the pickup and packing. We then contacted Santa Fe, who estimated our volume more professionally at ~580 cuft with a final quote of HK$27K. I questioned Baltrans how they come up with 1050 cuft., and told them another company's estimation is 580 cuft only. Baltrans came up with a revised quote with volume at 680 cuft., then further reduced to 580 cuft. but they increased the unit cuft cost so there was little difference in the final quote i.e. ~HK$32K. When asked how they provided the updated estimated volume vs. higher unit cuft cost, their sales manager just blasted off saying there is no money in the business and he has been reducing his price from HK$45K! He strongly advised us to go with another company who is offering lower cost, and said he did not want our business.... We did and worked with Santa Fe. They are professional in the sales and pickup/packing processes. So far, I am happy with them and am awaiting the cargo to be delivered in Vancouver.
- Patrick W. Thank you, Patrick for sharing your experiences and suggestions!
Taxes are the #1 area I support clients with who are moving back to Canada from Hong Kong. As you know, Hong Kong has a really low overall tax level, including income tax. Canada has a much higher overall tax impact on earnings and spending. Being careful to have a clear "non-resident" relationship to Canada while living in Hong Kong means you can move back to Canada and not be taxed on any of your earnings and accumulated wealth that you bring with you to Canada.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. "I heard that when I move back to Canada the Canadian government will tax all the money I made in Hong Kong since I moved here 12 years ago! What do I do about this?!"
The government of Canada does not tax any money you earned in Hong Kong while you are a tax resident there and have no strong residential ties to Canada during that period.
2. "My accountant in Hong Kong said that any money I receive for an end-of-service payout or pension payout after I move to Canada will be taxed by the Government of Canada! What do I do about this?!"
Answer: No. Only money earned ("income") after you move back to Canada is taxed in Canada. This includes income from work, investments, businesses, etc. Any amount of money earned or accrued before you moved back is taxable only in Hong Kong. For example, the total value of a pension fund that you cash out when you move back to Canada is yours and is not taxable in Canada. If you are owed money that has not been paid to you yet when you move back to Canada this is an "account receivable", not "income".
3. "I heard that the border guards will tax all my jewellery when I arrive at YVR! What do I do about this?!"
Answer: No. The CBSA will tax your personal jewellery only if you are bringing it to Canada for resale or if you have been in Hong Kong for a short period of time. Items over $10,000 in value should be identified separately with a photo and all jewellery over about $1,000 should be brought to Canada with their original purchase invoices / receipts or a professional jeweller's valuation.
For more information on taxes, please see the Tax, Accounting, and Banking resource on this web site.
If your situation is complicated and/or you wish to get clear financial guidance when you return, please consider my professional support for your return.
A common question I hear from those retiring from Hong Kong back to Canada is about pensions in Canada. I created a full Retire in Canada resource that includes a pension terminology comparison chart between Hong Kong and Canada so you can understand the differences.
Overall, my many clients who have retired in Canada have found the transition quite smooth. They miss the speed with which things happen in Hong Kong, the easy access to other areas of Asia, the warm climate but they do enjoy the sense of being at home in Canada and ability to relax and enjoy their retirement. Most retirees returning from Hong Kong move to the Greater Vancouver area or Toronto.
Obviously, there are foreign exchange implications between Hong Kong and Canada. You may be holding several currencies while in Hong Kong, including of course, HKD and USD. When you return to Canada you may be converting funds to CAD, which is highly influenced by the USD.
As the HKD is basically pegged to the USD and changes very little compared to the USD, the real currency to be concerned with is the USD in the context of your move back to Canada or the return of funds to Canada.
Source of the data for this graph: OFX - Foreign Exchange.
As can be seen by the graph, the exchange rate between the HKD and CDN as of the latest update to this resource is a little above the average of the last few years. Depending on the amounts you are sending to Canada there is an advantage to repatriating a large amount of funds to Canada at the time of the last update to this graph. However, the historic ranges for the HKD/CAD currency pair are not wide and for smaller amounts - CAD$100k or less - transferring funds when you wish will not give you a huge advantage or disadvantage.
The above graph gives you a snapshot of the exchange rate over time. Movements in rates are not as dramatic as between other currencies, but this is a time of tremendous change in economies and politics around the world and there can be unusual shifts coming up.
You can send your savings to Canada in more than one way. The most common is the use of a foreign exchange firm such as OFX noted above that gives you a much better exchange rate than either a Hong Kong bank or a Canadian bank when the funds are exchanged to CAD.
In summary, you send HKD/USD from your Hong Kong bank to a foreign exchange company who converts it at a very good rate and then sends CAD to your Canadian bank account. You often get many more CAD this way (my clients are gaining thousands of dollars on large transfers) than if your Hong Kong or Canadian bank did the exchange as part of the transfer.
Please see the transferring money to Canada resource page which details the reasons for using a foreign exchange company and some client testimonials on their use.
The other options is to use an international bank which has branches in Canada. For example, HSBC in Hong Kong can open an account in Canada for you. Then, you can simply move money within HSBC from your Hong Kong account to your Canadian HSBC account.
C. Ho, shares their experience with working with HSBC to set up a bank account in Canada in preparation for a house purchase and their family's move back:
I opened an acct in Victoria with HSBC and moved cash there so I could put down a down payment on a home there. It took about a month to do this since I had to go to the international banking division of HSBC in HK and then they applied for me to get a Canadian acct, then I had to wait for a Welcome Package to be mailed to me in HK then I had to take this back to the HK HSBC main branch and only then was I able to move the cash to Canada. I missed the bid on the home because this took so long and I was also told by my real estate agent that the money had to be in Canada for 30 days because of all the shady business lately. On top of this when I told my local HSBC I wanted to move my Hong Kong dollars to Canada they said I couldn't because my Canadian acct could acct HKD because it wasn't a global currency (shocked) so now I have to go back to the main branch again and open another Canadian acct that is an international funds acct. I had wrongly assumed that HSBC was a global bank that could do things quickly and efficiently.
D. Lee shares his experiences and suggestions:
1. Banking. For those who are interested in opening a Canadian bank account in Hong Kong, HSBC is a great option. For some reason, HSBC does not publicize any information about this online. Customers only need to call HSBC International Banking Department in HK and the staff will help with an HSBC Canadian account. I chose to do my application online and received an email with the link to the Canadian HSBC website. The application took about 15 mins and was approved within 24 hours. (I have an HK HSBC account. I am sure if that helps for my case.)
2. Currency Exchange. ... I think the best way to do currency exchange is through Interactive Broker (IB)---a well-known stockbroker. It provides THE BEST exchange rates which are much better than any bank. IB provides a free wire transfer to international banks per month. This is also another economical and secure way of doing money transfers. IB can also transfer a client's account from one country to another. This might be very handy for those who are not able to set up a Canadian banking account before landing or those who plan to buy US stocks from their RRSP or TFSA accounts. (IB Candaa supports RRSP and TFSA.) The only downside of IB is the 10USD monthly fee, which can be waived if the account has over 100,000USD assets.
As mentioned earlier, lifestyles are very different in Canada than in Hong Kong. Think VERY carefully about what kind of life you are considering in Canada before you make the move back. Here are a few lifestyle considerations when thinking of returning to Canada:
In summary, lifestyle differences can be considerable between Hong Kong and Canada. Be sure to really understand them. A client who moved back to BC in 2019 chose a smaller place in the province over returning to the Greater Vancouver Area. He did this to give his family a different experience. While culture shock will be a reality for his family it will give them an opportunity to live life differently. Is this something you want? Or would you prefer a more traditional lifestyle in a city like Vancouver or Toronto?
One of the key questions I hear from clients is whether to keep or sell their real estate in Hong Kong. Given the events of 2019 and 2020 in Hong Kong this may be a non-question for many as it is hard to sell their properties. Others have found that in 2021 and in 2022 they could sell and are doing much better with their selling price. Some general considerations that may help with the "keep" or "sell" question:
On one hand, those living in Hong Kong are encouraged to keep their real estate because they are hearing "prices will go up in the future!" or they might want to keep a foothold in Hong Kong in case they wish to return some day.
On the other hand, prices might not go up, they might need the funds to purchase a property in Canada or for living costs here, and/or they might want to have all their assets in Canada once they return. This last point - having all assets in Canada - can be important for a sense of security and safety given the complicated times in Hong Kong and the world at this point in history.
Clearly, there is no definitive answer and every client context is different.
Should you wish to keep real estate in Hong Kong instead of selling it when you return be sure to have a valuation done of it at the time of your move. This value is the basis upon which you will calculate gains for Canadian tax purposes because once you are resident in Canada again, your world-wide income and capital gains are taxable here.
A resource to help you determine the value of your Hong Kong real estate:
"How much is your [Hong Kong] home really worth?"
For thoughts on purchasing real estate in Canada once you return, check out the "Buying real estate in Canada" page of this site.
Canadians living in Hong Kong planning on moving back to Canada: Please share your ideas, thoughts, and experiences relating to returning to Canada from Hong Kong. I will post your thoughts here as help for others. Along with a credit to you will be a big thank you on behalf of the many people you will be helping!
Latest update to this page: October 2022.