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 approximately 300,000 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" (January 13, 2019, 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 really 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!
As mentioned above, taxes are the #1 area I support clients with who are moving back to Canada. Hong Kong has really low overall taxes, 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 means you can move back and not be taxed on any of your earnings and accumulated wealth you bring with you.
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.
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.
The above graph gives you a snapshot of the exchange rate over time. While movements in rates are not as dramatic as between other currencies, this is a time of tremendous change in economies around the world and there can be unusual shifts coming up.
Some foreign exchange considerations:
As mentioned earlier, lifestyles are very different in Canada than in Hong Kong. As most Canadians returning from Hong Kong have visited regularly, I won't go into detail here on differences, with only one suggestion: Think VERY carefully about what kind of life you are considering in Canada before you make the move back. The difference in everyday "speed" of life alone is one of the most impactful differences! Another is temperature. Hong Kong is so much warmer all year round! Do you want to give this up? If yes, great! If not, plan for travel to ensure you don't fall victim of Seasonal Affective Disorder that can happen to those moving back to Vancouver.
One of the key questions I hear from clients is whether to keep or sell their real estate in Hong Kong. On one hand, they are encouraged to keep it 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 simply for living here, and/or they might want to have all their assets in Canada once they return.
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: March 2019.